Here are some Friday questions as we roll into December.
sophomorecritic starts us off:
You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it. How many steps were you away in training and experience from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?
Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS?? Those guys are HACKS!!
But seriously, no. They are all extraordinary directors. I couldn't hold Scorsese's viewfinder.
I will say this, though, from a technical standpoint: Although I have shot single-camera scenes, most of the time I direct multi-camera shows. It's quite tricky camera blocking four cameras all moving at once to capture all the action, all the angles, reactions, masters, and sizes, not to mention having cameras move in anticipation of characters entering the scene. And sometimes you have large scenes. Five or six actors, lots of movement, and only four cameras to cover it all on the fly. It can be very complicated and daunting.
Seasoned veterans in both forms seem to agree a multi-camera director can be taught how to direct single-camera in about a half hour. On the other hand, single camera directors sometimes need months to get the hang of multi-camera. So if Scorsese wanted to do a CONRAD BLOOM I still could whip his sorry ass.
Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"
Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?
Yes. We had the entire camp set up on that stage. Once Daylight Savings ended we stopped filming at the Malibu ranch. There was just not enough daylight to accomplish all the scenes we needed to film. In the summer we had 6 AM to 8:15 PM. But in the winter our window was 7 AM to 4:30 PM.
So if exteriors still were needed we shot them on Stage 9. Did it look great? No. Maybe one notch above the Brady Bunch backyard.
Night scenes looked better. Dark is dark.
In planning the season, we held back the episodes that did not require much outdoor shooting and moved forward the ones that did. And that made plotting out the season that much tougher. We might break a great story but have to sit on it while scrambling last second to get the script ready that was going into production the next day.
And finally, from Michael:
Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?
Not necessarily. I do think the scripts that were nominated deserved to be, but there were others that I felt were as good or better that didn’t get any real recognition.
Of all the CHEERS we wrote I feel our best was called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. That was the Frasier bachelor party episode (“Everybody have fun tonight… everybody Wang Chung tonight.”). I’m especially proud of that one because we worked off no outline. As an experiment we wanted to just riff and see where it took us. We knew the broad steps but nothing else. I think it came out great.
There’s a TONY RANDALL SHOW we wrote where Tony runs for office against the old incumbent. During the campaign Tony’s opponent dies and still beats him. It was a very funny show. And ironically, this exact scenario took place in California during the last election.
The best FRASIER we ever wrote – “Room Service” (Niles sleeps with Lilith) – never got nominated for anything. There were also a few episodes of ALMOST PERFECT that David and I wrote with Robin Schiff that I felt were nomination worthy.
But generally, unless you write for what we like to call a “tuxedo show”, your chances of getting a nod are slim. That is why we thought our agent was kidding when she said we had been nominated for a WGA award for one of our OPEN ALL NIGHT’S. By the time of the ceremony the show had been cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to buy our own tickets and find someplace to sit. No, we didn’t win. The Guild wasn’t that crazy.
But I will say this, all the drafts we submitted, whether they were rewarded or not, were at least 90% ours. Lots of shows room-write and just assign credits. Others rewrite scripts extensively and keep the original writer’s name on it even though there’s nothing left of his work. There have been times in our career when teleplays we wrote were rewritten and sometimes even made better. But we never submitted those. So I’m proud to say that the awards we lost, we lost because of us.
What is your Friday Question?
Friday, December 02, 2016
Here are some Friday questions as we roll into December.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
You’re listening to the radio and a song comes on that you really love and haven’t heard in awhile. Just the first few notes make you smile and you know for the next three or four minutes you’re going to be happy.
You upload some computer program and it actually works. (This pleasure, by the way, has never happened to me.)
Same restaurant, you look around and see you have a better table than Beyonce.
Your kid plays Tree #3 in the school pageant and gives a bravura performance.
You don’t need X-Rays until your next visit to the dentist.
Coke with real sugar.
You’re trying to find a parking space in a crowded mall and someone pulls out just in front of you.
You drink a Coke out of the bottle on a staggeringly hot day.
You get upgraded.
You take your first bite of a food you’ve been craving for weeks. And it tastes as good as you had imagined.
You’re watching reruns of a classic show, you’ve seen every episode ten times, and suddenly one appears that you’ve never seen before.
You find a cherished toy from your youth at a flea market.
The Tylenol kicks in.
People you don’t even know wish you Happy Birthday on Facebook.
You have time for a nap.
You get TSA pre-check.
Your printer jams and you actually fix it yourself. Is there a greater sound than a printer resuming its print job?
You order medium rare and it comes out medium rare.
You stumble upon a new TV show you really like. And you set a season pass immediately because you know you’ll never find it again. What is Epix anyway?
You find that favorite cozy sweatshirt you thought your mom/step mom/spouse/lover threw out.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE comes on.
UPS shows up with the package you’ve been waiting for.
The automated kiosk in the parking structure works. That rush of excitement and relief when the wooden arm goes up.
And finally… a new blog post where all the photos are of Natalie Wood.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
As for those accomplishments: At MTM he was responsible for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, RHODA, PHYLLIS, HILL STREET BLUES, ST. ELSEWHERE. Taking over NBC, which was mired in last place, he brought the world CHEERS, COSBY, TAXI, FAMILY TIES, GOLDEN GIRLS, MIAMI VICE, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, and dozens of other hit shows. Come Emmy time NBC would usually sweep. Compare that to today when broadcast networks are almost shut out at Emmy time.
His famous dictum was: “First be best, then be first.”
And he practiced it. He brought class, sophistication, and humanity to everything he touched.
In the early ‘70s he was married to Mary Tyler Moore. Coming off the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, she had a series commitment from CBS. Grant’s idea was to start an independent production company. MTM Enterprises was born. From there he produced other shows (such as THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) and built the company into a powerhouse.
But for me his greatest achievement was how much of a mensch he was. As a leader he was kind, thoughtful, smart, and treated everyone with respect. His philosophy was to hire the best people (like Allan Burns & James L. Brooks for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and let them do their thing. Instead of injecting his own creative input (i.e. “notes”) he took on the role of protector – standing up for his writers against the networks, shielding them from unwanted interference. There’s no one like that today. Not even close.
MTM was Camelot for writers in the ‘70s. It’s where all TV writers wanted to work. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, MTM was our brass ring.
Happily, the first staff job we were offered was at MTM. It was for THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, produced by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (who had produced THE BOB NEWHART SHOW). We were hired at such a low level that we didn’t even have a title or on-screen credit. The only time we’d see our names on TV would be when we wrote episodes. But we didn’t care. We were at MTM.
Driving onto the lot that first day was one of the greatest days of my life. And it got better. Later that afternoon we went down to the stage for our first runthrough. Grant Tinker showed up, specifically to see us. He introduced himself, knew our names, welcomed us to MTM, and told us to call if there was anything we needed. Again, we were NOBODIES. Baby writers. We stood there in awe. That he would take the time and make the effort to do that astounds me to this day.
That same level of respect and protection was afforded all of us on CHEERS the first year of that show. Grant was running NBC by then. The ratings were dismal, but he didn’t care. He loved the show, believed in the show, and not only kept it on the air but left us all alone to do it our way. Ironic that his name was Tinker when tinkering was the last thing he ever did.
Whenever I would see him I felt I was in the presence of greatness. And I was always surprised he knew who I was. Even after our tenth encounter. This was like "the prettiest girl in school knew my name."
There was a flap over a joke from an early CHEERS episode that David and I wrote. Some adoption agency took issue with an adoption joke we had written (a pretty funny one actually). The complaint somehow made its way all the way up to Grant. He called us personally to say don’t worry, he’d take care of it. Who does that? I mean, seriously, who does that???
Over the next few days you will read tribute after tribute. If it seems like the industry is praising a saint that’s because (in this one instance) it’s TRUE. Television and popular culture can never repay the debt owed to Grant Tinker. And for those of us lucky enough to work for him, it’s a loss of incalculable measure. He was a visionary, a father-figure, an inspiration, a leader in the true sense of the word, and like I said, a mensch.
He was the best. And he’ll always be first.
The station would announce they’ve hidden a key that opens a vault containing a fortune somewhere in town. Listen to the station for clues. First person to find the key wins. The station would give clues to help you zero in on it. So people were glued to their radios.
What would happen unfortunately is that listeners in their zeal would literally dig up the town looking for that damn key. They’d dig up peoples’ backyards, government lawns, private property, public parks. They'd bust sewer lines, gas lines, would dig up cemeteries. A few even took jackhammers to streets. These treasure hunters would tear up their cities to win that key. Eventually, the government had to step in and ban these contests.
But there were others. You know the famous WKRP Thanksgiving turkey drop? (You probably saw it last week during Thanksgiving.) It was based on a true incident that happened to WQXI in Atlanta.
Also, KFRC: They once had a “Location X” contest. They chose some super obscure town somewhere in the world, had a ten second sound byte of it, and listeners had to identify the town. The winner would receive a trip there. Clues would be given to narrow down the location. This was a fairly standard contest of the time. And by controlling how difficult or easy the clues were, the station could keep the contest going for several weeks.
So KFRC begins this contest at 6:00 one morning. They took contestants once an hour. The person on line either the second or third hour guessed it correctly. She had been to that town, and in the sound byte recognized a certain distinctive church bell. Oops again.
At the time there was a hooded rapist who was terrorizing the “Inland Empire.” The station ran a public address announcement asking people to “help find the hooded rapist.”
My grandmother shook her head and said, “Such a contest!”
I so miss radio. And my grandmother.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
First off – the obligatory disclaimer: I love animated movies. THE INCREDIBLES was exactly that. The TOY STORY series rocked. Hey, I loved THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. And even ALADDIN (both the Disney version and the one with Mr. Magoo). THE IRON GIANT is not to be missed. And the classic old Disney features are still thrilling even though mothers in those films get killed a lot.
So I went in to MOANA wanting to love it. At worst I thought it would be FROZEN with better weather. MOANA had songs by Lin-Manual Miranda, which alone is worth the price of admission. Hawaii is a favorite location of mine. I’m going there again this week (fair warning to the papayas). And Disney animation is just dazzling.
Happy to say all of that was in the film in abundance. The songs were clever (although not remotely memorable), Hawaii was depicted as lush and tropical and without Hertz Rental Car kiosks, and the animation was painstakingly beautiful.
But the story was just a rehash of every Disney animation trope. Plucky young girl protagonist. Father who doesn’t want her to leave the island. (“Ariel, don’t go to the surface.” “Belle, don’t leave the town.” “FROZEN-girl (I forgot her name), don’t leave the town.”)
And the movie feels like two hours. Back when Uncle Walt was in charge he understood that 75 minutes was max. If this group was making SNOW WHITE today I’m sure there would be 30 drawfs. I was checking my watch an hour into the film. Even the animation, which is so extraordinary, loses its pizzazz after the seventh angry ocean sequence.
MOANA is making a shit-ton of money, and like I said, every critic has lavished it with praise. So take my review as the lone dissenting voice. Either that or some critics were afraid to say they didn’t like it for fear that they’d be in the minority or they'd no longer get fast passes at Disneyland. Lin-Manual Miranda will probably win an Oscar because (a) this is his year, and (b) what else is there in that category? There’s no Bond movie this year. But at the screening I attended, parents were taking their kids out of the theater throughout the entire film. Warning: There are a number of scenes that might scare the shit out of your little tyke. ( Either that or mom needed to use the bathroom and that was her excuse.)
I realize that most people don’t go to Disney animated movies to follow a great story or marvel in the advancements in the art of animation. They go because of the formulas. It’s reliable. They get songs, cute animals, a courageous heroine who is maybe voting age, pretty images, and it’s 90 fewer minutes parents have to entertain their kids. (I’m sure by the end of Christmas vacation parents will wish the movie were four hours.) But it bothers me that critics are comparing MOANA to the best of Disney. That it is not.
I also worry that when they do the inevitable Broadway stage musical of MOANA people in the first twenty rows are going to get soaked.
Monday, November 28, 2016
I'm re-posting this because it's always one of my most requested posts. And it's perfect for the upcoming holiday season.
A holiday tradition is A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and we pretty much have a Mad Man to thank for it. John Allen was a Don Draper at McCann-Erickson in the mid 60s. On behalf of Coca-Cola he was lobbying for Charlie Brown. It would be the first animated adaptation of Charles M. Schultz’s classic PEANUTS comic strip. But Allen had to really twist arms because in typical fashion, CBS hated it.
They thought the animation was awful, the story too thin and depressing, the jazz score inappropriate for kids, and of course wanted a laugh-track. I'm surprised they didn't require a laugh-track on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
And CBS was especially opposed to Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Bible. What the hell is that doing in a Christmas Special?
Oh, and they didn’t like that children were doing the voices of the…uh, children. In other words, all the things that made it distinctive; all the things that made it great. One high-ranking CBS program executive/visionary said it was a “piece of shit”.
And CBS had a lot riding on this. It was going to pre-empt THE MUNSTERS and follow GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The quality had to be top notch to join that pantheon of excellence.
But John Allen pushed and pushed and finally persuaded the reluctant program chief to air the special. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS premiered 51 years ago this month.
And got a 50 share.
It won an Emmy and a Peabody and became an instant holiday classic. I guess children doing the voices of children did not result in a viewer revolt.
CBS began running the special every year (taking credit for it of course). And it achieved the almost unheard of feat of getting higher ratings year after year. By 1969 it was scoring a 53 share.
CBS continued to air the special until 2000. ABC then took over. Don't know what channel it's on this year, but I'm sure someone is playing it tonight. Or you can go on Netflix or Hulu. I bet it gets a 50 share on Netflix too.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY ANNIVERSARY CHARLIE BROWN.
And thanks to John Allen.
Now that Thanksgiving is over and it's no longer August, it's okay for radio stations to start playing Christmas music. (As if you've been waiting for my permission.)
There are number of stations that have switched to an All-Christmas music format. They usually do gangbusters in the ratings. I believe the trend began with a station or two in Phoenix. KOST in Los Angeles picked it up and it filled their stockings with cash.
Personally, I can't listen. When I was in high school my part-time job was in a record store and of course during the Christmas rush I worked twelve hours a day. And we played nothing but Christmas music. I still can't hear Johnny Mathis without having Vietnam flashbacks.
But there are some Christmas songs I do like. And it's always kind of refreshing to hear them again (SPORADICALLY!).
I know it's schmaltzy but my favorite is "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters. Sorry but it gets me every time. And there's no cover version that even comes close to Karen.
There's something nostalgic and heart-warming about hearing Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song." (I love how many of the classic Christmas songs were written by Jews.)
Beyond that, I like a lot of the old early rock Christmas tunes. The Phil Spector Christmas album (I wonder how he's doing in prison these days), "Little St. Nick" by the Beach Boys, and who doesn't love Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree?" Of more recent vintage I love Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."
And when I'm in a more traditional mood, I head right to Linda Eder's Christmas album. If you're not familiar with her, Linda Eder is a spectacular singer. Here's an example:
I don't even like that song, but I like her version.
Since I hear the same six Christmas songs over and over on the radio I can't imagine what a 24-hour Christmas music station must sound like. Whereas news stations have "Traffic on the 4's", do Christmas stations have "Feliz Navidad on the 4's?" How many times do they play Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" on that format? Even if you're a fan of those stations, by December 23rd aren't you ready to arbitrarily just punch people?
But like I said, at least we're close to December. So it doesn't bother me that Christmas music has returned to the airwaves. It will bother me again however, when they're still being played in April.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
At the time he was skewered by the critics and public, and the movie essentially became the Fredo of the series.
But watching it again in retrospect, I have to say it was not that bad. In fact, it was way better than a lot of the later idiotic MOONRAKER and later Bond films. In one, Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist for Crissakes!
Lazenby was not very good, and it was hard for me to really take him seriously since he looked like a more handsome Soupy Sales, but he sure wasn’t much worse than Timothy Dalton. He tried to have fun with the role, and so what if for one movie James Bond was a little goofy?
But the plot was pretty good. It stayed very true to Ian Fleming’s book and was a lot more realistic than later 007 adventures where he’s on the moon or taking Denise Richards seriously.
Telly Savalas supplied the necessary panache required for a Bond super villain. And also the necessary stupidity to tell Bond his world domination plan and save killing him for later instead of just putting a bullet in his head and going back to stroking his cat.
The film also featured that great John Barry score with all those familiar kick-ass guitar instrumentals. (Think about it -- when you go to a James Bond movie you NEVER come in late. You're ALWAYS there for the beginning and that guitar lick.)
But the best thing about ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was that I hadn’t seen it in so long. I’ve probably seen every other Bond movie at least twice. Don’t you notice that when you come across a Bond marathon you always recognize the movie? You don’t always remember which one it is – you go “Oh yeah, the stupid Egypt one” or “the stupid Swiss Chalet” one -- but you watch the action sequence that you’ve seen already nine times. You try not to think how old that Bond girl is today, and you just resign yourself to whoever Bond is at that moment even if it’s not your favorite. (And by the way, although most people claim Sean Connery is their fave, there are a lot of folks who grew up on Roger Moore and prefer his interpretation. I can’t argue with that.) But it was great fun to watch sequences I hadn’t seen in decades. Even though some of the shots were adventures in bad blue screen -- the action, the James Bond theme, and the twenty guys after 007 all in matching uniforms shooting and missing at least 20,000 times (you’d think super villains could afford better marksmen… I mean, how much must those secret hilltop high-tech compounds that commision cost? Explosives alone have to be in the tens of thousands.) it still adds up to a real adrenaline jolt.
And then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it or read the book, but suffice it to say this movie does not have your typical Bond in a raft with Carey Lowell wrap-up.
So look for the inevitable Bond marathon coming later this month (or this week). Because ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE stars George Lazenby it’s usually buried in the middle of night. But record it. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you can fast-forward through the miles and miles of commercials. Of all the gadgets that Q has invented, nothing comes close to the DVR.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
However, my daughter Annie and her writing partner, Jon Emerson, wrote an episode of INSTANT MOM (starring Tia Mowry) in which Ms. Henderson was a guest star. They got to spend the day with her. I asked Jon if he would share their recollection with her and he graciously wrote this post for the blog. As you'll see, it's a terrific profile of a special woman. Thanks, Jon.
|Jon is right above her, Annie to her left|
We pitched having Florence Henderson show up and never heard from them again.
The episode centered on Stephanie's (Tia Mowry) first Mother's Day with her new family. Stephanie is crushed when the kids ignore her, only to realize that she forgot her own mother, Maggie (Sheryl Lee Ralph). She hastily takes Maggie for a spa day, but ruins the whole thing by moping about being ignored. Maggie suggests that the kids ignored Stephanie because they have a “real” mother, prompting a huge fight. Stephanie starts to fear if there's any truth to that. Is being a stepmom somehow less valid than being a “real” mom?
It's a fairly heady premise, so we needed a fun way for Stephanie to work through her concerns. We thought, “What if she went into the sauna and Carol Brady was there to tell her off?” That quickly ballooned to having the sauna filled with classic sitcom mothers, many of which we were lucky enough to book. But Florence Henderson was always the top of our list.
We knew Florence Henderson for about four hours. She was modest, kind, sharp, and had a mouth to make David Mamet blanche. She came into the scene cold and nailed every joke. She was even nice to the writers.
Reading tributes written by people who really knew her only confirms what we felt at the time: if you met Florence Henderson, you met Florence Henderson. No pretense, no ego, no playing up to a character that will be indelibly linked with her name. Carol Brady wishes she could be her.
The mothers in the sauna ended up being Florence Henderson, Marion Ross, Jackée, Meredith Baxter, and Tempest Bledsoe (makes sense in the scene).
A few takes in, Florence and Marion started to get punchy. (When the show reached out to see if they'd be willing to do the episode, they each agreed on the condition that we call the other to come do it too. Let that melt your heart for a moment.)
Here now is our favorite memory of working on Instant Mom, transcribed from an outtake we asked to have burned on a DVD. A DVD we will now have bronzed. The first line was from the script. Florence takes it from there.
FLORENCE HENDERSON: Jump the shark? What does that mean?
MARION: They wanted me to say “fuck the shark” but I said no.
FLORENCE: Because everybody in Hollywood’s already fucked the shark.
MARION: You’re going to be sorry when that’s on YouTube.
FLORENCE: I couldn’t care less... So, Tempest, what was Bill Cosby really like?
However you imagined Florence Henderson, she was more.
Thanks again to Jonathan Emerson for that marvelous profile.