I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.
Did we purposely plan for the Cheers gang to lose every time?
Yes. Except for the last one. Frustration is much funnier than victory. The trick however, was to find different ways for them to lose – or screw themselves. Guess I grew up watching too many Road Runner cartoons.
What about the last Bar Wars in the final season?
Ultimately, we decided to not only let Cheers win but to demolish Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern once and for all. We’re nothing if not vengeful. Trivia note: That is the only episode of CHEERS that I appear in. I’m sitting at the bar in an early scene.
Who played Gary?
The answer is: which time? We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. The first time the character appeared, Joe Polis played him in a 1985 episode called “From Beer to Eternity”. When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode Joe wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary. For Bar Wars II we went back to Joe Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in the sequel to the DA VINCI CODE.
What is your favorite Bar Wars episode?
Bar Wars V. My partner came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer.
What is your least favorite Bar Wars episode?
Bar Wars VI. The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the BIG SLEEP of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened.
Was it hard to plot these episodes?
Yes. Very. These episodes were a bitch to conceive and then hard to write because there was always so much story. By nature, exposition and set ups are not inherently funny and entertaining. We had to pull a lot of jokes out of nowhere.
What was your favorite gag?
Filling Rebecca’s office with sheep. That’s the power of being a writer. You come up with a goofy idea. And voila, there are fifty sheep being herded onto the set. I’m sure the guy who came up with snakes on the plane had the same heady feeling.
There are some Bar Wars type episodes not called Bar Wars. How come?
Those were episodes not originally designed to be bar wars but evolved into them. Or they were competitions not practical joke wars, per se. In other words, I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out BAR WARS II.
And finally, are you that diabolical?
Let’s just say I hope you’re not allergic to sheep.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
And yet another big flap over nothing – all the irate complaints to NBC over Conan’s LOST parody sketch that opened the Emmy egofest Sunday night. A commuter plane tragically crashed earlier in the day in Kentucky. Yes, the timing was unfortunate but there was certainly no malice on the part of the network or irresponsibility. And my guess is that those affected were not watching the Emmys (despite the promise of a Barry Manilow musical number).
People have to accept that sometimes these things just happen.
When I was on CHEERS we made a point never to make a name reference of someone who might be, well…in their “declining” years. We just knew that if we made a Rose Kennedy joke the night it aired there would be an interruption with word that she had just died. (And then of course there would be the Jewish guilt – surely the timing of our joke is what killed her.)
Also on CHEERS we had a big food fight in a Thanksgiving episode. Just as the show aired a big campaign to stamp out world hunger premiered. Ooooh, did we get shit. Of course, that episode has now rerun a gazillion times and there’s never a complaint.
And it’s worse when something is broadcast live. Every broadcaster has at least two anecdotes of unfortunate circumstances that led to embarrassing bloopers. One of my favorites is what happened recently during a San Francisco Giants radio broadcast.
The National Anthem is sponsored so they always tape it to play it back during their pre-game coverage. When their playback is done they just bring up the crowd mic. They were at Dodger Stadium one night, playing back the Star Spangled Banner while (unheard over the air) the PA announcer was giving the Giants’ starting line up. He got to Barry Bonds just as the anthem concluded. So the Giants’ radio audience heard this:
“And the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Either you send complaints to 50,000 people or laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Other than maybe radio shock jocks, no one purposely tries to be insensitive. If you want to complain to NBC about the Emmys Sunday night complain that it was boring. And that they never showed a close up of Kim Raver in that hot yellow dress. Don’t those heartless bastards care about their public at all???
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
First off, happy birthday to my daughter, Annie. I love you and am glad you’re no longer a teenager. I can see I’m starting to get too mushy so I’ll stop. Have a great day. You’re the best!!
Now for today’s post:
WHAT I LEARNED ON MY FIRST MUSICAL
The director must encourage everyone to share ideas. He must then discard 80% of them, especially the ones from the prop guy who’s taken the liberty of writing new songs.
You need six weeks to rehearse a musical. But if you have six weeks, you’ll need eight.
If the choreographer had her way, seven of the eight hours of rehearsal everyday would be devoted to the dance numbers. If the music director had his way, those same seven hours would be devoted to teaching and practicing the music. If the book writer had his way, scene work would fill the day. And if the director had his way it would be a one woman show with Bernadette Peters who could do it all in five hours.
One change, no matter how small, is like pulling a string in Penelope’s Tapestry. If effects everything. If the music director adds a bar in a song, the choreographer will want to reblock the entire dance number. If the book writer changes one line it effects the underscoring, next cue, choreography, lighting, sound, background visuals, upcoming costume change, transition into the next scene, and future of the American musical theatre. So it better be a good new line.
If there’s a fight scene or even fight moment there has to be a daily fight rehearsal before a performance. For WEST SIDE STORY you can rehearse without the knives.
Wireless mics that stick out of cast members foreheads produce better sound and are not noticeable and distracting beyond the fiftieth row.
The cast elects an Equity Deputy whose job it is to snitch behind the director’s back if an Equity rule is broken. Rules include looking at an actor with an expression that might hurt his feelings.
To learn even one dance number I would need to practice eight hours a day for six months at which time maybe I could do the whole thing without elbowing someone in the face. These kids get it down in six minutes.
You need a good drummer. A real good drummer.
See a night time performance rather than a matinee.
Actors need to yell out their dialogue. Not just speak loud, but YELL. Even if the line is “Pssst, let me tell you a secret.” Only Renee Taylor can talk in her regular speaking voice.
When your wife or girlfriend needs forty-five minutes to change her clothes, just know it can be done in as little as ten seconds.
Every performer comes from a dysfunctional family but thanks them profusely in their Playbill bio.
Most people pad their Playbill bios, listing every credit since they played a kitty in grammar school. So my favorite Playbill bio remains: Jerry Belson, who wrote the 1975 movie SMILE that got turned into a musical, submitted only this -- “SMILE fulfills a lifetime dream for Mr. Belson, to get paid twice for the same script.”
During performances there are nine people walking around with headsets. No one knows who they are or what they’re doing.
A good running time, including a fifteen minute intermission is 2:20.
The song you loved the most before going into rehearsal is the song you need to cut.
No two people have the same script. Everyone is on stage working off different drafts.
The Teamsters are pansies compared to the Equity Union.
Actors will tell you: it’s hard to be sung to. And offstage it’s even harder.
When you’re in the orchestra section, don’t think the cast can’t see you. If you’re going to be Pee Wee Herman you’re going to have an audience.
It’s always better to say it in a song rather than dialogue. But those few lines of dialogue can galvanize the entire story.
Since there is limited rehearsal time once a show opens, it can take up to a week to put in some changes. You have to prioritize fixes, based on how needed they are and how long they will take to implement. What that means is you take notes every night and they’re always the same notes.
Casting decisions are still the most important. Everything else can be fixed. Except if you want to do C-SPAN: THE MUSICAL, that idea might kill it.
Actors are not allowed to talk to conductors. There’s a very strict chain of command. Book writers are not allowed to talk to anybody.
The guard at every stage door is named “Pops”.
When it works, a musical can be more than entertaining, it can be thrilling. There is an electricity, a magic that is so powerful it transcends whatever’s happening on stage. Yes, it’s a tall order and rarely achieved but that’s the goal. And if you don’t hang yourself in a hotel room in New Haven it can be quite exciting.
Monday, August 28, 2006
This is a re-post from nine months ago when the number of readers I had was sixteen on a good day. My guess is no one saw it. And since award show talk is still in the air I thought it was the perfect time to trot it out again. And for any new readers, it'll give you an idea of the kind of highbrow crap you're likely to find on this blog.
For the past seven years I have reviewed the Oscars for my friends. Included is always a paragraph or two on the pre game, usually focused on local channel 5, KTLA. Here are some highlights:
I miss Tawny Little. God help me, I do. (Tawny was the number one news anchor at local station KABC ). No one was as stupid hosting the pre Oscar show as Tawny (this hard hitting journalist and former Miss America), although Sam Rubin and his co-host, Mindy Burbano came pretty damn close. These were my favorites: Mindy (to Michael Caine): "Hey, your accent is back!" Sam: "There's the back of Tom Cruise's head!" Mindy to Samuel L. Jackson's wife after noticing that Samuel was wearing a purple tux: "Yes, purple is back, but do you really think it's ever gone away?" And finally, Mindy to 80 year old best actor nominee, Robert Fansworth: "Very nice cane!"
Best part of the show is before the show -- the red carpet celebrity arrivals. Once again Channel 5 featured Hollywood footstool jester Sam Rubin and dim bulb sidekick Mindy Burbano. Sam to composer Hans Zimmer: "You've been nominated LITERALLY 4,000 times." Mindy to Anthony Hopkins (nominated for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS): "Gee, you're not chilling in person."
Mindy to Lena Olin: "Did you have to eat a lot of chocolate while making CHOCOLAT?" Lena: "Yes." Mindy: "So are you tired of chocolate now?" Lena: "Yes." Mindy: "That's sooo sad."
Sam said there were more stars there than are in the heavens (never heard THAT one before) and proved it by interviewing Coco Lee, Nancy O'Dell, and Mary Hart.
Hard to believe every star didn't stop by. After all, they were giving away Altoid tins. Class-eeee.
The ABC pre-show wasn't much better. Host Julie Moran (not exactly Edward R. Murrow in a wig) asked Chow Yung Fat: "How hard was it to learn to fly?"
I don't bother to watch even a second of Joan Rivers and her equally obnoxious and otherwise unemployable daughter, Melissa. I venture to say they reinforce more anti-semitism than the Chabad Telethon.
Always a highlight for me is the pre-Oscar show with Channel 5's dashboard bobblehead, Sam Rubin and new co-host this year, somebody named Emily Frances. Picture any Hooters waitress in a gown. But she fit right in asking questions stupid enough to rival Sam's. Emily to Phil Collins: "Was winning an Oscar an out-of-body experience?" followed by "When you present an award are you allowed to have a favorite?"
Sam made a searing observation: "Maybe the calmer people arrive earlier." You're the George Will of Puff, Sam.
His "ditz de jour" Emily kept hitting the celebrities in the nose with her microphone. I guess they don't teach that in beautician's school.
Sam had some incisive celebrity questions himself. To performer Alison Kraus: "Did you rehearse your song?" To Owen Wilson: "Next year is STARSKY & HUTCH going to win a lot of awards?"
In order to lure the celebs to Hooter and Tooter KTLA was again offering packets of M&M's. Sam Rubin's big question to Robin Williams: "Do you like the plain, peanut, or mints better?" Sam majored in journalism at Crossroads.
Channel 5 did not employ a 5 second delay as was evident when Robin Williams said "shit" on the air. In truth, it was the only moment of the show that wasn't shit.
Sam to Will Ferrell's wife: "Do you think Marcia Gaye Hardin is stealing your thunder because she's also pregnant?"
Marcia Gaye Hardin is eight months along with twins and looks huge. So why wear a bright blue dayglow dress? She looked like the Pacific Design Center.
Staying on the "baby" theme, Sam wondered what Holly Hunter would do if she won her second Oscar. "I'll put them together in a dark room and see what happens" to which the lightening quick Sam responded: "Maybe you'll have a Golden Globe".
Sam Rubin, 'Entertainment Groveling Jester to the Stars' for Channel 5, again co-hosted the Oscar arrival show. He said it was "particularly emotional going back to Hollywood." Oh yes, to now be only a block away from the Fredericks of Hollywood "Museum of Bras" and Popeye's chicken restores the event to the luster and dignity it deserves. Sam's co-host this year was Lynda Lopez, who we were told is Jennifer's sister. I guess following in the Joan & Melissa Rivers tradition, you need an untalented family member to co-host one of these shindigs. Bring back Mindy Burbano. At least she asked stupid questions. Ly-lo just stood with her back to the camera blocking every celebrity Sam fawned all over.
Okay, that's not fair. She did ask some stupid questions. To Robert Altman: "Does it get less exciting to go to the Academy Awards?" Or to Hugh Jackman: "Are we over run by Australians tonight?" To Will Smith she made the observation: "You're a little bit smaller than when I saw you last."
But for sheer idiocy it's hard to beat Sam. "And that's the exciting thing about today," Sam gushed, "Some people have been here before and some have never been here before." I wondered why today was exciting. To Sting he asked: "What's distinctive about singing to a BILLION people?" Helen Mirran was queried this by slathering Sam: "How did you make your role so vivid" to which she replied: "It's called acting, darling."
Suck-up Sam's best question of the night was directed towards the lovely Jennifer "I had any trace of humor or personality removed" Connelly. "I hear John and Alicia Nash are here. How are they feeling? And how are you feeling about the way they're feeling?"
The pre-Oscar coverage is always amusing. Most inane (as always) was Hollywood fool/footstool/bootlicker Sam Rubin and his co-host this year, the brainless Toni Senecal (who I assume is Sam’s gushy sycophant counterpart in New York) on KTLA. Sam to Catalina Sandino Moreno: “Did you spend a lot of time getting ready?” Has he ever actually talked to a woman?? Toni then asked her: “It’s your first movie, you’re the first Columbian to ever be nominated – call me crazy – how do you feel?” Toni asked Sophie Okonedo what was the best gift she had received.
Nominees I never heard of or recognized were blowing them off. Maybe if they weren't trying to lure them with Tic Tacs.
The KTLA fashion expert said about Hilary Swank; “It’s a surprise to everyone. She looks fantastic.”
Sam to P. Diddy: “People watching at home, having an Oscar party, what can they learn from you?”
There should be a spam blocker on my TV to save me from ever seeing Joan and Melissa Rivers. This year they’ve been relegated to the TV Guide channel which answers the question “what could possibly be less entertaining than a 24 hour program guide crawl?”
Sunday, August 27, 2006
It’s hard to take the Emmys seriously when the best drama (LOST), best dramatic actor (Hugh Laurie), and best dramatic actress (Edie Falco) weren’t even nominated. It’s like the ’84 Olympics when the Eastern Bloc countries and allies pulled out and the US was the big winner over Mauritania, Qatar, and Seychelles.
This year the ceremony was held at the cavernous Shrine Auditorium. Capacity: everyone who ever watched HUFF.
Conan O’Brien is a lot funnier at 1:00 in the morning. In other words, the end of the Emmys not the start.
A MUSIC MAN parody? Even the Hasty Pudding Show at Harvard would not have let Conan do that.
There is no room where Bob Newhart is not the funniest man in it. He doesn’t even have to speak. I am in continual awe.
How could Ellen Burstyn lose? Sure, her total screen time was 14 seconds but 12 of them were BRILLIANT.
Jennifer Love Hewitt saved some money and wrapped herself in tin foil.
Great questions on E!’s red carpet show. Isiah Washington was asked his porn name. Ryan Seacrest asked Steven Colbert if Jon Stewart was a prick? Class-eeee. He then asked Hugh Laurie: “Do you find that you’re less clever with the American accent?” Bring back Sam Rubin and Mindy Barbano! At least they gave out Altoids.
First Emmy article in the LA TIMES Sunday CALENDAR section: Page six. Page one story: “Gidget gone global”.
What does it say about the Television Academy’s stature when the seat fillers now ARE the nominees?
Sandra Oh was wearing Conan the Barbarian’s jewelry.
What was Warren Beatty doing there? Did he think he was getting a lifetime award for his work on DOBIE GILLIS?
Evangeline Lily looks spectacular even when she’s not soaking wet and trapped in a net.
So much for Steve Carell being the mortal lock of the Emmys. Kevin James must’ve been the Ralph Nader who split the votes.
Note to Candice Bergman: “the Little Mermaid” is not a good look for you.
I only voted for Blythe Danner because the last time she won she bashed Bush. This time she thanked the cast of HUFF. She might as well have thanked the waitresses at Bob’s Big Boy. No one knew who the hell she was talking about.
The fact that Jack Bauer has saved the world fifteen times over the least we could do is give him a goddamn Emmy.
Lovely tribute to Dick Clark. Only topped by his touching courageous speech.
Had to replay several times Barry Manilow’s final comment to Mr. Clark. He said, “all right, Dick” not “I love Dick” as I first suspected (and hoped).
Jeremy Piven came dressed for nomination only.
The Aaron Spelling tribute reminded me of my one encounter with him. My partner, David and I helped punch up a pilot. He called that night, praised us to the heavens, said he wanted to make a big development deal with us and send a limo to get us every day. The next morning when we saw him we said hello and he said, “Do I know you?”
It would have been nice if one of Aaron’s family members accepted for him instead of CHARLIE’S FACE LIFTS.
Kate Jackson’s skin is now so tight you could bounce a quarter off her face.
How LA is this? A winner at last week’s non-televised-so-who-cares ceremony brought his Emmy to the gym yesterday. The other Emmy winners who now can’t get jobs weren’t impressed.
Cheryl Hines looked like she backed into a chandelier and took some of it with her.
Cloris Leachman won again. I guess SPLANGLISH wasn’t a career-ender for everyone.
Why do they still give an award for best main title design when no shows are allowed to have main titles anymore?
Allison Janney came as the world’s tallest flapper.
How could Gregory Itzen possibly lose??? Jesus Christ. I wonder how many confused Academy members voted for Alan Alda because they thought he was really running for President?
This isn’t the first time Alan Alda beat out a more deserving nominee. But I’ve gotten over it.
Barry Manilow won over Hugh Jackman? I guess word got out that Hugh Jackman was straight.
Best line of the night: Steve Colbert, “I lost to Barry Manilow?!”
Accepting the award for Jon Cessar – Joe Montagne. No wait, that WAS Jon Cessar.
Kathryn Hiegel would be gorgeous even without the Macy’s Day Parade balloons.
There was a tie for best Children’s Program: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and I HAVE TOURETTE’S. How do you choose? It’s the same show.
The best actor in THE COMEBACK was not Lisa Kudrow. It was James Burrows.
I’m sure ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT will get nominated again next year even though it’s been cancelled. Critics will just assume it would have been one of their better seasons.
So James Gandolfini didn’t turn in a nomination worthy performance on THE SOPRANOS but Chris Meloni of LAW & ORDER: SVU did? Who will ever forget Chris’ big moment when he said, “we’ve got to get that sicko off the streets!”?
Why was Charlie Sheen up for Best Actor and Jon Cryer up for Best Supporting Actor? In TWO AND A HALF MEN, is Jon the half?
Jeremy Irons (ELIZABETH 1) won for playing a fop. What a stretch for him.
Helen Mirren thanked writers. She’s my favorite actress in all the world.
Was that Calista Flockhart or House’s cane?
There’s a category called “Makeup for a series (non-prosthetic)” which in fact means, “Makeup for every show other than DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES”.
Glad “Best music for a series” didn’t go to PRISON BREAK since for a big mood scene they used the HOUSE theme. Maybe SOMEONE at Fox could have flagged that? How do they expect us to watch that network when they don’t even watch it themselves?
Ben Stiller lost to Leslie Jordan. That should keep him from appearing in another television show until 2017.
I’m happy THE OFFICE won. It’s not as good as the British version but sure better than anything America has to offer.
And if LOST and the SOPRANOS and HOUSE didn’t win for Best Drama, I’m glad 24 did. I can’t wait till next year when Jack Bauer has to plug up the Ozone Layer.
And finally, there was a show called HOW WILLIAM SHATNER CHANGED THE WORLD on the History Channel that was nominated for best writing of all things. That’s it. It’s now officially time to retire the Emmys.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
As I prepare to watch and review the Emmys and scan through the sad list of nominees I’m reminded of a show that never got its due and should have been in Emmy contention every year – BECKER.
Okay, disclaimer: I worked on the show but that’s not the point. I also worked on CONRAD BLOOM and ASK HARRIET.
BECKER spent years on CBS never getting any attention. All it got were ratings. No matter where they put it. Still, somehow, no one ever knew the show existed. Now it’s in syndication, airing at 2 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon and people are discovering it as if it were brand new. (What does that say about CBS marketing?)
Ted Danson was flat out wonderful in the part. He was HOUSE without the limp. His supporting cast, notably Shawnee Smith and (in later seasons) Nancy Travis were every bit as Emmy worthy as Jackee.
Behind the scenes, the writers hailed from CHEERS, WINGS, FRASIER, MURPHY BROWN, and DUCKMAN. They later went on to the SOPRANOS, FRIENDS, BERNIE MAC, and such feature films as FAILURE TO LAUNCH. Andy Ackerman, who directed most of the episodes, directed most of the SEINFELD episodes as well.
What did the show have to do to gain some recognition?
If you haven’t gotten into BECKER, give it a shot. It’s probably on KDOC Channel 56 in Orange County or your local equivalent right now. Watch a few episodes. You might be surprised. BECKER is a smart, funny show. The best new comedy of the year may be seven years old.
Friday, August 25, 2006
A few random thoughts:
I will be filing my review of the Emmys late Sunday night. My opinions will not be influenced by the fact that I’m not nominated again this year.
It must be Oscar season. The two big theatres in Westwood that are across the street from each other are showing BEERFEST and SNAKES ON A PLANE.
Welcome to network television, Tina Fey. You had to fire your best friend and replace her with the more attractive but way less funny Jane Krakowski.
And does it bother you, Tina, that NBC is promoting the snot out of the Aaron Sorkin show (which is essentially your exact same premise) and hardly anything for yours?
If MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 took in $200,000,000 do you think Tom Cruise’s erratic behavior would have still been unacceptable to Paramount?
American Airline’s slogan should be “We apologize for the inconvenience.” I wouldn’t mind so much if their agents even PRETENDED to give a shit.
I’m glad PRISON BREAK is back. But why don’t they just retitle it THE FUGITIVES?
David Letterman is still funny.
The new gay cable network is rerunning IT’S ALL RELATIVE. There’s $3,25 in residuals I never thought I’d see.
I hope the theme for this year’s EMMYS is not the great talking animal shows.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Back from five weeks in East Haddam, Ct. and nearby Chester, Ct. where the musical I’ve co-written, THE 60’s PROJECT is in production. My eternal gratitude to Michael Price and the super folks at the Goodspeed Theatre for their hospitality. support, and bug balm. I’ve never worked with a classier, more professional bunch.
If you love Americana (which I do more than just about anything other than money), the “Nutmeg State” is for you. And Sourtheastern Connecticut was particularly beautiful and affectionately goofy.
Stayed at a lovely apartment. Very tastefully furnished. Naked drawings and statues throughout. Even the drinking glasses featured topless women. It’s like I was in my own house.
A local pet store sells reptiles and “critters”. And if you buy a cage they’ll give you two free “long haired dwarf mice.”
Roadside sign spotted: SCENIC ROUTE, NEXT 0.3 MILES.
A fork in the road -- one sign points to Camp Beth El, the other to Christian camps.
There are few Cajun places in the south as good as the New Orleans restaurant in Old Saybrook. Their noontime special is a FAT ASS LUNCH. I qualified.
“Casual” is another name for “fried” when it comes to funky fun seafood restaurants. Lenny & Joe’s is the best.
People could not be nicer.
Keep a can of OFF with you at all times.
If there’s a ten minute thunderstorm anywhere in Connecticut, power and cable goes off for the entire state. Usually for 24-30 hours. The state symbol should be a flashlight.
As green and lush and gorgeous as this place is in the summer I bet the fall is even better. With all the salt in the Connecticut River the red and gold colors of autumn must be extra striking and vivid.
If you go to Killingworth, take a drive down Roast Meat Hill Road. I’m not kidding. There’s really a Roast Meat Hill Road.
The Merchant House on US 154 sells Vera Bradley apparel (e.g. purses) and fireworks. Ideal for milady terrorist.
The local East Haddam liquor store closes at 8. And all day Sunday. Blue laws are still in effect. You don’t see a lot of Yale students here.
My 60’s PROJECT writing partner, Janet, got a manicure where the top coat was hoof veneer. Beware any beauty parlor where their celebrity clientele includes Secretariat.
Take I-84 to New York. The highway is smooth as glass. The second you cross into New York state you hit potholes.
Boy, they love Nathan Hale. One good quote (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”) and the guy is a God. Attractions include his house, his school house, his barbershop, the Dairy Queen where he used to make Blizzards.
Connecticut is also the birthplace of Anika Noni Rose who will become a big star after DREAMGIRLS is released.
The Tylerville convenience store sells worms in the freezer section between Ben & Jerry ice cream and tater tots. There’s something terribly wrong when worms are more expensive than long haired dwarf mice.
Towns have colorful names like Moodus and Old Lyme (the actual home of Lyme Disease).
I felt like I was in Twin Peaks. And come to think of it, after the first week, I never saw Laura Palmer. Hmmmm?
At the local Bank of America drive-thru ATM I waited in line behind a motorcycle gang. Guess they needed some extra cash for new chains.
Good morning! The menu at a Middletown diner leads off with “Breakfast Cocktails.” If you go out for pancakes, better have a designated driver.
Do not pass a market without stocking up on bug spray.
Most restaurants close on Monday nights. Every one that is open sells pizza.
Big tourist attraction in East Haddam is the Gillette castle. I can just picture their knights, all using swords with the patented four blades for a smoother, closer kill.
There is not yet a Starbucks in every small town. This might not be true by the time you read this.
Sign in Centerbrook: CALIMARI RECYCLING. From what TO what???
The ambience is very New England. By that I mean a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. And their coffee is FAR better than Starbucks.
All you see are people on motorcycles. What you never see are motorcycle helmets. They should rename one of the more treacherous streets Motorcycle Meat Hill Road.
If you bought a house here in 1792 you could sell it today for at least double what you paid for it.
There is better cellphone service in Antarctica than Southeastern Connecticut.
Had lunch at the Griswold Inn in Essex, which claims to be the oldest Inn in America – serving since 1776. There must be a hundred old Inns on the East Coast making that same claim. This one had the very first hand blower in their bathroom. But at the time it was just a guy who blew onto your hands.
If you’re hungry, haven’t eaten in four days and only have one dollar, spend it on mosquito netting.
Larry, Darryl, & Darryl are alive and work at every gas station in the state.
There are wonderful hiking trails. You can see nature at its finest and discover Laura Palmer’s body.
A lot of these small towns look like movie sets. If you like bed & breakfasts, Laura Ashley-like dress shops, tchochkes, and cemeteries this is your heaven.
Some big Indian casinos nearby. For you history buffs, Tony Orlando is appearing frequently.
Based on the number of sightings, I’m beginning to think Connecticut is an Indian word for road kill.
There is a Goodspeed airport in East Haddam. One Cessna, a red shack that says 42B on the roof (no running through long terminals trying to make connections.) and a burned out Quonset hut (the “Admirals Club”). It still takes two hours to get through security. Only airport employee is Grizzly Adams on a tractor demanding $5 landing fees.
In Deep River the ice cream parlor is next door to the tattoo parlor. Perfect for the motorcycle gang that has a sweet tooth.
Only passed through New Haven. Wanted to stop by that venerable jewel of the Ivy League, Yale and tell the students to stop trying to be comedy writers. Go into law or politics for Christsakes! You’re at Yale!
And never got to Hartford. Didn’t want to fight all the tourists stampeding to the Insurance Capital of the World.
But in five lovely weeks I’m sure I saw all the major attractions of the Nutmeg State…except, now that I think about it, nutmeg.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
A viewer wondered what I thought of SEINFELD. I would rate it one of the greatest series of all-time for the masturbation episode alone! (Plus, it fits into my belief of “write what you know”)
SEINFELD is one of the very few shows to truly have a VOICE. The show created its own world. It’s own logic. It set its own rules – primarily by shattering existing ones. Contrivances, conveniences, stories about nothing, characters never growing or learning, Jews – SEINFELD shattered all the taboos.
In today’s television landscape I don’t know what’s harder – coming up with an inspired vision or holding onto it. There is SO much interference these days, so many notes from so many people. Just remembering what your vision was takes a Herculean effort.
Quick aside: years ago my partner, David, and I were doing a pilot for Paramount. After the network runthrough we got the requisite blizzard of notes from the network and studio brass and suddenly the Paramount Facilities Manager weighs in with a bunch of lines and moments that “concerned” him. WTF?? I was pissed. I gently stopped him and said, “Excuse me, do I tell you which stage to assign?”
SEINFELD is exactly the kind of comedy networks say they want and should be airing but they’ve now created an interference infrastructure that makes it impossible to mount the next one.
Consider SEINFELD’s origin. In the late 80’s, Jerry Seinfeld was a frequent guest host of the TONIGHT SHOW. NBC thought he might make a good candidate to replace Johnny Carson after he had retired. They wanted to keep Jerry in the fold. To throw him a bone they let him have a situation comedy. The original order was for six. Jerry chose sitcom neophyte, Larry David to create and run it. The network didn’t really care. It was just an exercise anyway. (At first he was paired with sitcom vet, Fred Barron but that lasted maybe eleven seconds.)
They made the six episodes. The network hated them. The testing came back. Lowest EVER. The network buried the show. They waited a year to air them. But the response wasn’t horrible (among the very few people who even saw them, buried in a bad time slot), Carson was still hanging on, Jerry was getting antsy, so NBC ordered a few more.
And so it went for a few years. Positive buzz started building as people discovered this gem of a show and when the network moved it to Thursdays at 9:30 behind top rated CHEERS it really took off. And then of course, all these network executives who hated it, never understood it, and tried to kill it now took credit for it.
Hatching a successful sitcom is like winning the lottery. So many things have to fall in place, so many amazing people have to all be available to come together at the same time. What if Jason Alexander happened to be attached to another pilot? What if Larry David didn’t know Michael Richards from their days together on ABC’S FRIDAYS? What if Larry David were writing a movie and didn’t have time to create a TV show? Or if Carson wasn’t planning to retire? Or if NBC thought Johnny’s heir apparent should be Gallagher?
I marvel at SEINFELD. It’s hilarious, it’s inspired, it’s revolutionary, but most of all, it was given a rare opportunity (maybe one that will never come again) and it DELIEVERED. It truly was the “master of its own domain”.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Here’s the conclusion of my Fall Movie Preview. I know I’m leaving out THE GRUDGE 2 but that’s on purpose.
THE FLOCK – Richard Gere as an agent in charge of monitoring sex offenders. LAW & ORDER: SVU with a hammy over-praised movie star. At least he doesn’t dance.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3-D – If successful expect NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 2-3-D.
DREAMGIRLS – movie version of stage musical about a Supremes type singing group. AMERICAN IDOL should-have-been-winner, Jennifer Hudson plays Diana Ross type character. To research for the role Jennifer slept with Barry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, all of the Temptations, Miracles, and all the other Supremes’ boyfriends.
LASSIE – Peter O’Toole in the title role.
VENUS – Peter O’Toole in the title role.
PUSH CART MAN – Street vendor in New York City. How did this blockbuster not come out in the summer?
APOCALYPTO – Mel Gibson written & directed movie moved from summer release to now to coincide with his Jew hating comments. I won’t see this movie or ever speak again to anyone who does.
ERAGON – love story between a teenage boy and female dragon. I assume there are special effects. It’s SPLASH except she can light BBQ’s.
THE PAINTED VEIL – Naomi Watt’s trades in King Kong for another monster, Edward Norton.
ROCKY BALBOA – Guess they ran out of numerals.
PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS – Will Smith and real life son in bonding movie hopefully not about preparing for the national Spelling Bee.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM – Ben Stiller plays a security guard at the New York Natural History Museum. Co-stars Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs as dinosaurs that come to life when the museum closes.
THE NATIVITY STORY – No logline provided so I have no idea what it’s about.
MISS POTTER – Hoping to lure Harry Potter fans who don’t pay much attention. It’s the story of Peter Rabbit author, Beatrix Potter. Word is: great script and Oscar snatching performance by Rene Zellweger.
And finally, the picture we’ve all been waiting for…
FEAST – The Project Greenlight movie buried longer than King Tut. Monster movie set in a bar. Debut director John Gulager’s unintentional tribute to Ed Wood.
See ya at the movies! Or at least the mailbox swapping Netflix.
Monday, August 21, 2006
More Fall Movies and what to expect.
HOLLYWOODLAND – Did TV’s Superman, George Reeves kill himself or was he murdered in 1959? That’s one of the mysteries. But the bigger mystery is who in his right mind cast Ben Affleck to play Superman? Should be a riot.
A GOOD YEAR – A Russell Crowe comedy (isn’t that an oxymoron?). Re-teaming with Ridley Scott. Length issues forced them to cut all the jokes in GLADIATOR. Now they get the chance to strut out their funny boots. Crowe says doing a comedy puts him in a better mood. Hotel employees will be relieved.
THE GOOD GERMAN – George Clooney, bad guys in the 40’s.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD – Matt Damon, bad guys in the 40’s.
DEJA VU – Tagline should be “Been there, Done that.”
FLUSHED AWAY – Yet ANOTHER cartoon. This one is about a mouse flushed down the toilet. Will take you back to all your goldfish funerals as a kid.
THE RETURN – Aptly named film starring Sarah Michelle Geller. The “return” to television beckons.
I must pause for a moment. Ben Affleck as Superman????
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION – Christopher Guest and the Guffman Gang in a comedy about Hollywood. I know I’ll be laughing even as I tighten the noose around my neck.
COME EARLY MORNING – Stars Ashley Judd so it must be a kidnapping movie. I bet she does that annoying silent crying thing, like she’s choking on a grape.
CASINO ROYALE – Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. It’ll be hard enough living up to Sean Connery but in this remake of the late 60’s CASINO ROYALE he’ll have to make us forget about Woody Allen as 007. The conceit here is that this new version is really the “first” James Bond movie. We’re supposed to believe the previous twenty others never existed. I know the one with Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist didn’t.
THE DEPARTED – Martin Scorsese’s return to MEAN STREETS genre. I will RUN to see this movie. It’s Martin’s third film with Leo. DeNiro is getting jealous.
FLICKA – Why?
CHARLOTTE’S WEB – Again?
F_ _ _ -- A documentary about the “word”. Contains profanity.
BUG – A paranoid veteran holes up in a hotel room with Ashley Judd. I’m guessing she’s there against her will.
VOLVER – Penelope Cruz in her most difficult acting role. She has to get bad news AND cry.
The conclusion tomorrow. And next Monday, my Emmy review.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Time for my annual (well, first annual) Fall Movie Preview. After the mindless summer fare it’s good to have some intelligent movies to look forward to.
EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH – two morons try to be Costco employee of the month to seduce a hot girl into bed. Before you say no girl is that stupid, just know they’ve cast Jessica Simpson.
IDIOCRACY – Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE follow-up. America has dumbed down to where the smartest person in the country is an idiot. Shot in current times.
JACKASS NUMBER TWO – So many unanswered questions in JACKASS NUMBER ONE.
ARTE LANGE’S BEER LEAGUE – The perfect date movie.
FAST FOOD NATION – For those sophisticated moviegoers who couldn’t get enough of CLERKS 2.
HISTORY BOYS – Tony award winning Alan Bennett play. Original cast and superb writing. Will probably get slaughtered by ARTE LANGE’S BEER LEAGUE.
LUCKY YOU – Poker movie starring Eric Bana who did his own stunts.
THE GUARDIAN – Coast Guard Reserve swimmers. And you couldn’t sell your ‘lifeguards at Grossingers’ spec.
MARIE ANTOINETTE – Sofia Coppola’s costume epic. The wigs alone cost more than LOST IN TRANSLATION. Stars Kirsten Dunst as the ultimate East Hamptons role model. Her last words were “Let them eat cake!” They should have been, “Spiderman! Help!!”
SAW III – Jigsaw goes after totem poles.
ALL THE KING’S MEN – Sean Penn movie. Expect angst, crying, meltdowns. Still hasn’t recovered from marriage to Madonna.
MAN OF THE YEAR – (not to be confused with EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH) Comedy starring Robin Williams (yawn). Also Lewis Black. I’m there opening day.
SHORTBUS – Actors engage in real sex. I’ll skip MAN OF THE YEAR to see this first.
SANTA CLAUSE 3: This time he fights Rocky Balboa.
OPEN SEASON – cartoon, celebrity voices. Next?
EVERYONE’S HERO – cartoon, celebrity voices. Next? Wait. It’s about baseball? See it.
BREAKING AND ENTERING – Can Jude Law kill another movie?
THE HOLIDAY – Can Jude Law kill another movie?
FLAGS OF OUR FATHER – Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima film. He didn’t want to hire any actors over 26. Was then talked out of playing one of the roles himself.
Part Two tomorrow.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I’ve had several people ask me what NOT to do when trying to get someone to read their spec. It’s a case by case basis of course but I’ll just share some of my own personal experiences or things I have witnessed.
I’ve had people give me spec scripts at high school reunions. Not a good idea unless it’s from the person you always had a crush on and they haven’t gained 300 pounds.
A well known comedy director was in temple during High Holiday services one year when a fellow congregant reached inside his tallis and pulled out a spec script. Not kosher.
When I was announcing for the Orioles I once got thrown out of Bobby Valentine’s office for asking tough questions. He was then the manager of the Texas Rangers. Fifteen minutes later I was summoned back, obviously to receive an apology. No. He had heard I was a writer and pitched me a movie. Try not to be an asshole first.
And then there was the time I was in a funeral home with my father making final arrangements for my grandmother who had just passed away. At one point the mortician asked what I did. When my father said I was a writer the ghoul launched into a twenty minute movie pitch. If my dad wasn’t there no one would believe that story. But it’s true. Pick your spots.
What you need to do is first introduce yourself and try to establish a relationship. How intimate is up to you. But here’s my favorite story. Years ago I and another writer, Larry, were asked to speak at a UCLA extension class. I was a story editor on MASH at the time and he was story editor of RHODA. As we stood in front of the class lecturing, a friend overhead one young woman saying to another: “I think I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather do a RHODA”.
Friday, August 18, 2006
For 26 years KZLA has been the Country Music station of Los Angeles. It has the largest audience of any country station in America. So you would think it was a success.
Yesterday, Emmis Broadcasting (who owns KZLA) changed formats to “Movin’ 93.9” playing something called rhythmic Hot AC (Gwen Stefani, Prince, all your rhythmic favorites, whatever they are.). And as an added bonus, they’ve hired Rick Dees to do mornings.
So why the change? Val Maki, the GM and Emmis executive said their research indicated there was a need for this made-up format.
And then gave the following quote, which in one sentence nails the reason why radio and television broadcasting is in such deplorable shape these days –
“We work for our advertisers. Through our research and other research we know there was a large phantom cume that never got measured in Arbitron, as good as Arbitron is.”
“WE WORK FOR OUR ADVERTISERS”.
Oh really? No, you don’t.
YOU WORK FOR THE PUBLIC!!!!!!
You have a license to broadcast in the PUBLIC’S interest, not the advertisers. That is a completely unconscionable and revealing statement.
I never listened to KZLA. I don’t have any friends who work there. Country music is not my thing. But for the loyal fans who were totally abandoned after a quarter of a century of support (shades of what CBS did to CBS-FM last year) I say don’t just write angry letters that won’t be read.
CHALLENGE THE LICENSE.
Use Ms. Maki’s quote. A broadcast license is a privilege. If the mandate of Emmis Broadcasting is to serve the advertisers and not you, they do not deserve to broadcast on the public airwaves.
And excuse me, you can hear Gwen Stefani on fifteen other LA radio stations.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I was talking to a writer friend (one of those “old school” comedy writers – has won Emmys and numerous awards and now can’t get his agent on the phone) and exploring the idea of maybe teaching a class on sitcom writing. (dispensing the kind of crap I do in this blog.) He then wondered whether the principles and lessons of comedy writing we learned were even relevant today given what the networks are looking for in their sitcoms? I know when I was taking extension classes at UCLA the teachers seemed very out-of-date. Don’t teach me how to write the perfect FLYING NUN. Would I seem like one of those guys by showing how we broke stories on CHEERS?
I’ve been mulling it over for weeks and have finally come to a conclusion: fuck it! Good story telling and writing craft are always worth learning, even if some of the principles are not in vogue at the moment. Who knows? If Howie Mandell can come back so can quality sitcoms. I will be looking into where and when I could teach a class. So far the Wally Thor Truckmaster School is the only institution to express some interest.
In the meantime, get ahold of TAXI DVD’s. And CHEERS, FRASIER, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE HONEYMOONERS and BILKO.
Watch how the comedy comes out of the characters. Notice how relatable most of the situations are even though these shows range in age from ten to forty years old. For the most part they’re about characters forced to make timeless basic human decisions but with a comic spin.
Study the structure. Forget style. How do they set up their dilemmas? How do they build to act breaks? How do they resolve their stories? Are there surprises? If so, how are they set up? How do the casts intermingle? Look at the ensemble players. What is each member’s specific role?
I’ll let you know if I do teach a class. Check the Wally Thor catalogue. But if you study TAXI you’ll know most of what I’m going to say and not have to listen to my insufferable “when I was a young freelancer” stories.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Wow, you guys love CHEERS topics. Here’s another one before moving on to something else.
Got into a discussion recently on the value of “stupid” characters on TV. And by that I mean in sitcoms, not our President. My contention was these characters worked because they had their own internal logic, usually taking things too literally. Think Gracie Allen, the Coach & Woody, Reverend Jim, etc. (In the case of our President the internal logic is “But if I go to New Orleans to inspect the flood damage I’ll miss the Padres game”.)
“Stupid” characters also provide a great way to impart exposition to the audience. When Sam explains what’s going on to the Coach he’s also explaining it to the viewers.
So the trick is to find that line that is dumb but you understand why the character would arrive at it. Sometimes it’s a fine line. In the case of the Coach on CHEERS we had a contest in a writers room to see who could pitch the dumbest Coach joke. One day we were faced with the following set-up: Sam is in his office. The Coach comes in to say he’s got a call. Jerry Belson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He pitched this:
COACH: Sam, there’s a little black man in the bar who wants to speak to you.
SAM: No Coach, that’s the phone.
But I’d like to offer this:
RUMSFELD: Mr. President, there’s a little black man outside on the desk who wants to speak to you.
BUSH: Send him in.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A number of people commented on yesterday’s post mentioning Kevin McHale’s two appearances on CHEERS.
As a rule of thumb, when you stunt cast with non-actors, especially sports stars, it’s best to give them the minimal to do and say. And by that I mean, have them enter, stand there, and leave.
A real exception was Kevin McHale.
McHale, who was then the Boston Celtics’ Hall-of-Fame sixth man, was hired for one brief scene in one episode. But he proved to be so good, so natural, and even (shockingly) so funny that we increased his part and then brought him back for a second episode. If this GM of the Timberwolves thing doesn’t work out Kevin could always star in the next STILL STANDING.
The only other time we did that with a celebrity was Alex Trebeck. Remember the Cliff-on-JEAPORDY episode? Alex was only slated to be in the actual JEAPORDY scene, but he was so funny we brought him into the bar as well. And if he screwed up we could always sound a buzzer.
One trivia note re Kevin McHale: In the Boston Gardens bolts episode (written by David Isaacs and me) there’s a brief scene where he’s in bed with his wife. We used his actual wife. And she was funny too! Not Alex Trebeck funny but still.
On the other hand…
The first season we used former pitcher Luis Tiant for a beer commercial scene. It took 100 takes. And we still settled.
And then there’s the Wade Boggs affair (literally). It was the very end of season six. NBC ordered an additional show. We put together a story called BAR WARS where CHEERS got into a practical joke war with Gary’s Olde Town Tavern. We thought it would be funny for a real Boston sports star to enter CHEERS but the gang think it’s an imposter, pants him, and chase him out of the bar.
The first name we came up with was Red Sox All-Star, Wade Boggs. Trouble was, it was March and he was in Spring Training in Winter Haven, Florida. We inquired anyway, and to our amazement, he agreed to do it. He even got the Red Sox to give him three days off. We thought, wow, CHEERS must really be influential now.
A few years later we learned the truth. An article by Margot Adams in PLAYBOY revealed that she was having an affair with Boggs and the real reason he was so hot to do our show was that he got a free trip to LA to see Margot. So much for our show’s massive influence.
Years later I was broadcasting for the Orioles and Mariners and encountered Boggs in the clubhouse. He wouldn’t talk to me. Yeah, like it was my fault.
Kevin McHale still takes my calls.
I’m kinda in a CHEERS mood.
As a writer you like to think that when you write a role it so specific that only a certain number of people could play it. Well, that’s not always the case.
In the first year of CHEERS we had a role in an episode for a mysterious character who comes into the bar posing as a spy. We first offered the role to Richard Burton. Unbelievably, he passed. Then it was offered to Jack Elam (the guy with the lazy eye who played the villain in a thousand western). Elam passed and we ended up with Ellis Rabb, a very flamboyant theatrical actor who built his career on playing fops. (I think if he had passed our next choice was Billy Barty)
Several seasons later we wrote an episode where Sam brings Larry Bird back to the bar and it appears that he steals Rebecca’s hundred thousand dollar earrings. When Bird decided to pass we went to the next logical choice, Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Side trip: He turned out to be a great guy. And yes, he was always trailed by an aide with a box handcuffed to his wrist – putting the Admiral in direct satellite communication with the President, day or night. Every twenty minutes this aide had to unlock the box and place a test call. I badgered him into letting me watch this once. He opened the box. I was expecting this real high tech Star Wars equipment. It looked like used Radio Shack shit, with a black phone worthy of Maxwell Smart.
Admiral Crowe did every joke we wrote for him…except one, presented here for the first time.
He’s sitting at the bar with Norm and Cliff. Norm says, “So you got the black box, huh?” Admiral: “That’s right.” Cliff: “And you can make one call and nuclear missiles are in the air on their way to Russia?” Admiral: “Yes, sir.” Norm then slaps a bill on the counter and says, “Fifty bucks says you can’t.”
I’m only sorry Larry Bird didn’t take the role. I’m sure he would have said it.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
We opened! THE 60’s PROJECT premiered Thursday night at the Goodspeed Theatre in Chester, Ct. (otherwise known as the Broadway of the Nutmeg State). It went fantastic considering we had no dress rehearsal, barely had time to do the tech, there were still glitches in the visual effects, scenes were still being lit on the fly, and our drummer was rushed to the hospital with slipped disc (get better soon, Ron!) requiring a replacement to come in last minute and perform the score cold. In other words – a typical opening! My eternal gratitude to director Richard Maltby Jr. and our fantastic cast for somehow getting this monster up.
Much to everyone’s delight (and relief) the show played great. The only problem – length. We took out twenty minutes and the next night it went through the roof. Yes, it was hard to cut stuff we loved but far more excruciating was having to tell the cast that their scenes or moments or songs were cut. Especially when the cuts were no fault of theirs. It was all about story – eliminating the redundancies, sharpening the focus, quickening the pace, taking out my jokes that proved to be clams.
It’s amazing what a great addition elimination can be. But tell that to the kids who sang and danced their hearts out on a number that you just killed.
In television of course, we’re faced with this problem every week. Networks tell us how long our shows can be and we can’t deliver one second over. But at least in TV you can save lifted material and use it later. On CHEERS we had what we called our “SOS” file – “some other show”. We loved those bar talk runs but if shows ran long they were always the first to go since they were always off story. There’s one I remember that David Isaacs and I wrote where the topic was “what’s the smartest barnyard animal?” That run was in and out of literally seven episodes. We wrote it early in the first season. It finally aired late in the second. During table readings the cast would get to it, stop, and say “Oh no. THIS again?” We’d say “Please perform the rest of the show faster so we could finally get this goddamn thing in.”
I had much more to say about making cuts (or “killing your babies” as the delightful phrase goes) but took my own advice and cut it.
If you find yourself near Chester, Connecticut anytime before September 3rd, come see our show, THE 60’s PROJECT. And if you have an 11:00 train you’ll be able to make it now.
Call today for best seats! 860-873-8668. www.goodspeed.org. And tell ‘em Shameless Kenny sent ya.
Since airport security has now made it impossible for anyone to travel unless absolutely necessary, the next best substitute is reading about the destinations you might want to have gone to. So as a totally self serving public service, here is one of my travelogues from 2003. Any publishers out there that want to compile them for a book, I’m interested. (told you it was self serving)
Back from one of my favorite places – Chicago. It’s truly glorious the three months there's no wind chill factor.
Debby and I went back to collect Annie who had been at Northwestern University for a five week intensive theatre program for high school kids. 135 "Cherubs" took classes in theatre. Annie's performed in "the Trial of Lizzie Borden" (O.J. with an axe). Happy to report she was fabulous. Note to all high school acting teachers: NEVER let teenage boys play "old men". Not only is it an exercise in bad make up it is always embarrassing. The Little Rascals wearing grown up clothes. Play it safe. Do "Grease".
Thank God Annie didn't tell the other Cherubs what I do for a living otherwise I would be coming home with 134 head shots.
Our flight to Chicago was delayed an hour and half because a latch wasn't fastened correctly. Airline mechanics have the perfect job. Union benefits AND they get to keep 200 people waiting. Have you been on American Airlines lately? No more do they serve meals in coach. They now employ "Bistro Service", which means paper sacks containing stale sandwiches, raisins, and chips. I found myself longing for those disgusting omelets. Next year "Intermezzo Service" when they just throw you cans of C-Rations.
We stayed at the Doubletree Suites (Holiday Inn with cookies). They have the following sign hanging on the towels in the bathroom
WHEN YOU CARE, IT SHOWS
Everyday millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. YOU MAKE THE CHOICE:
A towel on the rack means "I will use again".
A towel on the floor means "Please replace"
Thank you for helping us conserve the Earth's vital resources. “
How many housekeeping people were they able to lay off as a result? How many trees were cut down to make those little signs?
I'm just glad that little sign wasn't on the toilet paper.
In the honor bar Sparkling Water cost $2.75. At that price they'll never run out of it. They care and it shows.
Dinner Thursday night at Hugo's Frogbar (which is Gibson's sister restaurant). Nothing like a Chicago steak. Best animal fat in America. Rush Street is quite the scene on a warm summer night. Packed with people drinking. Since valet parking is $9.00 I suspect none of them had cars so they all got home safely. The care continues to show.
Anytime you turn on Channel 7 Oprah is on.
The big thing in Chicago these days is "Caramel Crisp". This is caramel covered popcorn and the shop that sells it on Michigan Avenue has LINES. Considering the beef, deep dish pizza, pancakes, White Castle sliders, etc. that Chicagoians devour this must be considered eating light.
The other big craze is American Girl Dolls. These are well made expensive dolls that kids can get to look like themselves. There is a big American Girl Doll store with lines almost as large as for the gummy popcorn. There's something a tad Stepford about seeing all these little girls clutching dolls that bear their own likeness. Of course I'd kill to have a Ken Levine action figure so who am I to talk?
There is no greater place in the world to watch a baseball game than Wrigley Field. Nowhere even close. We went Friday afternoon. Cubs vs. Arizona (that classic rivalry). The game started at 2:20. By 3:20 they were beginning the fifth inning. The game ended at 10:05 (but more on that later). Picked up a Harry Caray bobblehead doll. Debby got a George W. Bush bobblehead. It will go great with our one for Alf. Outside of Wrigley Field they have a statue for Harry Caray, their longtime announcer. On Michigan Ave. they have a statue for another sportscaster, Jack Brickhouse. You have to love a town that erects statues for baseball announcers. Here in LA. the best they can do for Vin Scully is a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is lovely until you realize there's also one for Bugs Bunny, Trigger, and Charlie Tuna.
Across the street from Wrigley is a stand that offers "Sunglasses and Tattoos".
Everyone sitting around us was plastered. We got a foul ball in our section that went off six hands before landing in the lap of the old lady wearing an Osbourne's T-shirt. Don't drink and catch.
At 4:15 the rains came delaying the game. Debby and I had to leave anyway, agreeing to meet Annie for dinner in Evanston at 5. It rained hard for three hours. I just kept wondering how many towels you could wash as a result. The Cubs and Diamondbacks resumed playing and would continue through 14 innings. We bar hopped along Rush watching the game cursing the futile Cubs like everyone else.
Chicago loves its Cubs but it's a tough love. Fans wear jerseys that say "Cork" in the Cubs logo. In Sunday's Tribune Mike Rosenbloom wrote:
Bob Hope's death at 100 leaves one fewer person who was alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series.
The Cubbies finally won in the 14th. Time of game: 7 hours, 40 minutes. A day/night single header. A thousand people were left in the stands. Every one needed a designated driver.
I saw the apartment building they used for the Bob Newhart Show. Bet I was the only person in fifteen years to recognize it.
Chicago in the summer is the home of the "Oblivious Tourist". Revolving doors completely befuddles them. Walking without just stopping in the middle of a crowded sidewalk? Big problem.
The Oblivious Tourist in the next room is now showering with the same towel for four days. The Oblivious Tourist in the room across the hall cares even more. He hasn't showered for four days.
There is a Pancake House for every three Chicagoians.
Gino's Pizza and Shaw's Crab House were delicious and fattening as ever. But the best meal we had was at Roys. Score one for Hawaii.
Every restaurant on Rush Street was packed on Friday and Saturday night....except the Lo Ca Locale. Tumbleweeds were rolling through that place.
In honor of the upcoming Elvis festival the WGN morning weather idiot AND the anchor, donned Elvis costumes. The anchor actually read a few news stories wearing that get up. What does it say about their journalistic integrity when the most credible member of their news team was Oscar red carpet booklicker, Sam Rubin live from LA?
Sunday afternoon produced the worst local flooding in 45 years. You could even wash bed sheets everyday with that much water. People were diving into theatres to get out of the rain...except for those theatres showing "Gigli". It was still preferable to be pelted with hail.
Coming home Annie was detained by airport security at O'Hare because of her teddy bear. They then searched through her backpack and let her go through, even with a pair of scissors. Huh???
The Oblivious Tourist was unclear that when he had to put his shoes in the plastic basket to go through the X-ray machine he had to take them off first.
Time to unpack and not wash any of our dirty clothes. Because of course, we care.
Friday, August 11, 2006
In case you missed it the first time around:
I have read some bad specs in my time and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read.
Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a WINGS spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap.
Don’t put yourself into the show and make yourself the lead character. I once read a CHEERS where Alan had more lines than Sam & Diane combined. Alan? Who’s Alan? Alan was one of the extras. And so he remained.
And just because people tell you you look like Debra Messing doesn’t mean you should write a WILL & GRACE entitled “Grace’s Sister”. If I get a script with a photo attached I know I’m in trouble.
Don’t hand write your script, no matter how good your penmanship. Send your spec in a UCLA blue book and you’ll get an F.
Don’t invent a format.
Know the characters. I read a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where Mary wondered what to get her husband for his birthday. Her “husband”???!
Keep in mind the production parameters. A MASH I once read featured this:
EXT. YANKEE STADIUM – DAY
Hawkeye is on the mound during the World Series. 60,000 people cheer.
Huh????? Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Peter Jackson or James Cameron make this? And if the answer is no, especially for a multi-camera show that takes place in a living room, then don’t do it.
Similarly, avoid dream sequences. The GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW is not looking for the next Fellini.
Don’t hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a BECKER where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.
Don’t change the characters’ reality to fit your story. Ray Barone is not Jewish. THAT’S why he can’t have a bar mitzvah.
I was going to recommend you don’t do like one aspiring writer and make a joke in a CHEERS about Diane’s pussy because it’s crude, offensive, and inappropriate, but I saw the same joke two weeks ago on STACKED.
Still, I’d like to think there is some line of decorum and taste left. I once read a NEWSRADIO where the story was the Dave Foley character comes into his office in the morning and discovers a semen stain on his couch. Then the episode went downhill.
Don’t marry off any of the main characters.
Don’t kill off any of the main characters.
Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs.
Don’t do the “supersize” hour episode.
The last sentence in your script should not be “To Be Continued”.
Don’t include a cover letter telling the producer that you sent him a copy of the script months ago and that he was shirking his responsibility by not reading it. Our agent did this once and trust me, David Lloyd was not amused.
And finally, avoid this ploy: I once received a spec MASH with a note that read “This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.” He received a touching rejection sympathy card.
Just remember this, when producers read your script they want to like it. They want to discover the next Larry Gelbart. It only helps them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid like relying on Jimmy Carter to get your laughs.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
This is a typical story. In the mid 80’s my partner and I had a pretty good movie career going along with our TV work. (I think this was that honeymoon period between the time VOLUNTEERS was made and actually released…because that window was pretty short as I recall.) Disney wanted to meet us.
We trooped down to Burbank, appropriately entered the Dopey Building and met with this very nice energetic young executive. If we had any movie ideas he wanted us to bring them to Disney first. Because of our work on CHEERS we were the perfect writers for them. They were looking to do sophisticated romantic comedies with with and heart, and smart crackling dialogue. Very few people could do that but we could and that’s what they wanted. We were obviously very flattered and said when we came up with something we would call them. He then said, “Listen, while you’re here, we do have one project that’s open, and we think you guys would be perfect for it. EARNEST GOES TO JAIL.”
We graciously passed. We could write sophisticated comedy but we weren’t Noel Coward.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Shows are getting back into production, meaning writing staffs are once again burning the midnight oil. Some tips from a grizzled veteran:
Take-out pasta does not travel well.
Avoid chocolate covered coffee beans. Someone once brought in a box of them to the rewrite room. Two hours later seven writers were bouncing off the ceiling, pitching nonsense, pitching the Pledge of Allegiance, one guy was pitching his Haftarah.
Bananas at midnight are a good idea. The contain potassium which will help keep you up and alert.
Cheese Doodles will not.
Take a break, get out of the office, and walk around the lot. You may think it’s adding fifteen minutes to your night but considering it will clear your head, you might catch your second wind and finish sooner.
Don’t spend an hour on one joke. Always remember the big picture. Table the thorny joke until the end. First and foremost is getting the story right. Tomorrow you can fix jokes.
Beware of show runners who are recently divorced. They have nothing to go home to and thus would much prefer to hang out all night with you.
Limit cast trashing to a half hour.
If there are one or two scenes that need major work or rewriting, do those first. You don’t want to get to 1:00 AM and THEN have to start tackling the hard stuff.
If you order BBQ food for dinner you are assured a long rewrite.
If you feel the need to pop something sweet in your mouth, don’t make it an M & M, make it a Tums.
Don’t breast feed in the room unless you plan to share with everyone.
Limit other show trashing to a half hour.
Drink lots and lots of water.
If you’re at page 30 and someone says “Can we go back to page 22?” KILL this person.
Don’t stop to watch the last two minutes of the Lakers game. That’s forty minutes. And probably overtime.
And if you stop to watch the end of the Mighty Ducks game – well, you just don’t want to be there.
Red Bull is not your friend. You may think it is until you see tomorrow’s runthrough.
Don’t get hung up on tiny details. If it needs to be googled or checked for spelling or added to a scene in act one, leave it to the people staying late to proof. We call that “Proofer’s Challenge”.
Limit discussion on how rich Chuck Lorre is to fifteen minutes. No, twenty.
Late at night when you’re punchy, you may write what you think is a hilarious run. Go back in proofing and cut it in half. The guys on the BOB NEWHART SHOW did not do this and I can pretty much tell you by watching the show just what time certain bits were written. Keep the best five jokes, discard the other seven.
Cellphones off until breaks.
Once you hit 1:00 AM it’s not a bad idea to call it a night, send the cast whatever you have, come back in the morning, finish, send them the remaining pages and have a later runthrough if necessary. The amount of work leftover will be addressed faster and sharper when you’re not all fried.
And finally, if you’re there for one night in a consultant role, the phrase you need to remember and say frequently is “See it another day.”
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
With Tuesday being election day, I am reminded of the election episode my partner, David and I wrote for the TONY RANDALL SHOW.
I’ll pause for a moment while you say “what the hell was the TONY RANDALL SHOW?" It was an MTM series in the late 70’s starring the late Tony Randall as a judge in Philadelphia. It’ll probably never be shown again but it was a damn funny show.
In this particular episode, Tony’s character runs for Superior Court Judge, his opponent dies during the election but too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. Lo and behold, he wins. Tony was beaten by a dead man. The show played great all week with hardly any changes. We were expecting great things.
And then on show night, in front of the audience – death, nothing, tumbleweeds, crickets.
Needless to say, we were stymied.
One of the executive producers was doing the warm-up, and was so mad he turned on the audience. (It didn’t help that the entire staff was drinking frozen margaritas in the prop room between scenes).
He started saying things like, “Hey, I think your hearse is waiting”, “Hey, wasn’t that moderately amusing?”, and the tag was Tony entering his office which was now completely empty (his furniture moved in anticipation of the certain victory) to which the warm-up man shouted at the audience, “Get it?! What’s different about that room? Anybody?”
It was only after the crowd filed out that we learned the truth. The entire audience was Hispanic, bussed in, and spoke no English.
Remember all the bad things I said about the laugh track? We sure used it that week.
Monday, August 07, 2006
I was doing ALMOST PERFECT, the CBS mid 90’s sitcom that starred Nancy Travis. In the show, Nancy’s character had a cat, “Charlie”. We used him in about five episodes. Then I get a call from the cat’s owner/trainer/agent. He tells me that Charlie has been offered the lead in the remake of THAT DARN CAT but I was not to fret. Charlie really liked working on the show and with us. So he’ll stay with our show if we would up his fee and guarantee him all episodes produced. Naturally I was touched by Charlie’s loyalty.
I said as much as we too loved working with Charlie and greatly admired his many talents, I would hate to stand in the way of his feature career so I passed on his offer.
Unbelievably, we somehow managed to find another gray cat that could sit in a chair.
But here’s the thing…
A year later ALMOST PERFECT gets cancelled. I’m driving home, feeling really bummed out and I gaze up at a billboard touting a certain movie. My entire cast is out of work and there’s Charlie, the fucking cat, starring in a major motion picture, staring down on me, his Cheshire-like face plastered on a HUGE billboard on the Sunset Strip.
I lost track of Charlie after that. To my knowledge he didn’t catch on in films. That business can be so cruel. He probably returned to television and if there’s any justice he’s doing ARSENIC & OLD LACE in dinner theatre somewhere in Iowa tonight.
The moral: Use a litter box because you never know who you’re going to meet on the way down.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
First off, the runthrough went great. The cast was sensational, and the show is less than four hours. More work to be done but at least I didn’t have to get out of town under the cover of darkness.
Now to the real post:
A question from reader Jeff about unsolicited material, in this case pilot ideas with outlines. He asks:
“How would I, without connections in the television industry, go about pitching these ideas to networks and cable? “
First thing you should do is document on paper every facet of your idea. The more detailed the better. Then register everything with the WGA. Go to their website (listed in my links section) for instructions how. I’m not saying that people in Hollywood would rip off your idea, I’m saying they’d steal your girlfriend too.
Jeff, on the major network side, unsolicited material is a very tough sell. They rarely if ever consider it. However, with NBC snooping around internet TV sites, they may be relaxing that policy. And if one does it, the others will. But assuming at the end of the day networks say they want to look outside the box but then buy the box, more important to them than ideas are the people who will execute them. Usually writers have to be on network shows for a few years before invited to pitch pilot ideas.
That means you may have to team up with an approved writer or producer. And in all likelihood they will try to give you a buy out – a one time payoff, then tell you to go away, with no further involvement or credit. Is that okay with you? (It probably depends on how much of a payoff?)
Finding producers or show runners who will want to be attached to your project is another whole bailiwick. Connections, luck, legwork, luck, perseverance, luck.
But here’s the good news: Cable and the internet. The old rules don’t apply. No rules apply. There are so many specialized cable networks and internet services these days that they don’t have enough product to fill their schedule. (Proof of this is that there are FACTS OF LIFE marathons.) You probably won’t get rich. And your show budget may not be as high as a dinner for two at Appleby’s, but at least you’d make a sale. And from there, who knows? You could be sitting on the next DATE MY MOM.
How you get to the people in charge of programming these networks? See: how to find producers and show runners.
Jeff, if you had asked me this question five years ago I would have said you had no shot. But in today’s Chicken Little marketplace this may be the perfect time to beat the odds, sell an unsolicited pilot, and maybe even be allowed to stay with it. Best of luck. And I’ll be watching ANIMAL PLANET looking for your name.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Progress report on the musical I’m co-writing, the 60’s PROJECT, due to open at the Goodspeed Theatre in fabulous Chester, Ct. on Thursday night. So far, so good. Today we have our first complete runthrough. It should give us a great indication of where we are. Especially since it’ll be in a rehearsal hall, without the band, lighting, costumes, visuals, and two of the actors are out sick.
It reminds me of the last few years working on CHEERS. By that time, practically every cast member had other things to do – projects, movies, golf tournaments, guesting on other shows, pedicures, buying real estate, speaking to acting classes on the value of rehearsal, etc. So it was not uncommon to go down to the stage for a runthrough and find it was Ted Danson, the script supervisor, First AD, Second AD, prop guy, and George Wendt. We’d come back to the office for the rewrite and say “How the fuck do we know what worked or didn’t?”
My favorite moment was when one of the cast members showed up the next day after missing a runthrough, saw that a favorite line had been cut, and screamed at the crew member stand-in for killing the joke.
The sad thing is that often times that crew member delivered lines better than the actor.
Wish us luck on the runthrough.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Here’s why I love minor league baseball. Friday night the Newark Bears hosted a Britney Spears Baby Safety Night to spread the message of keeping babies safe while in cars. Remember, Mensa member, Britney was recently photographed driving with her baby on her lap? And then she was spotted putting her baby in a car seat facing the wrong way.
Fans attending the game received info on baby car safety (a BIG attraction to baseball fans), and one lucky fan won a free car seat. Not a free car – a free car seat.
But here’s my favorite part – those who came dressed as a baby got in free. How hard-up do you have to be to see a free baseball game that you’d to go out in public in a diaper? Tickets, by the way, cost $9.00,
Thank God there was no big call that went against the Bears. The crying and tantrums in the crowd would have gotten really ugly. The umpire might’ve been pummeled with rattles and teething rings.
Go see a minor league game…and please, strap in your children.
As mentioned in this space before, writers need to remember that actors perform their material. And there are certain things actors hate. As a public service, when writing your script, here are some of those traps that will make for unhappy actors and by extension, an unhappy you.
Actors hate having to give exposition. It’s dry, it’s informational, it’s not fun. Unfortunately, SOMEONE has deliver the exposition. The trick is to spread it around, find ways to hide it, and make it entertaining. Necessary information woven into a joke is a great solution. Exposition itself is a great topic for a later post.
Actors don’t like just asking questions in a scene. They didn’t spend four years finding their “inner center”, “emotional truth triggers” and portraying ice cream cones just to ask questions. But sometimes there is a great temptation to do that. Actor “A” knows all this information, Actor “B” needs to know it. In real life, it’s a simple conversation of Q&A. Not in actor-life. Massage the scene so that Actor “B” has some jokes or comments, or Actor “A” shares information without being prompted.
Similarly, actors don’t like just doing set-ups for other actors’ jokes. Bud Abbott is dead. Spread around the wealth. The tough thing here is knowing Actor “A” is funny and Actor “B” is a lox. Still, you have to throw him a bone or two. Or work in some jokes in the set ups themselves. Or re-cast.
Here’s a common rookie mistake: Having an actor in a scene and not giving him a line for a page or two…or four. If he’s in the scene he needs to have a purpose and needs to be a participant. If he has no purpose, find a way to get his ass out of there. You’d think actors want as much screen time as possible but they would MUCH rather be out of a scene than be a piece of furniture in it.
Here’s a biggie: parentheticals – those little bracketed indicators that suggest the intent of the line. Most actors are irritated, even offended by them. They feel it’s their job to discover the intent. And they like the freedom to interpret the lines as they choose. That’s fine to a point. I still use this device, albeit sparingly (same with underlining specific words I want stressed) because first and foremost I want my scene to be interpreted correctly. But like I said, I am very judicious. I never indicate (angry), (sad), or (jaundiced but insouciant).
That said, you’re probably writing your script to be READ not PERFORMED (actors hate capitol letters too.) So in the interest of having a reader better understand your script and maybe buying it, you can sprinkle in a few more parentheticals. (warning) But don’t go crazy.
Actors balk at thankless roles. The best friend, the harpy-wet blanket (see any ABC comedy wife except Rosanne), the “Ralph Bellamy” boring third guy in a triangle soon to be dumped (Ralph Bellamy played this role in HIS GIRL FRIDAY and 297 other movies), and any role played by Emily Mortimer. Find a way to make these characters interesting, complex, or maybe let Ralph Bellamy get the girl.
Long speeches: Actors like ‘em and hate ‘em. They like having a big juicy emotional speech and they hate having to memorize them. Forget that human beings don’t normally speak in long speeches, if you want to give a character a big speech, fine. Don’t give him six. And give him spots to breathe.
Actors protect their characters, as well they should. Writers sometimes have the tendency to sacrifice their characters’ integrity for the sake of a big joke. I gotta side with actors on this one. Once you’ve sacrificed a character you can’t go back. Find another joke.
And finally, most actors don’t want to be seen in an unflattering light. They may voice their objections in gobs of Byzantine actor-speech, but trust me, the real issue is they don’t want to look weak, or mean, or playing the girlfriend of the Elephant Man. They can have flaws but within reason. What you need to do here is either give the characters interesting shadings, multi-dimensions (not always weak, not always giving dogs caramels to eat) or make the parts so meaty that actors suddenly would kill to play them. Villains, in particular, can be delicious, despite how hateful and cruel they are. Is there a more fun character than J.R. Ewing? Or Simon Cowell? Or my favorite champagne villain, Alan Richman in DIE HARD?
By making a concerted effort to accommodate the actors’ needs (and most of these are just good general writing tips) you stand a much better chance that the actors will embrace your script and even add to it. Their wardrobe and make up issues? That’s someone else’s problem.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Thanks for your great response to my unsold spec, SATISFACTION. If only any of you had money. But almost as good as seeing my movie on the screen is posting segments of it on a blog.
I love writing serious emotional scenes and still sneaking in comedy. Making an audience laugh when they don’t expect it is a hoot. I’m not always successful but love the challenge. The key is that the comedy comes out of the characters. People react to stress and heartache in different ways, often unexpected, unpredictable, and sometimes funny. Finding that balance between comedy and drama can be tricky but when it works it’s really worth the effort. Here’s an attempt to do that from this script.
Set in the world of Bakersfield radio -- where contests and promotions are king -- longtime local oldies DJ, Jimmy Lizard (Steve Martin), has just died. His closest friend and former colleague is Barry (Jason Alexander). Lizard’s boss was Sandy, someone way too young to be running an oldies station.
INT. BARRY'S APARTMENT – DAY
Barry drags in, dumps his suitcase, hits the button on his message machine as he goes to the fridge for a beer. A BEEP, THEN:
Barry? It's Lizard. Thanks again for coming up. Listen, if I should, y'know ..."go", I left an envelope for you. This is my dying wish. You'll know because it says right on the front "dying wish". It's a gift to my listeners, and it would mean a lot to me. I hate to place this burden on you but hey, I can't get Halle Berry on the phone. Anyway, I really appreciate it, and hopefully you'll never have to open it. Thanks.
Another BEEP, then:
Barry, call me the minute you get this.
(can hardly say the words)
Barry falls into a chair, knowing.
INT. HOSPITAL RECEPTION STATION - LATER THAT DAY
Barry signs for Lizard's envelope. He dreads having to open it. He finally does. He shakes his head. How is he going to pull this off?
INT. SANDY'S OFFICE – DAY
Sandy and Barry. Sandy clutches the letter.
I can't do this.
But it's his dying wish, man.
I'm sorry, Barry, no.
Why do you think people listen to this radio station? For the same twelve records they've heard a jillion times? Bullshit. They listen for the connection, to when their lives were young and exciting and it was all still out there ahead of 'em. That's what Jimmy provided, man. He was their connection. For 32 years. As long as you heard Jimmy's voice there were still "Big Kahuna Luaus", and "Drumathons", and endless summers, and "Daddy could never take the T- Bird away". But now it's gone. We've lost a helluva lot more than just some schmoe who played old records.
To honor his memory... and all of ours -- this is what he wanted.
Sandy looks down at the letter. Barry knows he's got him.
EXT. BAKERSFIELD – DAY
VARIOUS BEAUTY SHOTS OF THE CITY AS THIS PLAYS ON THE AIR:
All of us at 88/KBF were saddened today by the death of our longtime friend and colleague, Jimmy Lizard. He was a great broadcaster, a greater human being, and this station will never be the same now that he's gone.
In accordance with his last request, Jimmy would like you, his listeners to attend his funeral tomorrow. He realized that there wouldn't be room for everyone so, again -- according to his wishes -- when you hear Gabriel's horn blow be the first caller on the Bossline and you'll score two passes to the service.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I’ve been lucky enough to be in the same partnership for 33 years. Some time ago I got a letter from a young writer named Ken Levine saying, since we had the same name, could I give him any advice? I said, “Yes, find a partner named David Isaacs.”
Writing teams all work differently. Here’s how we work and it’s a tad unusual. A lot of teams will split up the script – one takes one scene or act and the other takes the other. Then they switch. We write head to head and we dictate the script to a secretary who takes great shorthand. We never actually see the script while we’re writing it. This forces us not to obsess over a line. It frees us to pitch out a whole run knowing we can just go back and clean it up. We can juggle beats, move things around more easily. This process also allows us to volley lines back and forth. When people ask if a particular joke was mine and I say I don’t remember I’m not being coy. We shape practically every line together.
It now takes us four or five days to write a half hour. Two or three if we have to. When we started it took two weeks. That’s where 33 years of experience comes in handy.
We work off of an outline, talk out what we’re going to do then just take a shot at it. Next day we see the typed version of what we wrote, proof it, blame the medication, and keep going. After the rough draft is finished we each take a copy, make notes, joke suggestions, cuts, etc. and reconvene for one more pass. Once that’s completed, more often than not we turn it in.
Do we have arguments? Sure. But we never let them get personal. And if we ever have a disagreement over a particular joke and can’t reach a consensus quickly we just toss it out and write something else. It takes less time to come up with a new line than to argue and have one of us ultimately pissed.
And you can't be defensive. The best idea wins even if its the other guy's.
We’re also not afraid to throw stuff out – a line, a run, a whole scene. And I mentioned last week, scripts can ALWAYS be trimmed.
Although the head to head process works well for us (which isn’t to say it works for everybody) early on in our career we began a practice whereby once a year we took an assignment and divided it up. The purpose was to feel confident that we could write on our own if we had to. We’re partners out of choice not dependency. And it’s amazing – we’ve been writing together so long that when we do split up a script I defy anyone to tell who wrote which act. They’re equally in need of major work.
There are many advantages to having a partner. The obvious ones you know. It’s more social, you have someone to share the burden/blame with, and it’s nice to get feedback (especially in comedy) – in our case not only from each other but our secretary, Lana. On more than one occasion we’ll laugh uproariously at a pitch, I’ll say to Lana, proudly, “Put that in” and she’ll say “Really???”
But here’s the biggest advantage to being in a team -- when you have to bring your car into the shop you know you can always get a ride.
A good partnership is like a marriage except you give up half your money before you get divorced.