Saturday, September 30, 2006

The CHEERS set

My favorite reader comment so far:

I've gotten familiar with Becker through the syndication. Not familiar with "Cheers".

Well, among those who are familiar with CHEERS I received a request to talk about the set.

We filmed CHEERS on Stage 25 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood (but the seedier section of Hollywood).

The set was designed by Richard Sylbert, an Academy Award winner whose credits include CHINATOWN, REDS, WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GRADUATE, and (ironically) LILITH.

It was patterned after the Bull & Finch bar in Boston. But the B&F is much smaller, and the bar itself is up against the back wall. The décor, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass is true to the B&F.

Director James Burrows had a lot of input into the design which is why it was so easy to shoot in it. You could bring cameras way up into the set, get many different and interesting angles, and even get shots all the way down the hall.

If you look closely you’ll notice a line that runs down the center of the bar. It’s on a hinge and actually the right half can swing around, allowing room for the right wall to swing back revealing Sam’s office.

There are lights underneath the bar pointing up. It was hard in the first few episodes to see Ted Danson’s eyes.

Nick Colasanto always had a tough time memorizing the script. There were dozens of his lines hidden underneath the bar.

The bar was functional. The CHEERS set was the best ever for show parties.

Whenever an outside set is needed the pool room set is struck.

There is a fourth wall section that was used a couple of times in the first season.

The audience bleachers sat 200. They were raised so even the front row could see over the cameras. To one side was a platform where a small band would play between scenes.

The beer served on tap was warm 3.2 beer. Do not envy George Wendt having to drink that swill every week.

The set was huge. If we wanted to pack the bar we needed 500 people. For our routine customers we used 30-40 extras. Anything else and the bar looked empty.

The guy who had the hardest job on the series was the prop master. Imagine keeping track of all the glasses, drinks, bowls, trays, pretzels, 5.457.432 lemons that Ted cut up every episode, etc.

The phone on the bar would move from end to end depending upon where we needed it.

The Wurlitzer jukebox was not functional. The piano was.

The set was lit differently after the first couple of episodes. Brighter, more inviting. If you have the DVD of the first season, notice the difference between the pilot and episodes later in the year.

In an effort to save money during our first season (when we were getting killed in the ratings not only by SIMON & SIMON but by TUCKER’S WITCH for Godsakes) the studio requested we start shooting the show on tape. A test scene was taped and the set looked ghastly. So much for that brilliant experiment.

The photo over the bar that is supposed to be Sam is really Boston Cy Young winning pitcher Jim Lonborg.

The wooden Indian at the front door was named Techumsa.

When the series finally wrapped I walked over to the stage to watch them strike the set. It was so upsetting I left after maybe two minutes. Of all the shows I worked on, CHEERS was my favorite. And no, I didn’t steal anything from the set. And yes, I’m an idiot. I should have. At least Techumsa.

Weekend loose ends

Congratulations to my beloved Dodgers for getting into postseason play. My wife is a huge Mets fan and my partner is a huge Yankees fan. I should be single and writing solo by mid October.

Vin Scully is the best baseball announcer that will ever be. Modern day baseball has been around for about 108 years. Scully has been there for more than HALF of it. Just think of all the World Series, no-hitters, perfect games, and beach balls this man has seen.

Newspapers are claiming that SURVIVOR caved under pressure by ending their race tribe experiment on week three. Uh…the shows were filmed in early June.

In order to get the TV section in the LA TIMES every week you now have to call and request it. The Sunday paper weighs one ton, 500 pounds of ads (and not all cute model ads either. Tires, and Target and that shit). Is this a new policy to save paper? No wonder the Tribune company is going out of business, the TV section.

What do you think FOX dreads more? Their Brad Garrett numbers or a San Diego-Minnesota World Series?

I was a Padres broadcaster when they won the division in 1996. I handled the post game locker room interviews for local TV. Driving home, drenched head to toe in cheap champagne and wreaking, I thought, man if a cop pulls me over I am really screwed.

I was at ABC the day after Ted Danson’s show premiered. I asked a network exec about the numbers. He said they were great. Later I asked another network exec the same question and she shook her head. Not good. And from this are decisions made.

When JACKASS NUMBER TWO is the number one boxoffice hit you know we’re only eight minutes away from Armageddon.

I can’t wait for the LOST season premiere.

I can more than wait for the return of Tim McCarver. For those, like me, who can’t stand him, this site is for you.

And if you're a Joe Morgan hater, you'll want to click here.

NIP/TUCK is one plotline away from Drs. Troy & McNamara doing a boob job on an extra terrestrial.

Is Katie Couric still anchoring the CBS EVENING NEWS?

Go Bums!!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

HOUSE rules

I was walking recently and felt dizzy for a second. I stumbled a beat, regained my balance, the dizziness went away and that was that. No biggie…except my first thought was “Ohmygod, it’s the opening of HOUSE. I have some horrible bizarre medical problem and within hours I will be hanging on for my life.” HOUSE is absolutely the worst show a hypochondriac can watch, and yet…I LOVE IT.

Since this is another low traffic weekend (plus I now optimistically have twelve new readers) I thought I’d re-post an article explaining HOUSE I wrote back in February. Enjoy…or re-enjoy.


If you’re writing a spec episode of HOUSE, here’s the format: Vibrant attractive Fox-friendly hottie in her 30’s suddenly collapses for no reason. Opening credits. House says it’s nothing, send her home. She goes into convulsions. For the next forty minutes the earnest young doctors misdiagnosis her, send her into cardiac arrest, remove something that doesn’t need removing, break into her house for an illegal search, send House in to brow beat and traumatize her, and finally he figures it out. It’s something obscure like she licks stamps with cyanide or swims in a toxic waste dump. Five minutes later she’s cured and goes home. Last scene – ironic music plays over as House sits alone in his…well…house, pensive and tortured.

House must answer every question with a smart remark, the young doctors must roll their eyes at least ten times, House must break the Hippocratic Oath, show up Lisa Edelstein, discuss his love life with the bemused Sean Robert Leonard, and watch garbage TV (otherwise who would know he’s “quirky”?).

Four out of five weeks it’s revealed that the patient was lying all along, covering something up. So instead of just confiding in a doctor they allow themselves to get prodded, probed, cut open, and wrongfully medicated to the point of cardiac arrest and kidney failure.

So you took birth control pills, Julie Warner? You didn’t want to have another baby. Is that worth involuntary flailing, psychotic episodes, internal bleeding, and losing part of your liver? Y’know. your health plan has to pay for this.

The hospital itself is the only one on the planet with glassed in patient rooms. If I was sick in bed and had bedpan accidents I’d sure want people strolling by my room all day. And although they spared no expense on the modern design of the facility, apparently they forgot to include Recovery Rooms and ICU. No matter how major the operation the patient is right back in their private room two hours later entertaining visitors.

And still….it’s my favorite doctor show and I watch it every week religiously. And the episode where the mystery disease was IgA nephrophathy – I guessed it.

Working with Robin Williams

First off, thanks to, James Wolcott, and Lance Mannion for recent referrals. Hopefully, of the thousands of new readers, six will bookmark and stay.


A reader asked me recently to talk about my sordid days doing improv. I started in 1979. Disco was dying and I was looking for the next big thing. My partner, David and I sold a pilot to NBC about a Nichols & May type improv team. The concept was could a man and woman work together and just be friends (long before Sally faked her orgasm for Harry)? To research the arena I called Dee Marcus, director of the improv group OFF THE WALL (still in existence, still performing Friday nights in Santa Monica, and still hilarious) and asked if I could audit a class. She said only if I agreed to participate. I figured, what the hell? I couldn’t be much worse than the other beginners.

I arrived and was blown away by how unbelievably great everyone was. SNL quality people performing over a beauty school at Santa Monica Blvd. and Fairfax. These were the beginners? Shit! I was lucky to get through a scene without pissing on myself (although, I know I passed up a sure laugh) After a few trying weeks of this I learned Dee hadn't put me in the beginners class, she put me in the performance class. These were all the top professionals. (Thanks, Dee) The tip off came when Robin Williams showed up one night.

I stayed in the class for a couple of years, learned an enormous amount, and eventually became part of a comedy troop, THE SUNDAY FUNNIES. We played to crowds often fewer in number than the cast.

After many years of sabbatical I’ve recently started popping in on Andy Goldberg’s class. Of all the improv teachers he’s by far the best. As a comedy writer I recommend improv training. It teaches spontaneity, committing to a character, and creating scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends. The hardest part is going to a deli afterwards and watching your classmates eat fried kreplachs at 11 at night.

One story about Robin. Needless to say, doing scenes with him was an adventure. He is so fast and brilliant he just uses you like a prop. One night I got called up to do a two person scene with him. If you were lucky you sometimes could get in two words. The scene began, he went off in fifteen different directions. I didn't even know what the hell he was talking about. Finally, I heard a beat of silence. He must've been taking a breath. Now's my chance, I thought. I don't know why but the only thing I could think to say was "fuck you". Much to my surprise it got a laugh. He was off and running for two more minutes of inspired word jazz and then it was my turn again. Since it got a laugh the first time I said, "fuck you". It got an even bigger laugh. This became the scene. Robin riffing, me occasionally blurting out "fuck you". And every time I got the biggest laughs.

When the scene was over I worried that Robin would be pissed that I upstaged him. Instead, he took me aside and said, “that was great.” I consider it one of my greatest achievements in comedy.

And I guess he remembers it because every time I see him the first thing he says to me is “Fuck you!”



For info on OFF THE WALL just click here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Loitering at the water cooler

Not to turn this into a STUDIO 60 blog but with all the comments I thought I’d take one more day to offer additional thoughts. Tomorrow, I promise, on to new a new topic – me having to act in a scene with Robin Williams. Picture Fred Astaire and his cane. But for now…


I’m waiting to see Aaron Sorkin write an actual funny sketch. Maybe that Krazy Kristians sketch we’ve heard so much about for two weeks.

Fellow writers, when you saw the scene where Matthew Perry viewed his writing staff as all hacks, didn’t you think in the back of your mind that that’s what Aaron Sorkin thinks of all of us?

And so again I say, let’s see an Aaron Sorkin penned FUNNY sketch.

When have you ever seen a press conference to welcome new showrunners? To get any show biz reporter to show up the network would have to provide a lavish buffet, goody bags, and the only other entertainment story of the day would have to be the DVD release of EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT. In reality, what are you going to ask these guys? “What are you going to do different?” to which they would respond, “Uh, tune in Friday night and see.”? Then back to Amanda Peet for, “Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. Grab a plate. The food stations are now open. All we ask is that you don’t fill your pockets.”

Brad Whitford, as great as he is, is still Josh from WEST WING to me.

The weeklong countdown clock that Matt Perry says would drive anyone nuts – try having to reset it every 108 minutes and then come talk to me.

In the original pilot script, dated October 6, 2005 the network name was UBS.

Steven Weber is still the best thing in the show. He is soulless and delicious. How does one get from WINGS to this? Do THE SHINING in the middle.

Doesn’t NBS have bigger things to worry about than their Friday night 11:30 pm sketch show? How good can their prime time line up be? Let’s see Amanda deal with Dick Wolf.

If you polled a studio audience of SNL and asked who Gilbert & Sullivan were, I bet most would say two of the Chipmunks.

Is John Mauceri considered stunt casting? Jesus, when we were doing ALMOST PERFECT the network said no to Angie Dickinson.

It’s hard to root for people who are all beautiful, talented, rich, and could get another job in a minute. At least if the gang from WEST WING screwed up there’d be thermonuclear war. Here, the affiliate in Jewhate, Arkansas pre-empts the show.

But for all its flaws I still find STUDIO 60 fascinating and will watch again next week.

And yet, at the end of the day I bet the Tina Fey show will be more realistic and funnier.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Studio 60 & other stuff

After watching episode two of STUDIO 60 I must let you in on a little secret. People in television, trust me, are not that smart. Not even close. Jesus. I’ve worked with people whom I thought, if they couldn’t write a joke they’d be living in a Maytag box. And they keep talking about how unbelievably talented that Harriet (Sarah Paulson) is. Have you seen evidence of it yet? I haven’t. But then again, I’m not that smart.

Note to Aaron Sorkin: the best way to motivate comedy writers is not with threats and a dress code.

Notice when people talk about STUDIO 60 they don't start the conversation by saying, "I really liked it" or "I hated it"? Instead it's always, "What did you think?" I suspect no one really knows what to make of it.

So far, no breakout new hits this year. Could it be the two-shows-for-every-premise policy this year? I’d love to see the abducted kid from KIDNAPPED delivered to the folks on VANISHED.

HAPPY HOUR has been pre-empted. Whoever picked that show as the first cancellation, you’re looking pretty good. Although, KIDNAPPED could sneak in there first. And STANDOFF has gone on hiatus, presumably to give the new consulting producer a chance to get up to speed. Shutting down production is never a good sign, and needing a new consulting producer is a worse one.

Best title of the new shows: MEN IN TREES.

GREY’S ANATOMY beat CSI last Thursday. People are more interested in who’s doing it than who done it.

CSI MIAMI beat STUDIO 60 last Monday. People are more interested in who done it than what is it?

Just when I think sitcoms are bad I see those beer commercials on football games.

I’m sure I speak for all writers when I say I’d rather be a sherpa than work on a Mandy Patinkin show.

If you root for a tribe on SURVIVOR does that make you a racist? Way to cast the Hispanic team, by the way. They selected a big fat lazy heavy metal artist. Shots of his tribe mates working away while he just sat. Producers did everything but play “Manana” every time the camera went to him.

Now that several FRASIER writers are working on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, expect a lot of episodes about dinner parties that go awry.

See LENNON VS. US. Terrific documentary. Worth the price of admission just for the scene where Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale is a guest on the Mike Douglas Show. I just wish they had sung a duet together. Maybe Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over” or Sly Stone’s “Don’t call me Nigger, Whitey.”

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Ted Danson School of Star Etiquette

Despite my desire to kill off characters when stars misbehave, my heart goes out to actors. Writers are used to rejection. But for actors, throw in “I don’t like his nose,” “Great actress but no breasts,” and the old network standby: “Ugh, America can’t look at her.” I sure couldn’t do it. Is it any wonder that sometimes the very few who survive this humiliation and make it become raging assholes? The people who do believe in them and hire them wind up paying for all those who didn’t. It’s payback time, except it’s often misplaced. (Ian Gurvitz, in his book HELLO, THE AGENT LIED refers to actors as "children in adult clothes". )

My partner and I have worked numerous projects with “stars” and I’ve encountered a few more on my own in my directing life. I’m a firm believer that money and power just make you more of what you are. Last week I alluded to Mary Tyler Moore (when you see her throw her hat in the air, it’s really my liver) but I’ve been more than blessed by being able to work with Ted Danson, Alan Alda, Nancy Travis, Michael Douglas, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Hanks, John Candy, and many others.

Having experienced the good and bad, David and I now have a little speech we give “stars” before we go into business with them. We say how thrilled we are to be working with them, how we’ll kill ourselves to make the best possible show, something we can all be proud of…”but if you turn into a monster we’re in Hawaii.” And it’s not an idle threat. We once walked away from a pilot the minute it wrapped. Life IS too short.

David and I have always contended all sitcom leads should be required to attend the “Ted Danson school of how to conduct yourself as a TV star”. There is a certain responsibility that goes along with being the star. He sets the tone for the whole stage. Ted is forever gracious, professional, on time, supportive, unselfish, makes everyone from guest stars to visitors feel completely welcome. His work ethic is impeccable. And as a result everyone else takes their cue from him.

What this creates is a happy set and that’s an intangible that always makes it to the screen – an infectious quality, an energy that gives the show just that extra little sparkle. And in today’s marketplace that spark, that twinkle could be the difference.

Steven Bochco once said, “the first year the actors work for you, the second year you work together, and the third you work for them.”

Tuesday night Ted Danson’s new series, HELP ME HELP YOU premieres on ABC. I hope it’s the hit of the season. There’s no more deserving actor – and that’s after having two huge hits already.

Best of luck, Teddy!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pitching pilots

It’s the sitcom pilot pitching time of the year.

For the next few months those of us TV writers lucky enough to be invited will schlep over to the networks and pitch our pilot ideas. It’s the comedy version of GLENGARY GLENROSS.

You generally meet with the director of comedy, or VP of comedy, or Lt. Colonel of comedy and three or four underlings. One of the underlings will be holding a pad and taking notes of your pitch. Don’t dismiss this person as someone insignificant. Four years from now she’ll be running the CW. You, on the other hand, will be flanked with a studio rep (or six), a non-writing producer (the style de jour), and maybe an agent. When I was with CAA they always sent an agent. And it was always someone I had never met. He invariably would walk into the meeting and tell the network honcho that we had an “idea that would blow him away” even though he had no idea what the idea was.

After some small talk where everyone tries to impress everyone else with what great foodies we all are, it’s time to launch into the pitch. You lay out the premise, characters, sample stories, and try to make them laugh throughout. Some will, they’ll be rockin’ and rollin’. Others will stare at you blankly like you just ran over their kitty. It’s been described as playing tennis against a blanket. Same pitch. Same jokes. Same delivery. Totally different reactions.

But just because you have the network enthralled and coughing up blood from laughter doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. And likewise, one that is dying a horrible death could be the one you sell right there in the room. Most of the time they will tell you they’ll discuss it and get back to you. That generally means they have to pitch it to their boss who will then make the decision. So you can imagine how sparkling the pitch will be second hand from the tennis blanket.

A few things that have happened to my partner and I during pitch meetings –

We had to pitch a pilot the day after 9-11. The VP cried. (We sold it)

We pitched ABC (years and many executives ago) and started with a joke. We said we had an idea that was tailor made for their network. We called in “Tuesday Night Football”. The girl with the pad was writing it down as if we were serious. (We didn’t sell the idea or TNF that day.)

Our PA on CHEERS who used to get us lunch became the VP of comedy at a major network. We had to pitch our PA. (No sale. But we were offered drinks.)

The comedy VP (who later became the president of that network) once asked us “What is the opening episode of the seventh season?” Huh??? How the fuck do you answer that? We said “the clip show, featuring all the highlights of the many Emmy winning episodes.” (No sale)

This happened several times: The VP hears our pitch then says they bought something just like it only yesterday. But if it’s any consolation ours is better. Oh yeah. Tremendous consolation. That’s like “if I hadn’t met your brother first I would have slept with you.”

We were overseeing two young writers. The studio rep began the meeting by introducing all of us to the network people by saying, “So with Ken & David we have the old with the new.” Jesus! Why not just say, “we went over to the broadcast museum and dug up the guys who wrote MR. PEEPERS”?

We had a great pitch once. The VP called to say it’s not final but we were on “the one yard line”. Turns out we hit a tough goal line stance. And the clock ran out.

We pitched a show that took place between midnight and six. The network said, “We LOVE it. We’ll buy it. Only one small alternation. Can it not take place between midnight and six?” Uh, then what are you buying? They weren’t sure but they liked the area. (No sale there but we did sell it elsewhere.)

Easiest pitch we ever had -- David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I went into CBS to pitch ALMOST PERFECT. We said, “a young woman – on the day she gets the job of her life meets the guy of her life. How does she juggle the two?” SOLD. Just like that.

And finally, how original do the ideas have to be? In 1975 we sold our first pilot to NBC. It was called BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY. The premise was a behind-the-scenes look at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Considering they have two shows on the air this season with that exact same premise I’d say just pick up our show instead. Unfortunately, half of our cast is now dead.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

In the year 5767

Happy Jewish New Years. It's just not the same without this man.

I'm reminded of Sandy Koufax not pitching the first game of the 1965 World Series because it was the Jewish High Holiday. Don Drysdale pitched instead. The Minnesota Twins bombed him. He was lifted in the third inning. As Dodger manager, Walter Alston came out to the mound to get him, Drysdale said, "Yeah, Skip, I know what you're thinking. Why couldn't HE be Jewish?"

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Beaver Cleaver resurfaces

For my weekend post, here are a few sites you might check out.

My son, Matt, has a great baseball blog worth your attention. Now that his beloved Red Sox are toast he turns his attention to the playoffs.

Here's a magic trick you won't see at the next kiddie party. I'd like to see David Copperfield do this one. Trust me, there's nothing up her sleeve.

For those who have asked to hear what I sounded like as a disc jockey, here's a sample of my work in 1977. Just scroll down the page until you find Beaver Cleaver on TenQ. Yes, that's right. Beaver Cleaver. Warning: I was insane back then.

This is the book about television you've got to read. HELLO, LIED THE AGENT by Ian Gurvitz. It's caustic, it's bitter, it's hilarious.

A fun internet radio station is GREAT BIG RADIO. It's what Jack should be. Good kick ass rock n' roll from the 60's through last Thursday. Plus fun surprises.

Another good book is KINDERGARTEN WARS by Alan Eisenstock. Alan's a former TV sitcom writer who went legit and writes books now. KINDERGARTEN WARS is the true life insanity of what it takes to get your floor ape into private school at the finger paint level. Which nursery school is a feeder for Harvard or Yale? You'll learn here.

Stop the music!!

Open letter to drama showrunners:


It seems every one hour show ends now with the obligatory montage bouncing from one main character to the other, each alone, each in a different location, and each soul searching and oozing angst. Rain slicked streets and mood lighting a must. And over this is some dreary song by some new artist that the showrunner discovered on KaZaa or satellite radio, plaintively wailing some life advice that is designed to touch us all with its perception and depth. Tom Waits wannabes even though they’re too young to know who Tom Waits is.

It’s great for the writer of the episode – three fewer pages he has to write but the device is starting to get real cliché. Plus, the songs tend to be AWFUL.

The one in the premiere of SMITH was so grating that I actually envied the crew member that died.

I notice that HOUSE now does this every week. We get it. His leg smarts. He’s a tortured soul. Sleep with Cameron. Play Jackie Wilson.

I seem to recall this trend beginning with David E. Kelley shows (although I might be wrong). Poor Alley is alone and beautiful for another night. And the Biscuit is in the twentieth year of his puberty. But at least Kelley mixed it up sometimes with hits from the 70’s. Nowadays, if an artist gets more than five hits a month on his MySpace site he’s too familiar.

PRISON BREAK took the conceit to a whole new level last year when the music they played was the HOUSE theme.

I blame Nora Ephron. (I blame her for a lot of things. Cringeworthy movies, killing BEWITCHED, global warming). Nora goes to the soundtrack card every chance she gets. Who needs to DIRECT when a gooey Celine Dion-Clive Griffin tune can just convey the mood?

Drama showrunners, please retire this device. Host amateur nights at the Troubadour if you want to discover the next Bjork, but for your shows don’t end each episode with every character on suicide watch.

Oh, and while I’m ranting, to showrunners, producers, and directors everywhere – NEVER play “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong EVER AGAIN. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Studio 60/the Class

Monday saw the premieres of the two big bonus babies, STUDIO 60 and THE CLASS. Both come from A-list writers, both were written on spec, and both resulted in huge bidding wars. And neither had boffo debuts.

THE CLASS did about as well as longtime tired journeyman, KING OF QUEENS. And it got its ass kicked by models posing with briefcases.

STUDIO 60 did a little better than THE MEDIUM did a year ago but the MEDIUM was up against ABC Monday Night Football not WIFESWAP and didn’t have the benefit of the attaché bimbos as a lead in. Plus, STUDIO 60 lost 15% of its viewers in the second half hour. That’s over 2 1/2 million – roughly the number of Emmys the people involved with the series have won.

It’s such a familiar pattern. Networks, as a hedge against failure, clamor over anyone who has given them a hit, way overpaying for the privilege. In their zeal to throw millions at these creators, they didn’t look to see that Aaron’s show was waaaaaay too inside show business, and that David’s show was about, well…nothing. Just a bunch of people talking. It’s not just Sorkin and Crane that make for a hit, it’s also the IDEA.

WEST WING dealt with the highest stakes. Even if you didn’t know the specifics of the arguments (and if you didn't, don't feel bad. Bush doesn't understand them either), you did know that the gobblidy gook affected the state of the world somehow. In STUDIO 60 the big crisis is whether a sketch (that we’ve never seen) should air. Unless it's going to incite terrorists, who gives a shit? Plus, there was the fairy tale aspect of WEST WING – a smart caring compassionate President and staff. If real life could only be like that.

FRIENDS was the first show with no “grown up” authority figures. It was six twentysomethings making it on their own brought together by this apartment that no twentywomething in New York could ever afford. The CLASS is more twentysomethings brought together by some flimsy gimmick, doing really…I don’t know what they’re doing. Telling penis jokes.

I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. I thought his show was smart, he set up his charcters well, and no one can write whithering toppers like he can. His characters routinely say the things in arguments you wish you could say just once. And he can be funny (so I’m REALLY threatened). Plus, he’s assembled a steller cast. Amanda Peet CAN act. Matthew Perry is more than just Chandler, Brad Whitford is so natural and real. And I thought Steven Weber, as the soulless network President stole the show.

But the subject matter is so inside and the fabulous dialogue goes by so quickly that I fear the average viewer gets left by the side of the road. And there’s another problem. Invariably, anytime the American audience is told they’re stupid and they’re sheep they don’t like it. You’d think you could slip that one by ‘em but I guess you can’t.

I hope people stay with STUDIO 60. Because of the huge penalty attached, I’m sure NBC will not yank it (translation: “We support our shows at NBC.”) And I bet for those of us who do know the industry, there will be some crackerjack episodes along the way.

I watched THE CLASS with two 23 year olds. They’re both big fans of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER so clearly they’re CBS’s target audience. By the first commercial they were saying “Let’s give this ten more minutes.” That can’t be good. And they were calling out the jokes right before they were said. These are two engineers, by the way, not aspiring comedy writers.

What we have here is a faint carbon of FRIENDS (featuring generally unlikable characters). The only thing surprising was not seeing the little NBC logo in the bottom corner. With sitcoms an endangered species already, who needs another FRIENDS ripoff, even from the creator of FRIENDS?

Networks never seem to remember that for every MURPHY BROWN there’s also a LOVE & WAR, INK, DOUBLE RUSH, and FOLEY SQUARE from the same genius. Even from the FRASIER folks there’s ENCORE, ENCORE.

I’m not saying never use these proven producers, just save some money for the other guys. This year’s big hits may just come from people you never heard of.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cos and effect

Lots of requests for Mary Tyler Moore stories. Some I can tell. Others I’ll save for my book, tentatively titled “I've been thrown out of show business”. But I will say this, she is one of the most gifted comic actresses I have ever worked with, but God was she tough. And part of the blame goes to Bill Cosby.

My partner, David Isaacs and I created and executive produced Mary’s 1985 comeback vehicle, MARY for CBS. We got the best reviews of any series we ever created, we got a 26 share the night we premiered (which today would get a five year pick up, two spin offs, and a board game), had a wonderful cast, Danny DeVito to direct and the whole thing crashed and burned in thirteen episodes. It was all the more disappointing because we had idolized Mary. I wanted to be a comedy writer growing up after watching THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. If that was how you get a Laura Petrie hand me the rubber chicken and seltzer bottle and send me off to war!

Mary’s return to television was the result of her movie career drying up. There were fewer good parts. And those that were out there were offered to Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, and even Christine Lahti first. She had just been in a huge stinkbomb with Dudley Moore called SIX WEEKS. And TV offered her a chance to rise from the ashes once again. But I don’t think she ever in her heart really wanted to do it. Same with her next two comeback thudburgers.

She was competing with the ghost of maybe the finest situation comedy ever produced (as were we), she was living alone 3000 miles away from her husband, forced to give up smoking the week we went into production, working with two young writers she didn’t know, was given a bad time slot, and she had been fed a load of crap that her return to television would be for CBS what COSBY was for NBC.

Any two of those or just the smoking one by itself was enough to kill a show. We faced ALL of them. And as I like to say, it was like dragging a dead horse across the finish line to shoot it.

As Mary became unhappy and isolated she became difficult. Very confrontational. Think ORDINARY PEOPLE but without the warmth. It got so bad we wanted to just leave lit cigarettes everywhere in her path.

CBS loved the pilot. So much that they thought they could start a night with it, a la COSBY. It was a sophisticated 9 PM show, not family friendly fare designed to compete against a top ten hit in HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN. The day of the premiere there was a betting pool on the stage to guess our share for that night. 48? 50? 52? We were sooo fucking dead. Needless to say, when we premiered with a paltry 26 Mary threw in the towel and wanted off the show. Week ONE!!

From then on she pretty much hated everything and everybody. We were asked to fire two cast members…over the Christmas break. Directors who had been signed for multiple episodes begged out after one. Writers rotated in and out. We were on the front lines forever calling for fresh troops.

I would get calls at home every weekend from Mary. (I think my partner moved several times to throw her off his scent.) And here is just an example of what we were going through. She was very excited because Bill Cosby had just called her. I said, “Yeah, so what? You’re Mary Tyler Moore. He should be excited talking to you.” The Cos (excuse me -- Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. Ed.D) had watched a couple of episodes and knew what was wrong. Mary needed to be more like Rocky. She needed to have more triumphs. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I asked her if she had ever seen ROCKY? She said, “Yes. Of course. Why?” I gently reminded her that in the movie he loses. He gets the shit beaten out of him but manages to remain conscious. That's the triumph. Mary slammed down the phone. I suspect the language she used afterwards was more colorful than "Oh, Mr. Levine."

That was a typical exchange. In looking back, Mary never should have done the show. We never should have done the show. We were in our mid 30’s. What the hell did we know about writing for a middle aged woman?

And when the great Dr. William H. Cosby Jr., Ed.D had his comeback vehicle and it bombed I wanted to cheer him up by sending him the Rocky theme.

Monday, September 18, 2006


The golden age of TV drama will not include STANDOFF I’m afraid. There is a danger that one hour shows will become formulaic and STANDOFF is leading that charge.

It stars Ron “When am I going to be the next George Clooney already?” Livingstone and Rosemarie DeWitt (Gillian Anderson meets Annabeth Gish) as FBI hostage negotiators.

The FBI must have 73 divisions and there is now a show for every one of them. I’m waiting to meet the courageous team that oversees payroll.

The guy-girl hunk team is now a standard. But in fairness to STANDOFF, that’s across the board. Everyone in drama is hot looking. There are no ugly people solving crimes or saving lives. According to television, on career day all the beauty queens gravitated towards the forensics booth. Even House is only “TV ugly”, and by that I mean, scuffed up but oooh those dreamy blue eyes (that get 56 close ups an episode).

These gun toting prom king and queens all seem to bicker but we know better. There’s sexual tension going on there. But the twist in STANDOFF is…there’s no tension. They’re going out. And they’ve even announced that to their boss. Their big roadblock is that they’re not allowed to kiss or even hold hands at hostage scenes.

As for the premise itself, it’s all familiar territory. And when you’ve seen Denzel Washington, Kevin Spacey, and Samuel L. Jackson (“there’s muthafuckin’ hostages on the plane”) do these scenes, Ron Livingstone pales. By week two they were already bargaining with the two dozen pizzas.

And by the nature of the premise, there’s little or no action. The crafty negotiators “convince” the kidnapper-of-the-week (who’s usually just a well meaning regular schmoe who’s misunderstood) to give up before anyone gets hurt. For suspense there’s a clock attached. If last week’s air traffic controllers aren’t freed soon passengers will miss their connections.

It reminds me of a show from the mid 80’s called THE EQUALIZER. Edward Woodward, a fine middle aged British actor with a decent rug, played Robert McCall, a former agent now for hire for underdogs who needed protection. He was smart, he was tough. But he couldn’t do any action. The actor was recovering from a heart attack. So every week the exciting climax was McCall saying to the bad guy (who he never had to chase), “Drop the gun. I’m serious!” Hearing the word “serious” the villain always dropped the gun. Something about that accent, every hardened criminal knew he had met his match.

STANDOFF has the same boffo socko endings except their stars are fit.

Between the perfect COP-les, the procedurals, the running serials, the insidious plots to overthrow the government, the medical shows, lawyer shows, psychic crimefighter shows, quirky detective shows, and Ann Heche in “Diane Chambers goes to Northern Exposure” – most dramas are trading originality for franchise. Take a lesson from comedy where even a show called STILL STANDING isn’t.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My 300th post

In honor of which I thought I would finally include a picture of myself.

The big news is that I’ve learned how to include photos and links. So this is what discovering quantum theory is like. Learning how to customize my site should come on my 3,000th post. My immediate goal is to learn how to proof read.

Thanks to all who now read this nonsense. I’ve met a lot of great new people and hope to meet more. So as I did on my 100th and 200th posts, I’m asking you to write in, tell me where you’re from, how you came upon this blog, and what questions or topics you’d like me to address.
Some possibilities:

More writing advice.

Is it okay to pet on the first date?

If CBS had just waited would they have hired Lonelygirl15 to anchor the news instead of Katie?

More reviews.

More travelogues of fun family trips.

More Hollywood war stories.

Behind the scenes of MASH, FRASIER, CHEERS, and CONRAD BLOOM.

Can Shelley Long really fly?

My baseball announcing days. (Bad picture of me. I apologize.)

And anything else.

Only request: no death threats please. But you are welcome to voice any criticism as long as you leave your name. It can’t be any worse than my AfterMASH reviews.

I’ll continue to try to post every day, but if I start telling stories about funny things me and the guys said at Nate n’ Al’s, stop me. Hell, just shoot me.

Thanks again! Hope to hear from you.

All without a publicist

Nice article in WRITTEN BY magazine (the WGA house organ) about screenwriting blogs. Thanks for mentioning and not embarrassing me.

And then today in the LA TIMES Sunday Calendar there's a big article about TV writers writing musicals and I'm mentioned there too...although I NEVER actually used the word "fab".

Usually, whenever I'm featured in an article, no matter how complimentary, there's always one thing that prevents me from xeroxing it and sending it to my relatives. I always read these things holding my breath. Other than the "fab" misquote I got off real lucky.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New York stories

Time to flashback to another one of my travelogues (always hoping a publisher will read these and realize they should be assembled as a book). This was my New York trip in May, 2002. With 9-11 still fresh in my mind, it was my first time back in Manhattan since that fateful day.


The trip started on a high note. Security agents made me take off my shoes, remove my belt, stand with arms outstretched while they did the thing with the wand, and finally, got patted down. Although that was pretty nice actually. I tipped the guy. Magic hands. Flew in with Goldie Hawn. The pressurized cabin really did wonders for all her face work.

Stayed at the Omni Berkshire on 52nd Street. Nice hotel. One complaint: their pay-per-view movies were all actual Hollywood movies. Yeah, that's what businessmen alone in their rooms want to see -- Martin Lawrence comedies. To me, a trip to New York City isn't complete without checking in on the latest adventures of that housewife who always seems to be home alone and that nice pool man.

Visited relatives in Forrest Hills. Prices for homes out there are on a par with Beverly Hills. It's outrageous. Especially since two blocks away it looks like every neighborhood in every Spike Lee film. Plus, it was hard walking down these tree lines streets without missing that housewife and the pool guy. I wonder if she ever got that diving board fixed.

Museums included the Modern where I must see my Monets every trip, and the Natural History where they had a big exhibit on baseball. Among the features is a film showing clips from Hollywood related baseball movies/TV shows. Much to my surprise, a segment from the SIMPSONS that David and I wrote was included. Boy was I excited. I'm now included in that museum twice -- the film, and of course the section on dinasours.

On Sunday in Manhattan they had an Israeli Parade, a Cuban Parade, and a bike race thereby insuring that every single street was blocked off and no one could get into the city to participate or view any of the events.

I visited WCBS-FM and met NY radio legend Cousin Brucie for the first time. Nice guy but that hairpiece -- did he borrow it from Marv Albert?

Spectacular weather the entire trip. Even the Carole King looking girls (60% of the NY female population) shed their customary schlump coats.

Walked past CBS (Black Rock) one day and saw a woman leaving the building in tears. Boy, if that wasn't symbolic and perfect.

Even though Up Fronts are beginning I did not bump into a lot of TV types. But their hotels probably did have the housewife and pool guy so no wonder they weren't out on the streets. Who knew you could do all those things in a jacuzzi???

Glad I was able to skirt the Up Fronts this year. Imagine being that producer who has to go up to ABC and plead to get the Kim Delaney show renewed? Or the poor schmucks trying to convince FOX that they now know the problem and now know how to make the 80's SHOW work (we want to set it this season in the 90's).

The Mariners swept the Yankees in the big ballpark in the Bronx this weekend. I could not have been happier. The Mets must be hurting. They have radio ads telling fans to buy tickets now for the Arizona Diamondbacks....coming in in August.

The main purpose of my visit was to meet songwriter Ellie Greenwich and talk about my idea for a Broadway musical. Since I'm on a quest to write things that will never get made and certainly will never make me any money, I figured what better that a musical??? But it's a labor of love and Ellie is truly one of the neatest and most talented people on the planet. Her apartment was pretty amazing as well. Every inch of wallspace is covered by gold records and awards. To get to the bathroom you go past six gold records, take a left at the two "songwriter of the year" certificates, and make a right at the "Songwriter Hall of Fame" placque.

Thanks to Jerry Zaks I got a houseseat to see PRIVATE LIVES with Alan Richman. He was spectacular. One of the greatest comic performances I had EVER seen. It's a wonderful play anyway, but to watch such a comic master perform it was an honor.

Finally, a trip down to Ground Zero. It is so profound and deeply moving. And yet, I saw people walking around taking it in as if were just another tour attraction in Fun City. ("After Ground Zero let' s take a picture of that courthouse they use on LAW & ORDER") I still can't fathom the event itself, and being there, seeing it in person, makes it even harder to believe. Guess we all have to deal with it in our own way. What helped me today was going up to every fireman and policeman I saw and just thanking them.

Some closing observations: everyone smokes, everyone has a cellphone (which makes it harder to tell who the crazy people are since everyone seems to be talking to themselves), and there are an awful lot of very pregnant women. My guess is most of them have the same due date. June 11th.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy birthday... my father. I don’t know how I became a comedy writer because I didn’t come from a dysfunctional family. I get along great with both my parents. By all rights I should be writing 7th HEAVEN.

But I’m proud to say my dad is my hero. And hopefully, we’ll be working together again soon. Whenever I have a show on the air I always hire him. He became an actor at 65. I think he figured if Woody Allen was still playing romantic leads with Julia Roberts and Tea Leoni he sure as hell had a shot. But I digress….

For the pilot of ALMOST PERFECT dad played a maitre’ d. It’s the very top of the show, Nancy Travis approaches him and asks a question. He’s on screen for maybe half a minute. But CBS chose to use that clip for the promo that ran all summer. He got more airtime than Bob Newhart. And for three months everyone he knew was asking if he was starring in a show with Nancy Travis? (His answer, of course, was yes.)

Here’s hoping this is a wonderful year for you. You might want to consider summer stock to just shake the cobwebs.

Happy birthday. Many more. I love you, Dad.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My favorite weekend

The Thursday Calendar section of the LA TIMES always has a feature called “My Favorite Weekend”. A celebrity is asked to describe his or her favorite southland weekend. It’s always bullshit, but now it seems they’re running out of real celebrities. At one time it was Sharon Stone. This week it was one of the models who holds briefcases on DEAL OR NO DEAL. Like anyone gives a crap that she likes to go to Catalina with friends on Sunday then have dinner at someone’s house and let his chef prepare the meal.

Anyway, just in case the TIMES ever asks, I thought I’d post my favorite weekend. Or at least, a typical weekend for me.


Friday I like to get an early start and hit the cockfights in Tijuana. I enjoy the action and it’s fun to see all the young couples out on their first dates.

From there I’ll go to the Hotel Del Coronado for a swim to wash any blood off.

There’s a Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus restaurant in Oceanside right off Interstate 5. They have a three-course dinner for two that includes two sides. And on Friday you can get their signature clam chowder, just like the cowboys used to make.

Saturday morning I power walk from Westwood to Malibu, get the paper, then power walk home. Along the way I may stop at artist friend’s house and pose for a bust.

For lunch I’ll meet some ex car thiefs at Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake. Their Big Boy hamburger is an LA classic, but I order their Super Big Boy hamburger because that one has meat in it.

After lunch and checking to see that one of my dining companions didn’t steal my XM radio, I amble over to the Twin Swallows Oriental Massage Parlor in nearby Inglewood for some pampering at negotiated rates.

Once that ends happily I head back home to work on my “project”. It’s been a ten year labor of love. I’m assembling a table I bought at Ikea in 1996.

For drinks at sunset, especially in the summer when the sky turns an awe inspiring crimson, I prefer the bar at the Shangri-La motel at the beach. Only wish it had a window so I could see outside.

If I went whale hunting the week before I’ll come home and grill it for dinner. I’ll invite some close friends I met on MySpace and we’ll eat, discuss the theater, sample fine wines, and toss water balloons at the useless neighborhood watch patrol car.

Early Sunday morning I reserve for calling back everyone who called me during the week. For some reason I usually wind up leaving messages on their voice mail. I’ve yet to reach my dentist.

For breakfast I’m cutting down on eggs so it’s back to the Shangri-La motel bar for a Ramos Gin Fizz. Those eggs can kill you.

Next I steal a horse and play polo at Will Rogers State Park. The guys love me because I usually bring the little orange juice boxes when we break for snacks.

I love star watching so for lunch I zip out to the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills. Last week I saw the remaining cast members of MCHALE’S NAVY.

Sunday afternoon is culture time. You can’t be well informed if you don’t read. Currently I’m poring through Helen Reddy’s autobiography.

Sunday evening is sushi so that means Angel Stadium in Anaheim. There’s nothing like watching the Halos duel the Devil Rays and hearing that vendor come down the aisle yelling “Hey, sushi right here! Get yer yellowtail!”

I get home, use the neighbor’s Jacuzzi if he’s not home, watch the CELEBRITY FIT CLUB and then it’s time for bed. The great thing about LA is that it’s not just me – EVERYONE here has weekends like this.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Ben Affleck wasn’t bad. He wasn’t great (he never is) but as a wooden self absorbed actor with little to play he was quite good. Good enough to win the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival (beating out Topo Gigio). The real shock was Diane Lane. Always one of my faves, at times her performance in this film was worthy of Faye Dunaway in MOMMIE DEAREST. Yikes! Her woman-scored rage scene could become a classic. Make no mistake, Superman’s girlfriend was Lois Lane not Diane Lane because Lois never dropped the “C” bomb. Jeepers, Mr. Kent!

HOLLYWOODLAND tries to be CHINATOWN but turns out to be CLICHEVILLE. Adrien Brody (the best thing in the movie) was a created character – your standard down and out private dick. Along the way he sasses the coppers, gets roughed up by some gunsels (“Let dis be a warnin’ to ya, drop dis case!”), hits the bottle pretty hard, confronts the big boss named Eddie, jaws the Wrigleys pretty good, and bites off more than he can chew. All in a sepia tone. Someone must’ve discovered that nifty feature when editing in FINAL CUT PRO 5.

PRISON BREAK’S recent corpse Robin Tunney played the wise cracking moll femme fatale. Too bad Wentworth Miller didn’t play George Reeves. That would have been surreal. Stacy Keach as Perry White, and T-Bag as Jimmy Olson to really scare the shit out of the kiddies.

In a recent interview, the filmmakers claim Reeves’ death was so significant because it shattered the innocence of the entire baby boomer generation. Don’t flatter yourself. That happened when Alfalfa shot himself. Or maybe the Kennedy assassination but more than likely Alfalfa.

Hollywood keeps making these faux noir movies of forgotten celebrity deaths based on flimsy speculation and so of course come to no real conclusions. I say, just combine them all. Save us time and money. Just say the guy who really killed George Reeves was the same guy who killed Bob Crane. Who’s going to know?

But Alfalfa – really, what’s the deal there???

More riffs, more raffs....

The Motion Picture Academy announced that Ellen DeGeneres will host this year’s Oscarcast. Katie Couric was unavailable. Ellen is a major movie star. Pictured is her most famous screen role.

I like Ellen DeGeneres but feel that if they gave Jon Stewart a few years to grow into the role he could have been the Oscar host for the next ten years. That said, anyone but Whoopi.

Al Michaels is a sensational football announcer but if it’s a game on NBC I still miss Dick Enberg.

“Carolyn, you’re fired!” This from Donald Trump. The reason – she let television go to her head. HER head, Donald??? HER head??? For Chrissakes, YOU sang on the Emmys last year!!!

I wonder who will replace her on THE APPRENTICE. Katie Couric was unavailable.

Katie’s audience was down 45% in three days. Again, competition from the Chabad Telethon.

Keith Olbermann is my hero. His 9/11 commentary deserves not just a Pulitzer but a Nobel prize.

American League Manager of the Year – Jim Leyland.
National League Manager of the Year – Joe Girardi. Too bad he’s going to get fired.

Was that Kathleen Turner on NIP/TUCK or Judi Densch?

Bob Dylan’s new album is great. But Bob, Jews do not look good in cowboy hats.

Despite the fear of some white supremacy groups, I don’t think the reward challenges on this edition of SURVIVOR will really determine which race is superior. But I sure wish Don Rickles was the host this go-round.

With Francisco Liriano off the Disabled List, look for the Twins to overtake the Tigers…and wreak havoc in a short playoff series.

For those who see Diane Lane in HOLLYWOODLAND and gasp because she’s gotten so old looking, fear not. I saw her in person a couple of months ago and am happy to report she still looks scrumptious…even with food in her mouth.

Is there a Bette Ford Center for those addicted to Free Cell. I need help!

Jerry Springer on DANCING WITH THE STARS? That’s one of their big "celebrities"? Who do I throw a chair at in protest?

Will the Oakland Raiders ever score a point this season?

Woody Allen drinking game: Watch SCOOP and chug every time you see something derivative from one of his previous movies. From Scarlett Johansson playing Louise Lasser to Woody playing Broadway Danny Rose, to the same plot as MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, to a character being a magician, to the Jew jokes, and fear of driving jokes, and well…you’ll be snorkered by the third reel.

Don’t call Sean Combs “Diddy” in England anymore. In an out-of-court settlement he agreed to drop the stupid moniker which conflicted with a noted London based music producer (whose first name was Doo Wah). Mr. Combs is also forbidden from calling himself Ant, Lulu, Elvis, Prince, Annette, Moby, the letters B.-K., Spanky, Cher, Mr. Moto, House, Mr. Clean, T-bag, Metamusal, Bono, Rabbi Svee Rosenbaum, Fantasia, Bubba the Love Sponge, Fonzie, Grover, Jewel, the Duke of Earl, Monk, Burger King, Tootsie, Raffi, Trix, Jack FM, Beck, Ice Blended, White Fang, Black Tooth, Ol' Blue Eyes, Big Papi, Madonna, Goldfinger, the Round Mound of Rebound, Beyonce, Hud, Twiggy, R2D2, Dr. Pepper, Viagra, Windex, Sting, Cleopatra, El Duque, Scooby Do, Rambo, Meatloaf, Slash, and the Little Mermaid. Fortunately, Putz. A. Hole, and Whoopi are still acceptable.

Knock me over with a feather. A new SCIENTIFIC study has determined that actors are narcissists. Who knew??? You mean they dress up in costumes to bring attention to themselves? Next thing we’ll learn is that Donald Trump is a narcissist. The only thing surprising about this finding is that it wasn’t a government study that cost taxpayers $236 million.

Tomorrow: my review of HOLLYWOODLAND.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Riff raff...

Since I'm in a mood to just riff....

What will be the first cancellation of the new TV season? You can’t wait to make your pick until you’ve seen the shows because the first few will be gone before anyone has. My guess: HAPPY HOUR. What’s yours?

Sight unseen – my pick for most promising new comedy: THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY. Who among us hasn’t wanted to rob Mick Jagger ourselves?

I’d love to give Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley the same outline and see who writes the better script. Two things I know: they both will be brilliant and they both will be turned in the next day. The winner will be crowned our next Paddy Chayefsky.

I hope STUDIO 60 is a big hit and America doesn’t find it too inside. And I hope Tina Fey goes back to SNL when her sitcom goes belly up.

Article in EW about the new improved DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. New writers. Fresh ideas. As an example they pointed to a scene where Eva Longoria’s character was faking having sex to make her husband in the next room jealous. It was complete with her screaming out in ecstasy and banging the crap out of a canopy bed. Real fresh except my partner and I wrote that same scene in 1994 for FRASIER – “Adventures in Paradise Pt. 2” (Frasier faking for Lilith’s benefit).

Last weekend saw the worst boxoffice results in three years. The studios aren’t blaming the lack of good pictures they released, it’s that they were competing against the Chabad Telethon.

Super positive buzz on the documentary THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON. It opens this week in selected theatres (I’m guessing not in Texas). A corrupt government trying to claim an outspoken critic is unpatriotic – are you getting a sense of déjà vu??? As long as there’s not too much Yoko (more than 1 1/2 minutes) I can see myself lovin’ this film.

I can not even be in a room that is showing THE VIEW. And that was BEFORE Rosie O’Donnell. The only show I’d watch with those hens on it is the CELEBRITY FIT CLUB.

Seven AMERICAN IDOL contestants are coming out with CD’s. My favorite is Kellie Pickler’s “I’m so stupid I don’t even know how to spell my name correctly” album.

And you’re lucky, Kellie. How’d you like your name to be Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje? And that’s his stage name. LOST fans know him as Mr. Eko. (I know, Kellie, at least Eko is spelled correctly.)

LOST premieres Oct. 4th. Don’t miss it. Re-set your Tivo every 108 minutes.

Best thing on the radio this year: “IT” on XM. One by one they’ve gone through their decades channels playing EVERY song in every era. I could have lived without “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me” by Charlene but still!

In the worst lyrics ever category, some nominees from the 60’s – “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys (“She makes me come alive and makes me want to drive”) and “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones (“She blew my nose and then she blew my mind”).

WGAw Guild members: Vote for Robin Schiff and David Goodman.

Sumner Redstone is becoming that old uncle who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and needs to be locked in the basement.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, September 10, 2006


9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.

David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.

For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.

I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.

After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.

David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.

My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.

I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

So tragic, so senseless, and even five years later, so inconceivable.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pro Bono

In between the time Sonny Bono wore fur vests and became a US Congressman he owned an Italian restaurant on Melrose Ave. in LA named “Bono’s.” He picked a bad location. Within months it went belly up. Since then, every time I drive by that place it’s something else – Japanese, Indian, American diner, etc.

When we’re in production on a show it seems that every week there is that one nagging joke that doesn’t work. It’s replaced on Tuesday. That joke doesn’t work. Wednesday, same story. On and on throughout the week.

That joke is called a “Bono”. And like I said, there’s ALWAYS one (at least one).

What it teaches you is to stick with it, never settle, try new areas. And never just go for the easy joke…which is why I’m refraining from any reference to skiing.