Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Sundance kid

I’m winging to New York for a reading of my play and the great weather. New blog entries should continue on a daily basis assuming there’s internet access in Manhattan.

For two weeks I’ve read and heard nothing but insiders accounts of the Sundance Film Festival. So I thought it might be fun to hear an outsider’s account. My son, Matt and his girlfriend, Kim, were right in the heart of the beast. Matt files this report:We happened to be in Park City for the Sundance Film festival. Kim and I wandered down to Main Street, Park City's downtown area, to check out the festivities. All around the area were huge signs for SUNDANCE07. However, once you get there it looks like any other ski resort downtown area, except that it's inundated with classic LA types. How can you tell the people from LA? Because in 30 degree weather they're either wearing a giant parka with three scarves or a tank top and jeans (yes, we saw both). Only by pure chance did some people dress appropriately, and you still knew they were from LA because they wore something that would only be fashionable to people who live in West Hollywood (think rhinestones, lots of rhinestones). Here is where it would be appropriate to wear Uggs, but nobody did.

Sundance is supposed to be a film festival, so theoretically there should be some theaters playing movies. We found one (The Egyptian Theater) with a giant line outside. Tickets are ridiculously expensive and hard to get. If you want to see an agent wait in line while freezing his ass off, Sundance is the place for you.

I grabbed a copy of the movie listings and decided to read a few of the descriptions. Let me share them with you. The first was a movie about the relationship between identical twin brothers and how it changes when one gets a sex change. The next was about a man falling in love with his horse. If either of these gets nominated for an Oscar the movie industry should just shoot themselves.

If you go to one of these festivals, I'd also like to suggest that you avoid any movie which uses the terms "unique perspective", "worlds torn apart", or "weaves together" in it's description. Also, if the movie refers to itself as "cinema" stay far, far away.

I tried a beer called "Polygamy Porter." It's not as good as it sounds.

As we wandered down Main Street I managed to categorize most people into three groups:

1) Agents/Producers/Actors: These are the people walking around with their cell phones attached to their ears and completely unaware of where they are. They are more than happy to push you out of the way, while their wives drag them into the boutique shops to spend their money. Most of the A-list actors had already left for the week because of the SAG awards, which meant we got an even better show: the B and C-list actors. Imagine fifty Angelyne's walking around in the cold. Also, you can distinguish the agents from the rest since they never have to warm up inside, seeing as how they work for the devil.

2) Film Students: These are the 20-somethings with the indie haircuts and the strange piercings. They all think they are being unique, but couldn't look more cookie-cutter. For example, they all wore Sundance 07 shirts and hats. Way to break the mold guys. You could overhear them talking about "beauty", and "symbols" in their "films" (because they would never work on "movies" or G-d forbid "television").

3) Locals: They couldn't be more friendly to your face, but truthfully can't stand Sundance. One local I met wished that it had snowed this year so he could watch the freakshows in their fur coats and high heels slipping down Main Street. They actually raise prices on almost everything for the week of Sundance. You want a burger? That'll be $12. Now I know Park City isn't cheap to start with, but they take full advantage of the situation. Hey, I can't blame them.

So there you have it. Sundance is a big, snooty excuse to go to a ski town, wait outside in the cold and if you're lucky see a movie. If you want my advice, go to Park City, ski the slopes and download some of the Sundance shorts off iTunes to watch on the plane. You may actually enjoy the area, and raise the price of my Apple Computer stock. It's a win-win.

-Matt

P.S. To be fair, there is one movie that looked really interesting at Sundance: "In the Shadow of the Moon." Of course, it's not like I got to watch it. Hooray Netflix.

You can read Matt's Red Sox blog, Dirty Watah. Talk to you tomorrow from Gotham.

How can you tell if an actor's funny?

A reader wondered how in an audition you could tell if an actor’s funny? The simple answer – does he or she make you laugh? The long answer -- there is no long answer.

It’s hard to explain but truly funny people just give off a vibe. Their attitude, the way they walk, their look – they seem to possess an innate sense of rhythm and timing. And you know it. That’s how we felt when Katey Segal first walked into our office. And Robert Pastorelli. And especially Jenna Elfman.

It gets tough when you're casting a network pilot. The people who audition are all at a certain advanced level. They’re thoroughly professional. They know how to cold read. They know how to sell the jokes. Any one of them would be okay.

But you’re looking for special. The actor who doesn’t have to work hard to get the laughs. The one that just projects a natural comic persona, whether it’s goofiness, or pomposity, or frustration, or in the case of Robin Williams, every emotion known to man and three that aren’t.

Example of “good” vs. “special” – Jim Belushi…John Belushi.

And appearance is important. Check out these photos. Would either of these guys even have to read for you to know they’re funny?

Harder to find are good looking actors who also have comedy chops. It's especially tough finding guys. That's why Paul Rudd and Jason Bateman get seven pilot offers a season. CHEERS with William Devane would have lasted thirteen episodes.

Here's what's not funny: making dolphin noises, mugging, wearing Fruit of the Loom costumes, being in on the joke, crossing your eyes, putting corn stalks in your ears, snorting, splitting watermelons with a sledgehammer, referring to all women as ho's, dropping the "n" bomb, imitating Helen Keller, being loud, did I mention making dolphin noises?

At the end of the day, I’ve always gone by the Nat Hiken test. Hiken, a brilliant comedy writer, created and wrote THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW and CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU? He used to say that if an actor auditioned and he wanted to go right home and write twenty minutes of dialogue for him, THAT’S the actor you hire.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The SAG Awards

On the front page of Monday’s LA TIMES is a picture of Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons with the headline “Her pair of queens wins”. At first I thought, “wow, that’s inappropriate” until I realized the headline was referring to her two victories for playing queens not the two of them in the picture.

I didn’t see the SAG awards. They’re like watching the Arena football championship game before the Superbowl.

On the other hand, I find the gushing praise and over-the-top outpouring of love on the SAG awards to be most amusing. You know all these actors hate each other. I’ll probably get fifty comments to the contrary but come on, they’re in the most competitive profession ever, and for every winner Saturday night, there were probably forty others in the room who auditioned for and lost that part. And will tell you they could have played it better.

Some thoughts on the winners:

Helen Mirren is a wonder. Won for THE QUEEN in features and ELIZABETH I on TV. She could play Queen Latifa and I’d believe her.

Jennifer Hudson is going to win every award this season but the Heisman Trophy.

I was thrilled the cast of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE won. Why? Because they sent out screener DVD’s to all their members. Hint hint.

Wouldn’t it have been great a few years ago if CASTAWAY had won for best Cast in a motion picture?

Jeremy Irons scored for ELIZABETH I. In a real stretch he played a fop.

Hugh Laurie racked up another win. Maybe now the TV Academy will NOMINATE him for an Emmy.

Glad Chandra Wilson won for GREY’S ANATOMY. It’s nice that there’s someone on that show who isn’t “dreamy”.

Alec Baldwin is the funniest supporting actor in a comedy since David Hyde Pierce. You’ll know how many years 30 ROCK stays on the air by the number of Emmys he’s going to win.

Happy for America Ferrera but isn’t it so Hollywood that instead of hiring an actual ugly actress to play UGLY BETTY they hire a pretty actress and make her look ugly?

By and large I think it’s dumb to give awards to entire casts except in the case of THE OFFICE. They really are an ensemble and that show only works because they all mesh together so well. Note to producers casting pilots: hire FUNNY people.

And the cast of GREY’S ANATOMY wins for best cast in a drama? They’re terrific and sure yummy to look at but I would have voted for LOST. Those actors had to get out of cages, and get trapped in the rain where their hair got messed up. They don’t teach that at Julliard, pallie.

So now it’s on to the next awards show, which I think might be THE PATSYS, celebrating the best performances by animals in television and motion pictures. Elvis, the alligator from MIAMI VICE is going to receive the lifetime achievement award this year.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Drop it, punk! I've got a hose!"

Have you seen the SOPRANOS on A&E?

TONY: "You motherf-ather, you been sleepin' with that fu-dgin' cun-iver, haven't you, you piece of s-oap? I have a good mind to take this f-utzinheimer gun, shove it right up her sn-oot and blow her s-ocks away!"

And that's just the language.

Now it seems that Congress may take on the BIG issue that confronts this crippled nation (not the war or economy) -- too much violence and gore on TV. I imagine the first step is to form a committee to look into selecting a subcommittee. Then they'll schedule hearings and fact finding missions until it’s finally determined that Tony can't kill anybody, he can just fire warning shots. And 24 can set off a twelve megaton nuclear bomb but not a fifty.

By the way, it will be a bi-partisan committee. THIS they can work together on.

So as they put aside the issues of health care, job outsourcing, and spiraling gas prices to focus on the more important matter of policing police shows and doctoring doctor shows, here are a few questions I would like to submit.

Where should gore-fest NIP/TUCK draw the line? May they show a face lift but not liposuction? Is it okay to see them operate on Kelly Carlson and not Rosie O’Donnell? (Well, in that case, yeah).

And those simulated close up cameras that zoom into peoples’ bodies and crash into aneurisms on CSI and HOUSE – ick!!!

Instead of a gun, should Vic Mackey protect himself only with a fire hose on THE SHIELD?

Is the only acceptable episode of OZ the one where Johnny Cash comes to perform?

For every gunsel that Tony Soprano threatens must he complete 100 hours of anger-management training?

Christopher can no longer slug Lauren Becall? At worst he can make fun of her for doing Fancy Feast cat food commercials?

Instead of torturing suspected terrorists, should Jack Bauer give them treats if they talk?

Men can be IN trees but not fall out of them?

Excuse me, dear elected officials, it is impossible to set guidelines. What show is bloodier, CRIMINAL MINDS or MASH? Name me a more sympathetic protagonist than serial killer DEXTER.

Don’t we have more important things to do than regulate television shows? The offending programs all have disclaimers. And there are alternatives. TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL is still showing on one of those cable networks.

And it embarrasses me to say that all of this nonsense began as a result of my generation. Yes, we baby boomers all became violent homicidal maniacs because according to Congress back then – we watched CAPTAIN VIDEO.

What five year old boy didn't see that Atomic Disentigrator Rifle and not want to kill? And what five year old girl didn't see that Cosmic Ray Vibrator and...oh wait a minute, now we're crossing into too much sex on TV. Motherf-ather! That Captain Video corrupted us all.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My greatest home run call

After hearing all the goofy things I used to do on Syracuse Chiefs broadcasts, a few readers asked me to tell the story again of my "greatest home run call".

For three years in the minors and seven in the majors I did baseball play-by-play. Someday I hope to do it again. The staple of a baseball announcer is his home run call.

I was broadcasting for the Chiefs, the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, in 1988. Our station had a weaker signal than my home Wifi transmitter. At night you couldn’t hear it at the ballpark. When people complained I used to say that this was just the flagship station of the “Worldwide Syracuse Chiefs Radio Network”. I would pause for station identification every half hour and make up all this crap about how popular the Chiefs were in Norway and Bhutan.

We had a third baseman named Norm Tonucci. Sweet kid from Connecticut who was on a year long slump. He came to bat once and I said we had many listeners from Borneo because Norm was a folk hero over there. I then created some story that his father had parachuted behind enemy lines in World War II and single handedly saved the country. I said the currency of Borneo is “Tonuches”, that 90% of male babies and 70% of female babies were named Norm. Every time he came to bat I would reprieve this Borneo connection and night after night he would go 0-3, 0-4, 0-8 (doubleheader).

One night we’re in Oklahoma City and Norm hits a triple. When he came to bat the next time up I talked about how excited the people of Borneo were over the triple. The next pitch he just crushed. And this was my home run call:

“Tonucci swings and there’s a long drive to deep left field. Steve Kemp goes back…to the track…to the wall….NO SCHOOL TOMORROW IN BORNEO!”

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Studio B on Wilshire Blvd.

From E! Network's THE SOUP comes this very funny spoof of Aaron Sorkin featuring K.P. Anderson and Joel McHale. Come on, Aaron, it's amusing.

Oooh baby, left turn ahead...

In reading your comments about GPS systems a question occurred to me. If you could pick the voice, who would it be?

At first I thought, maybe someone like James Earl Jones. But considering he’s Darth Vader I could just imagine that heavy breathing while the car was idling at a stop light. And God forbid I don’t follow one of his instructions.

I’m sure men and women would make different selections. I can’t see too many guys going with Barry White. “Oooooh baby, turn left ahead. You know you want to do it. Come on, baby, do it. Turn left. Now. Ohhhh yeah!”

Guys might prefer that late night bedroom voice a la Allison Steele, the sexiest sounding disc jockey in the history of radio.

If you really have esteem issues you might want your mother’s voice. Or your drill sergeant’s. “I can’t BELIEVE you ain’t at that intersection yet, you Goddamn maggot pussy!”

There’s always Simon Cowell but he’d stop you after thirty seconds and tell you it’s pointless to go any further.

And Dick Tufeld, the voice of the robot on LOST IN SPACE. “Danger! Danger! Dead end ahead.”

If you used William Daniels you could pretend you were in Knight Rider.

For just classic great radio voices (you might not know the names but you’d recognize them when you heard them) : Dan Ingram, Robert W. Morgan, Jon Miller, Neil Ross, Randy West, Mike McCann, Gary Burbank, Lyle Dean, Dave Williams, Gary Owens, Bill Drake, Humble Harv, Laurie Allen, Charlie Van Dyke, Howard Hoffman, Mark Elliott, and Rick Dees.

Randy Thomas has great pipes. She’s the “Hooked on Phonics” spokesman. Also the booth announcer for the Academy Awards. “This is Ken’s second trip to Calabasas, first to 10835 Ventura Blvd.” (Randy also will be announcing this year's Superbowl halftime show. If you used her voice you could probably get your car into VIP parking in certain places.)

I always liked that throaty tone of Kirstie Alley. And if you wanted to feel important, how about that guy who does all the movie trailers? “YOU have arrived at YOUR dessss-ti-nationnnnn.”

And then there’s Seth MacFarlane who could give you a lot of voices. Same for Harry Shearer. You’d never fall asleep at the wheel if Robin Williams were reeling off directions in thirty different accents.

Kiefer Sutherland could do it but you’d have trouble hearing him. Half the time you’d be yelling “WHAT??!” at the screen.

People I would least like as my GPS guide: Barbra Streisand, Joan Rivers, Bobcat Goldwait, Gilbert Godfried, Rosie O’Donnell, Fran Drescher, Danny Bonaduce, Judy Tanuta, Joe Cocker, Jaimie White, and Tim McCarver.

But if I had to choose one voice and one voice only… it would have to be Vin Scully. “Pull up a chair, put on your seatbelt and spend a little time…going to 320 Kimber Road.” I might just give an address in New York and let him take him the whole way.

Who would your custom GPS voice be?

Friday, January 26, 2007

In search of Wendy

I don’t know how I lived before Wendy. She’s nurturing, she’s patient, she shows me the way. A lot of times I’ll do stupid things, ignore her advice completely and yet she never gets angry. Never even raises her voice. She just readjusts her thinking to accommodate me. Before you get too excited guys, Wendy is my GPS system. I’ve named her for “Wendy and the lost boys”, which seemed better than “Donna Dashboard” or “mother”.

My big question is just who is this woman? She’s the Lexus GPS voice. Maybe one of you know. I tried tracking it down on the internet but kept running into dead ends.

Do people recognize her voice when she’s in a supermarket or ordering at Shoney’s? How long did it take to record all of that? Jon Miller of ESPN records their baseball video game each year and it takes about three days to update from last year’s edition. By the third day he’s walking into walls.

The funniest day I ever had on the MASH set was when they assembled the cast to do promos for all the affiliates. The show had just gone into syndication and as a courtesy the cast agreed to do quick individual promos. Promos like this:

“Hi, this is Alan Alda. Thanks for watching MASH and now stay tuned for Cindy Zichiweivitz, Bob Bandamama and the rest of the Eyewitness News team on the big one in Biloxi, Channel 17. “

and then…

“Hi, this is Alan Alda. We have your prescription for comedy on MASH followed by Channel 39 Action Central News with Laura Papadacilous, Harold DeBois, Dirk D. Detmeyer sports, and Dr. Happy with the weather – voted the number one news team in Norfolk for the ninth year in a row.”

They had to record 200 of these. Can you imagine?!

By the 20th one they were tripping all over themselves, by the 100th it was a train wreck. Everyone was so punchy, they could not get through a promo without six takes, five of them laughing hysterically.

And, these promos were done at the end of a filming day.

I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my life.

So when I hear Wendy lovingly say “make a sharp right in one half mile” I imagine it was after four takes of:

“make a right … oh fuck, sharp right… God damn it, let’s do this fucking thing again. What is a fucking sharp right turn anyway? Like the putz driving is gonna know? He’s probably got his head so far up his ass he doesn’t even know what a right turn is. And he's driving a fucking Lexus. I have a goddamn Kia but this pissant drives a Lexus. It's a fucking joke! Okay, here we go, take five…”


Whoever Wendy is, I have got to meet her. But not during a session.

American Idol so far


Of all the bizarre looking contestants that have tried out for AMERICAN IDOL this season (and there have been shockingly many), none have even come close to Carole Bayer Sager. Yikes! She looked like a trampoline with eyes.

Why do they even need a guest judge? It takes FOUR people to determine that the skeesix in the Uncle Sam costume with boxing gloves can’t sing?

I’m still having nightmares over Carole Bayer Sager. Imagine a slingshot that’s been stretched for four blocks.

Last week the guest dead weight was Jewel. She could not have looked more uncomfortable if she were sitting with the Menendez Brothers and O.J. Simpson. Favorite moment: when she mumbled to a contestant that he had no personality.

On the other hand, when Simon is not there just cancel the auditions.

Yes, a lot of these contestants are just chump bait, and they know what they’re in for, but does the camera have to linger on them soooo long? Do we have to see them grovel and beg and cry? I don’t care if the show gets a 70 share, it’s wrong.

Okay, he couldn’t sing but flamboyant Ian Benardo was hilarious. Dump ‘TIL DEATH and put him on the air.

I bet if Joni Mitchell auditioned she’d get three no’s.

Best singer so far: Sundance Head. Best name so far: Sundance Head. For those who didn’t see the show, it’s a guy.

Not only can most kids not sing. Most apparently have never been to a dentist.

Amanda & Antonella, the two hot best friend girls (who we saw frolicking in the ocean in their bikinis .. this is Fox remember) – I’m already calling 1-900-IDOL and voting for them.

Oh please, this season, let one of the theme nights be Bjork. And another be Ethel Merman.

I loved the girl who wanted to be the first AMERICAN IDOL that couldn’t sing.

Where are they now? Kelly Clarkson is an international superstar with Grammys and platinum CD’S. Runner-up, Justin Guarini is hosting IDOL TONIGHT on the TV Guide channel.

Anytime a contestant says they’re going to sing Shakira the judges should just say, “Sorry, it’s a no. Thanks for coming.”

As I watch these auditions I wonder – which one of these kids will be the next AMERICAN IDOL and which will be Paula’s new boyfriend?

Of all the crazies, my favorite contestants were the mother and daughter that looked like Patty & Selma. Runners up: Fidel Castro, girl with the cow, the juggler/serial killer, and the hipster Amish guy.

Give Ian his own show!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sundance -- does anyone care?

The LA TIMES Calendar section has been devoting an inordinate amount of space to covering the Sundance Film Festival. Review of the movies, latest scuttlebutt, who’s buying what for how much, etc. Only thing is – I can’t see any of these movies, I’m not invited to any of these parties, I don’t stand to benefit from any of the exciting big deals. And a lot of the names they’re throwing around are known only to Endeavor agents. I’m in the industry and I really don’t care. So I can imagine what all the “non pros” think.

Seems to me the only people interested in this coverage are the people who are already there.

When I broadcast minor league baseball I used to often think, “other than the players and the players’ wives, who the hell is really listening to this? Who cares if we win the International League championship?” I don’t even think the wives gave a shit. Plus we were asked to give out of town league scores. “They’re in the third in Rochester and Toledo has a 3-1 lead. Uh oh, pitching change in Pawtucket where Columbus is threatening in the 6th.” Zzzzzzzzzzz.

So I figured I had to do something to make the broadcasts a little more interesting. I’d hear my counterparts filling time by spelling out the players’ backgrounds. What high schools they went to, hometown, batting average in college, that sort of thing. Zzzzzzzzz.

So I decided that since the audience didn’t know any of these guys anyway I would just make stuff up. Who’s going to know?

A typical Syracuse Chiefs broadcast would sound like this:

“Eric Green up there now. That gold medallion around his neck is actually a Tony Award Eric won in 1984 for choreography.”

“Alex Campusano spends his free time inventing new surgical techniques.”

“Colin Washington is warming up in the pen. Most people don’t know this but Colin has seven brothers and six sisters, all of them named Colin.”

“Mario Infante makes the catch. He’s looking forward to our trip next week to Buffalo. Last time he was there was when he went over Niagra Falls in a barrel. It was pretty scary but he said he did win five dollars.”


“Otis Yelding takes a strike. A lot of excitement in the clubhouse before the game when Otis’ boa constrictor got loose. The ball girl didn’t find it too funny though when she found it in the Gatorade bucket. I’m surprised you couldn’t hear her scream back home in Syracuse. Next pitch…low.”

“Geronimo Sanchez strikes out looking. And boy is he hopping mad. He’s yelling at the umpire, and…I think he’s yelling in Hebrew.”

“You know that baby on the cover of Gerber baby food? That was really Scranton manager, Stan Bailor. They used his baby picture for that cover. I think it was only a year later that he started chewing tobacco.”

Hey, gimme a break. It’s a long season.

So for any of you TIMES reporters in Sundance, it’s okay to tell us Robert Redford was seen in a dress, or that one of the movies this year deals with bestiality. Wait a minute. There actually is a bestiality movie this year.

Hmmmmm? At least that’s what they’re saying.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The MASH Oscar show

With the 2007 Academy Award nominations being announced, Oscar Fever has officially begun. Doing my part, today’s topic is the annual MASH Oscar show. You might think that’s the one episode a year we deemed worthy of Hollywood’s highest honor. No. It was the one episode we’d try to bury by airing it up against the Oscars. (At the time both MASH and the Academy Awards were on Monday night.)

Every show has at least one episode a year that is just a clam. The trick is not to have nineteen.

So that is what we’d routinely do. Put our weakest show in that slot. (The scary thing is that whatever terrible number we got back then would probably be good enough for renewal now) However, in season seven we aired a pretty good episode. So why was it there? Read on.

The name of the episode was Preventive Medicine. The story seemed very intriguing. The number of arriving wounded had increased because of one careless Colonel. Hawkeye slips him a mickey then to keep him from returning to the front removes his appendix. This was before malpractice suits and HMO’s but there was still that pesky question of ethics. It created a nice debate between Hawkeye and BJ. We did a lot of rewriting on that episode, the cast was happy, we were happy, and they went off to the ranch to make it.

On Friday night David tuned in to the MASH rerun that CBS was airing at 11:45. After watching a few minutes he came upon a horrible discovery – IT WAS THE EXACT SAME SHOW THAT WE WERE FILMING. Identical. Same plotline, same argument. The only difference was it was better (no surprise there – Larry Gelbart vs. us).

We were mortified. I mean, it’s one thing to steal from other shows, but to steal from your own? We looked like a couple of blithering idiots. The amazing thing is that no one on the cast or crew caught it. And a lot of them were there for the original episode.

So that became our Oscar show, not because it was bad but because it was the only original episode of MASH that was also a rerun.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Oscar nominations

Congratulations to everyone nominated for an Oscar this year.

Here’s how bad I am at predicting Oscar winners. I thought DREAMGIRLS was going to win Best Picture and it wasn’t even nominated.

Diana Ross must’ve been on the nominating committee.

Fantasia is on suicide watch today with Jennifer Hudson being nominated.

Kudos to Will Smith who only does movies he can get nominated in. If Eddie Murphy wins, expect to see Will in DREAMGIRLS 2.

If Eddie Murphy does win don’t expect a repeat with NORBIT.

The “it’s great to be nominated” category this year is Best Actor. Between Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter O’Toole, Will Smith, and Forest Whitaker there must be 20 Oscar losses between them, 15 just for O’Toole.

Speaking of perennial losers – Is this finally the year for Martin Scorsese to win Best Director? He’s the perfect winner too because he’s the only guy who can thank 47 people in under ten seconds.

Mel Gibson may claim APOCALYPTO was denied because of all the Jews in the Academy but he got a Best Make-Up nomination so shut up.

Because of DREAMGIRLS there is real music this year in the music categories. No one in a Lakers jersey will be accepting an Oscar.

BORAT was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. By adaptation they mean it was written after they filmed the movie.

Let’s hope there’s never a sequel to UNITED 93.

The ratings for the Oscarcast usually depend on the number of recognizable stars who got nominated. Expect a big rating this year as fans root for their favorite among Djimon Hounsou, Adriana Barraza, Jackie Erle Haley, and Rinko Kikuchi.

I’m not saying they’re not deserving of nominations, I’m just saying remember the days when you could pronounce the nominees?

It used to be to ensure an acting nomination you had to play someone who was physically challenged. Now it’s someone who snorts coke.

Don Cheadle must see all the nominations for BABEL and say, “Hey, what about HOTEL RWANDA? How come we didn’t get all those nominations last year?”

Greg Kinnear must be saying, "Forrest Whittaker and not me???"

Most money wasted on ads for a movie that went nowhere: BOBBY

As everyone is saying, the big surprise was that DREAMGIRLS, with 8 nominations, was not nominated for Best Picture. There always are a few of these oversights, but none more than this year. Here are more very deserving movies and talent were overlooked.

Best Picture:

BUDDHA WILD: MONK IN A HUT
HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS
JET LI’S: FEARLESS
DA VINCI CODE

Best Actress:

Jordana Brewster in ANNAPOLIS (at 5’ 104 pounds she played a tough Navel Drill Instructor. Think Louis Gossett Jr. in OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN with perky breasts.)
Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT 2 (best performance from the waist down)
Judi Dench for narrating DOOGAL (is there nothing that woman can’t do?)
Shawnee Smith in SAW 3
Kristin Davis in SHAGGY DOG
Nicole Kidman in FUR (there must still be the backlash from divorcing America’s darling, Tom Cruise)

Best Supporting Actress:

Bitch as “Herself” in SHORTBUS
Cloris Leachman as “Great Gam Gam” in BEERFEST. (I felt sure she’d add to her many Oscars with this one.)

Best Actor:

Will Arnett in LET’S GO TO PRISON
Ray Rivas as “Shabbos Goy” in SHORTBUS

Best Supporting Actor:

Chip Zien as “first guy killed” in UNITED 93. (He laid dead in the aisle the entire movie and never once broke character. That’s concentration!)
Michael Deak as “the monster” in ABOMINABLE. (The tag line should have been Michael Deak WAS Abominable!)

Best original screenplay:
BIG MAMA’S HOUSE 2

Best director:
Barry Sonnenfeld for RV

***********
As always, I will have my bitchy review of the Oscarcast immediately following the ceremony on February 25th. To get you in the mood, here’s last year’s Oscar review. How many of these winners do you even remember?


Monday, January 22, 2007

Ve haf vays of knowing your name

My thoughts on the Oscar nominations coming soon. But first...

If you're ever in Germany, be sure to catch CHEERS.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What I really think of Aaron Sorkin

STUDIO 60 returns with new shows. I hope it does well.

Aaron Sorkin probably doesn’t believe me. He thinks I hate him. He dismissed comments I made in a recent LA TIMES article by saying I wasn’t a “real” comedy writer and was unemployed. I’d like to think that based on my credits and agent that neither is true (although if he found out I did AfterMASH I could see why he might make that claim).

I actually have great respect for Mr. Sorkin. I stopped watching WEST WING when he left because the show just wasn’t as good. Yes, I wrote a parody (If Aaron Sorkin wrote a show about baseball), but I also parodied LOST, 24, and HOUSE and their producers found it amusing.

My criticism of STUDIO 60 was very much in line with everyone else’s – the characters seem too smug, the sketches aren’t funny, Sara Paulson is not convincing as a gifted comedienne – but for whatever reason that article really hit a nerve. (Rumor has it the TIMES is trying to make nice by preparing another article, this one about how people love STUDIO 60.)

The new batch of shows will veer more towards romantic comedy, Sorkin promises. That might work. Often times there are growing pains in the first year as a show tries to find its groove. Watch early episodes of CHEERS. We did a lot of experimenting. Some episodes focused on Sam & Diane, others were more like BARNEY MILLER where our regulars dealt with colorful characters who entered the bar. It took about half a season until the series really found its way (although it was still getting its ass kicked in the ratings by mighty TUCKER'S WITCH).

I do have empathy for Sorkin. It’s not easy creating in a negative environment. I’ve been there. Everything you do is second guessed, the cast starts looking at you like you killed their puppy, your budget gets cut, you're pre-empted for a RUGRATS prime time special, and your health deteriorates faster than that guy who ate nothing but McDonalds for a month. When a show is going well your hair comes out in clumps, so you can imagine when it’s not. But I think he makes it harder on himself by being so defensive. There's no witch hunt. No one is attacking him personally.

There’s another reason to root for Sorkin. Networks and studios are inserting themselves into the creative process now more than ever before. It's like being eaten to death by moths. Very few showrunners enjoy the autonomy that Sorkin has. So if his show is a success, other writers can point to it and say, “See? If you just leave the creator alone he’ll turn out a better show.” If it's not a hit, you're up until 3:00 in the morning upping the stakes and making the actress they forced you to take more likeable.

So when I say I hope he turns it around I’m being absolutely sincere. I don’t hate Aaron Sorkin. I just wish he didn't take himself, his show, and his critics so seriously. This isn't the White House. You can have a few laughs.

In honor of Sundance

Okay, I wasn’t there DURING Sundance. I was there in October.

*******

Here’s a travelogue you thought you’d never see – me in Utah. Along with my partner David, and a third writer, Mr. Scribe, I am writing a spec screenplay. Mr. Scribe has a condo in Park City, Utah and graciously suggested it would be a great place to sequester ourselves and really get some work done. So for four days I was in the land of the Osmonds and Gary Gilmore.

A stewardess was once fired for saying over the PA to passengers “Welcome to Salt Lake City. Please turn your clocks back one hundred years”. Landed in Salt Lake, did just that, then headed up the mountains to Park City, one of America’s premiere posh ski towns. I have never been to any ski towns because I do not ski. I know for many people skiing is an absolute passion but it’s cold, requires a lot of bulky equipment, is costly, and let’s face it: no one ever broke a leg sitting in a movie theatre.

That said, the panoramas were positively breathtaking. I can just see a Park City man coming home from a hard day, stepping out onto his balcony, gazing at the magnificent vista and saying to his wives “Hey, Trixie, Jane, Gloria, you gotta get out here and see this!”

There’s no snow yet so there are no tourists. Mr. Scribe’s condo is part of a gorgeous lodge. You walk down the deserted hallways, past the cavernous vacant dining room, through the expansive empty lobby and realize…

You’re living THE SHINING.

All that’s missing is the maze. But the quiet was most welcomed and allowed us to get a lot of work done on the script. Thought you’d enjoy a preview. Here’s one of many scenes we wrote.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

I think we have a good chance of selling this one.

Took a tour of nearby Deer Valley. Mr. S. pointed out the chair lift pole that an expert skier crashed into splitting open his skull. He also showed us the spot on the road where trucks spin off if there’s a little ice on the ground. Later I learned that skiers on certain runs must carry beacons so if they’re buried in an avalanche they can be found.

Charles Gibson of GOOD MORNING AMERICA owns a huge house on one of the hills. Circular and all in glass and chrome, it looks the Cat in the Hat’s hat. Jeffrey Katzenberg also owns an impressive chalet. So I guess when he’s not in Hawaii taking my lounge chair he’s up here.

Elayne Boosler says this about Utah: “My favorite store here is maternity gowns for Mother of the Bride”.

Many girls in Park City look like pioneer women.

REDRUM. I don’t know why I just wrote that.

David and I walked down Main Street in Park City (picture Knotts Berry Farm for rich people) and got a number of stares. I’m sure we were the first two Jews of the season. Kinda like the first robin of spring. Soon more Jews would follow and it would be ski season.

REDRUM.

Favorite Main Store establishment: Bad Ass Coffee.

Moose sighting. No, wait, that’s just Merlin Olsen.

During the winter, reservations at most restaurants and emergency rooms are recommended.

Park City is the home of the Sundance Film Festival every January. So for two weeks any rustic or quaint charm is completely obliterated as Hollywood agents, deal makers, opportunists, sharks, managers, hucksters, lawyers, carnies, boot lickers, snake oil salesmen, and ACCESS HOLLYWOOD invade the area as if it were their personal Baghdad. But if you’re a skier that’s the time to come because no one is on the slopes. Which begs the question: why not hold the film festival in summer when it’s warm and there’s no skiing anyway?

REDRUM. REDFORD.

During Sundance every theatre screens cutting edge independent films. The other 50 weeks they show DODGEBALL.

Not a lot of Sonny Bono records played on the local radio station here.

There are almost as many SUV’s here as in the parking lot of the Encino Gelson’s.

Events I unfortunately will be missing: “Howl-a-Ween Dog Parade” down Main Street featuring a whole pack of costumed canines. And the “Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair”. I’m upset about missing that one because who writes better poetry than Gabby Hayes and Chill Wills? Plus they’re going to have a colt starting clinic.

I can’t afford a place here but my agent has one. Hmmmmm?

It stays dark every morning till eight make Jack a dull boy.
The ski lifts carry nobody make Jack a dull boy.
Most restaurants are closed and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Please give a warm welcome to Ted Nugent!

So when Ted Nugent performed at the Texas Governor’s Inaugural Ball with machine guns, a Confederate Flag T-shirt, and started shouting offensive remarks about people who don’t speak English, uh was this a surprise to anyone? This wasn’t John Davidson they hired. This was Ted Nugent, he of the biting live chickens on stage rumors.

Even if Mr. Nugent (or, as he’s also known, Sweaty Teddy, Deadly Tedly, Great Gonzos, and my personal favorite – Theodocious Atrocious) was told to just sing his big hits that would mean “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” Imagine starting the ladies choice dance with that?

Were the Johnny Mann Singers just unavailable that night?

Had anybody in the party planning committee read any of Mr. Nugent’s quotes? Here are two of my faves:

Gun Control: “Only a coward supports gun control. You know how to stop carjacking? Shoot the carjacker. If someone is going to kill me for my Buick, I’m gonna shoot until I’m out of ammo – and then I’ll call 911.”

Feminists: What’s a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough?”

Charming.

Andy Williams had a gig in Branson that night?

I still can’t get over it. Ted Nugent? At the Governor’s Ball? Author of “Kill It and Grill It”. Legal guardian of a 17 year old Hawaiian girl to avoid statutory charges. The man who got a draft deferment by reporting to his draft board with a week’s worth of excrement and urine in his pants (although I’m sure Texans would still have preferred he dressed for the ball like that than sport a Confederate flag). The only thing surprising to me is that THEY were surprised.

Amy Grant wanted too much money?

Personally, I find it hilarious. Mr. Nugent has said he’s considering running for Governor of Michigan in 2010. I bet even he’s smart enough not to hire himself to sing at the Inaugural Ball.

VOLUNTEERS reviews

Same movie – very different reviews. You'll notice in the second one we gets raked over the coals for our "blatant plug" for Coke.

*******
From the New York Times

By WALTER GOODMAN
Published: August 16, 1985

Take a healthy helping of ''Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' a dollop of ''The Bridge on the River Kwai,'' a dash of any Tarzan movie, a soupcon of ''Casablanca,'' a whiff of ''The Wizard of Oz'' and a stunt or two from a favorite Saturday serial, stir frenetically, and if you're lucky enough to have snappy dialogue by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, you may end up with as funny a movie as ''Volunteers.''

….There are lots of snappy exchanges. ''I thought you wanted to be my friend,'' Beth admonishes when Lawrence makes a pass. He replies, ''This is what I do with my friends.'' In refusing to pay his son's debts, Lawrence's father (George Plimpton) assures him that some day he will thank Dad for the gift of self-reliance and for the opportunity to learn to use a walker. It is a particular pleasure to report that although Lawrence naturally falls in love with Beth and goes through plenty of trouble to save her from being turned into a drug fiend, she does not make a better man of him.

Although the movie, which opens today at the United Artists Twin and other theaters, begins with film clips of icons of the early 1960's - John F. Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, Marilyn Monroe, Ed Sullivan - the spirit is very much of the 80's. But a little melancholy may blend with the laughter ''Volunteers'' draws at the expense of those earnest days when a President was urging people to ask what they could do for their country.
*****
On the other hand….from VARIETY

By VARIETY STAFF
Volunteers is a very broad and mostly flat comedy [from a story by Keith Critchlow] about hijinx in the Peace Corps, circa 1962. Toplined Tom Hanks gets in a few good zingers as an upperclass snob doing time in Thailand, but promising premise and opening shortly descend into unduly protracted tedium.

Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne 3d, an arrogant, snide rich boy from Yale who trades places with an earnest Peace Corps designate when his gambling debts land him in danger at home. Once ensconced in a remote village, contentious couple Hanks and cohort Rita Wilson and ultra do-gooder John Candy set out to build a bridge across a river. Kidnapped and brainwashed by the commies, the gung-ho Candy disappears for a long stretch.

With Candy absent most of the time, Hanks' one-note, if sometimes clever, attitudinizing wears out its welcome after a while. He also is deprived of anyone effective to play off.

Lensed in Mexico, pic features a muddy, truly ugly look. Also present is the most offensively blatant plug for Coca-Cola yet seen in the new era of Coke-owned entertainment companies.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Things go bitter with Coke


In my recent discussion of product placement a reader asked about the Coke scene in the movie David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS. We took a lot of heat for it because the studio that produced it also owned the Coca Cola company. It was viewed as a shameless plug. The truth is it was a complete coincidence.

Here’s the notorious scene but first an earlier scene setting up the animosity between Lawrence (Tom Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson). They are flying to Thailand to begin service in the Peace Corps in 1962. Lawrence is a rich preppy who is only there because he switched places with his roommate Kent to skip a huge gambling debt. Beth is an idealistic coed. They’re about to land.

INT. AIRPLANE – DAY

BETH

Bangkok already? I can’t believe it.

LAWRENCE
Yes, we’ve been talking now for … (checks his watch) … Ooh, ten hours.

BETH
Kent, I’m really lucky to be assigned with you.

LAWRENCE
You know, Beth, we’re going to have so much to do when we get to…

A beat.

BETH
Loong Ta.

LAWRENCE
Of course. What do you think about taking tonight for ourselves? A bit of dinner, a few drinks, see a little of the city. And then, who knows? (taking her hand) There’s only one thing we haven’t shared together yet.

Beth smiles, not taking him seriously.

BETH
Very funny.

Lawrence smiles back at her. He’s serious. She looks at him, takes her hand back.

BETH
(cool) Thank you just the same.

LAWRENCE
Oh, come on, Beth. We’ve been moony-eyed since Istanbul. Why fight it?

BETH
(flustered) Kent, why are you doing this? I thought we were becoming friends.

LAWRENCE
This is what I do with my friends.

BETH
You’ve just been trying to go to bed with me?

LAWRENCE
(checking his watch) Well, I think I’ve put in the hours, don’t you?

Okay. And a few months later they’re in Loong Ta, a dirt poor village of thatched huts and nothing else. We needed a way to break the ice, to start getting them together. In interviewing former Peace Corps volunteers we learned that Coca Cola was one of the things they missed most, especially if stationed in a hot jungle. So taking that info, we wrote this scene:

*********
INT. LAWRENCE’S CLUB – NIGHT

Beth enters to find that Lawrence has transformed the hut into an exotic, albeit small, nightclub. There are bamboo chairs and tables, plants, and a makeshift bar, fully stocked with liquor. Lawrence, wearing his dinner jacket, sits at the corner table smoking a cigarette. An old villager sits off to the side, trying his best to play, “As Time Goes By” on his primitive Thai sitar.

LAWRENCE
Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.

BETH
I don’t believe it… even from you.

LAWRENCE
It was easier than you think.

BETH
How did you…?

Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.

LAWRENCE
A little elbow grease, a few connections and voila: Loong Ta’s first public service. Are you as proud of me as I am? Can I get you a drink?

BETH
What’s this for?

LAWRENCE
For a job well done. I’ve got Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam… the whole gang.

BETH
You’ve got liquor?

LAWRENCE
And wine. The house special is a delightfully articulate Chablis.

BETH
I haven’t seen a tube of toothpaste in two weeks and you have a bar?

LAWRENCE
Don’t fight it, Beth.

BETH
Goodnight, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE
You’re taking the narrow view again.

She starts for the door, then stops and turns back.

BETH
Do you have a Coke?

LAWRENCE
Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?

BETH
Plain. A plain Coke.

Lawrence reaches beneath the bar, grabs a bottle of Coke, and with much panache, removes the cap.

LAWRENCE
(handing it to her) You more than earned it.

Beth takes the Coke, looks at it, then takes a long swig.

BETH
Oh, that is fantastic… I miss these so much. Lawrence, damn you, you’re a life saver.

LAWRENCE
(toasting her with another Coke) To friends. Would you care to dance?

Beth thinks it over, takes one more good chug of Coke, and steps into Lawrence’s arms.

LAWRENCE
(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.

The sitar player strikes up “As Time Goes By” in the same monotonous way. Lawrence snaps his fingers, ordering him to pick up the pace. THE CAMERA SLOWLY PULLS BACK, and THROUGH THE WINDOW we watch Lawrence and Beth dancing slowly around the room, Beth shyly looking into Lawrence’s eyes. Electricity flickers.

********

We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.


I look back and think, all of this could so easily been avoided if he just offered her a joint.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Sneaks 2007

Every January the LA TIMES Calendar section has their movie preview for the year, listing all the films scheduled to be released. After grumbling for five minutes that one of them is not mine I begin to look for trends. Here’s what you can expect at your local Cineplex in 2007.

Forget sequels. This is the year of “3”. SPIDERMAN 3, SHREK 3, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3, RUSH HOUR 3 (why?), OCEANS 13 (which is really 3), and DIE HARD 3 (which is really 4 but the producers would like you to forget the last one). They’ll follow in a great tradition of GODFATHER 3, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, and POLICE ACADEMY 3.

And then there’s the sequel of all sequels – THE SIMPSONS 438.

Graphic novels and comic books are in again. This year the FANTASTIC FOUR battle the Silver Surfer and Little Lulu. Also big are cross-country races, spoofs, families in distress, spoofs of families in distress, costume dramas, the Civil War, and Rwanda,

They’ll be plenty of animation which I’m sure will shake down this way – one great Pixar movie, Homer & co., Shrek, three Pixar imitators, and four costly bombs. They’ll all be voiced by major celebrities, adding nothing really but just taking away precious jobs from the voice over people who really need the money. Brad Pitt voicing a cartoon. What a coup!

And of course there’ll be no shortage of high school movies. Turds in punchbowls, Ben-Gay in jock straps – all your hilarious favorites will be there.

BEOWULF is finally coming to the screen! How good is studio research when they decide to greenlight the one book that every student since the beginning of time has loathed?

My pick for the worst movie this year: THE TRANSFORMERS directed by Michael Bay. He can’t even get decent performances out of robots.

Every year there’s an astronaut wannabe who builds a rocket in his backyard. But this year it’s different. He DOESN’T blow up the barn first.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL was a comedy smash so this year there are seven wedding and four funeral movies. Also, spring break yuckfests, high concept romantic comedies, slacker idiots, and so that my age group isn’t left out – triangles involving lesbians.

Will Ferrell trades in NASCAR for competitive ice skating. He’s two years away from professional thumb wrestling.

We’ve got a couple of deathbed movies, people flashing back over their lives and careers. Kids learn their mom used to be Hitler’s girlfriend, that sort of thing.

Amy Poehler is in EVERY new comedy this year.

Parker Posey is in every drama.

And Jodie Foster is taking it easy this year. She’s only being stalked in one thriller.

No Oliver Stone movie so it’s safe to go to the theater this summer.

Steve Carell is the new Ben Stiller (and I couldn’t be happier).

Eddie Murphy wonders why he’s never taken seriously as an actor, then undoes all the goodwill he earned with DREAMGIRLS by doing NORBIT, where he plays four disgusting cartoon roles.

This year’s ELF is a princess in New York. Gee, I wonder if she’ll look out of place on the subway???

Jim Carrey tries to make us believe again that he’s a real actor with THE NUMBER 23. It’s a thriller not the number of attempts he’s made to be taken seriously.

Broadway will come to Hollywood. HAIRSPRAY (the movie based on the musical based on the movie) stars John Travolta in drag (looking for his first Oscar nomination as best supporting actress), and SWEENEY TODD with Tim Burton at the helm so you know it’ll be weird, interesting, and star Helena Bonam Carter (who may or may not be able to sing but so what? She’s the director’s wife.)

HARRY POTTER will be back, battling his greatest foe – puberty.

All in all, a typical year. Big stars, familiar genres, interesting sounding loglines, and by October we’ll be seeing trailers for SHREK 4, SPIDERMAN 4, and oh how I wish – GHANDI 2.

America got it WRONG

For everyone who has ever been overlooked, or fired, here's the video for you. Golden Globe winner (and soon to be Oscar winner) Jennifer Hudson being booted off of AMERICAN IDOL. Revenge is a dish best served at an awards banquet.

The TCA Convention

For the most part I’ve gotten along with TV critics. Okay, Tom Shayles once blamed me personally for the downfall of television but he may have been right. Plus, in my capacity as blog wise-ass, I’ve done my own share of TV critiquing. So I have empathy for them. When some stink burger crosses my screen I can turn it off. They have to watch it…along with four additional episodes that are even worse. Hell, just the TEN COMMANDMENTS mini-series would kill me.

Currently the nation’s TV critics have gathered in Pasadena for the bi-annual spin fest called the TCA Convention. Here networks, show runners, and stars ply them with shrimp and Bloody Marys hoping to get good reviews and favorable press. On the surface it sounds like a good deal. Free trip to LA, comped room at the Ritz-Carlton. But then you realize what’s expected of them. Sitting in a conference room eight hours a day for two weeks hearing one dog and pony show after another. Imagine being trapped in a room while the producer of WHO’S YOUR DADDY talked for an hour about how groundbreaking and important to society his show was. If networks gave out ice picks as swag you’d jam it in your skull.

On the other hand, this TCA dance is no fun for producers either. Three times I have had the pleasure of sitting on stage touting my shows. I looked out at a room of 100 bored restless people who dared me to say anything they hadn’t heard fifteen times already… that day.

For one of our sessions we followed a producer who insulted all of the critics, made fun of one member’s accent, and listed every euphemism for vagina he could think of. By the time we got up to speak there was almost a mutiny.

Another time we confronted them after our studio’s crack PR department gave them swag so cheap and insulting that we became the laughing stock of the convention. We got questions like, “Will your show be in color?”

Only once did we have a good session, and that’s thanks to actor, Kevin Kilner. It was the first year of ALMOST PERFECT. Along with fellow co-creators David Isaacs and Robin Schiff, the show’s stars, Nancy Travis and Kevin Kilner joined us on the panel. For the first half hour it was the usual -- they asked rote questions and typed our rote answers even before we gave them. Finally, one reporter asked Kevin Kilner what his background was. He said that before he became an actor he was an accountant for a chicken farm. And then he said, “Do any of you guys know how they slaughter chickens?” I thought, “Oh Christ, we’re so dead.” But the critics all woke up. Suddenly a topic they hadn’t heard. So Kevin described in graphic neck-snapping detail how chickens are killed and for the next fifteen minutes we held them in rapt attention. And ALMOST PERFECT got the best reviews in our career.

So the lesson here is if you’re a producer scheduled to meet the press later this week, talk about anything other than your show. I think the topic of what goes into hotdogs is still open.

And if you’re one of the critics, the conference room now has Wifi. Go to pogo.com. There are hundreds of free online games.

And we’ll see you again in July and do it all over again. With fifty great NEW shows, much better than the 50 great new shows that are premiering now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Never share a cab with someone more important than you

Apparently, there are Google rules that frown upon loading up a post with most-used search words. Since I want to be a good responsible blogger citizen...and more importantly, the experiment itself didn't seem to work at all (I got one extra hit for Molly Sims. Big whoop.) I thought I'd move off that topic and on to the next. This reminds me of an old kids' show host in the 50's (maybe it was Soupy Sales) who said, "Now kids, go to daddy's wallet, take out a dollar, and send it to me."

Anyway, onwards and sidewards.

Tony Gwynn’s recent selection to the Hall of Fame brought to mind a story about me and Tony and just where I fit in in the world.

I was broadcasting for the San Diego Padres. We were in New York to play the Mets. Tony and I shared a cab out to Shea Stadium. At one point in Queens the driver hit an oil slick, lost control of the car and we spun into a 360 degree turn. He was finally able to bring the cab to a stop, no one was hurt, but we were all quite shaken up. (Tony was so rattled that he only went 3-5 that night).

As we resumed our commute I said to Tony, “You realize if we had crashed there would have been news bulletins breaking into every network, huge front page headlines the next day and they all would say, ‘Baseball star, Tony Gwynn and a passenger were killed in a auto accident’.

My entire life would be reduced to “passenger”.

Tony felt bad. And mind you, this was not a ploy to get him to pay the fare (although it worked). He felt it was wrong that one person should be valued over another just because they’re famous. It was sweet of him to say but I was still feeling bummed out. You can’t change the way the world operates, yes it’s unfair, but some people are special and others are just considered nothing. And I fell into the latter category.

We arrived at the stadium. Tony paid the fare and the driver said there was an additional charge. Why? Because he had a passenger. Yes! It turns out my life is not without value! It’s worth $3.50!

I was soooo relieved.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

And the hits just keep on comin'

Okay, this is an experiment. I had lunch last week with fellow blogger, Lee Goldberg and we were talking about people finding our sites via search engines. He said he once just listed the most searched for items and got a ton more hits that day. So for fun, I thought I’d do the same thing. But to put a spin on it, I’ve decided to weave them all into a little narrative. Let’s see what happens. And if you’re reading this because you searched for “Bonnie Bernstein nude” or “Lindsay Lohan nipples”, don’t you feel stupid?

Nikki Cox stared at her breasts, preparing to join Jessica Simpson and Darrent Williams at the Saddam Hanging. Jessica, a staunch “Windows” defender, turned on her Dell computer with the Intel chip and went right to her MySpace page where she added new friends Orlando Bloom, Martina Hingis, Beyonce, Barry Bonds, Barack Obama, and Jessica Alba (who posed in Playboy naked and drives a Ferrari).

Angelina Jolie stopped by with Brad Pitt (who she has nicknamed “bebo”), both horny, having come from a sex orgy, which was really a charity benefit for autism and cancer. Of course Paris Hilton was there (raving about Metacafe which she discovered on Wikipedia and Radioblog.) as was Shakira who appeared just last night on American Idol where she caught Paula Abdul giving a blowjob to Chris Daugherty. It was quite a scandal but nothing like the Duke Lacrosse Rape Scandal, or the pictures of Britney Spears’ vagina.

Then Penelope Cruz put her "box in a box" then called on her RAZR V3. She had been watching 24, Project Runway, America’s Top Model, the Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, and Dancing with the Stars and fell asleep in front of her HD plasma screen for under $2000. She couldn’t make the execution but was sending Tawny Little and Anne Hathaway instead. Apple Computer, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs checked in from his spa. He, Justin Timberlake, and Family Guy writers were going to the UFC (ultimate fighting championship) where they would meet up with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, Ana Beatriz Barros, Yamila Diaz-Rahi, Molly Sims, Anne V,Bridget Hall,Daniela Pestova,Elsa Benitez, Fernanda Motta,Petra Nemcova, and Carolyn Murphy. He was also hoping some of them were lesbians so he could catch a little hot girl-on-girl action.

Before they all left they checked the Dreamgirls showtimes, Golden Globe results (where they learned the winners included Hellen Mirren, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Scorsese, Ugly Betty, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, and Hugh Laurie from House),traded podcasts, shopped on line for a Seahawks jersey to wear at the Superbowl (if they could get tickets and the cheapest airfare), downloaded tomcat wedding photos, lamented over the Paul McCartney divorce, discussed the latest Borat-Pamela Anderson rumors, and late arrival Madonna wondered where is Palestine? And, for that matter, where is Darfur?

They drove in separate cars. The Lamborghini, Hummer, Mercedes, and Porsche pulled out of the driveway. Wicked Ashlee Simpson was waiting in Jessica’s car sporting her New England Patriots shirt that featured Tom Brady, talking to Hilary Clinton about how to refinance. Meanwhile, Daniel Craig, already there but barefoot (he had a foot fetish), took Viagra just in case Eva Longoria or porn stars Jenna Jamison, Sophie Moon, Alaura Eden, Dragon Lily, Lauren Phoenix, Lexington Steele, Extreme Holly, and Stephanie Swift showed up for the hanging. Wentworth Miller sent his regrets, saying he’ll see it on CNN, the Colbert Report, YouTube, MSNBC with Keith Olbermann, CBS with Katie Couric (and her bare legs), the View with Rosie O’Donnell, the Food Network, or in Screw magazine.

Rain was beating down. Lil Wayne suspected Global Warning. “It’s almost as bad as Hurricane Katrina”, said Hannah Montana, who had her own bankruptcy problems. The guards were dressed like Spiderman. Fergie and Christina Aguilera swooned but Nicole Richie was preoccupied, wondering if the Deal or no Deal models were prettier than her. It was bad enough she was sitting with Heidi Klum, who kept pestering her, asking, “What is Hezbollah?”, “is Chris Brown performing?”, and “define web 2.0”. Donald Trump was giving sex tips to the Grey’s Anatomy cast and making erectile dysfunction jokes that Quentin Tarentino, Sean Hannity, Homer Simpson, Eli Manning, and Simon Cowell didn’t find funny. Ryan Seacrest and Rachel Ray were trading sex toys and Starbucks gift certificates, and Jennifer Aniston asked Tiger Woods if she should enroll in Boise State. He said yes but only if she can apply for FAFSA.

After Katharine McPhee sang some country’s national anthem where she was joined by the Dixie Chicks, Mariah Carey,the cast of "Chicago", and P. Diddy, the hanging took place, duly recorded on everyone’s latest cellphone camera under $30, and then they all checked flight schedules, the Weather Channel, found the best hotel deals, and flew to Hollywood for the latest Oscar buzz, the best pizza, celebrity graves, the top ten nightclubs, tech help, Universal tours, Grammy night, the Golden Globes, tattoos, Kobe Bryant, liposuction, Disneyland, and UCLA cheerleaders.

What did I miss? Google searches include comments, so join in. I'll let you know tomorrow how it went. What good is having a blog if you can't do stupid stuff like this? Thanks for indulging.

Monday Miscellaneous

Starting the week with no topic in particular....

The first two hours of 24 were great. I sometimes have lunch at Philippe's downtown near Union Station but now I realize, SHIT! That's where all the terrorists are!!

When a movie goes into prep usually the first thing done is to fire the writer who spent three years on the project and replace him with the director’s friend, or worse, the director himself. How apropos that the product name to eliminate waste before a colonoscopy is called MoviPrep. It’s what Hollywood really thinks of us scribes.

On the A&E cleaned up version of THE SOPRANOS, will Pussy be renamed Wonder Down Under?

Saw THE ILLUSIONIST. Excellent movie. It’s what THE PRESTIGE hoped to be. If I were one of those boot licker movie reviewers I’d say “Spellbinding! Doesn’t miss a trick! Magic for the whole family (except the kids). The only thing up its sleeve is Oscar! It’s the Houdini Who-done-it of the season! Levitates the entire genre. Even if they sawed it in a half it would be great!” But I’m not so just see the friggin’ movie.

And NOTES ON A SCANDAL is even better. This has to be the strongest year ever for the Best Actress Category. Judi Dench or Cate Blanchett could easily win for this one. But Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN) and Kate Winslet (LITTLE CHILDREN) also have a good shot. Alas, I think Shawnee Smith (SAW III) is going to get shut out this year. Maybe next year with SAW IV.

I’d actually see and review more movies if the producers/studios/PR firms sent me DVD’s (hint hint). I love blog swag!!

The LA TIMES Calendar had their annual Movie Sneaks issue on Sunday. That's always the scariest day of the year if you're writing a spec screenplay. You read through all the movies that will be released this year and just pray that none are too similar to the script you're been writing for the last seven months. "Oh shit! There's gonna be a SPIDERMAN 3?!"

Two more sitcoms arrived DOA. KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY and CASE OF EMERGENCY. I wish if the networks were going to buy fewer sitcoms they’d buy BETTER ONES! And maybe not schedule them against AMERICAN IDOL (although any show starring Greg Germann deserves to be up against AMERICAN IDOL, GREY’S ANATOMY, CSI, and THE SUPERBOWL).

From the MASH MAILBAG: a reader wondered why the Hawkeye character was never developed in any spinoff. Simple. Alan Alda wanted to pursue other things. At the time his feature career was really taking off. Had Alan wanted to do AfterMASH I don’t think CBS would have said, sorry, we have Bill Christopher.

More MASH MAILBAG: The lawsuit that Alan had with 20th Century Fox over syndication. Alan receives a percentage of the profits, so when MASH is sold into syndication, the higher the price to stations obviously the higher the profit. And normally studios will try to get the highest price. But 20th also owns FX. If MASH plays there the studio gets less syndication money but more advertising money, along with great programming to boost their fledgling network. So they come out great but anyone who owns a piece of the show doesn’t. That’s what the lawsuit dealt with. No such legal dispute however, between Bill Christopher and 20th over AfterMASH profits.

What a better world this would be if Dr. Martin Luther King were still in it.

THE GOLDEN GLOBES – Hollywood’s biggest night since the installation of new traffic lights.

The O.C. was cancelled despite gratuitous girl-on-girl action. When THAT doesn’t work you know it’s time to pull the plug.

The only show on television that I wouldn’t want to see gratuitous girl-on-girl action is THE VIEW.

Lindsay Lohan had her appendix out. It’s available on eBay.

I admit it. I can’t wait for AMERICAN IDOL to return. Especially the early auditions. More than the X-FILES, this show conclusively proves there are aliens from outer space here on earth. Creatures from other planets apparently communicate with earthlings by singing “My Heart Will Go On”.

Please bury James Brown already. Please Please bury James Brown already.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Paula Abdul is ready for another season

Why do people think she's either smashed or out of her mind? She sounds perfectly normal and rational in this recent interview.

Writing a spec 24

Re-posted and revised from last year.

Loved the comment by Mik wondering if anybody ever wrote a spec “24”. I can just see the rejection letter:

Thank you for your script “5:00 – 6:00 P.M.” Unfortunately it does not fit our needs. There were a number of choices you made that suggest you’re not really familiar with our show. On page 12 you have Jack eating. No one ever eats. You also refer to take-out cartons strewn all over CTU. For future reference, only agents and approved personnel are given security clearance to CTU, not Domino Pizza boys. We pride ourselves on reality. On page 16 you have Jack saying he needs to use the bathroom. Why not a manicure? We have no time for such frivolous activities.

Pay careful attention to the clock. You have Curtis driving out to Simi Valley from headquarters downtown in 52 minutes. Everyone knows, at that hour of the day, it only takes 10 minutes, 13 if there’s heavy traffic.

Not once in your script did you have anyone say, “Just let me do my job!” I almost didn’t recognize it as a “24”.

When Jack calls Chloe and says, “Get me those coordinates now or 10,000,000 people will die!” you don’t need Chloe answering, “I know. I’m not a fucking moron. You told me that three times already!”

When the CTU staff learns that Jack’s daughter Kim has been kidnapped you have them all cheering. I don’t think they would do that. They would merely smile knowingly to each other.

And finally, I didn’t find your jeopardy –- Jack trying to prevent Hurricane Katrina -- plausible. Better to stick with crazed foreigners who bought nuclear weapons on ebay and plan to blow up the world because they couldn’t get a parking space at the Grove. Always think realism!

Thank you again for your submission. Although it is wildly uneven and stretches credibility far beyond what any audience would accept I am forwarding it to THE UNIT.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Here's the Open All Night Opening

Recently, I posted a portion of an OPEN ALL NIGHT script my partner, David and I wrote. You can find it here. That led to a discussion on the opening theme. Here it is in all its goofiness. Bring back opening titles! And for that matter, bring back OPEN ALL NIGHT!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Taco Bell Drano Ken Levine blog



Madison Avenue has a big problem. People don’t watch commercials. They’ve had fifty years to solve this problem (and judging by HeadOn headache remedy spots they’ve learned nothing) but now with Tivo, audiences can eliminate them completely. Advertisers must find new ways to convey the vital message that Lamisil targets toenail fungus where it lives.

Subliminal messages have been tried and outlawed. They can’t slip in the Pepsi logo for one frame in a movie, Mel Gibson can’t throw up a one second title card that says the Holocaust never existed into APOCOLYPTO. But if a character in a movie drinks a Pepsi, that’s okay. And if she should happen to say, “Mmmmmmm, that’s not only good, it’s the voice of a new generation!”, all the better. Product placement has become the new answer. Production companies are thrilled because it’s found money for them. If Earl is going to go to the hardware store anyway, why not make it a Home Depot? And that’s fine until…what happens when the writers decide they don’t need that scene? Or they come up with a better one that’s set somewhere else? Will storytelling have to be compromised to accommodate the sponsor? We all know the answer to that question.

An interactive variation of this is SeenOn.com. Now you can watch GREY’S ANATOMY, like the outfit that Ellen Pompeo is wearing and order it on line. You can also buy Ugly Betty’s stool (I hope they’re referring to furniture). In theory this too is a good idea but I want to be there the day they tell Teri Hatcher what dress she has to wear.

One way around all these pesky “creative” issues is to digitally add products to scenes after the fact. Now Columbo can have a can of Glade in his car, Lucy can clean her clothes with Tide, and the “can you hear me now?” guy can be inserted into the Zapruder film.

Sponsors are happy these days if they can just get the name of their damn product in front of your face or in your ear. This has led to corporate sponsorship and it’s not going away. It’s bad enough that the Houston Astros must play in Minute Maid Park, and there’s such a thing as the Weed Whacker Bowl. I foresee the day when we’ll all be paying our respects at the Wendy’s Arlington National Cemetery. Dr. Sidney Goldstein will be awarded the prestigious Depends Nobel Prize in Chemistry. And we’ll all be living in the United States of Google.

At this point I must sheepishly admit that I too have succumbed to this trend. I’m not proud of myself but since it’s available and the sitcom business has all but dried up, I have accepted a generous offer from a leading manufacturer. And so from now until 2011 (when I have the option to renegotiate) my daughter, Annie will be known as Dow Chemical Levine.

My son, wife, and cat are still available. And just think, all this extra income because people no longer want to see the Quizno’s rodents. God bless, Janitor In A Drum’s America!