Note for new readers: Whenever I go out of town I file these travelblogs in the hopes that an editor will discover them and want to compile them for a book. I keep waiting... and waiting... and waiting...
Chicago in April. It’s either 8 degrees or 80 degrees. We experienced both. Summer in the city and winter in the cabin of an American Airlines Boeing 767. It seems that since AA refurbished their 767’s anyone in rows 20-24 sit in an arctic blast. The airline is aware of the problem but it would take money to repair so better to just freeze out 28 passengers every flight. And who knows? Maybe soon they can charge for blankets and hot coffee and make a tidy profit. In other words -- doing what they do best.
My wife and I were in the City of Wind to see the musical revue our daughter, Annie wrote and directed at Northwestern. It was so genuinely funny that I went from relieved, to proud, to threatened. I hope she hires me someday. I’m preparing a sample of my work. (“Frasier, dad? Do you have anything more recent?”)
On Saturday the temperature went from 50 to 80 and the entire city poured outdoors. Patio cafes were brimming, parks were jammed, surgeons were moving operations to the roofs of local hospitals.
There was no need for me to go to L.A. TAN to get some color. And I was able to walk four blocks without getting frostbite so no need to workout at L.A. FITNESS – two mainstays of Chicago.
KAMA SUTRA: THE MUSICAL and MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL are both currently playing. Each is the story of Madonna.
Every expressway – in and out of the city on a Friday – is a parking lot. If I worked downtown I think I’d rather never see my home again than to fight that traffic.
And yet, despite the brutal weather, congestion, and Cubs everyone is so NICE. And unlike Los Angeles, waiters are actually waiters not actors thinking they’re playing waiters.
I guess 28,000,000 nice people help compensate for Frank Lloyd Wright.
Among the many great sights in Chicago was gas under $3.00. Most of our photos from this trip were me at a Citgo station.
There is a local chain called the Homemade Pizza Company. They prepare frozen pizzas for you and you take them home. They have no ovens. I can think of another name for the Homemade Pizza Company – “Any Market”! I wonder if they offer delivery services: “Guaranteed to arrive frozen or your money back.”
Chicago is known for its great museums. Did not get to the American Bar Association Museum of Law (didn’t want to brave the long lines), the National Asian-American Sports Hall of Fame, the Leather Archives & Museum (perfect for showing off that L.A. TAN), or the International Museum of Surgical Sciences (I wonder if they have a hands-on room for the kiddies?).
I passed a place offering “Generic Dentistry”. What the hell is that? They use the CVS brand Novocain? Kenmore spit sinks?
Plans continue for “the Spire” (pictured), that 150-story tower to be erected on Chicago’s lakefront (along with three floors of underground parking). During winter windstorms that thing will swing back and forth like a metronome. The developers say that’s a good thing -- your views change. I hear Oprah wants the south-west corner penthouse so on a clear day she can see her other home… in Santa Barbara.
And not to be outdone, nearby Evanston unveiled plans for a 49-story condominium skyscraper that would be the largest building in Chicago’s SUBURBS. It would kick serious ass over the puny 31-floor Oakbrook Terrace Tower. Do you think if Northwestern had a football team that went to a bowl game more than once every thirty years the city wouldn’t feel compelled to erect these er…giant shafts? I’m just asking.
On Sunday I took the “El” to the southside – where the stockyards meet the shore. Went to see the “other” Chicago baseball team play (y’know, the one that actually won a World Series in our lifetime). The White Sox were hosting the Los Angeles Angels of Some Other City in Fine Print. Considering the traffic on the Santa Ana Freway if you do live in Los Angeles and want to see your Angels it’s easier to go to Chicago.
“The Palehose” play in U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park). U.S. Cellular must’ve really paid through the nose to get them to change the name from Park to Field too. The park/field/stadium/yard/crib/diamond is 16 years old and has already been refurbished. Good thing too. It’s much improved. You used to get vertigo from the upper deck. Now you can sit up there without harnesses. If you haven’t been to “the Cell” since the name change, check it out. Great fun. And the hot dogs are fresh. They were probably made across the street.
When I was broadcasting for the Baltimore Orioles I called the very first night game there. I also filled for four hours during their very first rain delay. That and my Emmy are my two proudest achievements.
I remember they used to announce on the P.A. that this was a residential area so fans were asked to please leave quietly so as not to wake up the neighborhood. Then they would shoot off deafening fireworks every time a White Sox player hit a home run.
Gee, folks in "Chicagoland" sure seem to like Barack Obama more than Hillary Clinton. Even though Hillary is from Chicago.
When kids on the street say, “Do you want to buy the Tribune?” they mean the whole corporation.
Sunday night was beautiful – warm, balmy, perfect for walking around. But just to remind us this was Chicago, a huge lightening storm appeared out of nowhere complete with loud crashing thunder. Or, it could have just been Jim Thome hitting another home run for the White Sox.
Either way, it’s my kind of town.
Tomorrow: The AMERICAN IDOL recap. Here's hoping they get back to music and stop trying to be sincere. It really puts a crimp in my snarkiness.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Note for new readers: Whenever I go out of town I file these travelblogs in the hopes that an editor will discover them and want to compile them for a book. I keep waiting... and waiting... and waiting...
Sunday, April 29, 2007
The best career choice I ever made was getting out of radio and into television writing. Well... actually it was all the radio stations that fired me that helped nudge me in that direction. But in between my long stretches of unemployment and pleading for all-night shifts in Fresno I did have a lot of fun... and compiled a lot of stories.
There once was a time when Clear Channel didn’t own every radio station in America. There used to be such a thing as “competition” (an arcane word you may have to look up in the dictionary). In the mid 70’s in San Francisco there was quite a battle raging between KFRC and KYA. I was a disc jockey at KYA at the time (as Beaver Cleaver), working the coveted 10 pm – 2 am shift. Across town, KFRC countered with Beau Weaver (pictured). Despite this “heated” rivalry, Beau and I were friends and I would usually meet him for a bite after we got off the air (unless I got a better offer from one of the hot young listeners. In other words, I met Beau every single night.)
KFRC’s playlist was very rigid. At KYA I could pretty much play anything except “the Unicorn Song”. One night I had an idea and called Beau on his hotline. I had him tell me the songs he was going to play that hour and in what order. I then played the same songs at the exact same time. The phones at both stations went nuts. People were breathlessly telling me that KFRC was playing the same songs I was playing. I told them that was ABSURD! I hated those motherfuckers! Beau told his flabbergasted callers the same thing. Why would he play the same songs as those pathetic losers at KYA?
We got a good chortle out of this and decided to repeat the stunt…every night from midnight – 1:00. The listeners were just going bat shit!! One called the Guinness Book of Records. Another sent the probability tables. Eventually, the KFRC program director found out about this, blew a gasket, and that was the end of that. It was great fun while it lasted.
And then the ratings came out. From midnight - 1:00 Beau Weaver creamed me. And I thought to myself, Jesus how bad am I when we played the exact same damn records???
It’s a lesson I learned in television, and when I was on MASH and we were up against THREE’S COMPANY, no matter how much they begged, I wouldn’t give them any of our sucking chest wound jokes. I like to think it’s the reason MASH lasted 11 seasons instead of six. Thank you, Beau Weaver.
Pictured: Dan Ingram & Dan Taylor
It all started with me.
Several years ago I was doing weekly commentaries for WCBS Newsradio in New York. My unique humorous observations of the world – y’know, like the crap I post here. Then the ratings came out and we got crushed by sister station WINS. Thanks, little sis. They decided to take the station in a different direction -- away from me.
As has happened several times with prime time series I created and executive produced, I was canceled by CBS.
Whenever that occurred on the TV side CBS immediately began to flourish. Ratings went up, breakout shows emerged. Even Letterman’s ratings went up .000000001.
But on the radio side it’s a different story. Letting me go apparently has cursed the entire division.
First Howard Stern left, costing CBS 12,000,000 listeners and far more than that in revenue (rom $50.8 million to $18.7 million). Given an entire year to find a replacement they chose David Lee Roth, who was so bad and so hated that he was losing in the ratings to police calls.
Then came the staggeringly boneheaded decision to change WCBS-FM’s format from oldies to JACK. CBS-FM was an institution in Gotham, had great ratings, and made big profits. Now it’s down there in the ratings with AM stations at 1600 on the dial that play music from countries only cab drivers recognize. And financially it’s taken a bath. Why play the Beatles when they can play Flock of Seagulls?
Same story here in Chicago where they let a valuable franchise get away for a format whose name describes its ratings – JACK.
But at least CBS radio had Imus.
And this time they don’t have a year to replace him. They have to do it now. Not too many thirty year seasoned radio performers with large loyal audiences out there. I wonder if they have a call in to Ted Nugent.
And to add insult to injury and Asians, two hilarious disc jockeys from another CBS station in New York were suspended for broadcasting a six minute crank call to a Chinese restaurant that was filled with ethnic and sexual slurs. Inspired stuff like “flied lice”. Oh, and not only did the station air it – they REPLAYED it.
CBS radio is in dire straights. I feel somewhat bad that I’m the cause of it. Of course I feel worse that there was not one letter of complaint when WCBS let me go.
I suppose if they hired me back that might break the curse. Getting better management and putting WCBS-FM back on the air might help too. Honestly, if I were CBS I would go with those last two suggestions first. It seems the other nine radio stations that fired my sorry ass during my checkered career didn’t suffer any ill effects. In fact, they’re doing better than CBS-TV. Hmmmmm?
Hello from sunny Chicago,
Yes, David and I did write this episode. What makes it so significant for us is that David Angell was supposed to write it. But then came 9/11. We were honored that Casey & Lee chose us.
Here are two more clips that answer the question -- was he for real or a scam artist?
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Hello from Evanston, Ill. where we're visiting our Northwestern attending daughter, Annie. I've asked her to be my guest blogger today. Here's a piece she wrote last year. Not to get overly sentimental but as her father, I couldn't be more proud.
Today’s Rant: Whole Foods
I must admit that I’m not sure what I hate more: the institution of Whole Foods itself or the religious Whole Foods shoppers. Thus I feel it necessary to examine each.
Despite the fact that I single-handedly keep “Splenda” in business, I am in no way opposed to organic, natural products. What I am opposed to is (a) the idea that everything at whole foods is in some way healthier, and (b) charging an arm and a leg because they’ve written eight lines of BS about all the oh-so-healthy things in their products. This stuff isn’t that damn good for you! I understand that there are no preservatives in pure sugar, but it is still sugar! I could drink a bag of all natural sugar-cane, and I’d still develop diabetes. Oooooh, its oh-so natural. Well I got news for you Whole Foods, I’ll take a couple preservatives if it means that I’ll still have enough money to buy groceries in two weeks.
And there are the idiots, the former hippies. The ones who pick up a $20 loaf of bread because it has fibers from the Hicabutusism tree in West Africa, where little magical all-natural fairies plow the soil until the perfect grain is achieved. Get a grip, people. Wonderbread has little magical fairies too, they’re call sweat-shop workers!
Plus, there are the people who will subscribe to anything with “free” written somewhere on the package, and by that I’m obviously not referring to the price. Gluton-free, Carb-free, Nutrion-free. Didn’t Billy Preston teach you that “nothing from nothing leaves nothing?” I believe that these “free” packages should really mention what is going into the product so that you can lose a little bit of Extiohydrosis, or whatever the hell they come up with. If it were up to me, the labels would read a little more like this: “Organic, wheat-free, TONS OF FAT” Though I think that beating the delusional shoppers over the head with the item itself might be a better option.
And for hippies, these people are pretty aggressive with their carts. Knocking people off at the pass to make sure they get their “extra squishy tofu” and their Extihydrosis-free crackers. Weren’t you people fighting against capitalism or was that just a figment of my imagination?
Thursday, April 26, 2007
As I wing to Chicago for the weekend, here are a few entertainment suggestions.
Not sure if it’s playing in your city but if so, check out a lovely romantic comedy called THE VALET. It’s a French movie, and you know the lines are genuinely funny when they get big laughs just from reading them. The writer/director is Francis Veber, who also did THE DINNER GAME and THE CLOSET. He’s kind of like the Woody Allen of France but didn’t marry his step-daughter. The premise is simple and funny – a billionaire (Daniel Auteuil -- pictured -- in his 4 billionth French movie) is photographed with his supermodel mistress. In order to salvage his marriage he tries to convince his wife that the other guy who just happened to be in the picture was the supermodel’s real boyfriend. That guy, a schleppy parking valet gets to spend a month living with the supermodel. Along the way there are many laughs, very funny quirky characters, and an intelligence you rarely find in US Hollywood studio factory romantic comedies. No pratfalls. No one falls into a bucket of urine. No one’s toupee flies off when someone farts. However, I hear the Farrelly brothers have optioned it for an American remake so expect all of those improvements as well as used condoms and a few retards.
I know I’m late jumping on the bandwagon, but if you haven’t seen DEXTER on Showtime you’re missing a thoroughly engrossing show. If you’re going to welcome one sociopath into your living room every week, make it Dexter. (I've only seen a few episodes so please, no spoiler comments.)
Showtime is starting to gain on HBO in the interesting original series race. They’ve come a long way since FAT ACTRESS. (Let’s hope there’s not a FAT ACTRESS 2 with Valerie Bertonelli.)
A good new book out is THE TRIGGER EPISODE by Tom Straw . It’s a mystery set in the world of sitcoms. It moves like a shot and has a lot of funny moments. Tom Straw is a veteran of sitcoms having survived both Bret Butler and Bill Cosby. So for him this must be his SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.
A terrific kick-ass internet radio station is GREAT BIG RADIO. Good driving rock n’ roll from the last four decades. It’s what JACK thinks it is and is not.
Have a great weekend. Daily posts will continue during my getaway to the Hog Butcher of the World.
Thanks to all of you who enrolled. We are now closed. There is
now a waiting list if you are still interested.
If you'd like to be on the waiting list, please use the registration form
at the Sitcom Room website.
Where it says "Your Comments," tell us you want to be on the waiting list. We WON'T charge your credit card, but we'll keep it on file. If we have a cancellation, we'll contact the first person on the list to see if they want to grab the open spot. Then we'll move down to the second person, etc.
For those who signed up, get ready for a very cool weekend. And thanks again.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
No review of the AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK results show because... I just loathed every minute of it (except for the Simpsons parody). I look forward to the real AMERICAN IDOL returning next week. In the meantime, on to more fun things:
In my relentless and noble quest to discover absurd television shows for you, I have found INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT on the Style Network. It’s a reality show where the hosts invade big indoor malls, corral hot looking women, and in three hours they have to compete in a beauty contest for the grand prize of a trip to Mexico. There are three competitions – bathing suits, talent, and evening wear. The contestants are given $300 and three hours to buy everything, including hair and make up. So they become the first five women ever to buy glamorous evening gowns at J. C. Penney’s.
The hosts are Debbie Matenopoulos (pictured, who ten years ago was a 20-something host fired from THE VIEW and today is a 30-something size zero blonde Jillian Barberie wannabe) and Cameron Mathison (best known for performing heartthrob heavy lifting on ALL MY CHILDREN). They’re very high energy and bubbly and should be hosting kids’ birthday parties.
The show begins with them accosting young shoppers at the mall and asking if they’d like to participate. At one point Cameron went up to two equally cute girls and invited one to take part while just dismissing the other. Nice.
One woman’s boyfriend said, “Mexico? I want the damn cash money!”
The five contestants are selected and they each have a “coach” to assist them. It can be a buddy, a boyfriend, mom. The five groups for the Houston competition were:
Sarah (a squat rocker chick with a nose the size of her off-kilter pony tail) and her coach, Jovaney (a flamboyant gay boy sporting an Elvis pompadour and a self proclaimed expert on fashion). Good thing there was no charm competition because Sarah might’ve lost points had the judges overheard: “All I can say to the other girls is get the fuck out of my way!” A real debutante.
Caitlin (a 37 year old mom) and her impossible to remember friend.
Diamond (African-American, pretty) and her coach, an Anthony Anderson lookalike in a bright red shirt you could see from Houston to Galveston.
Shanna (cute Texas girl) and her non-selected friend Rebekka, who was even more attractive than Shanna.
Tiffany (sassy) and her hot looking young mom (who must’ve had Tiff when she was eleven).
For the next three hours these groups race around the mall like idiots. Sarah modeled a bathing suit for Jovaney who said, “I told you to go on that Hollywood Diet.”
Tiffany said, “I’d buy what my mom wanted but I don’t want to look like no whore.”
Diamond was seen shopping for jewelry next to the flip flops display.
Shanna revealed to host Cameron that she was getting over a tragic death in her family. Obviously flustered, he comforted her by saying, “Well, you look beautiful.” Looking for the perfect exit line, he chose: “Thanks for being so honest. That was obviously touching.”
Tears for Diamond as well as she told hostess Debbie that she was named by her grandma who has since passed away. She finally composed herself and said, “I’m crying because grandma is dead… and I only get $300.”
Jovaney (who obviously can’t spell Giovanni) to a store clerk: “Do we get a discount for being beautiful?”
Shanna’s coach thought she should buy some stick on boobs.
Nerves were frayed. Tiffany refused to wear the “booty shorts” her sainted mom suggested. Jovaney said to Sarah, “Did you just get accepted to the hottest fashion school in New York? No. That’s what I thought. I did. So listen to me and win.” Charm girl Sarah retorted with: “Bitch!”
Finally it was showtime. For a crowd of bewildered mall shoppers the five women showed off their bathing suits, gliding down the catwalk with the grace of the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Then it was the talent competition. Diamond did a rap number and was quite good. Shanna performed improv comedy, asking the audience for items to use as props. She put a purse over her head and said, “Hey, where did everybody go?” That was her funniest moment. Sarah belly danced. The highlight was not chewing gum. Tiffany sang “If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands” (horribly off key), but the best was Caitlin who gave a German lesson (I kid you not).
Then came the evening gown competition, more clomp-clomp-clomping.
37 year old mom, Caitlin (who was absolutely gorgeous, by the way) was worried. Earlier in the show she said, “I’ve always been insecure about my outer beauty. I’m hoping that today will help with some of my confidence. And I’ll be able to accept myself for who I am.”
Caitlin was the first one voted off.
Diamond, the only one with talent was eliminated shortly thereafter.
The winner: Sarah, the stumpy punk girl with the bump on her very ethnic nose.
Tiffany came in second and won a prize too. Two nights in Las Vegas and tickets to see MAMA MIA. Tiffany also learned a Big Life Lesson. In a really heartfelt way she said, “I should listen to my mother more.” (I guess mama knows best when it comes to the whore look.)
INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT airs… God knows when on the Style Channel. Just set your tivo. It’s Americana and kitsch at its best. And you’ll learn German.
Thanks to everyone for the huge response to my two-day writing seminar, THE SITCOM ROOM.
Technically, we've already sold out. And then some. My plan was to have
three tables of five writers each. I wanted to keep it small enough that
I could give all the writers plenty of time & attention. Before I knew
it, 17 or 18 people had signed up. I decided I could add one more "team"
-- thereby increasing the maximum number of attendees to 20.
So we've still got a couple of spots open. But after we hit 20, that's
And again I assure you, EVERYONE will get my maximum attention. Whether you want it or not.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Now that Sanjaya has been voted off, AMERICAN IDOL turned to another charity, the fight against poverty. It was AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK week. Similar to the Jerry Lewis telethon except it only lasted one hour not nineteen, and Paula had all the jewelry not Wayne Newton. It was a worthy cause and a lovely gesture but an “historic event in television?” I don't think so. That would be the night Randy had an original thought. We’re still waiting for that historic night.
And while we’re on the subject of overstatement – Ryan asking viewers to vote saying “it’s the most important call you could ever make.” Let’s see? 911 emergency or voting for Jordin so Newscorp will donate ten cents?
When I heard the theme was songs that inspire I held my breath. There’s only so much…well… “inspiration” I can handle… which is maybe one thrilling , stirring number during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. In other words, one every four years.
Nice of Rupert Murdoch to donate (up to) $5,000,000 (not even guaranteed), but that’s like you or me dropping a quarter in a tip jar.
Please please please Fox, don’t look at the huge ratings Wednesday and decide the Africa footage could be a great spin off.
It was a tough night for the judges because how do you tell someone singing a “life anthem” that he sucked?
Although I thought Blake Lewis sorta did. He has the same blank expression whether he’s singing “Imagine” or “Mack the Knife”.
Unlike the Chabad telethon, at least they didn’t have a running crawl -- Morris Fishbine, Brentwood, $18 in memory of Sophie Fishbine… Nosh n’ Lox Deli, Encino, $18, in honor of pastrami month where all sandwiches come with soup…
Melinda sang beautifully as usual. But I was not inspired. There will come a day, hope is never gone, let love be your guide, wherever you go, there you are… I GET IT.
Didn’t Paula, with all that bling . seem a little over-dressed for a mobile health clinic?
Listening to Chris Richardson sing through his nose I thought this guy could do his number while drinking a glass of water. He may have to do that next week if he even survives this one.
Laugh of the night: Paula telling LaKisha she shouldn’t attempt to sing Fantasia. Fantasia?? Fantasia shouldn’t attempt to sing Melinda.
Phil Stacey is starting to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost but without as much color.
Jordin Sparks blew everyone away. She IS the next American Idol. I was worried Paula was going to tell her she shouldn’t attempt Rodgers & Hammerstein, but she didn’t.
Considering how sincere and important the tone of Tuesday's show was, I fear that Wednesday night’s two hour ooze-a-palooza will have even Jerry Lewis switching over to JERICHO on CBS because he wants to watch something a little lighter.
Monday, April 23, 2007
In yesterday’s post on creative license I touched on CHEERS and how no one ever paid for a drink. We writers knew this was a little dicey but who wanted to see Carla make change for twenty-two minutes or Sam putting his flirting on hold while he ran a credit card for approval?
There were other things we did sheepishly knowing we were stretching credibility.
No one came into town and checked into a hotel. They would go from the airport straight to the CHEERS bar, not even bothering to call to check if the person they wanted to see was even there. And who just ASSUMES their friend will be in a bar at noon? It’s a stretch but it’s always better to see a character than just hear him on the phone. And we figured it wasn’t so bizarre that it would take the audience out of the show.
When those out of town visitors showed up at CHEERS they never had their luggage. We used to joke that there were taxi drivers in Boston with million dollar wardrobes.
The phone was wherever we wanted to place it for blocking purposes. At stage right one week, stage left the next. These were pre-cordless days.
The acoustics at CHEERS were very odd. Sometimes characters could hear all the way across the bar, other times they couldn’t. And the extras upstage at the bar could never hear anything, even though they were two seats away.
Sam cut more lemons than every other bartender in America combined.
Cliff wore his postal uniform even on Sunday. (We did a lot of things with that character but we did think it would stretch belieavability to ever have John Ratzenberger dance on a show.)
In the second episode it was established that Sam was divorced, then never mentioned again.
There were many times when no one was tending the bar. And after Diane left Carla was the only waitress. That must’ve made for some long 16 hour shifts.
As a noted psychiatrist and author of books and articles, Frasier spent as much time in the bar as Norm. When did he ever work we often asked ourselves in the room?
In one episode (that David and I wrote) Norm has to keep feeding a parking meter. That means a guy who drinks beer all day and night drives to and from the bar?
But I will say, to our credit, that we did not go through with the episode where Rebecca gets trapped in a giant Tupperware container. It was quite a discussion though. What clinched it was the argument that if the top were sealed tight Rebecca would get no air and die. There’s only so far you can with creative license and we felt death was just a little over that line. We’d get letters. I know we’d get letters.
Tomorrow: my weekly AMERICAN IDOL recap (or is it weakly?)
I love the following shows. I really do.
The little Las Vegas police department’s annual budget must be $73 billion dollars. $72.99 billion of it going to the CSI unit. I can’t believe all the sophisticated equipment they have in their pentagon-sized lab. Giant elaborate machines that do nothing but crosscheck tracks from vintage Mark C. Bloom tires only. How often would they use such a thing? Who approved the purchase of it? Do they ever let the guys from Reno come over and use it?
If the CSI'ers need to decipher pillow talk in a crowd they conveniently have computers that can filter out hurricane noise. And programs that can zoom in on a satellite picture down to someone’s pores. Every real police department has trouble getting requisitions to replace the ink pads used to take thumb prints.
I think OCEAN’S 14 should be the gang trying to knock over the CSI lab.
On LOST I don’t know what provisions the Dharma Initiative provides but last week Hurley convinced Jin to join him in an overnight campout by saying they would roast marshmallows. These survivors have marshmallows? When they’re not battling “the Others” they’re making smores? They must be very upset because the New England lobsters won’t wash ashore till June.
Meanwhile, the hospital on HOUSE is CSI with MRI’s. What insurance provider would possibly approve all the tests those doctors perform? You’d hope Blue Cross would at least get a discount on all the misdiagnoses. And since they have gigantic cyclotron machines that can identify specific helixes in DNA and crosscheck Mark C. Bloom tire tracks, how do they routinely go 45 minutes and remove a vital organ before identifying the real problem?
I guess they save money by not having an ICU. Patients have heart transplants at 10 and are back in the room drinking orange juice by noon.
Who would want to live near that hospital? It’s the weird mystery disease capitol of the world! Every other hospital might get some unusual case once every ten years, this Princeton facility has three at any one time. There’s a waiting list. The minute you start feeling dizzy sign up. Don’t wait until you actually discover you’ve grown a third foot.
Princeton Plainview Hospital (or as I call it -- Cedars of Malpractice) is also the only facility with floor-to-ceiling glass walls between patients’ rooms and corridors. Nothing like using a bed pan or trying to pass a kidney stone into a little strainer with visitors and candy stripers going by. But it looks cooler on TV. Where's the Gynecology wing???
Most other medical facilities I know have specialists perform tricky operations. Neurosurgeons and like that. But on HOUSE the young doctor protégés do it all. Drilling holes in peoples’ heads, angioplasties, removing pesky tumors from spinal cords – when these kids are not screwing in a transparent attempt to siphon some of GREY’S ANATOMY’S audience they’re whizzes with the knife.
And then there’s the FRIENDS apartment that only Stephen Sondheim could afford.
All shows take creative license and I mention these examples more out of amusement than criticism. After all, I worked on MASH, a show that asked an audience to believe eleven seasons of stories all took place within one year and CHEERS where in eleven years no one ever paid for a drink.
Tomorrow: more CHEERS sleight of hand. We even got away with some of it.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
But first – the current testing process and how it works.
I tell any producer that has a pilot – do not (repeat) DO NOT go to the testing session. Picture the George Clooney torture scene in SYRIANA. That’s what it’s like if your testing goes well.
An audience is recruited. Only people who need four tries to pass their written drivers license test are eligible. They file into a screening room, their knuckles dragging on the ground. The producers are on the other side of a two-way mirror. You scan the group. Tattoos on their eyelids, mouth breathers, no foreheads. You’ve worked for a year on this pilot and these are the people who will decide its fate.
They’re each given remotes. As they watch your show they’re asked to twist a dial to indicate their level of interest and approval. Ten minutes are required to give these complicated instructions.
You see the ongoing graphs. Blue for boys. Pink for girls. A rising blue graph means you have a lot of tit jokes.
After the screening they’re divided into two groups depending on sex. I think they should be divided by species but that’s just me.
Each group is led into a conference room where a moderator questions them. You watch unseen. And now these people who have never in their lives been asked their opinions about anything suddenly become Tom Shayles. Even if they laughed uproariously at your pilot they now have problems with it. I think back to one of my pilots.
The girl with the nose ring hated the lead actress. Why? “She wore that red dress.” The guy with the SHIT HAPPENS T-shirt thought the lead guy was a weak character. Why? “He drove a Passat.” When a woman was asked what her favorite new show was she said COSBY. This was in 2004.
I somehow managed to drive home while in a fetal position.
I wouldn’t mind testing if networks didn’t place such a reliance on it. If it was just used as a tool, another form of input (like studio audiences) that would be fine. Even welcomed. But all too often it’s not. All too often it’s the determining factor.
And even that would be okay except for one thing – they’re usually wrong!!! EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (yanked after one airing) tested well. STACKED tested well (duh!). Every cancelled show had high test scores. I dunno. There’s got to be a better way.
Okay, now the best testing story ever.
In 1939 the movie NINOTCHKA (directed by Ersnt Lubitsch, written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett) was being tested in a theatre in Long Beach. Following the screening the audience was asked to fill out comment cards. Lubitsch and Wilder were reading the cards in the back of the limo on their way home. Lubitsch read one and burst out laughing. He showed it to Wilder. It said:
“This movie was hilarious. I laughed so hard I almost peed into my girlfriend’s hand”.
In case you haven't heard this delightful rant by now, here's Alec Baldwin's phone message to the obvious love of his life, his eleven year old daughter. Just click here.
Gee, and he's so charming and funny on interviews. And he's talented and can do voices...
Friday, April 20, 2007
With SURVIVOR: FIJI heading for the final turn I wondered -- what would I do if I were on SURVIVOR? Probably this...
I’d have to give up my religion. Jews don’t camp. And they’d never go to the tropics if there were no cabanas.
For my luxury item I might bring a porta-potty.
I would try to vote off Jeff Probst.
I would write phony tree mail and watch my tribe mates frantically dig up the beach looking for a bogus immunity medallion.
I would fake injuries.
I would start making alliances on the boat ride over to the island.
I would bribe people for everything.
I would tell the producers my name was “Sawyer” and my profession was “Confidence Man”.
They always show close ups of lizards and toads and scurrying crabs. While the rest of the tribe starved or shared one stinking papaya I would eat one of those.
I would lobby to get our tribe name changed to the “Fighting Irish”.
If I ever won a rewards challenge that featured a feast on some yacht or gorgeous luxury hideaway and was allowed to bring one other person – it would always be the pretty girl.
I would not gorge myself with chocolate after not eating anything for three days. The result would be two doubled over nights on my luxury item.
When Jeff asks “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” I’d answer, “Wanna rephrase that just once because you get paid a ton of money and the least you could do is not spout the same idiotic catch phrases every freaking week?”
Another luxury item I might bring is a polygraph machine.
I would tell the producers that Keira Knightley is my girlfriend so they’d bring her over to visit me.
If I won a panel truck I would not sleep in the back of it with my mother. (What were you thinking, Colby??)
I would try to parlay my appearance on SURVIVOR to get a co-hosting job on the VIEW.
If it got down to me and a woman for the final two, if she wins I would immediately propose to her.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
There’s a movie out in Los Angeles called THE TV SET. It’s playing on two screens. It’s also playing in other parts of the country… on five other screens. That’s the distributor’s idea of “going wide”. It seems ridiculous to review a movie that no one will see but someday it might be on IFC or MyNetworkTV (renamed for them: “Sitcom Sluts Beauty Intl. Swimsuit Pageant.”)
The film is dark comedy about a writer’s nightmare attempt to shepherd a network pilot to completion without compromising the show or his soul. It stars David Duchovny. Even though I figured it would be like watching Vietnam flashbacks I ran to the theater to see it, even passing up EXTERMINATING ANGELS which was playing on the screen next door and according to the reviews featured a lot of hot girl-on-girl action and French women pleasuring themselves. But no, I sent to see a movie about script notes.
THE TV SET’s heart is in the right place. Certainly a movie that shines a light on the struggles TV writers go through is a worthy project. Next to global warming, I personally find it to be the next most important issue we face as a people. And the writer/director, Jake Kasden is the son of Lawrence Kasden so he comes from a good Hollywood bloodline.
But I just wish it were better. Especially when my option was the French L-Word next door.
You can predict the premise. A writer (Duchuvny) has a sitcom pilot and at every turn (script, casting, title) the network makes him change it for the worse. Sigorney Weaver, as the network president, is funny for the first ten minutes but then is so broad and one-note that she becomes tedious. One gets the feeling she’s not nearly as funny as she thinks she is.
As someone who has been in Duchuvny’s predicament too many times I know it’s a fine line you walk. You want to preserve your vision yet you don’t want to be branded as difficult. You have to pick your fights. It’s tricky. And not every network note is a bad one nor every network executive a blithering idiot. But at some point you have to stand up for what you believe in. Two reasons:
1) You’re the one who is going to have sit in a room until 3:00 AM every night trying to make the stinkburger work. And…
2) You might as well do your show since if it doesn’t go you’ll still take the blame even if you followed the network’s notes to the letter. NEVER will you hear a network exec say, “Sorry. We really took you down a wrong path. You had a good idea and we ruined it. What can we do to make it up to you?”
In the movie, Duchovny just keeps taking the abuse, never putting his foot down, so after awhile you want to give him business cards that say “executive network little bitch”.
But THE TV SET’s biggest failing is that it’s not that funny. Some chuckles for those in the 310 and 818 area codes but the “non pros” would be far better entertained by Gigi and Nicole on the next screen reenacting my bachelor party.
At the end of the day THE TV SET, is just a pale version of 1989’s THE BIG PICTURE. Directed by Christopher Guest and written by Guest and his cronies, THE BIG PICTURE is a dead-on hilarious satire of the film business. It stars Kevin Bacon (what didn’t in the late 80’s?) and has some inspired performances, notably by J.T. Walsh and Martin Short. Order it from Netflix TODAY.
But one thing from THE TV SET does ring true. Once you get the word that your pilot has been greenlit to shoot that’s when your insomnia begins. But at least the next time it happens to me and I’m up at 3:00 a.m. EXTERMINATING ANGELS should be out on DVD.
Shameless plug: For a first hand look of what it's really like in a writing room, the Sitcom Room seminar is now sign-upable. Details in the post below. Thanks.
You can now sign up for my two day comedy writing workshop, the Sitcom Room.
It will be held in Los Angeles on July 21-22. For two days you’ll experience what it’s like to actually be in a writing room. I’ll have actors to perform your scene and drive you crazy. I’ll have studio and network notes. Instruction and guidance. Camaraderie and much laughter. When you’re not pulling your hair out by the roots you will be having a helluva time.
For details and sign up information please click on our website Sitcomroom.com.
We’re limiting it to 15 participants and already more than half of the slots have been taken. If this was an informercial I’d say “So you don’t forget, order by midnight tonight” but those offers usually give you free pocket fishermen or Slim Whitman CD’s as a bonus and I don’t have any of that crap.
Hope to see you in July. And a big thanks to everyone who has already signed up.
An actual entertaining post will go up shortly.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The great American practical joke is over. Sanjaya Malakar has been voted off of AMERICAN IDOL. Not since last November has the VoteForTheWorst website had such a dark night. When they announced the bottom three and LaKisha was there I thought, ooooh, maybe I will see her go medieval on his skinny ass.
But a few thoughts as Sanjaya dries his tears and gets ready to hit the talk show circuit, start his own line of hair products, begin a series of plastic surgeries, and assume the role as the new King of Pop.
The judges selected him in the original auditions to go to Hollywood.
The judges selected him to advance past the Hollywood round, passing on a lot of terrific singers in the process.
Every year there seems to be one flyweight contestant in the top ten who somehow manages to survive long past his/her expiration date. Remember John (Sinatra before puberty) Stephens? And Carmen (Simon had to be porking her) Rasmussen?
Sanjaya is not stupid. He knew how to attract attention. So does the idiot who tries to ride a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon but still. If part of becoming a celebrity is making an impression Sanjaya could be the next Madonna. (Actually, he could be the next Madonna anyway). Credit where credit is due. If you see Hillary Clinton start to sport a pony-hawk you’ll know why.
Finally, how symbolic was that ending? He's voted off and then cut off right in the middle of his swan song. The Gods of Fame giveth and taketh away.
And now we can finally turn our attention to the viable candidates – the ones with the legitimately good voices and all-American personalities -- and realize, Jesus, they’re boring.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
It was Country night on AMERICAN IDOL although, judging by the wardrobe the final 7 selected, it might as well have been Tony Orlando night. I’m not saying they all had to wear spurs but come on, Jews dress more country! Where were the Levi’s? The suspenders? The boots? Where were the fringe and rhinestones? At least on Ryan.
Martina McBride was the mentor. She looked fabulous, gave great advice, and the best moment of the show (maybe the season) was when she said “far klempt”.
I wasn’t familiar with some of the songs and they all sounded similar to me so I just assigned titles of actual country songs I know.
Phil Stacey got the evening going in fine style with “How Can I Kiss the Lips at Night that Chewed My Ass All Day Long”. I thought he was fantastic. Great voice, felt comfortable. But if ever anybody needed a cowboy hat! This week, in keeping with the country theme, Phil reminded me of Bruce Dern in all those westerns playing the psychotic deranged son. A typical Bruce Dern line: “Can I kill her, daddy? Can I can I can I?”
I’m sorry Haley Scarnato was voted off. I can just see her as Daisy Mae.
Jordin Sparks gave the performance of the night singing “You Stuck My Heart In an Old Tin Can and Shot It Off a Log”. I’ll go Simon one better and say she WILL be the next American Idol.
Shouldn’t SOMEBODY wear a cowboy hat? Or even a flannel shirt? None of these kids starred in OKLAHOMA in Jr. High??
Sanjaya looked like the guy with the squgee bottle and rag who approaches your car at a traffic light. Will somebody tell him that country night doesn’t mean “third world country” night? Yes, they wore red scarves in westerns, but it was the bandits who wore them over their mouths. And that’s EXACTLY what Sanjaya should have done because, as Simon correctly said, he was “utterly horrendous”. Sanjaya attempted to sing “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” (which is what most of America is saying too) and reached a new low. Props to Simon for saying it was funny for a few weeks but it’s time to get rid of this weasel already.
The little spat between Simon and Ryan over Simon’s harsh criticism felt real. And thus FUN. That’s what people want to see in a live show – unexpected moments… and Haley’s legs.
By the way, the audience is instructed to loudly boo when Simon criticizes a singer.
LaKisha Jones was clearly out of her element singing the Carrie Underwood hit, “Drop Kick Me Jesus, Through the Goalposts Of Life”. Usually the question is not 'will she give a good performance'? It’s 'will her tits fall out of that dress'? The answer to both questions was no.
Randy’s catchphrase this week was “So check it out.” Save money. Just put a parrot on Simon’s shoulder. In fact, save more money. Replace Paula with a goldfish.
Chris Richardson was boring even though he did the classic, “My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend And I Sure Do Miss Him”. He was obviously pissed at Simon for saying he was nasal. He defended singing through your nose as a deliberate style. Just as bleeding out of your eye is a definite emotional choice.
The Virginia Tech tragedy needed to be acknowledged and was. But I question Chris bringing it up just when Ryan was announcing the number to vote for him. One might, possibly, maybe, perhaps get the impression he was using that to get votes. He wasn’t I’m sure. But one could somehow, if he wanted to, through some wild stretch of the imagination, get that impression.
Melinda Doolittle did a lot with “If You Don’t Leave Me Alone I’ll Go And Find Someone Else Who Will.” Simon was right. Time to drop the “aw shucks” routine. Vegas and now Branson calls!
Blake Lewis chose the “preppy cowboy” look. I’m trying to recall if John Wayne ever wore an argyle sweater. Oh yeah. In STAGECOACH. Sorry.
Blake sang “She Offered Her Honor, He Honored Her Offer, and All Through the Night He Was Honor and Offer.” The judges obviously didn’t see the same performance I did. They thought he was good. I thought he was awful. Clunker notes, a total disconnect with the genre. And a number of women I know claim he has “dead eyes”. I have to agree. There’s something a little off-putting about the guy that even the fourteen tattoos don’t compensate for.
My pick for the bottom two this week: Sanjaya (he was so bad even his sister is having trouble picking up that phone) and Chris. Or maybe, just maybe, LaKisha.
And if LaKisha should get voted off, since the results show is now an hour, she’ll have time to beat the living shit out of Sanjaya on live television and still be able to do her final number. Boy, will she be far klempted!
I just recently found out there is a sixth broadcasting network. No really. There is. It’s called MyNetworkTV. I don’t know anybody who gets it but I imagine there are some stations somewhere that carry it. Don’t you think? They have a website and are mentioned in Wikipedia. There's a rumor it's on in LA but there are also rumors that Elvis is still alive.
They launched September 5, 2006. Where was I? I mean, a sixth broadcasting network. How does that just slip through unnoticed? I’ve heard of Fuse, G4, N, Logo, even something called American Life TV (home of MAN FROM UNCLE reruns… made in 1963 with a budget of about $12 per episode -- at least $2 of it for Robert Vaughn’s Brylcream). But no MyNetworkTV.
That is about to change in May. For sweeps MyNetworkTV is rolling out the big guns. On May 16 they premiere an hourlong documentary, “Anna Nicole Smith: Centerfold Revisited,” which is an update of an earlier special about Smith that MyNetwork ran (in other words, it’s unseen) followed by an hour called “Britney Spears: A Pop Idol Exposed.” Adding a touch of class to both documentaries, they’ve hired ACCESS HOLLYWOOD to produce them.
But wait! May 8th is even better! A two hour special called “The Hooters Dream Girl Challenge” (the winner gets to keep her tips, so don’t laugh – this one’s for keeps!)
On April 24th they kick it all off with hour long specials “Hawaiian Tropic Intl. Beauty Pageant” and “Ujena Bikini Jam.” I’m not making this up.
A week later come two more hour specials. “America’s Trashiest Weddings” and “Body Doubles: Intl. Twins Search.”
If any of you get MyNetworkTV can I come over? Especially on April 24th. By the way, MYNetworkTV is owned by Fox.
There actually IS a station that carries it in LA? It must be way up on the dial, Channel 87 or something. Or is really licensed to San Bernardino.
Huh? Channel 13?! KCOP? One of LA’s original seven stations?
The station that used to carry the Dodgers now carries “Ujena Bikini Jam”? Seriously guys, take out an ad.
My only fear -- I hope the salacious nature of these shows doesn't tarnish the credibility of their news shows, featuring such hard-hitting journalists as Lauren Sanchez (also the host of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE), Maria Quiban...
and Gigi Graciette.
Meanwhile, Elvis must be well in his 70's by now.
Next post: my weekly recap of AMERICAN IDOL. A few of you have asked why I bother? The reason: when I do I have more viewers than MyNetworkTV.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Here's the NY Post headline of the year so far:
24 notes: Six years now terrorists have been thwarted by Jack Bauer. You’d think they’d be smart enough to maybe not base their headquarters in Los Angeles. I’m assuming there are no CTU offices in St. Louis. Or Cleveland. And you could argue, well, the weather in Cleveland is horrible (I know the Seattle Mariners are still bitching) but hell, it’s only one day.
24 SPOILER ALERT: Oh no, Audrey is back??!! Like most 24 fans, I think I’d rather Jack be in love with Fayed.
LOST remains great although it’s hard to top April 4th’s episode. Evangeline Lily (pictured) handcuffed to Elizabeth Mitchell, a catfight, AND it was in mud.
But last Wednesday, when Jack said to Juliet (Mitchell): “They’ll have some patience with you for a while, but you better start giving them answers” I think the writers were acknowledging what a lot of viewers are saying about the show.
ABC Primetime President Steve McPherson promised that “all dramas will be funny” for this year’s development season. If that doesn’t work, Steve – MUD!!! Think DIRTY Betty.
I got post-happy over the weekend. A bunch of new goofy YouTubes and stuff. So if you're like 90% of my audience (only reading my blog at work on someone else's dime) catch up on the Saturday-Sunday fare. Deep throat meets Eurovision.
The new parking restrictions at Dodger Stadium that have resulted in massive gridlock will eventually ease the parking situation. Enough fans will stop going so the five who remain will find getting in and out a breeze.
The LOOKOUT is worth seeing. Beautifully constructed. Everything pays off in a smart way. Scott Frank is Quentin Tarentino for grown ups.
Also saw the HOAX at a WGA screening. You can always tell a WGA screening. Half the audience wears baseball caps. Anyway, the movie was okay and now I know what mistakes to avoid while selling my autobiography of Sumner Redstone.
The Milwaukee Brewers have 17 scheduled bobblehead giveaways this season. Make your plans now for Phil Rozewicz Night, when fans will receive bobbleheads of the team's popular visiting clubhouse manager.
We lost a giant when Kurt Vonnegut passed away. If you haven’t read SIRENS OF TITAN treat yourself. It’s a great book.
Ironically, many people only know him from the one piece he didn’t write – the sunblock graduation speech. It was actually written by Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune reporter.
Baseball teams, like networks, usually have slogans every season. "This is our year!" "Going all the way!", etc. How's this for optimism from the hapless 1964 Washington Senators? "Off the floor in '64". That was actually their slogan. It didn't help by the way.
GRINDHOUSE fizzled at the boxoffice. I guess kids today don’t remember those Saturday nights going to the Drive-In, watching all those schlocky Roger Corman movies. Why is that? Oh. Maybe because it all took place twenty years before THEY WERE BORN!
I don’t mean to be incredibly cruel and heartless, Quentin Tarentino, but you made a movie that was…well, let’s just say it -- un-cool.
I’m sorry, buddy. I know that had to hurt.
Instead of GRINDHOUSE, Netflix DEATH RACE 2000. Here's the tagline:
IN THE YEAR 2000 HIT AND RUN DRIVING IS NO LONGER A FELONY, IT'S A NATIONAL SPORT!
Plus, it stars Sylvester Stallone and the Real Don Steele in their only screen appearance together. Needless to say, Don wipes the floor with Sly. And the nudity is entirely gratuitous.
Well, I've put if off long enough. Better get to filling out my taxes.
Thanks to reader Jim for introducing us to this hilarious french video. To quote Jim:
"One of those French wins (of Eurovision) was the equally cringeworthy "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" written by uber-perv Serge Gainsbourg and sung by a very innocent 17 year old France Gall in 1965.
To mark his success, Gainsbourg then wrote a song, "Les Sucettes" for young France that gives a whole new meaning to double entendre. She later claimed that she had no idea that the song could have any other meaning and that she hid in her bedroom for months after finding out. Have a look at an early video made for French TV and see what you think."
Me again: Oh yeah, really hard to see anything remotely suggestive in this song and video. I don't speak french. If you can translate the lyrics I'd love to hear 'em.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
This is a true “Hollywood” story of how my writing partner and I got Tom Hanks to star in our 1985 movie, VOLUNTEERS.
We wrote the first draft five years earlier (so far this is a typical Hollywood story). The movie centers around a preppy Yalie who ducks a gambling debt and winds up in the Peace Corps. Hilarity ensues (at least on the page). Sergeant Shriver, then the head of the Peace Corp, read it and said it was like spiting on the flag. I knew we were onto something.
The producer asked whom we thought might be good to star and we suggested this guy who at the time was in BOSOM BUDDIES on ABC – Tom Hanks. The producer scoffed. Tom Hanks couldn’t get a movie made.
We were at the same agency as Tom so for grins and giggles we sent him the script anyway. He loved it but reluctantly agreed the producer was right.
Flash forward a few years. VOLUNTEERS has gone through two studios, two directors, and nine drafts. HBO/Tristar greenlights it. Time to look for stars.
Tom had just done SPLASH. It was a huge hit. He was the Will Ferrell-of-the-month. Offered every project in town. He couldn’t find anything he liked (even BACHELOR PARTY II). So he said to his agent he had read a project about the Peace Corps several years back. What about that one? The agent said he would try to track it down but without even knowing the title it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
ONE HOUR LATER the agent gets a call from our producer. Would Tom be interested in a Peace Corps movie? The agent almost fell on the floor. He said to messenger it right away. We did. Tom skimmed it, recognized a Margaret Dumont joke we had in there, said “Yep, this is the one” and a half hour later the deal was closed.
Pretty cool, huh?
The person really responsible for making this deal happen was Cupid because it was on VOLUNTEERS that Tom met his wife, Rita Wilson.
Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!
Before AMERICAN IDOL there was EUROVISION, a singing competition between European countries. It's still going strong.
In 1969 the winner was Lulu representing the U.K.with this song. Makes you wonder just how bad every other nation's entry was. I mean, "The Unicorn Song" couldn't beat this?
I'm only sorry LaKisha Jones didn't do this during British Invasion week as a tribute to mentor Lulu. As you listen to it, imagine her.
And now ladies and gentleman, the WINNER of the 1969 international EUROVISION competition...
I thought I'd share some amusing photos I've come across lately. If you ever see me post one of a cute kitty in a funny costume get that shotgun off the wall and put one right between my eyes.
When I was a kid growing up he used to be Big Boy. And I thought he was bragging THEN.
"Ummm... I think I want to use a Lifeline."
Now you know why your flight was delayed last Christmas.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Not every comedy writer is a loud and crazy guy. Sometimes the funniest is the quietest. One such writer was Stan Daniels. We lost Stan earlier this week. He was 72.
For years, Stan was one of the creative forces behind THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. He won eight Emmys. He also directed and composed music (he wrote the theme from PHYLLIS). People who worked with Stan usually say two things: He was incredibly talented, and how could he be in a partnership with Ed. Weinberger for so long? If ever there was a mismatch this was it. Ed was the loud and crazy guy. And volatile.
Stan was just the opposite. Soft spoken. Warm. Your kindly uncle.
But together they wrote brilliant scripts filled with inspired humor and tremendous heart.
Stan's sense of humor was always sly and wildly original. A typical joke: Lou Grant asks an elderly lady if she watches Ted Baxter. She says, "I don't watch television. I have a fireplace."
Stan later went on to co-create TAXI (among many other things) and he wrote the music and lyrics to a 1976 Broadway show, “So Long 174th St.”.
I worked with him on ALMOST PERFECT. By then he was directing. He did many of our early episodes, really establishing the tone for us, and helping the cast to gel into a cohesive unit. He was a master at finding little character moments, bits of business and behavior, and infusing humanity in every beat.
I remember when we approached him to direct our show. David Isaacs, co-creator Robin Schiff, and I took him to lunch at Art’s Deli hoping to convince him to come aboard. We were thrilled that he liked the pilot and even considered joining us. I mean, this man was a God! Every question he asked zeroed in on the heart of the series. The resulting discussion led to a lot of stories and character development. And that was vintage Stan. You always got more than you paid for.
It was a pleasure to know him, a privilege to work with him. And I still can’t imagine how he and Ed. Weinberger were a team.
Here’s the theme from PHYLLIS.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Hollywood loves to remake movies. Why watch the 1948 classic, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” with Cary Grant when you can now see “Are We Done Yet?” with Ice Cube? So sooner or later they’ll get around to remaking Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s brilliant “Face in the Crowd”. In that film, a scathing look at America in the late 50’s, Andy Griffith plays folksy minstrel Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic performer who captures the imagination of the country while off camera shows himself to be a hateful, evil, dangerous egomaniac. At the end of the movie (50 year old SPOILER ALERT) he trips up, the nation sees him for who he really is and his career is ruined.
This is how I imagine a conference between a Hollywood studio exec and the screenwriter assigned to update “Face in the Crowd”:
STUDIO EXEC: Loved your first draft. Couldn’t put it down…other than for that NCAA championship game. Damn, I was rooting for Rutgers. What heart those gals had. Someone should option them. Anyway, loved it, it was great. Just had a few thoughts. Lonesome Rhodes was such a folksy name. I don’t know if “Don Imus” gives us that quality.
WRITER: You said to make it more urban. And there’s the subliminal message – Imus … “I’m us”.
STUDIO EXEC: Jesus, that’s brilliant. I didn’t see it. And I pride myself on that sort of thing. Hey, I bet Don is a subliminal message for “Dawn”, right?
STUDIO EXEC: He’s a morning man on the radio. Gets up at “dawn”.
WRITER: Huh? Oh. Right. Yeah.
STUDIO EXEC: Subtext. I love it. Okay, so I’m good. Now, the script itself. (leafing through pages) Talk talk talk, lots of stage direction here, hard to wade through – just a note for the future. No one in this town wants to read a book. (more leafing) He makes it big, steps on people along the way, screws over the girl – nice. Oh yeah. He’s kind of a son-of-a-bitch right on the air. Wasn’t Andy Griffith more like…uh, who am I thinking of? … Andy Griffith?
WRITER: You said this was for Pacino but okay. I’m sure Al Pacino can play Andy Griffith.
STUDIO EXEC: We put him in Levi shirts. Maybe give him a farm. He’ll be great. Now my one big problem: the ending.
WRITER: You don’t like the ending?
STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t work. He doesn’t say anything inflammatory enough.
WRITER: Calling the Williams sisters “animals better suited for National Georgraphic than Playboy” wouldn’t piss people off?
STUDIO EXEC: Nah… not really. It should but no.
WRITER: (thrown) Okay. Well, I was going to have him just call Arabs “ragheads” on the air but thought that might be too much.
STUDIO EXEC: Too much? Try not enough.
WRITER: Are you serious?
STUDIO EXEC: These are cynical times, my friend.
WRITER: Okay, how about this? He calls his Jewish management “money-grubbing bastards”? Look at what happened to Mel Gibson.
STUDIO EXEC: Forgotten. Over. He apologized to both Diane Sawyer AND Barbara Walters. He could run for Pope. Hey, there’s one girl on Rutgers who could block a Kobe shot. Did you see her?
WRITER: Oh oh oh. What if Imus says about the Rutgers team, “That’s some nappy-headed ho’s there.”?
STUDIO EXEC: Hmmmm. Maybe. That’s promising. (beat) I dunno. He’d probably just get a suspension for that.
WRITER: For calling lovely, dedicated, hard working African-American women prostitutes? That doesn’t send out a message of extreme racism?
STUDIO EXEC: Oh, I see. Subliminal again. Like his name. But do you think the audience would really make the connection?
WRITER: Uh…YEAH! They’d protest. Sponsors would bail. Guests would bail. This would be a big deal. He’d be fired for sure. I mean, how could people possibly let him get away with saying something that vile?
STUDIO EXEC: I don’t know but okay. Try it. I don't think a big broadcasting company would ever can a guy who makes them money, but who knows? It's movie magic.
Tomorrow: a tribute to Stan Daniels
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
So long, Haley. If only you had the number to vote for you printed on the front of your hot pants Tuesday night you still might be alive. Now it’s on to Playboy magazine and the continuation of your singing career.
After attending the AMERICAN IDOL live taping Tuesday we wandered next door to DANCING WITH THE STARS to see if I could find my CHEERS buddy John Ratzenberger and give him shit.
Oh who am I kidding? I wanted to see Paulina Porizkova. I figured if I told her I almost got hepatitis at the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit party and almost died she might not look through me when I spoke to her. Unfortunately she had been voted off. I suspect ten years of therapy will be needed to overcome this rejection.
DWTS had just wrapped and the stars were being interviewed by the media when we arrived. Alas, Ratz was nowhere to be found. Heather Mills was table hopping (I just couldn’t resist). And I did see Cliff Clavin’s partner, Edyta Sliwinska. I wanted to say I was a friend of John Ratzenberger but thought she’d roll her eyes and think that was the worst come-on line EVER.
Everyone was real excited because former champion Drew Lachey was there. I figured he was somebody. Nobody dresses like Lil’ Abner if he doesn’t have to.
Leeza Gibbons looked a lot hotter than when I’d see her picking her kid up from the Paramount Day Care Center every day. I guess she had just been voted off. She answered questions in a “sad” perky way.
Since this was a reality show I kept looking for Rob & Amber.
Karina Smirnoff (pictured) looked best of all. Just smoking in person. I wanted to ask her what her former skating partner Slavik Kryklyvyy had that I didn’t other than fifteen consonants but she was too busy telling ACCESS HOLLYWOOD that dancing promotes world peace or some such shit.
Second most beautiful was judge Carrie Ann Inaba. If Paula Abdul ever checks herself into rehab or is committed I say bring Carrie Ann over.
“Y” is the letter of the day. Every contestant seems to have one (or in the case of Kryklyvyy, 4…2 in a row), including Kym Johnson.
Is Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s nickname “eye chart”?
I also didn’t see my buddy, Clyde the Glide Drexler. I directed The Glide in an episode of BROTHER’S KEEPER (to this day he still claims that appearance was his professional highlight). I can still recall the acting note I often gave him. “No, Clyde, anything but THAT.”
Not a lot of ugly people compete on this show. Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson could defy gravity and dance like Fred Astaire on walls and ceilings and Ian Ziering in a wheelchair would be hired first.
I didn’t see Brian Fortuna but I just assumed he was in Sanjaya’s dressing room.
After seeing Billy Ray Cyrus in a screenplay reading where he played the world’s leading nuclear physicist it’s hard to take him seriously. Even as a ballroom dancer.
The set was huge. It reminded me of an elegant Austrian opera house or Harrah’s Tahoe.