Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why network ratings are down this year

The current TV season is over and viewership is down, even for hit shows. Needless to say the networks are concerned. A lot of theories have been bandied about as to why – long hiatuses, reruns, DVR’s, lack of quality shows. In an attempt to really get to the bottom of this I spoke to several network executives who spoke candidly but would not give their names, either to me or to each other.

They only agreed on one thing: the problem wasn’t the programming itself. Every show they put on the air was good. Their testing proves it. They concede that sometimes it’s hard for audiences to immediately connect with a show. For instance, not many people it seems are familiar with the concept of BINGO and might need a couple of viewings to pick it up. But once they do, wow, are they in for a wild ride!

These however, are the factors that have resulted in diminished ratings:

SUNSPOTS – Dark spots, some as large as 50,000 miles in diameter, move across the surface of the sun, contracting and expanding as they go. When they expand they tend to cause interference that effects reception, specifically during comedies.

McANGUS BURGERS – Consumers are spending more time in Mickey D’s enjoying this new sensation. As a result they’ve gotten out of the habit watching prime time television earlier. Networks are confident there will be enough blocked arteries to eventually reverse this trend.

NO WINTER OLYMPICS – Viewers flocked to this special event. Networks are concerned it’s only in the winter and only every four years. To rectify, they are considering THE FALL OLYMPICS for November and the SPRING OLYMPICS for May, and staging them annually. A February WORLD SERIES is also on the drawing board. Major League Baseball just has to be convinced it’s better to play the WORLD SERIES before the season. But knowing MLB, if you pay the owners enough they’ll agree to it.

CARS – It has always bothered the networks that viewers are distracted by having to watch the road. They are getting automakers to install more TV’s in cars and developing shows disguised as GPS systems.

TIVO – Viewers program their own “Wish Lists” and networks are realizing “George Lopez”, “Forced Single Camera Comedies”, “Katie Couric”, “Behind the Scenes at SNL”, “Complicated new dramas starring Kim Raver”, and “British Import Game Shows” are not on them.

JANET JACKSON – Her wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl means Evagaline Lily and Elizabeth Vargas have to keep their clothes on.

YOUTUBE – Networks have discovered that viewers like their programs in two to five minute bytes. Trying to make that work to their advantage they’re experimenting with five minute shows coupled with 25 minutes of commercials and promos to fill a half hour. “Thinking outside the box” is how they’re putting it.

TIME WARNER CABLE – It’s down as often as it’s up.

EMMY CONSIDERATION DVD’s – Academy members would rather watch DVD’s of their favorite shows than the shows themselves. When reminded that Television Academy Members comprise only .000000000001% of the American public, networks are quick point out they’re the most important viewers.

PEOPLE HAVE LIVES – This threw the networks big time. They were shocked that viewers did not have seven-week attention spans and would focus on something else besides HEROES or JERICHO if they were on hiatus for two months.

And finally, the chief cause of viewer defection:

BLOGS – Viewers would rather come to blogs like this one and read about television than watch it. And unlike the networks, I can show THIS!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Previously on 24

Okay, I know I'm a tad late but I was out of town and didn't get to the finale till just now. Vacations are a bitch!

I’ve seen every minute of every hour of every day of 24. I cheered when Kim was kidnapped for the ninth time. I wept when Edgar died (well, not wept but did feel sad for twelve seconds). I was shocked when they killed Jack’s wife. Angry when they didn’t kill Audrey. And now that this year’s day is over I think I can say with total assurance that it sucked. It was especially disappointing coming off of last season which was arguably its best.

Among Jack Bauer’s many death defying stunts you can now add jumping the shark.

For my money the season got off to a bad start when they nuked Valencia. Forget that Magic Mountain would be closed for the next 99 1/2 years, an event that cataclysmic was so jarring that the show stopped being escapist fun. And the reality is, were a nuclear bomb to explode in a populated area it would kill far more than 12,000 and cause the rest of the population to shit in their pants. There would be mass hysteria, a giant exodus out of LA, emergency and disaster units sent to the scene, and the President of the United States might not just move on to other things in an hour. It’s stretching believability to think Jack can get from downtown to the Mojave Desert in eleven minutes but this event was too big to just let slide on creative license.

As was accepting that the evil mastermind behind everything this year was Jack’s father. How convenient was that? Are we going to learn next year that his mom was Golda Meir?

Producers tried to delve into the characters’ personal lives and it didn’t work. Yeah, I guess Jack has father issues if daddy’s a Bond villain. Will Chloe have a reconciliation with her ex-husband? Since it was fairly impossible to understand what her ex, Morris was saying half the time anyway I have no idea. I’m not sure she does either.

Whenever they add a new woman character to the show that is hot you can bet she’ll be tortured. The minute I first saw Nadia (Marisol Nichols -- pictured right) I thought, round up the rednecks and drunk frat boys, there’s gonna be a whuppin’! And sure enough by hour seven, she was tied to a chair, squirming and pleading.

And so the geeks in the audience wouldn't feel cheated, there was the scene where Peter MacNichol got to sit in a van and watch as the VP’s assistant had sex with a Russian spy. A lot of chat rooms were empty for that five minute period.

The 24 story line always has that feeling they’re just making it up as they go along but no more so than this year. Whatever happened to the President’s sister’s boyfriend getting beaten up? Or those suitcase nukes? Or Jean Smart? And Jack kills loyal agent and good friend Curtis? Oh well…time to move on.

Ricky Schroder was then brought in to do everything that Curtis used to do except we all LIKED Curtis. And he's the SILVER SPOONS kid. When he tried to be a bad ass I kept expecting the terrorist to send him to his room.

What exactly is Karen Hayes’ job? And how many times can one person quit, be reinstated, fired, re-hired, put into custody, and released within one day? It was like Opie & Anthony's entire career distilled down into one day.

Then CTU is invaded (again). Great impenetrable security. Anyone can just slip in by coming up through the employees lounge. Jack got to play DIE HARD in a government nerve center, one of the cast members was killed (Milo ain’t Edgar, sorry), and producers saved money by not needing outside sets or location shooting for two episodes. Next year I expect four agents to die when terrorists plant mold in CTU (but it’s the kind of killer mold that only lasts one hour so it’s business as usual after that). I was surprised, by the way, that Milo stayed dead. Considering he sustained an arm injury earlier and was able to ditch the sling in two hours, I figured he had healing powers almost as amazing as Jack’s (who was shot, knifed, bruised in the ribs but felt no ill effects).

And ultimately the world is put to the brink of World War III because Jack has to save Audrey Raines. “Check please!”

I love 24…or at least I did. I also appreciate how hard it is to keep the suspense going and find new problems to solve. So I’ll be back next season.

Hey, anyone can have a “bad day”.

But it’s time to shake up the format. Set it somewhere else. Lose the Presidential subplot. I dunno. But if I may make a suggestion as a loyal viewer who only wants to love 24 and cheer – let Jack get us out of Iraq. And bring back Jean Smart.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hawaiian I

Back from the land where tattoos are not just a fad, reggae music fills the air, and you never see out of state plates – Hawaii.

Armed with sunscreen lotion almost confiscated at LAX, my wife Debby and I arrived at the Maui airport and sped off for the Kea Lani hotel in Wailea, passing all the sights that remind us we’re back in paradise – a Costco, Bad Ass Coffee, K-Mart, McDonalds, and a factory with two imposing black chimneys spouting smoke…or steam… or peyote. We figured this was a perfect time to go, before kids are done with school and TV executives are still stuck in affiliate meetings.

Hawaii is my favorite spot on earth. Someday I plan to live there. I know there is concern about island fever but if I ever feel too hemmed in and need to return to the mainland I can always hop a flight to Tahiti.

This was our first time at the Kea Lani (Hawaiian for “no shade”). A lovely luxury resort done in the Hawaiian tradition of Morocco. We chose not to stay in one of their private seaside villas that go for about $2500 a night (but breakfast is included… just no seconds.). A friend stayed in one and was told he was in luck. All new furniture because Charlie Sheen had just trashed the place.

Most resort hotels have return business in the teens. For the Kea Lani it’s in the 30% range. On the one hand they’re very proud, on the other – it might mean Charlie Sheen returns and doesn’t like that new rattan d├ęcor.

There are three pool areas at the Kea Lani – an adult pool, a lagoon for families (read: screaming kids), and a drunk tank. This is a pool with a swim-up bar and let me tell you, the folks wading here were smashed out of their minds. Other than diving for fallen pineapple wedges, all these swimmers do is bob and weave to stay afloat…in four feet of water. There have been so many accidents however, that every day at 4:00 the red flag is put out.

True story: A guy took at a seat at the pool bar, water up to his waist, ordered a drink, and put a paper napkin on his lap. The message here: Don’t drink and swim.

The first night we had a leisurely dinner at the hotel, under the stars, listening to the gentle sounds of the trade winds and a fire alarm siren. We sipped cocktails and remembered Pearl Harbor.

They change the carpet in the elevators three times a day. (good morning, afternoon, evening.) They change the carpets in the room once every seven years.

You know us! We biked down the Haleakala crater, rode horses in Makawao, kayaked through the coves of West Maui, hiked through a bamboo forest, surfed Kapalua, and snorkeled in a cove of sea turtles. That was the first morning. After that we did nothing!

It’s bad enough I saw this woman slathering suntan lotion on herself and baking in the bright noon day sun. But she was reading LIFE LAUGHS by Jenny McCarthy. If she gets sunstroke that renders her stupid, how will anyone know?

For two days Maui was covered in Vog – volcanic emissions from a volcano on the big island (I forget its name. It had an “l”, a “k” and sixteen “a’s”, five in a row). It blanketed all of Hawaii (except the very exclusive Four Seasons) with a slight haze/fog the locals call vog. Fortunately, from our terrace we could still see Molokai and the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in the Wailea Shopping Mall.

All of Hawaii is still in mourning over the recent passing of Don Ho. There’s even talk of renaming Honolulu International Airport, Don Ho International Airport. I’m all for it. Most cities name their airports after presidents or beloved politicians. This would be the first one named after a lounge singer.

Macadamia nuts are cheaper at Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles than at Safeway in Maui.

Stand-up Paddle Surfing is the new island craze. It’s kayaking for people with balance. Caution: Not advised for oceans that contain waves.

In honor of the LOST season finale (filmed in Hawaii) the hotel did a fun thing. They abducted some of the women guests.

Saw a guy with a big Chai tattooed to his chest. He must save a fortune in jewelry.

Every cabana boy on the entire island looks like Owen Wilson.

Condo ad spotted: “Lovely unit. Two doors down from ocean view”.

Real estate prices in Maui are through the roof. All the haoles want to move to Hawaii. Where do Hawaiians want to move to? Las Vegas. Who needs rainbows when there are nickel slots?

As you walk the beach path there is a sign that says: “Welcome to the Grand Wailea. The pool & services are for guests only.” Originally, it also included “views” but the state made them remove it.

Only in Hawaii. Two serious local news anchors reported on the U.S. death toll in Iraq while wearing Aloha shirts and leis.

I got quite a scare after downing a particularly potent but yummy Lava Flow. I glanced down and yelled, “AAAA!! I HAVE TWO KNEES ON MY RIGHT LEG!” My wife assured me it was a mosquito bite but that still didn’t stop me from frantically calling 911 and demanding to speak to Dr. House.

As usual, there was no shortage of balding, pot-bellied, cigar chomping 60 year old men with their gorgeous 30 year old nieces (usually around the pool buying jewelry even rappers would think is ridiculously marked up). Hawaii just seems to bring families together!

A synagogue in Oahu has the following website -- “Shaloha.com.” I’m guessing they’re reform. Stopping just short of having a pig with an apple in its mouth at the Purim Luau.

FOUND!! One of my favorite lost singers of the 70’s, Yvonne Elliman surfaced and performed at the Diamond Head Crater Celebration. Yvonne is just like Katharine McPhee except Hawaiian, older, sings disco, and doesn’t smile every minute. When Yvonne passes (hopefully many years from now) there’s talk of renaming the Dole Pineapple Factory after her.

The Dali Lama recently stayed at the nearby Renaissance. (You’d think he could do better.) Wouldn’t you love to be checking in and there he is going bonkers because they gave him a room by the ice machine? It would also be pretty cool to go to a Yoga class and there is the Dali Lama sitting next to you. (I thought that actually happened to me but again, it was the Lava Flow.)

I always leave Hawaii kicking and screaming but at least now I’ll be able to get my daily fix. WHODAGUY HAWAII premieres July 7th, an internet radio station hosted by broadcasting legend, Ron Jacobs. I just know I’ll be transported – to the sandy beaches, the exotic rain forests, and when Ron spins a classic Don Ho hit -- the airport.

Shaloha!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day then staff work begins

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, and trashing reality shows. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, convince non-Mac using colleagues to finally wise up and get a Mac, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scattershot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.

Week two you’ll come in and the show runner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.

Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that Mac, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books on your nightstand, caught up on my archives, and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.

The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them. And so it begins.

Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".

Next up: My Hawaii travelogue. Aloha

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kevin Reilly OUT at NBC


Less than two months after being given a new contract, Kevin Reilly is out at NBC according to Deadline Hollywood. When it was first reported, Reilly apparently knew nothing about it. Nice.

He's being replaced by red hot producer (The Office, Ugly Betty), Ben Silverman.

Time to get out my pilot that Reilly rejected.

Bring back ALMOST PERFECT


A reader asked whether write-in campaigns to keep your favorite show on the air has any impact. The answer is definitely YES. But here’s the key – the show must be a critics’ darling. No ratings and no buzz mean no renewal. So you have a much better chance of keeping FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS on the air than you do mounting a big campaign to keep BINGO NIGHT IN AMERICA on the ABC schedule.

Networks need a reason to justify keeping a struggling show on the air. There’s the “shit, we got nothing better!” reason but that’s usually just a stay of execution. A new show that is heralded by critics, gets lot of coverage, even some award nominations – those have a legitimate chance. And networks can always point to CHEERS and HILL STREET BLUES and a few others that started slow but eventually became big hits.

When we did ALMOST PERFECT and were on the bubble we personally contacted all the TV critics who were fans of the show and asked if they’d do follow-up pieces. Most were happy to oblige and it did help.

Now there’s also the internet. Fans have more forums to plead their case. Websites and blogs and chat rooms dedicated to your favorite struggling show can generate buzz as well. I think it’s too late for ALMOST PERFECT however, despite my webmaster’s insistence that it could still work and for only $1500 he could make up a spiffy website.

Staging actual protests at the network might work if you get some local news coverage but if you don’t come in with BIG numbers you look like just a few cranks and that tends to hurt your case. And if you’re arrested, well…that doesn’t help either.

My only other suggestion is to convince the producers to add LAW & ORDER to the title.

Good luck, and if anyone wants to mount that ALMOST PERFECT campaign I say don’t wait. Let’s get it back on the air NOW while anyone at the networks even remembers it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What night to film?

Thanks so much to everyone for responding to yesterday's post. If I had your email addresses I'd thank each one of you individually. In any event, I'll try to keep the good stuff coming.

I feel a little bad about taking a shot at the Kelsey Grammer/Patty Heaton promo on the AMERICAN IDOL FINALE because (a) I like and admire everyone associated with that project, and (b) that show may be the last hope for multi-camera sitcoms as we know it. Network promo departments are like the relief pitcher that comes in and gives up seven runs. So here's hoping the show is terrific.

While I'm on that subject...

Multi-camera shows that film before live studio audiences generally shoot on Tuesday or Friday nights. That way two shows can share one camera crew (back in the day when there were that many shows). I’ve been asked which of those nights I prefer and why? My answer is Tuesday and it stems from my first foray into playwriting.

A hundred and ten years ago my writing partner, David and I wrote an evening of one-act plays. It was more of an exercise really. We did four one acts in four different comic styles. The small theatre scene in LA was booming at that time. Melrose Ave. had ten or fifteen 99 seat theatres, one more charming than the next. To get to OUR theatre you continued east on Melrose until you heard gunfire then you turned right. Once you got to the first building that wasn’t on fire you turned into the lot and you were there. The 5th Street Studio theatre on 5th and Western over a pizza parlour. We were practically on Broadway.

Our shows ran Friday and Saturday nights for a month. We wanted to close before the summer and any riots. Amazingly, we had good crowds. (These are the same people you see on FEAR FACTOR.) On the first Friday night things were going great. Each act worked. Lots of laughs. The finale was an all out farce – people running in and out of doors, hellzapoppin’. It was 45 minutes long. For the first half hour the audience roared and then suddenly…they just stopped laughing. We couldn’t believe it. The last fifteen minutes (the big wild finale) was greeted with stone silence.

David and I were so thrown we didn’t know what to change. So we decided to just leave it, watch carefully the next night and see just where the play goes off the track.

On Saturday we had another good house. (Must’ve been a GREEN BERET convention in town.) The farce started, the laughs started, we braced ourselves…but this time they didn’t stop laughing. All the way through. In fact the laughs were bigger at the end.

Tremendously relieved, we concluded we just had a bad crowd the previous night (all of their cars had been broken into and they were bummed) and left the script alone.

But the next Friday night the same thing happened as the previous Friday. At the half hour mark the laughs stopped. But on Saturday night they were there wire to wire. And this pattern continued throughout the run.

What it taught us was that Friday night audiences are tired. It’s been a long week, they’ve just come from work and at a certain point they’re just pooped. Saturday crowds had a day to relax.

Since then we’ve always shot our shows on Tuesday nights. It’s the middle of the week, it gives people something to look forward to, and most importantly, they have more energy.

I’d feel bad for those four Friday night audiences but hey, they got home alive. You can’t ask much more from theatre in Los Angeles than that.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My 600th post

Haven’t done this in awhile but it’s kind of fun. This is my 600th post since starting this folly a year and a half ago. (I know. Big deal. That’s like McDonalds selling their 600th hamburger.) My goal is to post something every day (whether it has any redeeming value or not). So far I’ve been able to manage that without having to resort to stories about my colonoscopy.

What I’ve done a couple of times before upon reaching benchmark posts is to ask you guys to write back to me. Especially you newer folks. I’d love to know where you’re from, how you stumbled upon this nonsense, and any suggestions for topics you’d like to see in this blog, and any thoughts on the topics I have discussed. You’re welcome to criticize but only if you leave your name.

But I warn you, don’t say cut out the Goddamn travelogues. My recent Goddamn Hawaii travelogue is just around the corner.

And to show that I really do listen to what my readers have to say, I will no longer recap AMERICAN IDOL until next January, the earliest.

Part of the fun of this endeavor is that I’ve met some great people along the way. Now I’m looking to meet you.

Thanks so much for finding this site. Hopefully I’ll keep you coming back.

Ken

Thursday, May 24, 2007

AMERICAN IDOL FINALE

At least this year’s AMERICAN IDOL FINALE featured music numbers and actual entertainment. Sure, there was as much suspense as watching the Yule Tide Log but at least the show wasn’t padded with scenes of Simon in the make up chair, Paula walking it off, and former contestants now turned hard news correspondents reporting from filled arenas where thousands of people with no lives assembled because one drunk yelled “tailgate party!”

IDOL is tape delayed here in Hawaii. No wonder there hasn’t been a Hawaiian finalist since season 3. The polls close two hours before they can vote. (and half of them would still be voting for Jasmine Trais while the other half would vote to repeal statehood.)

Was there ever any doubt Jordin was going to win? Especially after she and Blake both had to sing that cringeworthy “This is My Now” power ballad. I do think there’s a place for that song though. It should be playing on an endless loop in Jerry Falwell’s casket for all eternity. And Chris Richardson should record it.

Randy Jackson wore his formal majorette jacket to mark the enormity of the occasion. As William Faulkner might describe Randy: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." Sorry, dawg, just keepin’ it real.

Meanwhile, over on the season finale of LOST, Kate is strapped naked to a big wooden wheel about to be sacrificed... but back on IDOL Blake Lewis and two beatboxers are doing mouth farts into microphones.

So she wouldn’t forget to take her used bedding to the cleaners, Gwen Stefani wrapped them in a ball and attached it to the back of her dress.

Notice how the Top 12 was used very sparingly unlike previous years? No big Top 12 production numbers that felt like the best of H.R. Puffenstuff.

Kelly Clarkson is the American Idol’s American Idol. The others are just her backup singers. I loved Carrie Underwood’s dress. She could go from the prom to bailing hay in five minutes. Poor Rubin Studdard didn’t even get a solo.

This is the first season there hasn’t been a finalist from the south. Hopefully America has learned its lesson after selecting that grey haired buffoon who has been nothing but a joke and disappointment. Same goes for Taylor Hicks.

Taylor's brown jacket was from Aunt Tillie’s couch. He sang “Give Me Some Slack”. Katharine McPhee is singing “Give Me the Title”.

Six months from now it all begins again. Predictions that the ratings will drop, stadiums filled with the great unwashed, six nights of deluded idiots with big targets on their chests all hoping to be the next Kelly Clarkson or even better, William Hung. The judges looking stunned for the ten millionth time. Great guest judges like Englebert Humperdink and Tiffany. Then Hollywood week. Kids who in a few weeks will be asked to perform live for thirty million people can’t remember the words to “Rockefeller Skank” when singing for three. Late night hissy fits when they’re put into groups of four and given the almost impossible task of preparing the first stanza of the “Shoop Shoop Song” for tomorrow. Then two nights of eliminating groups and individuals, and watching kids with bad teeth cry. And after all that (with five added “re-cap” shows) we’re left with the top 24, 15 of which can’t sing. Thank God we’ve got the summer tour (150 cities in 49 days), CD, Ryan will be on E! 24 hours a day even being featured in the E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY of Kristy MacNichol, Haley will be in PLAYBOY, Antonella will be in SHAVED, and Sanjaya as the new co-host of THE VIEW to hold us over.

Meanwhile, on LOST, they’ve discovered Amelia Earhart. But back on IDOL this insane woman in a big bird dress is on stage kissing Ryan.

You voted, didn’t you? Come on. You did.

Maybe it’s because I’m in Hawaii but there’s a wooden tiki at the hotel that looks just like Smokey Robinson now. I don’t think Jack Lord had that much face work done. I loved the medley with Smokey and the six groomsmen.

Melinda Doolittle out sang LaKisha AND Gladys Knight.

No, I will not be recapping SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?

Teri Hatcher is probably firing her manager because Jerry Springer got more audience reaction shots than she did.

Checking out LOST again, a subway system is discovered under the island that leads to…but wait, back on IDOL some nimrod is trying to sing “Silent Night” to the back row without a microphone.

I was surprised Forest Whittaker wasn’t at the Kodak Theatre still giving his Oscar acceptance speech. He’d be up to Paul Robeson.

Highlight of the night for me was Tony Bennett. Fortunately, not in that yellow jacket. He’s also quite the painter. In fact, they sell his work at a gallery here in Wailea. I’m not joking – the sign out front says paintings by
TONY BENNETT
DAVID BOWIE
Picasso (yes, in smaller letters)
And others.

Speaking of “Others”, back on LOST, in addition to the “Others” a new group has emerged, the “Us Too’s”. Oh, but on IDOL a guy who looks like Tweedle Dee and Steve Buscemi’s evil twin are on stage getting an award.

This season Jewel was an audition round celebrity judge. Next year she’ll be an audition round auditioner.

I loved the African Children’s Choir. Send them out on tour and leave the Top 12 home.

Oh no! On LOST, Sawyer has somehow just given birth, but on AMERICAN IDOL, Clive Davis is droning on endlessly about God knows what – song writers and Chris Daugherty and how he discovered the Fifth Dimension – I dunno. And he’s giving Carrie Underwood some award no one has ever heard of.

Gee, I wasn’t laughing at that Kelsey Grammer/Patty Heaton promo for their new sitcom. “Your nails are so long. It’s like there’s a falcon on my wrist!” Uh oh!!! I had the same feeling watching that as I did seeing Sanjaya sing with Joe Perry. And by the way, Sanjaya, let’s just say it. You’re singing is awful and that outfit looked better on Carrie Underwood.

Bette Midler must have bronchitis or something. She was not on her game. And yet, she still managed to command the audience without a single big bird suit.

The Sgt. Pepper tribute was great but weren’t you sort of hoping that as a big surprise, Paul McCartney would appear? Chris Sligh is not the same thing. Paul’s paintings are also available at that Wailea gallery. But I’m still holding out for one of Red Skelton’s clowns.

74,000,000 votes. 60,000,000 for Jordin. 13,500,000 for Blake. And 500,000 for Jasmine.

Highlights of the year: LaKisha singing “You’re Going to Love Me”, Sanjaya getting hair tips from Diana Ross, Antonella’s internet pictures (if only the winner was determined by downloads not votes), J-Lo giving singing advice, Haley’s legs, shots of Jordin’s father playing in the NFL alongside Fantasia, $70 million raised for charity, everything about Chris Sligh but his singing, the shot of me in the audience, Gina singing “Paint It Black”, Simon’s utter SHOCK at learning there were poor people in America (Spago always seems so crowded when he’s there), Paula breaking her nose tripping over her little dog…er, Corey Clark, Elliott Yamin’s dental work, Phil Stacey on country night, Blake Lewis taking chances (good and bad), Jordin’s “I, Who Have Nothing”, and Lulu needing the “Jaws of Life” to pry her out of that dress.

Someday the phenomenon will run its course. AMERICAN IDOL will hang on one year too long. Fewer people will apply. Stadiums will be empty. Ryan will be standing outside the Altoona Hilton begging people to come in off the street and audition, eventually having to offer T-shirts. Paula will have a stroke that goes unnoticed. Guest mentors will include Gary Lewis, Harvey Feinstein, and Bucky Covington. Ryan will be showing off his new face and neck. Hollywood week will be held at the Universal 32 Cineplex, theater 31. Once they go to the much smaller Idoldome (Santa Monica City College studio D), one family and set of friends will have to double for several contestants. They’ll get killed in the ratings by FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Their charity event will be so disappointing there will need to be a cents column on the tote board. The final night will be held at Wilshire Blvd. Temple. The big moment will arrive. Ryan will say, “America has spoken, and after 45,000 votes, Apple Paltrow-Martin, you are the next American Idol!”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

AMERICAN IDOL: and then there were two


Aloha, Since I prefer to spend only one night of my Hawaiian vacation in a hotel room instead of two, reviewing this final week of AMERICAN IDOL (call me crazy), I have asked a guest blogger to fill in for me for the performance show and then I will return tomorrow with a recap of the Final episode, along with overall thoughts of the season and future of the show. Since IDOL is tape delayed here in Maui I think I will be the last person in America to actually know who won. Well...me and Paula...but I have an excuse. She'll be IN the Kodak Theatre.

Reviewing Tuesday night's show is the lovely, hilarious, and completely smashed Tallulah Morehead. I just read her memoirs, LUSH LIFE and found it to be the funniest book I've read since CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (seriously!).
Check out her own website as well.

I promise you, of all the recaps of Tuesday's show NONE will be like this one.

Thank you so much, Tallulah. Your ten or fifteen husbands were lucky men. Now someone get her some coffee. A LOT of coffee. A Lake Tahoe size pot of coffee.

Talk to you tomorrow night.

Hello darlings. What a treat for all of you: clicking on By Kent Levine, and instead of finding Little Ke
nt explaining how his concept of hell is eternity locked in a room with Teri Hatcher and Mary Tyler Moore with no baseball coverage, you find a guest column from myself, Miss Tallulah Morehead, the Nearly-Living Legend, the World’s Most Glamorous Movie Star, covering the performance show of the two-part American Idol season finale. I can’t wait for tomorrow night’s final finale, to find out whether or not Little Blake Lewis and Little Jordin Sparks can prevent Syler and Linderman from blowing up New York City before The Others can kidnap all the pregnant mothers.

You see, Little Kent is in Hawaii, and frankly darlings, when it came to a choice between a luau with beautiful hula girls in grass skirts, or sitting in his hotel room watching American Idol to share h
is insights with you, his loyal fans, he said “Aloha suckers!”, and headed off to the luau with a lawnmower, asking me to take a night off from my own award-eligible flog, The Morehead The Merrier, and review the American Idol broadcast for him and you. Typical! The laugh will be on him though. Don Ho is as dead as Jerry Falwell, LOST is on hiatus, Jurassic Park is closed, Jack Lord is fictional, or at least his hair is, there’s a foul-tempered secondhand smoke monster on the loose, and one of those hula girls is probably Sanjaya. Honestly darlings, there's no point to going to Hawaii at all anymore. Whenever I'm stuck there, all I do is lie in my room, watching pay-per-view gay porn on TV, enjoying a vodka martini, and typing in my laptop. Now if only I had a computer.

You know
, American Idol was named for me! I was the original American Idol, back in 1915, when my debut film, Heat Crazed, was released, and America and the world fell in love with me. The whole idea was to lure in TV viewers thinking they would be seeing me, and then hope that they’d get hooked watching the no-talents at the auditions, and it worked. The combination of Ryan, Randy, Simon, and Paula, four of the strangest gay men I’ve ever married, has proven an unbeatable mix of no-talents.

As it happens, today is the 100th birthday of Lord Laurence Olivier, often called the Greatest Actor of the 20th Century, though not by me, given that he was married to that little trollop Vivien Leigh, who stole both Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche Dubois from me. (I wanted to play Scarlett O’Hara in the worst way, w
hich was, in fact, the approach I was planning on taking.) It’s also the 80th birthday of that little Tallulah-wannabe Marilyn Monroe, an “Actress” and “Singer” of questionable ability but undeniable beauty. What more appropriate day could there be to choose the next American Idol? Will Little Blake or Little Jordin be the lucky winner who will go on to sell half as many CDs as Melinda?

There has been a tragic mix-up however. When I arrived at the Kodak Theater this evening to see the show for you, there were no tickets waiting for me, my name was not on the list, and I was asked to leave! For heav
en’s sake, they let Constantine Maroulis in, but not me? I might add that Little Kent’s name opened no doors either. I guess in his rush to get his hedge-clippers to those grass skirts, he forgot to arrange for my admission. I’d already sent my driver off with my Lincoln Incontinental, so I ended up watching the broadcast on my cab driver’s cell phone during the taxi ride back to Morehead Heights. Frankly, Achmed’s phone’s sound system is none too impressive, though Little Blake’s dancing looks a lot better on a one-square-inch screen.

What a season they’ve had on AI this year, completely ass-backwards right from the start, as was made clear when born-entertainers Ian Bernard and “Eccentric” didn’t even p
ass the auditions. I guess Simon just feared having contestants even more full of themselves then he is. Then gorgeous Brandon Rogers was eliminated, dropping my interest down a well. (Brandon, call me. I’ll world your rocks!) Everyone was sad when Sideshow Chris Sligh, who was two of the finest singers on the show, was eliminated before Shirtless Week. Then there was Sanjaya Maladroit’s Reign of Terror. Where did he come from? It turns out, Mars.

I don’t know who was voting to keep him on the program for so long. All I know is that after he sang each week, for four hours, you could not get tech support. And if Sanjaya and Marvin were separated at birth, look whom Father of the Year Phil Stacey was separated from at death: Which one is Phil? Send your guesses to me, c/o Morehead Heights. The first 100 men with the right answer get to have sex with me, as do the losers, and the women. (I think I may have been married to one or more of those chrome-domed crooners about 70 years ago.) Of course, this season’s big shockers came when Lakisha Jones and Melinda Doolittle were voted out. What were you thinking, America? What is this popularity contest: a popularity contest? Let’s see; the sexy and mildly-talented singers are still here, while the plump girls who could sing rings around them were thrown out. It’s Dreamgirls all over again! Dust off some shelf space for your Oscar, Melinda.

Over the weekend, Little Paula Abdul, eloquence personified, broke her nose when she tripped over her Chihuahua, Tulip. Yes, she trip-toed through her Tulip. There’s no truth to the rumor that she was drunk. I’ve been drunk since the Roosevelt Administration (Teddy, not the young upstart married to the toothy lesbian.), and I’ve never tripped over a Chihuahua, although there is a malicious dust bunny lurking near my kitchen doorway that has toppled me sixty or seventy times. The upside for Paula is, a new pain medication prescription. There’s nothing like more Vicodin to really clear up slurry speech and slurrier thinking. In fact, I think I’ll have another right now, washed down with vodka.


Ryan was either severely disoriented, or his radio background hasn’t prepared him for stage work, as he opened the show facing upstage, back to the audience. Turn around, monkey boy, and face the music.


Randy Jackson must have feared the vengeance of loser finalist Phil Stacey, as he was wearing a large, bejeweled crucifix about his ample throat. The only reason for that I can imagine is warding off vampires and singing nosferatus. But it was so chi-chi, that I can only assume he borrowed it from a gay Van Helsing. It was nicely framed by Sergeant Pepper’s old Sunday suit coat.


There was a coin toss for who would go first, and Blake won. He really should have let Jordin sing first. She still needs to finish her homework. Her term paper on Luddites & The Industrial Revolution is due tomorrow and she hasn’t even started it.


Blake’s first song was Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name. Actually, my dear old friend, horror icon Guy Thanatos, was always known as “The Man Who Gave Evil a Bad Name,” so when the Idol-wannabes aren’t copying me, they’re emulating my friends. He’d performed it before, on the night Jon Bon Jovi’s chest hair, a.k.a. God’s Floss, was the guest mentor. I guess that’s easier than learning a new song.
Little Blake amusingly simulated the sound of putting a needle on a worn vinyl record to start off his performance of a song written after the last Vinyl Tree had long since been made into a record. The children young enough to think he's hot and/or "Up-to-date" must have wondered what the hell he was doing. Vinyl? Record needles? What the Hell are they? Records are small, made of plastic, and "Record Needles" are lasers. It is amusing that Blake is considered current because he’s a white boy beatboxing, something black singers gave up as overused and hackneyed 20 years ago. That said, it was kind of fun.

Paula said she wished she could give Blake “More than ten.” I think what she really wants is for Blake to give her at least ten, though I wonder if he has more than 7.

We saw the finalist losers, sitting in a pack, desperately pretending they were happy for Blake taking what they wanted. Ever seen a losing Oscar nominee at the Governor’s Ball? Exactly. (BTW, where was Sanjaya? Oh yes, dancing at Kent’s luau.)


Little Jordin’s breasts came out next - I think that was Little Jordin herself somewhere behind them - and performed a song called Fighter. When I remembered that Jordin is still just 17, or as I like to think of her, “Jailbait,” I found myself expecting that after her song, instead of Ryan coming on, Chris Hanson would walk out and say, “I’m Chris Hanson, and this is To Catch An American Idol. Mr. Cowell, I have your emails to ‘Jordin’ right here. ‘I want to watch you working hard, and then I will massage my own breasts while I dress you down. If you perform like a professional, you’ll get the big prize I have for you.’ Do you think that’s an appropriate message for a 47 year old man to send a teenage girl? Mr. Jackson, you used the screen name ‘Randy.’ Not very appropriate. ‘Yo dawg, you got it goin’ on. Just keepin’ it real.’ Now, I’m not familiar with your secret code, but calling a young girl a dog isn’t very nice. And Miss Abdul, you wrote ‘You did your thing. You’re a star. You know what I mean.’ No I don’t.” And then the entire studio audience would be led out in handcuffs.


But I gotta say, Jordin’s dad is kind of hot. I know he used to be paid to handle the pigskin. Well I have plenty of skin, and that bitch Delores Delgado always called me a pig. Mr. Sparks, call me. Blake’s dad? Not so much. He doesn’t really fit on a one-inch screen.


Love Blake’s sweaters. Who was his clothes stylist; Ozzie Nelson? But the four inches of shirt front hanging out below his sweaters suggests someone who had to button up fast after getting caught with Paula in a men’s room stall. He sang She Will Be Loved quite prettily. I had no idea he could sing.


The endless Coca-Cola product placements had their desired effect. By halfway through the show, I’d put aside my vodka, and was enjoying a rum and coke, though I asserted my independence by making mine with Pepsi.


Jordin’s second song was a country number called A Broken Wing. She wore a faux-work shirt, like real people (ew.), if real people wear theirs with diamond-studded belts. Did she win a boxing title? Randy told her “You gotta know tonight, you can blow,” so he still hadn’t learned not to make inappropriate remarks to an under-age girl. Chris Hanson was all set to run back out.


Poor Blake was hobbled for his final number by being forced to sing This Is My Now, the winner from their absolutely-nobody-cares song writing competition that was apparently going on off-screen all season. It could have been worse. He could have had to sing another Bee-Gees number. At least he got to wear a lovely argyle sweater vest also from the Ozzie Nelson Collection, while he demonstrated that ballads are not what he does best. Blake, tuck your shirts in. This is what happens when a boy is taught to dress by an obese father. During the song’s release, Blake was hopping about in a manner suggesting that he was trying not to release something liquid himself. Speaking of releases, I understand this song will be released as the winner’s first single, by which I mean, it will sell a single copy.

But then, as a month-late April Fool’s joke on the viewers, Jordin had to sing the same stupid song we’d just suffered through. I began to fear that Michael Bolton was going to slither out and sing it too. Looking lovely in the dress she’ll wear to her prom next week, I have to say, she managed to squeeze out all the juice that dreary ballad has to offer. She was actually - dare I say it? - good. I think I smell a winner, Oh, never mind. It’s my cat, Snatches. No, Snatches. Outside! Do that outside! Anyway, Jordin wowed the house. The last time I saw that many excited people, Joan Crawford was “entertaining” at a fraternity mixer with her heels in the air. Somewhere, David Hasselhoff is weeping, and frankly, I was so damp myself, I slid right onto the taxi’s floor.


Ryan asked Randy for his ”Final thoughts”. He’s years too late with that request. As for Paula, we’re all still waiting for her first thoughts.


It all ended up with last year’s third place finisher, Chris Daughtry, singing over a montage of the whole season. Good grief. Suddenly, after an hour, we are presented with a man who has some real, honest-to-God, sex appeal going on. Even wearing Divine’s old eyebrows, he was smoking. Looking back at the clips, I found myself remembering the losers, the freaks, and the night I gave Sundance Head. But they didn’t include everyone’s two favorite moments of the season, the instant when Sanjaya was eliminated, and Antonella’s nasty pictures? Good times.


That’s it darlings. Now I’m busy speed-dialing - my neighborhood liquor store. Kent will be back tomorrow, if he can tear himself away from the wahinis long enough to watch them announce Jordin’s name. Jordin will be crossing the River Jordan, and entering the promised land of stardom.


Oh Brandon, Brandon. We hardly blew ye.


My thanks to Kent for this lovely opportunity, and cheers darlings.

Robert W. Morgan

I’m often asked who were my comic heroes growing up? Aside from the usual – Nat Hiken, Joan Davis, and Pinky Lee – I’d have to put at the top of my list Robert W. Morgan. For almost thirty years Morgan ruled the morning airwaves in Los Angeles (and briefly in Chicago). He passed away nine years ago today. I still miss him. I still look at something I’ve written and wonder, “what would Robert W. think?” He was never shy in telling me. We worked together briefly in 1974 at a station called K100. (I say briefly because I was fired long before he was.) Robert W. could be a tough critic on you (if you call threatening to come down to the station and beat the shit out of me tough). But he also could inspire you to new heights if he believed you had it in you. There was no middle ground in his eyes. You had the potential to be great or you were Charlie Tuna. (Tuna -- not his real name surprisingly, was with Morgan at KHJ and tried to be funny by relentlessly reading prepared one-liners.)

Morgan himself on the air was truly amazing. Hilariously funny, wickedly subversive, a master of comic timing, and ALWAYS spontaneous. In the moment. One “morgan” (you never said “morning”, you said “morgan” – he’d really kick your ass for that) when he was on KMPC he had to do a live phone interview with Ray Malavasi, the head coach of the Rams. He asked his first question and Malavasi fell asleep. Instead of trying to wake him, and without missing a beat, Morgan just kept asking him questions and pausing while Malavasi snored.

There is a Robert W. Morgan tribute website well worth checking out containing this and many other classic bits. Comedy on the radio is a lost art. Robert W. Morgan was one of its great artists. Morgan also was blessed with a gorgeous voice. Rich, mellow, and warm (as if I wasn’t envious enough of his talent). In 1969 while at KHJ he narrated a 48 hour radio special – THE HISTORY OF ROCK N’ ROLL. This epic work painstakingly traced the roots and trends of rock music and to this day is considered a masterpiece. (back in the days when the only hits Phil Spector was known for were records)

Over the years it has been revised and redone but the original, voiced by Robert W. Morgan, only aired once and has never been heard from again.

Until today.

Bill Mouzis, the original production wizard of this project has put together a remastered, limited edition 2 CD package featuring highlights and music montages. It is a true treasure, an absolute must for any student of rock music.

And the price? Just a donation to the Robert W. Morgan Cancer Awareness Fund and The Association For The Preservation of Hawaiiana Online established by HRR Producer/Director Ron Jacobs. For details and to order, click here.

It’s a worthy cause and a chance for me to introduce many of you to one of my heroes.

Mahalo (I'm still in Hawaii. Gimme a break. This is what everyone says when they take my money.)

Tomorrow: AMERICAN IDOL with a very special guest...an almost living legend.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bruce Willis: some careers die hard

I saw the trailer for the new DIE HARD sequel (the first one where John McClane is now eligible for Medicare) and was excited. The first DIE HARD is still the gold standard for “action hero saving the day against impossible odds” genre. For years, every action movie out of Hollywood was DIE HARD on a ship, DIE HARD in a stadium, DIE HARD in space. DIE HARD in a telephone booth.

But it got me thinking of all the really bad movies Bruce Willis has been in. From his most recent bomb PERFECT STRANGERS to HUDSON HAWK and all the BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and THE KID in between. But then I checked imdb and wow, I was amazed at all the really good movies he’s been in. I’ve always liked his work, from the time I saw him play a slick drug dealer in the first season of MIAMI VICE (so long ago he had hair). But of late I was under the impression that he went from one STORY OF US to another.

But no. His work in PULP FICTION was Oscar worthy. THE SIXTH SENSE was terrific, as was THE JACKAL, SIN CITY, and BLIND DATE. And I’m guessing you have one or two others you’ve liked him in (please don’t say APOCALYPSE or ARMAGEDDON – which is the same movie, isn’t it?)

But there are two really interesting Bruce Willis movie you probably are less familiar with. COLOR OF NIGHT and NOBODY’S FOOL, both from 1994.

COLOR OF NIGHT was directed by the very underrated Richard Rush. It’s a psychological thriller with lots of sex. Best to see the director’s cut on DVD – not for more sex but for the story to make sense. I found I liked the film even better once I understood it.

NOBODY’S FOOL was an adaptation of a Richard Russo novel, directed by Robert Benton. Not only does Bruce do a nice turn but Paul Newman gives one of his finest performances ever. Set in a small Upstate New York town, this slice of life movie received several Oscar nominations yet is mostly forgotten.

The mark of a real movie star is not how many great movies he’s been in but how long he’s managed to endure. And considering all the boxoffice flops, pressure from representatives to take certain projects, fickle audiences, and the constant onslaught of younger, fresher stars coming up, for Bruce Willis to have a very successful feature career for twenty long years means he really is John McClane. DIE HARD in a talent agency.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

First directing assignment, part 2

Part 1 is the previous post.

Show day. We rehearsed all afternoon, had a dress rehearsal at about 3:00 that lasted an hour. Then we were free until the filming began at 7:00. At 6:30 the audience was let in. At 6:35 I’m handed pages, the rewrite following the dress rehearsal. They had written a BRAND NEW SCENE. What the fuck?!! We couldn’t rehearse on the stage, the audience was now there. I ran backstage, gathered the actors and walked them through it. Then I went to the camera operators, told them there was a new scene, gave them assignments off the top of my head, said just do the best you can and after the audience goes home I’ll block and shoot it properly. All the while I’m sweating through my suit.

Filming begins. It starts with a thirty second pause then Tim Daly calling out, “Say ‘action’, Kenny!” Helen (Crystal Bernard) brings the birthday cake with lit candles to the table for Casey. It slips out of her hands and she drops it. Cut! Fire marshals run out to the set. It’s a twenty minute delay. Then Tommy decides to really improvise. I go out into the stage and tell him nicely to do the line as written. Take two. He does another line. I repeat my request. Take three. Yet a third line. I go out to the Oscar nominee and tell him I will punch his fucking face in if he doesn’t say the line as written. He does the line right. No one can say I’m not an “actor’s director”.

Eventually we get to the new scene. I’m at the quad split, watching all four cameras. Huddled around me are the producers, studio executives, and network people. I call “action”, the scene begins, the cameras start moving and fishing and on the monitors it is utter chaos. People out of focus, shots of the wall, a close up of a nose. (like the last reel of AFTER THE FOX) And to make matters worse two cameras collide into each other. Now the network guy must be thinking this director is INSANE.

We finish the show. I spend the next two weeks in a fetal position. I get a call from the producers. They edited the show together (a Herculean task since nothing matched) and discovered it was short. So they wrote a new scene to be filmed after they get done filming this week’s show. That means I start rehearsing and blocking at around midnight. You can imagine the happy cast I had.

And the scene is a dream sequence…with effects. And props that need to be smashed. But there are only two breakaway props so we only have two chances to get it. The first take the actor smashed it at the wrong time – blaming of course, ME. Mercifully, we got the shot the next take, I finally yell “Wrap!” at about 2:00, and drive home muttering to myself that Steven Spielberg had it EASY directing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC.

To this day I thank the cast and the producers for their patience. Especially Crystal Bernard who called me at home to say what a great job she thought I had done. Likewise for Tony Shalhoub taking me aside, giving me a pep talk. That meant a lot.

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot a better, I’ve gotten a LOT faster but 70% of what I know about directing I learned from that first assignment. And 60% of it was what not to do.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Before he became a star...

Aloha, from Hawaii, my base for the next week. It's nice here. Who knew??

I saw an episode of WINGS on the flight over here. Who would have thought that the one cast member from that show who would go on to become a big movie star would be Thomas Hayden Church? An Oscar nom and now in SPIDERMAN 3. And meanwhile, my pick, Tim Daly just got shot on THE SOPRANOS.

Thomas (or Tommy as we called him back then. Now it might be Mr. Church but I'm guessing it's still Tommy) was the featured cast member in the first episode of WINGS I directed. Actually, it was the first episode of any show I directed. I've now done over 50 but you never forget your first. I've been in therapy ever since.

It was an episode in 1995 called “Portrait of a Con Artist as a Young Man” (written by Jeff Richman & Joyce Gittlin). The premise was that addled mechanic Lowell (Tommy) makes these large twisted pieces of metal that a museum director considers art. Comedy ensues (despite my efforts). Tommy is a gifted comedian but he never reads a line the same way twice. (Maybe for Sam Raimi but not me) Nor does he move the same way twice. Forget matching problems, I had no idea what the star of the show was going to say or do the entire week. Kind of hard to interject the patented “Levine Touch” when that’s the case.

The rest of the cast was nice (and by that I mean “tolerant”). I had been a consultant and writer on the show since the pilot so we knew each other very well. But there comes a point in the run of a series where the cast feels they’ve got their characters down, they no longer need to rehearse that long, and well…they want to go home. This usually happens around season four. (On one show I directed it happened episode four). We were in season six. The cast didn’t want to just go home, they left their engines running. So we’d do a scene once. They’d walk through it. I’d be ready to say let’s go again and they would say, “We got it, let’s move on”. I, the director, the floor general, the man in control of the stage, would be thinking “you have WHAT?” My first scene was in the airport terminal. Casey (Amy Yasbech) was celebrating her birthday. All of the other characters came in, one at a time, from different directions with presents. And they all gathered around a table where a birthday cake was perched. Nine characters, all stacked up, each with props, torn wrapping everywhere, delivering lines to each other in every possible combination. Time taken to rehearse that scene: a half an hour. “We got it. Let’s move on.” I had visions of adding little bits of comic business, working out any rough spots, fine tuning the pace so the script just crackled. No. By noon we had a runthrough. One of the cast members had to buy something at Adrays before going out to hit a bucket of balls so we had to move it along. Needless to say it was ragged. I didn’t win any points with the producers when cast members would come up to me and ask “I forget. Am I in this scene?”

The next two days were more of the same. But now the Oscar nominee got bored saying the same lines over and over (i.e. twice) so he started changing them…which is a nice way of saying KILLING them. My mantra became, “Please say the lines as written”.

Day four was camera blocking. First scene up, the party. Nine characters, ten pages. And you can plan your camera assignments in advance but if one assignment changes, let’s say Camera B can get a better single of Tim Daly than Camera C as you had envisioned, then the rest of your roadmap goes right out the window. That happened to me the second line of the show. Little wonder I was taking FOREVER to do this. The cast was getting antsy. The first AD kept pointing to his watch. Every crew member I spotted was rolling his eyes. The camera coordinator started giving me suggestions to speed up the process. Then the DP started giving me suggestions. But often they were opposing suggestions, thus confusing me more. The camera coordinator told the DP to butt out, it was none of his business. The DP took exception with that. They almost came to blows. Yeah, I really ruled that stage with an iron hand. I think it took ten hours to complete camera blocking.

Tomorrow: the hard part

Friday, May 18, 2007

20 questions

Some time ago FISHBOWL LA asked me these 20 questions. Thought I'd share them here today since my wife and I are off to Hawaii for a week and I didn't have time to write something new. Posts will continue while I'm in Hawaii but I'll probably be sloshed.

1. What newspapers do you read?

The LA TIMES, NY TIMES (on Sunday), CHICAGO TRIBUNE TV section, LA WEEKLY when I need a massage.

2. Which ones do you move your lips to while reading? NY POST

3. Which Web sites are on your favorites bookmark? Los Angeles Radio People, Defamer, Hoffmania, Richbroradio, Dirtywatah.

4. Where do you get your car washed?
Who actually knows the name of their car wash? It's on Sepulveda somewhere. They do an okay job and I can buy Steve Hall inspirational piano CD's and pine tree air fresheners in their gift shop.

5. Do you know your dentist's first name? No because he doesn't say his name in the credit dentist ad.

6. Do you believe newspapers are going to die? If so, when?
No. I believe their online offshoots will take on a greater importance but people want to hold a newspaper or line their bird cages.

7. What was the last book you read? Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart.

8. What's the last book you say you read?
Helen Reddy's autobiography. I want to impress people with how hip I am.

9. If you got a unicorn what would you name it? Hat rack. That question was even dumber than the car wash one.

10. What does your TiVo think about you? It's time to get over Natalie Wood already. (She's pictured above. Sigh.)

11. character of fiction you most resemble? Ignatius J. Reilly or Jack Ryan

12. Who plays you in your bio-pic? Sean Connery and then Daniel Craig in the remake.

13. Do you floss? Yes. Wouldn't you love to hear that question asked at a senate subcommittee hearing?

14. Did you ever believe your toys come alive when you leave the room? No. And I almost got a hernia blowing them up. Do you still? I hold out hope for Fifi.

15. How many old cell phones do you own? One. I'm still expecting a callback from my agent.

16. Best show legendary biz/movie star encounter. Natalie Wood

17. Do you get satellite radio? Yes. XM.

18. And as a follow do you "get" satellite radio?
No commercials, 170 music channels, major league baseball--what's not to get?

19. Do you read the Enquirer/InTouch/US/people? Only in supermarket lines.

20. Do you lie about it? Yes. I really don't read them but tell people I do.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why have a blog if you can't rant?

Okay, I’m shocked. AMERICAN IDOL got it wrong. Melinda Doolittle was voted off?! She will be headlining in Vegas long after Blake Lewis appears at Six Flags Magic Mountain at Spiliken Corners. Melinda now joins Jennifer, Elliott, Kimberley, and Tamyra as losers who are better singers than most of the winners. The producers can hype the show any way they want but don’t call it a singing competition anymore. It’s not. It’s a popularity contest. Period.

With Melinda out, the only real suspense next Tuesday night will be just how bad and treacly will that original new song be that both Jordin and Blake have to sing? Unless Jordin says “fuck!” on the air, she’s the next AMERICAN IDOL.

And I hope Melinda goes on to have a fabulous career and can even afford to buy a house on the street named after her.

Like Elliot, in a year she'll be back with new teeth, a new look, and a new CD.

Onward and sideward…

Steve McPherson, the President of ABC, said this about the new caveman comedy, “It will have the ability to offend everyone but offend no one.

HUH??? WHAT?? There is network speak at its finest.

Meanwhile, George Lopez has gone postal now that his low rated sitcom has been cancelled by ABC. I’d say the fact that the network kept it on as long as it did despite the woeful numbers, lack of any buzz, and the way he bombs at every awards show, Mr. Lopez should be naming his kids after ABC instead of blasting them. He claims his whole life was up there on the screen. If so, then get a funnier life.

Besides, George, ABC no longer needs you. They have BINGO premiering Friday.

After Sunday night’s shocking episode of THE SOPRANOS, it’s pretty clear, Tony, the therapy isn’t working.

When I do these rants new things sometimes occur and I add them. So you might want to check back if you're in front of the computer and bored out of your skull.

I finally figured out the common denominator in LOST. All of these castaways had severely fucked up parents. We will eventually learn the whole series was merely a bad dream Sigmund Freud had in a cut rate opium den.

Now that the Rev. Jerry Falwell has left the Mortal Majority who will fill his role as ignorant spokesperson for the religious right? Remember, this is the man who supported segregation, thinks all gays are deviants, and claims 9/11 was brought about by “the ACLU and the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians.” His successor might want to add Jews (although I think that’s what Falwell meant by the ACLU), the Hollywood crowd, democrats, college professors, bloggers, unions, the HuffingtonPost, Keith Olbermann, Apple computers, scientists, and AMERICAN IDOL. Applications are now being accepted.

Phil Spector, still claiming he never shot Lana Clarkson to death now claims she was eating the gun. (Oh, that old plea!) So he’s not guilty of murder. He’s guilty of being a really bad host and not offering snacks.

Last season CBS was touting OLD CHRISTINE as the hit of the season! Now they just renewed it for midseason, and ordered only 13. Welcome to the BECKER/KING OF QUEENS/YES DEAR graveyard.

SPRING AWAKENING will win Musical of the Year at this year’s Tonys. Yes, it will beat out MARY POPPINS even though both have the same story – youth engaging in taboo sex. I didn’t offer a spoiler alert since no one will watch the Tonys anyway.

NBC picked up the remake of BIONIC WOMAN, claiming it’s a dark psychological drama. Come on! It’s the Bionic Woman!!! Super powers. Running in slow motion. Another chance to do HEROES. Next season prepare to enter the dark, brooding, tortured world of INSPECTOR GADGET.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

AMERICAN IDOL this week

Down to the final three which means the obligatory hometown hero salutes. I thought they were a little muted this year. A few seasons ago the entire state of Florida showed up for Vonzell Solomon’s parade. Today she goes downtown and finds a Denver Boot on her car.

But at least all three this year did receive hometown salutes. Not like last season when poor Katharine McPhee from Sherman Oaks, California had to settle for a assembly in her high school gym. I think they gave her the key to the sports equipment locker. You just know the bell rang and everyone cleared out for lunch, knocking Katharine over to get to that macaroni and cheese at the cafeteria.

My big question of the week is how did they determine the order of who sang when? Seems that whoever gets the pimp spot (last) has the greatest advantage. My Idol history is hazy but it seems to me whoever sings first is dead. Last year Elliott and before that Kimberley Locke and Vonzell “$200 to get my car back?” Solomon. On the other hand, is it best to be first because the only phone number most idiots can remember is 01?

You figured Blake would be second, between the two women.

Remember: It’s okay to watch AMERICAN IDOL and obsess over your favorite as long as YOU DON’T VOTE. Once you pick up that phone you become one of the Pod People. All that’s left for you is killing.

Jordin sang first. Simon picked the one R&B song he knew, “Wishing on a Star” by Rose Royce. It’s a song that didn’t even chart the Hot 100. And then Simon complained that he missed the original arrangement. Jordin could have had bagpipes and zithers playing behind her and most viewers would have thought that WAS the original arrangement. Simon definitely wants Melinda to be in the finals, figures Blake is in regardless because of his fan base, so he subtly tried to submarine Jordin, both with a bad song selection and chickenshit reasons to criticize her.

Paula, on the other hand, was just so happy that her mood elevator took her to the top floor that she loved everyone this week and even thought that Haley gave her best performance.

Lucky Blake got two local salutes. One in his hometown of Bothell, Washington and another in Seattle. Hey, it’s not like these people get out to salute their World Champion Mariners every year.

I thought Blake’s version of “Roxanne” by the Police was mediocre at best. He hit four or five really flat notes. But he had the best finish all year – when he slammed the mic stand on the ground and the mic went flying. I was only hoping it would land on the judges’ table and Paula would scream, “AAAAA!! A SNAKE!!!”

Melinda was spectacular doing one of those Whitney Houston songs that sound like every other Whitney Houston song and has “I Believe” in the title.

Simon asked Ryan if he was drunk yet never asked Paula if she was on laughing gas.

For Jordin’s second song, “She Works Hard for the Money” she came out wearing “Come Vote For Me” pumps that made her look 6’5”. I thought she sang it great, but there was nothing flashy about the song. Submarine number two (this time by the producers). Maybe submarine number three if singing first proves to be the death slot.

Blake gave his best performance on Maroon 5’s, “This Love”. It’s as if Bobby Darin came back as a beatboxer.

Melinda was given the totally unremarkable “Nutbush City Limits” to sing next. If the producers wanted to give her a Tina Turner song there are like a thousand better ones they could have chosen. Even “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” or “I Can’t Believe What You Say (For Seeing What You Do)”.

Boy, those viewer questions were searing, weren’t they? “What’s your all-time favorite song?” Zzzzzzzzzzz. Miss America candidates have to tackle tougher issues. Of course I’m just mad that they didn’t use the question I sent in. “Jordin, if you weren’t allowed to use lethal injections, how do you think we should kill death row inmates?

Jordin and Melinda both chose to reprise songs they had already sung for their final numbers. This is usually where you hear “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the ninth time. Jordin did her British Invasion tune, “I, Who Have Nothing” and I, who still won’t vote, thought it was the performance of the night. Simon, of course, complained that it was an old song. He was fine, however, with Melinda singing the old Peggy Lee 1963 chestnut “I’m a Woman”. I was sure Paula was going to say, “Good song but you spelled woman wrong.” I did like that Melinda, a former backup singer, brought her backup singers on stage. Classy touch.

Blake, always the rebel, did not reprise one of past successes. He did “When I Get You Alone” and what he lacks in sheer vocal power he makes up for in showmanship. I’m telling you – Bobby Darin.

At this point it’s tough to pick who will get voted off. But it doesn’t matter. All three will get recording contracts. All three will launch careers. And for at least the next six months, all three will be able to park in loading zones in their hometowns without getting tickets.

And Kimberley Locke might get a second parade if she wins THE CELEBRITY FIT CLUB.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ruffled peacock feathers

Earlier this season NBC logged the least watched week in its history (which is really saying something considering they once had SUPERTRAIN and PINK LADY & JEFF on the same schedule). And the following week they did even worse. So it was somewhat surprising (although I should no longer be surprised by anything) that they just announced their fall schedule and renewed most everything.

MEDIUM, which finishes a distant third will be back. Dick Wolf managed to get all of his LAW & ORDERS back (although one of them, LAW & ORDER I.U.D. – one of those -- will air first on NBC owned USA). The one poorly rated renewal decision I agree with is FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS but that’s about giving a worthy show a chance to find an audience. I’m still mad at ABC for canceling MY SO CALLED LIFE. Meanwhile, ER limps along. (Oh, and they scheduled FNL in a death slot -- Fridays at 10. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS OUT.)

New programs include a reality show from producer (?) Randy Jackson about the fresh arena of dance competitions, and a song lyric competition that will rotate with game shows. Yes, you can breathe easy. Bob Saget will be back!

But what’s glaring about the new NBC schedule is that there are NO new comedies. None. Nada. One back-up. Whoopee!

This is clearly the path they have been taking the last few years and look at the result – their lowest weekly ratings EVER. How can comedies do much worse? (I mean, they had to have a couple of good pilots. right? Don'tcha think? Two or three? One that they recast with a caveman?)

They have renewed the comedies they have, ordered extra episodes of some (thus really taxing those creative staffs), and then dumping them all on Thursday night where they know they'll get killed by the competition. Not a rousing show of support. More like program fodder. And those are good comedies. They deserve better.

There was a great article Monday in the New York Times proclaiming that comedy is what could SAVE the networks. A good sitcom gets big numbers, and in success has a much bigger payday than any other genre.

In time, some new sitcom will connect. The other networks will immediately order comedy clones. Network execs will say in interviews that “America has told us they like to laugh” (as if it’s a shocking revelation. Who knew???) , and the pendulum will start to swing the other way.

In the meantime, NBC, good luck turning to Randy Jackson as your savior.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day leftovers...

Picture of the week: Dodger pitcher, Brad Penny… REALLY airing it out. (Thanks to my son, Matt for the pix.)Quote of the week: From Friday’s LA TIMES. A group of 13 and 14 year olds were asked to view trailers and comment on the upcoming crop of summer movies. One girl had this comment:

“It’s interesting that it doesn’t matter so much anymore who’s in the movie. When I was younger, I’d go just because Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff was in it. But I’ve learned you can have great actors but it can still be a terrible film.”

Fortunately, you can still count on Katie Holmes.

Quote number two (courtesy of Defamer.com): Cameron Diaz on the TODAY SHOW discussing the public’s interest in celebrities”

"If a woman who's a successful actress weighs 300 pounds and has warts, nobody ever asks her, 'Do you think you made it because you're ugly?' So why should there be prejudice against someone who's had some success in films and looks a little better than average."

Maybe because being beautiful doesn't prevent you from being clueless.

I hope you did something nice for your mother or mother of your kids this weekend. I did. I picked my wife up at the airport. Hey, we’re talking LAX.

Congratulations to my daughter, Annie who got a summer internship at a movie production company (and no, I had nothing to do with it). She’ll be working at Paramount. So for me, after 19 years of being based at Paramount, if I want to get on the lot I’ll have to call my daughter for a drive-on.

Kudos to NBC for renewing FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

I see that NBC picked up LIPSTICK JUNGLE while ABC picked up CASHMERE MAFIA. If you like one you should like the other since they’re the exact same show. Too bad they’re not scheduled up against each other. You could watch half of one and turn over to the other for the conclusion of the story.

The Geico CAVEMAN sitcom looks like it's getting picked up.

I can easily see why. It probably tested through the roof. All the people in those focus groups said, "Finally! A character we can relate to. Finally! Someone on TV just like us."

When so few sitcoms get ordered and that one does, you really have to wonder if there's no place to go now but up.

Can the "Can you hear me?" guy be next to get his own show? "On a very special episode, the Can you hear me guy walks through the Arlington National Cemetary."

Thanks to everyone for your all-too charitable comments on my KRTH stint. That station is an LA institution and it was a treat to be on it. During my checkered disc jockey career I always worked at the “other” station. There was the town’s big number one and the distant challenger. I was always on the challenger. Inevitably, they would throw in the towel, change formats, and their first official act would be to fire me – sometimes a year or two before changing formats but still.

To answer some of your questions. No, this will not be a permanent shift. I find I'm much better accepted when I do radio in small doses. And I decided to drop the name Beaver Cleaver because I turned 50. Radio names like Beaver Cleaver, Bwana Johnny, Banana Joe, Weird Beard, Motormouth, the Greaseman, and Bubba the Love Sponge must be retired when you try to get your first loan.

Whatever happened to Neve Campbell? When the search party for sitcoms comes back we’ll have to send them out on that one too.