Friday, June 29, 2007


We filmed the first eight episodes of CHEERS before the series aired. So studio audiences were unfamiliar with the characters. As a result, when we did "Normisms" they just died horrible silent deaths. Week after week. No one understood it was a running bit. We kept writing them though, staunchly believing when the series finally aired it would catch on.

And it did. We were so proud of ourselves... until we had to write new ones for the next 200 plus shows.

Here's a montage of "Normisms" from season one.

Joel Siegel 1943-2007

Joel Siegel was my first writing partner. As I detailed in this blog, we were in the same Army Reserve unit together in the early 70s and wrote the libretto for an insane army retention musical. Even in those days, when facial hair was not allowed, Joel insisted on keeping his moustache. Once a year we had to fire weapons and he refused on principle. Joel Siegel was the real Hawkeye Pierce.

At the time, Joel was writing pieces for the LA TIMES Sunday magazine and doing commentaries on alternative rock station KMET. Somehow from that he got an on air job at WCBS in New York reviewing movies and theater. The job actually came through while we were in army summer camp together at Ft. Carson, Colorado. I remember saying when he announced it, “How???” and he replied, “I don’t know. Looks?”

But it was clear how – talent. In great abundance. Joel had a gift for writing, an infectious enthusiasm, and a wonderful presence on camera. You just liked and believed him.

And he was just being himself.

I would sometimes get together with Joel when I was in New York. And give him shit for hosting red carpet shows. For years I eagerly awaited his goofy Christmas cards. An example would be a picture of Joel and George Foreman with the caption “From our family to yours”.

Joel was the only movie reviewer infinitely more talented than the artists he reviewed. And if I had to sum up the life of Joel Siegel I would say “Masterpiece. Four stars. The perfect blend of humor and insight. I wanted it to go on forever.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hey Paula!!

What happened to Paula Abdul? My partner and I once wrote a sketch for THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW that she choreographed. She was great. A few years later I sat next to her at a Bar Mitzvah reception. She was friendly and chatty and at no time did I think “Hey, this woman is nuts!”

But then something happened. Was it gradual over time or did she just snap like Reverend Jim? Somehow, some way (Drugs? Alcohol? Fame? Sleep deprivation? Sniffing perfume? Sexually abused by the cartoon cat?) Paula Abdul became daft. The Paula I knew never would have said she was tired “of people not treating me like the gift that I am.”

Say what????

In a futile attempt to show America that she’s just a normal everyday person like you or me she’s starring in her own alternate-reality show, HEY PAULA (Thursday nights on BRAVO). The point is for us to see her in a new light, to empathize with her plight, to understand that it’s hard to be a rich famous pampered celebrity with no real skills, surrounded by toadies and bootlickers.

Just like every other grounded person, Paula has her best friends. Her stylist, her publicist, her other stylist, and her four little dogs. During the course of the show we see her screaming at “her best friends”.

In episode one, we watch Paula need four hours and a staff of thousands to get her ready for the Grammys. She claims “tonight is crucial” because (and this alone is cause for institutionalization) she actually cares what Joan Rivers thinks.

I now wonder, how many hours did she spend getting ready for that Bar Mitzvah just to sit next to me?

I’m sure another reason for this series is to dispel the rumors that Paula has an alcohol problem and an eating disorder. So who were the sponsors? Bicardi (drink responsibly), NutriSystem, and a doctor offering gastric surgeries.

After the Grammys Paula had to take the redeye to Philadelphia to hock her jewelry on QVC. Paula is also a businesswoman. Besides the bling, she has her own line of perfume, and is a fashion designer. I’m sure these manufacturers came after the “Global Superstar” because of her artistic genius not just to capitalize on her name.

In a further display of how Paula’s life mirrors every average American, she had meltdowns because her assistant didn’t pack sweat pants for her to travel in, and handed her the black tennis shoes instead of the white ones. Your stomach churns because you yourself know what an absolute nightmare that is.

In episode two, Paula was in New York getting an award for something. She didn’t appear too sure she knew what it was for either. Her publicist (one of her best friends… now fired, by the way) hands her the speech, she reads it over but has trouble pronouncing one of the words. That word is “honored”. Guess you can’t add scholar to her list of many "gifts".

We see her in a Starbucks in the middle of the night. Again, just like you or me, she has no idea how to order and only realizes after she’s handed the coffee that she has to pay for it. Who among us doesn’t walk out of the house without a single penny in our pocket?

How many bracelets do you have to sell on QVC to afford a Latte Grande?

We learn that it was sleep deprivation not thirty tequilla shooters that caused Paula to be so loopy last January when she did those morning Fox affiliate interviews to promote AMERICAN IDOL. Next week is the fallout. In the previews we see Paula screaming at her PR people. Yeah, like it was THEIR fault. I hope she didn’t punish the little dogs.

Jerry Lewis once had a short-lived talk show and this was his nightly sign-off: “The greatest thing I could wish for you is that you have show business people as your friends.” Maybe, if you’re really lucky, that could include Paula Abdul. Although, after this show, you won’t think of her as a show business person. You’ll just think of her as the gal next door… who lives in Norma Desmond’s house.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to REALLY knock off the Bellagio

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN is doing well at the boxoffice. Audiences love glitzy caper movies even if the capers are completely ridiculous. A couple of years ago my writing partner David and I wrote a pilot for Fox called ODDS about an all-night diner just off the Vegas strip that catered exclusively to the locals. One of our running bits was that they were always cooking up schemes to knock off the Bellagio themselves. Here’s an example. And no, the pilot didn’t get made, and yes, it should have. You're welcome to try any of these capers. Let me know how it went.


Y’know, I was on stage tonight and it hit me how we could knock over the Bellagio. We break into the surveillance system, then send subliminal messages to the guards. We hypnotize them. And here’s the genius of it – the GUARDS then take out the money. We wait at the side entrance in a Brinks truck and then off we go.

So you need an electronics expert to break into the system, a Brinks truck and a hypnotist?

There’s one at the Stardust who’s great. He can get people down to their underwear.

What about when they’re not drunk?

Oooh, problem.

Come on, you gotta get real. Here’s what we do: We get an impersonator to pose as a rich Arab Sheik. He lands in a helicopter on the roof of the hotel. They put him up in the Presidential suite. We have somebody go through the ventilation system with sleeping gas, knock everybody out. Then we bring the money up and hide it in the room. While everybody’s running around town looking for it, we just check out, carry it into the helicopter and away we go.

Where we gonna get a helicopter?

Maybe we can just talk a pilot into doing us a favor.

Or…you hypnotize him.


Every night I listen to these nitwit schemes. As if getting all that money would actually make you happy.

You’ve taken a few blows to the head, haven’t you, Rosie?

I’m just saying, there are more meaningful ways of finding satisfaction and happiness in this world.

Let me guess. Jesus?

Yes, “minister”. Jesus.

(indignant) Hey, don’t use that tone. I’m licensed.

You need to believe in something that’s bigger and more powerful than you that will show you the path to the true meaning of life.

You say “Jesus”. I say “The Bellagio”.

Seth Rogen -- today's Cary Grant (well, sort of)

It all started with Steve Martin – the doofas who thought he was really cool. Will Ferrell has since made a career out of that persona (what’s his next venue, the world of cockfighting?). Steve Carell plays this clueless guy to perfection on THE OFFICE. Ben Stiller has also found comic gold in the character. So has Jay from Silent Bob &. The character has even crossed over into real life with George Bush.

I’m always intrigued by what's the latest trend in male comic leads. The gold standard is still Cary Grant but no one has come along who can fill those funny boots. In the 60’s there were the Grant knock-offs. George Segal leading the parade, James Garner right behind.

In the late 70’s Woody Allen’s neurotic Jewish nerd was popular for a minute and a half. The rest of us neurotic Jewish nerds were hoping it would last at least until our second dates. No such luck.

Then Robin Williams with his brilliant ability to take everyone else’s material and make it his own. He was the flavor (flavors?) of the month.

After Robin there was just a hodgepodge of different styles. Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Martin Lawrence, Rob Schnieder (dear God why?), Hugh Grant (at least he shares a name with Cary), Adam Sandler, the cast of FRIENDS, and a few others chased that comedy spotlight. Even Robert De Niro tried (his Fearless Leader in ROCKY & BULLWINKLE was grounds for giving back his Oscar).

Today we have a new comic persona topping the charts – the sloth. The slacker with more body hair than charm. Seth Rogen. As unlikely a leading man as you’ll ever find. No ambition. No money. No style. No looks. But you know what? He makes me laugh. I loved him in KNOCKED UP. Loved that he got the girl. Loved that he wasn’t a doofas who thought he was cool. It was refreshing to see a “regular guy” who was comfortable with who he is…even if who he is is, well…Seth Rogen.

For my money screen comedy is going in the right direction when Seth Rogen is the romantic lead and Paul Rudd is just the boring sidekick. How long will this trend last? I dunno, but if you’re one of those guys – judging by how long the Woody Allen window lasted – get your ass to the club TONIGHT.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Save me from Summer blockbusters

Okay, that’s it! Uncle! I give up. I’ve seen my last summer blockbuster for the season. Yawned at my last dazzling special effect. Given up trying to figure out what each superhero’s deal was (she can fly and he can turn water into jello? I’m so confused.) Slept through my last hundred million dollar big screen comic book.

SPIDERMAN 3 was bad enough but I made the mistake of sitting through FANTASTIC 4: THE SILVER SURFER. Now I hadn’t seen the first FANTASTIC 4 (opting for the more sophisticated ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL instead) so I had no idea how seriously stupid this franchise was. I figured -- Jessica Alba in spandex for 90 minutes, how bad could it be?

This bad: I was rooting for the destruction of the planet.

So the FANTASTIC 4 is a team of superheroes. Aren’t the X-MEN and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA the same thing? And what about HEROES? Or when Casper and Wendy the good little witch paired up? Hollywood originality in action again.

Jessica Alba’s power is that she can create force fields (big deal. Elisabeth Hasselbeck can do that just by opening her mouth.) and can become invisible. That’s really bright. Take the most beautiful girl on the planet and hide her.

She’s engaged to an ubernerd scientist, which seemed utterly absurd until I saw what his superpower was. Hey, if I could stretch my limb five feet I could get Jessica Alba too.

Michael Chiklis is Rock Man or Bad Acme Man, I dunno what. The kid from MASK with a tan the color of Robert Evan’s skin. And they’ve got him talking like Mongo in BLAZING SADDLES. “Me want to wallop him!” This is how he parlays his Emmy for THE SHIELD?

Finally there’s hunkalicious, Chris Evans who can fly when he says “Torch on!” Same as with Jessica, you hire this piece of eye candy and half the movie he’s just an exhaust flume.

To insure that the audience knew who the villain was, they hired Julian McMahon (the villain in everything he’s ever done) dyed his hair even blacker than it is, gave him arched eyebrows, had him screw his face into a permanent sneer, and gave him the subtle name Victor Von Doom. All that was missing was a “Cheney for President” button.

As for the Silver Surfer, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen his whole act. His mission is to fly around wreaking havoc and it’s only at the end we learn he’s really John from Cincinnati.

Andre Braugher was also featured. You could almost see his price tag taped to his forehead.

Screenwriters bust their asses to create interesting characters, explore the human condition, make their audiences feel something. And most of their efforts remain unproduced or unsold while dreck like FANTASTIC 4 gets made. And I imagine FANTASTIC 4 MEETS THE LAWNMOWER MAN is already greenlit.

So that’s it for me. No more idiotic stories. No more infantile dialogue. No more cartoons. No more toys. TRANSFORMERS? Not a chance. DIE HARD? Not a cartoon per se but that's because Bruce Willis can no longer fit into a body suit. Pass.

I used to enjoy comic book movies. SUPERMAN, BATMAN, even the first X-MEN. But like every other successful genre, Hollywood has run it into the ground.

They can't kill Superman but they can kill the Golden Goose.

For the rest of the summer I’ll just sit home, download Jessica Alba photos from the internet and catch up on THE WIRE.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The classic CHEERS "Hot Rod Lincoln" bit

One night in a sports bar in Syracuse, New York, I saw the greatest thing. Gary Cohen (now the TV voice of the NY Mets) and Dan Hoard (the voice of University of Cincinnati football and basketball) started reciting the lyrics of 70’s chart topper “Hot Rod Lincoln” real fast, in perfect unison (lyrics provided below). The entire song in less than a minute. When they finished the bar exploded in applause. I thought, this would be a great bit for Norm & Cliff on CHEERS. I laid it out for my partner, David who also thought it might be kind of novel.

So we pitched it the CHEERS producers a few months later when we were about to write a script. They looked at us like we were nuts. I said, “Trust me. This will work. This will become one of those classic CHEERS teasers.”

The producers shrugged, and I guess out of respect to our then-prestigious career said, okay, try it.

When they saw the finished draft they still had reservations. It seemed kind of stupid and pointless but so convinced was I that we had struck comedy gold that I made this offer: David and I would perform it at the table reading. We would show all these skeptics. Again, they said go for it.

Everyone assembled for the table reading. The cast, writing staff, some crew members, the studio, and the network. We took our cue and launched into “Hot Rod Lincoln”. And we were great. Having practiced diligently for a week we kicked some serious ass. Truly awesome! And when we were done….

Nothing. Nada. Dead silence. A vacuum. You could hear crickets from a field a mile away.

Just fifty faces staring at us with a mixture of bewilderment and sheer pity.

The embarrassment of that table reading was of course, just the beginning. Back in the writing room, David Lloyd got it started by saying, “So the ‘Hot Rod Lincoln bit – that worked.” Others said they were still not convinced, would we do it again for them? Next week could we perform “Stairway to Heaven”? These jokes continued…for four years. I’m hoping to out live them all because if not I just know they’ll reprise it at my funeral.

Note to young writers: NEVER guarantee a bit will be a classic. And second note to young writers: NEVER EVER make it worse by trying to prove it.

Here are the lyrics (written by Charlie Ryan). It was funny when Gary and Dan did it. REALLY.

My pappy said, 'Son, you're gonna drive me t' drinkin' ...
If you don't quit drivin' that - Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!'

Well, you've heard the story of the hot rod race,
When the Ford and the Mercury were settin' the pace.
That story's true I'm here to say,
Cause I was a'drivin' that Model A.

It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up;
That Model A body makes it look like a pup.
It's got 12 cylinders and uses them all;
And an overdrive that just won't stall.

It's got a 4-barrel carb and dual exhausts,
4:11 gears that really get lost -
Safety tubes and I'm not scared,
The brakes are good and the tires are fair.

We left San Pedro late one night;
The moon and the stars were shinin' bright.
We were drivin' up Grapevine Hill,
Passin' cars like they were standin' still.

Then, all of a sudden, in the wink of an eye,
a Cadillac sedan passed us by.
The remark was made, "That's the car for me."
But, by then, the taillights wuz all you could see.

Well, the fellers ribbed me for bein' behind,
So I started to make that Lincoln unwind.
Took my foot off the gas and, man alive,
I shoved it down into overdrive.

Well, I wound it up to 110;
Twisted the speedometer cable right off the end.
Had my foot glued right to the floor;
I said, "That's all there is - there ain't no more."

Now the fellas thought I'd lost all sense;
The telephone poles looked like a picket fence.
They said, "Slow down, I see spots."
The lines on the road just looked like dots.

Went around a corner and passed a truck;
I crossed my fingers just for luck -
The fenders clickin' the guard rail post;
The guy beside me was white as a ghost.

Smoke was rollin' outta the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac
I knew I could catch him and hoped I could pass
But when I did I'd be short on gas.

There were flames comin' from out of the side;
You could feel the tension; man, what a ride.
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly"
And the Cadillac pulled over and let me by.

All of a sudden a rod started knockin';
Down in the depths she started a rockin'.
I looked in the mirror and a red light was blinkin';
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln.

Well they arrested me and put me in jail.
I called my pop to make my bail.
He said, "Son, you're gonna drive me t' drinkin',
If you don't quit drivin' that - Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I miss TV Theme Songs!

There is an meme going around asking us bloggermeisters to list our favorite TV theme songs. And that got me thinking – I MISS TV THEME SONGS.

Networks today, so deathly afraid of tune out, have all but eliminated theme songs and opening credits. They go by so fast you can’t tell the difference between opening titles and vanity production cards. And I think it does a disservice to the shows and the viewers. A good opening title sequence can really set the tone for the show. CHEERS wasn’t just a bar, it was the place where everyone knows your name. If it premiered today you’d see the logo, an animated glass of beer being filled, and ten seconds of “Sweet Caroline”.

It would be a little hard to sell that the Monkees were this goofy playful rock band if the extent of their theme was “Hey hey, we’re the Monkees!” America would be saying “Hey hey, so what?”

Networks complain that sitcoms are all the same then take away their signature feature.

And here’s what they don’t understand -- a good theme and opening title sequence ATTRACTS viewers. Some people tune in specifically because they LIKE the title sequence. That was me with the Drew Carey “Cleveland Rocks” opening. If only the show was that good.

An added benefit in this day of synergy and cross promotion is that they can become hit records on their own. (HAWAII 5-0, WELCOME BACK KOTTER, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE) Think of all the free three minute plugs your show will get when KIIS-FM is playing the shit out of your theme. (I’m not being local here. Every city in America, Canada, Australia, and Yemen has a KIIS-FM).

These themes can become part of pop culture. I bet more Americans know the words to GILLIGAN’S ISLAND than the Star Spangled Banner. Hell, more people can sing the lyrics to CHARLES IN CHARGE. These ditties are burned into our brains. When we’re 90 and can’t remember if we put our pants on we’ll still be able to sing the MASH theme and the JEFFERSONS.

And ultimately here’s what we’re talking about – twenty more seconds. That’s all. Twenty more seconds. Maybe thirty. God forbid thirty-five. The same amount of time it takes to run a promo for PIRATE MASTER. What would YOU rather watch?


Okay, so in no particular order – my ten favorite TV themes.








One final thought, if you have opening titles then maybe the credits won’t extend so far into the show. Considering how large some of these casts and staffs are it’s not inconceivable that someday on a comedy credits will roll all the way through the tag.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mr. Special Effects

Once again it's time for a memo from Mr. Special Effects.

Now more than ever, showrunners are implored to KEEP THE BUDGET DOWN! Like that's
ever been easy in Hollywood. This town is notorious for huge mark ups, studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost. Here is an example, in the form of a memo.

And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.


Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojack.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.

Frank Terry 1938-2007

As any musician knows, the difference between a good song and a great song is the drummer. Usually in the background, often times pounding away in relative obscurity, it’s the drummer who provides the backbone to the song, as well as its vitality and spark. Frank Terry was the Ringo Starr, Hal Blaine, and Gene Krupa of Boss Radio 93/KHJ. Originally a drummer himself, Frank Terry, more than any other Bossjock (even Morgan & Steele) set the template for the Boss Radio format and was its most consistent performer. He was the guy who broke in the other Bossjocks. He was the guy who worked every shift, often going months at a time without a day off. The beat had to go on and he was the drummer.

There was no more versatile performer in radio. The two biggest rock stations in America in the mid 60’s could not have sounded more different. KHJ Los Angeles was ultra streamlined, WABC New York was all bells and whistles (chimes actually) – organized chaos. Only one disc jockey ever worked both formats. Frank Terry at KHJ and later at WABC’s sister station and clone in San Francisco, KSFX. You just gave him the charts and he could play.

Later Frank moved into country radio at KNEW and KSAN in the Bay Area. He could bang on washboards as well as snares.

Wherever he went, two things were certain. He made every station he ever worked for sound the very best they ever did, and he dented every console, cart machine, and music stand in the studio with his drum sticks.

Radio has lost a giant. Terrence Franklin Crilly. Better known as Frank Terry. For those of us who knew and loved him, he will always remain in our heart… beating and beating and beating.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What to see and do in LA

It’s a slow day in LA. Paris is in jail and Lindsay is in rehab. I know this is the time of the year when people start planning their vacations and if Los Angeles is among your destinations, here are a few things to see and do.

Walk along Sunset Blvd at night close to the curb. You never know which star is going to hit you with their car. You might get Halle Berry’s autograph and insurance information.

If you want to see celebrities go to Vicente market in Brentwood. Okay, it may be Dom DeLouise but it’s a name.

Go to Phillippe’s French Dip sandwich place downtown. Great atmosphere. You might be standing in line with the mayor, a homeless guy, and a rock star. Not sure if they do it anymore but Phillippe’s used to be the weekly hangout for former circus clowns. The Nate N’ Al’s for bozos.

Have a Pinkberry yogurt. It’s all the rage. I have no idea why. You’d think there was cocaine in it.

Visit the Grove. This is Disneyland without rides. An outdoor shopping mall that looks like Main Street USA. LA’s version of an urban neighborhood – Cute by half facades and an Apple Store.

Bobs Big Boy in Toluca Lake takes you back to the fabulous 50’s, when there was car service, double-deck hamburgers, thick milk shakes in silver goblets, and the greasers from high school who beat you up are there to terrorize you again.

Drive the Wilshire incline down to Pacific Coast Highway because starting in October it will be closed for renovation… probably for twenty years.

See a ballgame at Dodger Stadium. Bring a transistor radio to listen to Vin Scully for the first three innings. Then bring a portable TV to listen to Scully call the rest of the game.

Ride the Metro. LA has a great subway system. But don’t ask an Angelino for directions to a station. No resident of the city has ever heard of the Metro.

For you culture vultures, there’s the Getty Museum and the Fredericks of Hollywood Museum of Bras.

Go to Mann’s Chinese Theater and see if your feet fit into the footprints of big stars like Marilyn Monroe or Trigger.

While in Hollywood, fall by Amoeba records. It’s the largest, greatest, most comprehensive record store you’ll ever see. And the staff of scary, tattooed, pierced, spiked hair freaks with chains dangling from every orifice are all courteous and knowledgeable.

And then there’s Chinatown, Jake. Of course there’s Chinatown in every town.

For souvenirs and gifts for those folks back home, swing by Melrose Ave. and check out the fine selection at Condom-nation.

Sight-seers, there’s always the La Brea Tar Pits. Big black pools surrounded by chain linked fences. It’s amazing to think that way back millions of years in prehistoric days dinosaurs fell into those pits and constructed those fences.

Get a Map of the Stars Homes. Who knows? You might get lucky and see Ronald Coleman coming out to get the paper, or Lucille Ball throwing out Desi.

Unfortunately, LA’s top tourist attraction, the Lever Brothers Soap Factory has closed. The tour of the lye vats was not to be missed.

And there's only one Sir George's Smorgasbord left. Best salisbury steak in all of Arcadia.

Don’t forget the Griffith Park Observatory where they filmed classic scenes from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. True story: the observatory was named for wealthy tycoon Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land. In perfect Hollywood Babylon fashion, he once served jail time for getting drunk one night and shooting his wife, convinced she was conspiring with the pope to murder him.

Which reminds me, see Phil Spector’s house too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Life changing inventions

USA TODAY recently came out with their top 25 “Life Changing” gadgets, services, and inventions since 1982. Here is their list in their order of importance.

1. Cellphones
2. Laptops
3. Blackberrys
4. Debit cards
5. Caller ID
6. DVDs
7. Lithium rechargeable batteries
8. IPods
9. Pay at the pump
10. Lettuce in a bag
11. Digital cameras
12. Doppler radar
13. Flat-panel TV’s
14. Electronic tolls
15. PowerPoint
16. Microwave popcorn
17. High tech footwear
18. Online stock trading
19. Big Bertha golf clubs
20. Disposable contact lenses
21. StairMaster
22. Tivo
23. Purell
24. Home satellite TV
25. Karaoke

Now this list and the order of importance is insane. How could Lettuce in a bag POSSIBLY finish behind laptops?? And yes, Tivo has revolutionized the way we watch television, changing the structure of network television which has a rippling effect on the entire entertainment industry but hey, Microwave popcorn can be prepared in minutes!

Personally, I’d move Caller ID way up, especially now that my relatives have my phone number. I’d move BlackBerrys down. They make life easy for agents, not the general population. Online stock trading usually results in users going bankrupt so I’d move that below Home satellite TV, which offers porno to the most rural parts of this great nation.

StairMasters are evil. High tech footwear is ingenious in that manufacturers found a way to sell the same Keds for hundreds of dollars more. Pay at the pump allows oil companies to operate with fewer personnel thus more profit for them and more unemployment for us (although it is kinda fun to see a coiffed Beverly Hills princess having to pump her own gas into the family Hummer).

How could YouTube be left off the list? Or those armrests with holes in them for your drinks in movie theaters? GoogleMaps? That first-down yellow stripe on televised football games? The Clapper? Jolt Cola? Viagra? GPS systems? DNA testing? The Lego toilet paper folder? E-Mail? The high-tensile external window shade for Godsakes? MRI’s? Portrait enhancement modes in photo shop computer programs? The anti-spill water bowl for dogs? HyperSonic Sound? And I’m sure you have a few more.

Oh, and don’t forget blogs…or, as I like to call them, “Bullshit in a Bag”.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The INSIDE story on "Chuckles Bites the Dust"

Seeing the great reaction to the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" scene I posted a few days ago I decided to contact Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and ask him for the inside story on that classic episode. Allan was kind enough to offer this:


The hard part was not in the writing. After a relatively short story meeting with Jim (Brooks), Ed. (Weinberger),Stan(Daniels) and me David (Lloyd) went off and wrote it. Just nailed it. One of us had read about some poor schlump who had died when he tried to put a large-size stewed tomato can over his head. Don't know what would have possessed him, but apparently his fellow workers found it a hilarious way to die and there was considerable merriment at the funeral. So, could we pass that one up? The script we shot was pretty much what David gave us in his first draft. problems, right? Wrong. The problem was that Mary couldn't stop laughing through all those scenes where Murray and Lou were making peanut jokes. We went down for the first run-through and Mary pulled us aside and said, "I can't do this." We thought, like Jay, she thought it was tasteless, but she said she simply couln't get through all those scenes with a straight face. And if she sputtered the slightest bit, or even hinted at a smile, it would ruin the whole build up to the funeral. But we assured her that, being the trouper that she was, her actor's instincts would kick in and she'd get through it. Well, that was Wednesday, and for the next two days whenever she'd look at Gavin and Ed she'd blow. It was like Tim Conday and Harvey Korman and it continued right up to -- and through -- the last rehearsal before the show. By that time we were more than a little worried. Show time. Fingers crossed. And every time we got to one of those jokes, Mary sucked it up and stayed serious. Nobody dared talk to her, or even looked at her, like a pitcher with a perfect game going. I can't remember going into a final scene more nervous, but what you see is what we got. She was perfection. I think it got her the Emmy. Or didn't it?


Thanks so much, Allan. Here's that famous scene.


Back in the 70’s and 80’s when we had “Failure Theatre” networks would air their unsold pilots. Here are just a few. Some are included because they’re particularly wacky, others are intriguing, and a few sound downright great.

A DOG’S LIFE – People dressed as dogs. Starring Barney Martin (SEINFELD) and Charles Martin Smith (AMERICAN GRAFFITI). No actors were injured in the making of this pilot.

DUFFY – A dog with human qualities. Dogs were in back then. I guess penguins are the new dogs.

DINER – Barry Levinson who wrote and directed the movie, wrote and directed the pilot as well. With Paul Reiser and James Spader (BOSTON LEGAL).

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT – MR. ED with very wide master shots. Starring Todd Sussman who, during that period, starred in fifteen or twenty failed pilots. Ethel’s career never recovered from this project.

THE FESS PARKER SHOW – The man who played Davy Crockett starred in a comedy.

– You loved them in the Beach Party movies and wondered how long could they remain a couple before they finally had sex? According to this pilot, twelve years and counting.

FRAUD SQUAD – from Jack Webb productions. Frank Sinatra Jr. as the head of the LAPD Fraud Squad. Not intended to be a comedy but ohhh mannn…

FROM CLEVELAND – Featuring Bob & Ray and the brilliant cast of SCTV.

GHOST OF A CHANCE – Shelley Long, pre-CHEERS, as a zany ghost.

GOOBER & THE TRUCKERS’ PARADISE – The title alone should have warranted a pick-up. This is a spin-off of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and marks the very first appearance of Gomer Pyle.

GOOD PENNY – Billed as a comedy about an emotionally disturbed woman (that must’ve been a helluva pitch). Well cast with Rene Taylor in the starring role.

GREAT DAY – another premise chock full of comedic possibilities. Skid row derelicts in Los Angeles. Featured Al Molinaro (HAPPY DAYS) and as “Jabbo “– Spo-De-Odee.

HARRY’S BATTLES – Dick Van Dyke and Connie Stevens did not have the magic of Dick and Mary Tyler Moore, or even Dick and Hope Lange.

HIGH SCHOOL USA – After his “Garden Party-take-me-seriously-as-an-artist” period Rick Nelson starred as the principal in a series that featured a ton of 50’s and 60’s family sitcom cast members including Harriet Nelson, Jerry Mathers, Ken Osmond, Paul Peterson, Dick York, and Barbara Billingsley. Also Crystal Bernard (WINGS) who must’ve been 9 then.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING – Adaptation of the Broadway smash. Written by Abe Burrows. NOT directed by James Burrows.

HUMAN FEELINGS – Billy Crystal playing an angel.

IF I LOVED YOU AM I TRAPPED FOREVER? Not only is that a great title, it was written by Larry Gelbart (MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD). This is one I’d really like to see.

KANGAROO IN THE KITCHEN – A Greenwich Village apartment overrun with animals. To me the real show would have been the poor people in the apartment directly below.

LOVEBIRDS – Eugene Levy in a sitcom.

ME & MRS. C. – Another comic goldmine premise: A widow living on Social Security. Starred Doris Roberts (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

MR. & MRS. DRACULA – After 618 years of marriage they move to America. Bats out of water. Written by Robert Klane (WHERE’S PAPA, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) so it was probably damn funny.

NEWMAN’S DRUGSTORE – A Brooklyn diner during the Depression. God, I’d love to go in to Fox and pitch that today.

OFF CAMPUS – Coed rooming house starring Marilu Henner (TAXI) written by Marshall Brickman (ANNIE HALL, JERSEY BOYS). This is one of about seventy college dorm/sorority/coed rooming house pilots done during that era. Another one featured Michelle Pheiffer.

SITCOM – A spoof of the genre, following the Gooseberry family. Created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). I read this script. HILARIOUS! And while we’re on the subject of Tom & Jay…

THE CHOPPED LIVER BROTHERS – Patchett & Tarses wrote and starred as two struggling stand-up comics. Add 50 years to them and you have…

THE SUNSHINE BOYS – Neil Simon wrote the pilot from his play, this time starring Red Buttons and Lionel Stander. I wonder if the network gave him notes.

I’m sorry but I would rather see any of these over the schlock reality shows that are being jammed down our gullets this summer. Bring back “Failure Theatre”!

COMING UP TOMORROW: Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW shares his rememberances of the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Welcome to all the new visitors. I somehow seem to be the Blogspot pick site of the day. This is an entertainment/humor oriented blog with little or no social relevance. Check out the archives. Among popular favorite posts are If the Sopranos were on a real network and porn star karaoke.

I miss “Failure Theatre”.

Years ago, to recoup the money laid out for pilots, networks would air them during the summer. They gave the feature a fancy name like “Summer Showcase” but we all called it “Failure Theatre”. And it was fascinating. Sometimes you’d question why a certain show didn’t get on the schedule. And other times you’d wonder what they were smoking when they made this stinkburger. But it gave the audience an insight into the process. You could judge for yourself whether a show was worthy or not. And I suppose that’s exactly why the networks no longer air their rejected laundry.

The first pilot my partner and I ever wrote that got produced was called THE BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY for NBC. It was billed as SNL meets THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. A behind-the-scenes look at a local Saturday Night Live type show. Sound familiar? In our version the performers were also the actors. We just wrote it but didn’t produce it or have any say in…well, in anything. We had a part for a grizzled old Jewish Catskills comic. We pictured Jack Carter or Jack E. Leonard. They selected Pat McCormick. And he was the least mis-cast actor in the pilot. Ohmygod, what a mess! It aired on July 28,1977. In no show we’ve ever working on – before or since – was our names on the screen longer. We were yelling at the television, “TAKE IT OFF ALREADY!! PLEASE!!” But it aired. And with only three networks, even in the summer, it got a higher rating than an original episode of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES gets today.

Our next failed pilot was called CHARACTERS, also for NBC. The premise here was a Nicols & May type comedy team and the improv group they worked with (a la Second City). It was HARRY MET SALLY before HARRY MET SALLY. Can a man and woman work together as friends without having a sexual relationship? This time we produced it. Casting was a problem but not the big one. In this case, it was the crew. We made the pilot for 20th Century Fox and they had never done a multi-camera show before. It was like re-inventing the wheel. There’s one master shot that’s framed so badly that you can actually see the grip sitting on the catwalk above the stage, taking a smoke break. It was one of the first shows to transfer from film to tape to do the editing and post production. One NBC executive said (rightly) that we somehow managed to merge film with tape and get the worst elements of both. CHARACTERS aired on October 26, 1980… at 11:30 PM on a Sunday night. For a year afterwards people were coming up to me saying they saw my pilot. Even at that hour.

Sure, both shows were deeply flawed. But that’s what made watching them fun. A lot more fun than this summer when in an attempt to avoid reruns networks will throw on all kinds of schlock reality shows. Marla Maples will give advice to recently divorced women in EX-WIVES CLUB, William Shatner will drive around a racetrack and host FAST CARS & SUPERSTARS, and my personal favorite, SHAQ’S BIG CHALLENGE starring Shaquille O’Neill. This is what he’s doing this summer instead of practicing free throws. Also on tap is PIRATE MASTER (which is a SURVIVOR clone but contestants have peg legs or something, I dunno), and a dating show called the AGE OF LOVE hosted by some tennis star.

Jesus. Even THE BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY was better than that. I say bring back “Failure Theatre”. Who knows? One of these shows might strike a chord and suddenly the network has a hit show they never expected. And in today’s landscape, take ‘em anyway you can get ‘em.

Tomorrow: some actual failed pilots that aired, featuring the talents of Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal, and Ethel the Elephant.

Oh...and a brief word from our sponsor -- Me. A spot may open in my writing seminar in July. If you're interested, check out the website here. Thanks.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chuckles Bites the Dust

Many claim that the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was the single greatest episode of situation comedy. I have to agree. Written by David Lloyd and directed by Joan Darling (not Jay Sandrich who directed most MTM episodes. Jay thought the script was in poor taste and opted out of directing it.)

As luck would have it, I was in the studio audience that night. We knew early on that this was something special. Shown here is the famous funeral scene. They filmed it twice and both times Mary was spot on.

If ever there was a classic scene, this is it. Filmed 30 years ago but just as funny and touching today.

COMING UP TUESDAY NIGHT: Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW shares his rememberances of the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.

Happy Father's Day

On this Father’s Day (the most sacred holiday of the year) I’d like to wish a happy one to my dad, who also happens to be my hero, mentor, and best friend. I love you, dad.

Here are some pithy Father’s Day quotes:

“To be a successful father… there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.” -- Ernest Hemingway

“A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.” -- Bill Cosby

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” -- William Shakespeare (especially if the mother is Anna Nicole)

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." – Mark Twain

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong.” -- Charles Wadsworth

And finally, a salute to Screaming Jay Hawkins. Screaming Jay was a r&b/blues singer. His big hit was “I Put a Spell on You” in which he came out of a coffin. The man was a crowd pleaser. And also a lady pleaser it seems. Upon his death when it was time to divvy up the estate it was discovered he had 57 children. Screaming Jay will not be saluted on Planned Parenthood day.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Note to wives and daughters: Dad wants tickets to the ballgame today, not a lovely brunch.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Worst Songs of All-Time 2

Okay gang, it’s time for the second annual “Worst Songs of All-Time” list. Last time I did this CNN stole it. Thanks again you bastards. Anyway, here’s the updated list to include some readers’ additions.

By the way, don’t feel bad if you secretly like some of these songs. We all do. I actually have some of them. But do feel bad if you like “My Dad”. Even on Father’s Day weekend that song is still cringeworthy.

Please add your favorites… or should I say least favorites? Thanks.

Honey....Bobby Goldsboro

Good Morning Starshine....Oliver

The Night Chicago Died....Paper Lace

Billy Don't be a Hero....Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods

One Tin Soldier....Coven

My Boy Lollipop.....Little Millie Small

Surfin Bird....Trashmen

Mule Skinner Blues....Fendermen

He Hit me and it Felt like a Kiss....Crystals

Transfusion....Nervous Norvis

Ballad of the Green Beret....Sgt. Barry Sandler

Laurie...Dickie Lee

Deck of Cards....Wink Martindale

Hooray for Hazel....Tommy Roe

Yummy Yummy Yummy....Ohio Express

My Dad...Paul Peterson


Unicorn Song...Irish Rovers

Watching Scotty Grow...Bobby Goldsboro

I've Never Been to Me...Charlene

Paper Tiger...Sue Thompson

Wildfire...Michael Murphy

Indiana Wants Me...R.Dean Taylor

Letter From Elena...Casey Kasem

Little Black Egg....Nightcrawlers

Disco Duck...Rick Dees

Baby I'm a want you....Bread

Past, Present, Future…the Shangri Las

Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald....Gordon Lightfoot

Girls girls girls are made to Love...Eddie Hodges

Seasons in the Sun...Terry Jacks

Love Jones....Brighter Shade of Darkness

Heartbeat is a Love beat -- Delfranco Family

The Streaker...Ray Stevens

She Can't Find Her Keys...Paul Peterson

Ringo...Lorne Green

I Sold My Heart to the Junkman....Bluebells

Gallant Men....Senator Everett Dirkson

Which Way you Goin Billy....Poppy Family

Torn Between Two Lovers....Mary McGregor

Happiest Girl in the USA ...Donna Fargo

Ben...Michael Jackson

Open Letter to my Teenage Son...Victor Lundberg

The Men in my Little Girl's Life....Mike Douglas

Tin Man...America

Johnny Loves Me...Shelley Fabares

I Put a Spell on You...Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Claire...Gilbert O'Sullivan

Walk like an Egyptian…the Bangles

Today is Cindy's Birthday....Johnny Crawford

Close to Cathy....Mike Clifford

MacArthur Park...Richard Harris

Locomotion...Grand Funk Railroad

The Americans...Byron McGregor

Haunted House...Gene Simmons

Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town....Kenny Rogers

Bottle of Wine....Fireballs

Wait For Me...the Playmates

How am I supposed to live without you…Michael Bolton

Sad Movies make me cry…Sue Thompson

Martian Hop....Randells

Skinny Legs and All....Joe Tex

Hello Hello....Claudine Longet

Tutti Fruitti....Pat Boone

Mrs. Robinson....Frank Sinatra

We are the World…USA for Africa

Do the Clam....Elvis Presley

Hello…Lionel Richie

I Remember You…Frank Eifield

Sometimes when we touch…Dan Hill

Uh oh (part II)….the Nutty Squirrels

Wam Bam (Shang-a-Ling)….the Silvers

Laugh at Me...Sonny & Cher

Little Green Apples....O.C. Smith

I Wish I were a Princess...Little Peggy March

You Really turn me on...Ian Whitcomb

I'm Henry the Eighth....Herman's Hermits

Muscrat Love...Capt. & Tanille

Sit on my face, Stevie Nicks...the Rotters

Jingle Bells...the Barking Dogs

Downtown...Mrs. Miller

Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady...Helen Reddy

Candy Man...Sammy Davis Jr.

Puppy Love...Donny Osmond

Touch me in the Morning...Diana Ross

Another Somebody done somebody wrong song...B.J. Thomas

Float On…the Floaters

Dominique…the Singing Nun

Lovin' You...Minnie Riperton

How does that grab ya, darling….Nancy Sinatra

Chick a Boom...Daddy Dew Drops

Mmmmm Bop...Hanson

You Light up my Life…Debby Boone

Neanderthal…Hot Legs

Call Collect...Art Linkletter

Karma Chameleon…Culture Club

Please Mr. Please...Olivia Newton John

Mickey...Toni Basil

Old Rivers...Walter Brennan

You Better Sit Down Kids...Cher

Indian Lake...Cowsills

Ding dong the witch is dead....Fifth Estate

Master Jack...Four Jacks and a Jill

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep...Mac & Katie Kissoon

Wild Thing...Senator Bobby

Tall Paul...Annette

Feelings…Morris Albert

Dreams of the Everyday Housewife…Glen Campbell

Roses are Red…Bobby Vinton

Stayin’ In…Bobby Vee

Chevy Van…Sammy Johns

England Swings…Roger Miller

Patches…Dickie Lee

Popsickle…Jan & Dean

I am Woman…Helen Reddy

Playground in my mind…Clint Holmes

Wind Beneath my Wings…Bette Midler

Trying to get the feeling…Barry Manilow

The Doggone Girl is Mine…Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney

Ain’t Gonna Bump with no Big Fat Woman…Joe Tex

Speedy Gonzales….Pat Boone

I'm Not a Juvinile Delinquent...Frankie Lyman & the Teenagers

Dead Skunk...Louden Wainwright III

Ten Commandments…Paul Anka

We Can’t Sing Rhythm & Blues... by Patience & Prudence

Dear Mr. Jesus… Power Source

Me and You and a Dog Named Boo – Lobo

Pac Man Fever… Buckner and Garcia

Sister Christian… Night Ranger

Some Velvet Morning… Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood

Streets of London… Ralph McTell

Patches… Dickey Lee

Nuttin’ for Christmas… Barry Gordon

Having My Baby… Paul Anka

Swingin’… John Anderson

Don’t give up on us baby… David Soul

I’m not a girl, not yet a woman…Britney Spears

Camel Toe…Fanny Pack

Baby I’m a want you… Bread

The Night the lights went out in Georgia… Vicki Lawrence

Pineapple Princess… Annette

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Starting a pilot

For years the popular thinking was comedy spec scripts had to be from existing shows. Now producers and agents are asking for spec pilots. Pilots present their own set of problems and traps. Setting up the characters, situation, exposition, story, tone, and comedy in the first few pages is the most daunting task. I’ve had many requests for a sample of a pilot first scene. So here’s one David Isaacs and I wrote and produced for Fox a couple of years ago called SNOBS. Paget Brewster (pictured) played Beverly. Hope this helps, or at least you find amusing.








Karl, I don’t have time for a formal breakfast this morning.

Well, you’re certainly not going to eat a protein bar like some animal. Please, Beverly, sit.


Oh, I suppose I could have a macchiato and a pain au chocolat.

That’s my girl. We have to keep it civilized in here. Because there’s nothing we can do about (WITH DISDAIN) out there.

Have faith, honey. Someday we’ll have a home that will live up to our furniture.

That someday is here, Bev. If tonight’s party goes well, I’m done teaching community college and we’re on our way to… (WITH REVERENCE) Stanford.

A home in Palo Alto.

Just think of it. A neighborhood where people park their cars in the garage instead of on the front lawn.



Good morning, Isabel.

What time did you go to bed last night?

I didn’t. (BEAT) You’ll be so proud of me, Daddy. I was practicing my Mendelssohn for your guests this evening.

But all night? Honey, the therapist said not to put that much pressure on yourself.

But Daddy said it was the most important night of our lives. He told me if I don’t perform this piece perfectly he won’t get the job at Stanford and we’ll be doomed to short brutish lives in this blue collar hell.

Isabel, that was a “daddy/daughter private talk”.


Here. Read and please respond.

What is it, Gore?

35 reasons why Isabel’s cat should be put to death.


I anticipated this. My rebuttal.



Children, I won’t have you fighting like this!

Yes, and I don’t want to see any of this tonight in front of Dr. and Mrs. Shapiro.

That man holds the future of this entire family in his hands.

I’ll be ready, Daddy.

What a kiss-ass.

And Gore, as for you tonight, let’s go over this one more time. People are entitled to their opinions.

Oh, really? What if our (MAKES AIR QUOTES) “guests” like the Baroque period, or Creationism or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?

We will respect what they say… and make fun of them afterwards.


I’ve gone to great lengths for tonight: the right wine, the right flowers, the right music. Everything will be perfect.


Are you Karl Mallard?

Yes. What can I do for you?

It’s me. Clay!


Your son.

My son?

New Orleans? (BEAT) 1986? (BEAT) How many illegitimate kids do you have?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A good movie for ONCE

So it’s the middle of the week and you feel like seeing a movie. Let’s grab the paper and see what you’ve got.

MR. BROOKS – a confusing mess of a serial killer movie starring Kevin Costner. Face it, his range is he can play both a major league ballplayer and a minor league ballplayer.

HOSTEL, PART II – Women being brutally tortured. If this is what passes for entertainment these days we’re in big trouble. Even the He-Man Women Haters Club from the Young Rascals would find this movie vile.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN III – Reviewers and audiences thought Part II was a train wreck with boats. And those who’ve seen Part III are nostalgic for Part II. Please, Disney Corporation, don’t make the movie version of IT’S A SMALL WORLD.

SPIDERMAN 3 -- Long, stupid, and not a moment you haven’t seen four times and were bored by in the first two. Even Imax doesn't help. Unless the next super villain is Dick Cheney I've seen my last SPIDERMAN.

SHREK THE THIRD – Another franchise movie, going to the well one more time and proving that is IS easy to be green. You’ve probably seen it already…whether you’ve been to the theater or not.

SURF’S UP – Another Hollywood attempt to jam as many successful elements together to make a formula boxoffice hit. Penguins and animation. If HOSTEL II does big business next summer you will be seeing cartoons penguins being mutilated. With a Randy Newman score.

KNOCKED UP – You went the first weekend. A two-hour-plus comedy is not something you want to sit through again.

28-WEEKS LATER – The latest “gorno” to tank at the box office. Could be a victim of genre "overkill". I dunno, I haven't seen it, but audiences are staying away in droves. That's usually a sign.

OCEANS THIRTEEN – Like eating recycled food.

Before you throw down the paper and decide to clean fish instead, might I make a suggestion? If it’s playing in your area go see ONCE.

If I tell you the premise you’ll go “Huh? So? That’s it?” A young street musician in Dublin meets a girl who is also a musician and together they put together a recording session so he’ll have some demos. But within that slight scenario is packed more charm, humor, heart, romance, and great music than ten big Hollywood movies put together. I bet I’m going to get a bunch of comments echoing my enthusiasm (along with four saying I’m an idiot for not appreciating HOSTEL II).

Go see this little art house sleeper. For ONCE I can make a recommendation.

And if they ever do a sequel, I've got the title -- TWICE.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If THE SOPRANOS were on a major network

The finale would be at least two hours.

There would be a one hour clip show hosted by Bob Costas preceding it.

There would be live coverage of the cast party on the network’s local 11:00 news. It would be the lead story even if Hurricane Katrina hit that day.

There would be a little animated promo swooshing across the bottom of the screen after every commercial break of every other prime time show on that network for two weeks. A little gun would shoot a little mobster. The blood would spell out SOPRANOS.

Also, on the bottom of the screen there would be a little countdown clock for a month leading up to the finale.

The cast would be on that network’s late night talk show. If the network didn’t have a late night talk show they would create one just for this purpose.

An online contest would offer prizes if you guessed who would be whacked and when. That way you could watch the final episode and play along at home.

They would spin off Janice. Coming in September: WIDOW WITH CHILDREN.

They would insist that Tony’s mother return despite the fact that the actress who played her has died.

They would NEVER EVER EVER allow an ambiguous ending.

They would want the following changes in the last scene. Meadow should drive a Ford because that’s who is sponsoring. She should have no trouble parallel parking because Fords are easy to parallel park. The restaurant must be TGI Fridays – also a sponsor and much more colorful. The threat should come from a singing waiter wearing a straw hat, suspenders, and hundreds of fun buttons. A secondary threat should be an Arab terrorist with a scar. The Arab should pull his gun. The waiter should point his banjo (which is also a semi-automatic rifle). It looks like Tony, Carmela, and A.J. are done for it. Final commercial break. We come back just as Meadow bursts in the door with an Uzi and blows the bad guys away. Meadow, it seems, has just come from dance class and is wearing nothing but a hot leotards. Tony says, “That’s what I get for going to Fridays on Tuesday.” The family shares a laugh. Meadow sits down. Everyone hugs and declares their love for each other. Carmelo calls out, “Can we get ANOTHER waiter?” They laugh. One more hug. Long fade out, as music swells – Dino’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”. Fade out. Your local news is next.

So if you’re still pissed at David Chase for the way he really ended the series just think of the alternative.

Laugh tracks

The question it seems I am most asked is what I think of the laugh track. For the most part I hate it. But not always.

The networks have always maintained that the laugh track is necessary so Joe Six Pack and Suzie Homemaker know when to laugh.

In theaters when there’s collective laughter it’s very infectious. So the networks feel if they can sneak 200 other people into your living room it will simulate that shared experience. Forget that those people recorded their laughter in 1952 and most are probably dead by now, without them how could you possibly know what’s funny?

On single-camera shows laugh tracks are really intrusive. We used to say on MASH, “where are these people?” Is there an unseen bleacher section on the chopper pad? Were they under Hot Lips’ bed when she and Frank had their little trysts?

For multi-camera shows, it’s a different story. In theory, the laughter you hear is real from the studio audience reacting to the show being filmed. You’ll notice that in year-one of CHEERS, after the first few episodes, we had to include the disclaimer, “CHEERS was filmed before a live studio audience”. We did that because viewers didn’t believe the laughs were earned… although they were.

But here’s where the laugh track serves a purpose: scenes are re-shot, sometimes several times. And the best performances are edited together. Obviously the audience doesn’t laugh as hearty the second or third time they’ve heard the same joke… unless they’re all that guy from MEMENTO. So we’ll use a little laugh track to “sweeten” and smooth out the tracks. But the laughs were legit. And over time on both CHEERS and FRASIER we were able to compile a backlog of laughs from our own shows. So we didn’t have to resort to those corpses who were so tickled by Lucy.

Often times, however, producers misuse this feature and crank up the track to the point where village idiots on laughing gas wouldn’t howl so loud and long. I won’t say which shows but you know who you are. And more than one showrunner, when questioned about a certain joke has said, “Aww, the machine will love it.”

But here’s something you might not know. Laugh tracks are also employed on LIVE shows. Award presentations for sure. Opening monologues are sweetened. And even that didn’t help Whoopi Goldberg on the Oscars.

At least today there seems to be a move away from laugh tracks on comedies. On MASH we got CBS to make a concession. No laugh track in O.R. So viewers were spared “He’s gone, Hawk. There’s nothing you could have done.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

But now that there’s very few multi-camera shows with live audiences, and the Forest Lawn laughers have been told their ghostly services are no longer needed for single-camera series it’s up to the producers to actually make their shows funny enough so that Joe & Suzy will laugh without being prompting. That’s a scary proposition… and why the laugh track will never completely go away.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Since the final SOPRANOS and TONY AWARDS were on the same night and both were so similar in theme and presentation, I thought I’d review them together.

As usual, the TONYS were the only awards show where no one thanked their wives.

You KNEW David Chase would do an ending nobody expected. But I thought it was going to be Bob Newhart springing up in bed telling Emily he had this really weird dream and Emily telling him to lay off the Lincoln log sandwiches before bed.

I was happy SPRING AWAKENING won. I saw it a year ago when it played in a dingy church in the village. Call me psychic but even then I knew, simulated sex and nudity would find an audience.

Things don’t look good for the SOPRANOS. But I choose to believe Tony noticed the guy going into the bathroom, shot him coming out. A.J. went on to produce CLEAVER II: THE MIDDLE EAST. Meadow became a prosecutor in New York and joined the cast of LAW & ORDER in 2017. Carmela and her dad got the building contract for the new Yankee Stadium. Tony settled his differences with the New York families but declared war on the New York Psychoanalytic Association, and Uncle Junior became a presidential advisor.

I miss Hugh Jackman.

At least Mr. Broadway himself was there, CBS newsman Harry Smith.

Who deserved to be shot more – Phil Leotardo or that JOURNEY’S END producer who wore Scotch plaid pants? Phil at least you could forgive for a few things.

Christina Applegate, with her short blond hair and tight green dress looked like Tinkerbell while her co-presenter, Neil Patrick Harris looked like Peter Pan. Neil is maybe the only male who could ever play that part.

The TONYS were shown on the west coast with a three hour delay but considering the speed of sound, we in LA still learned the results before those sitting in the back row of Radio City Music Hall.

Heidi Klum loves CATS. What a shock! And speaking of cats…

Was the cat at the safe house “pussy”? Some theorize it was Adrianna. But if she didn’t disguise herself doing JOEY I don’t know why she would now.

I thought THE SOPRANOS brought Pussy back but it was only Marvin Hamlisch at the Tonys.

LES MISERABLES is now a revival. Don’t you have to close for like at least a week to be considered a revival?

During that medley of closed musicals I thought, "Just come back Thursday. You could still win something."

Randy Thomas is the best off-stage announcer in the biz. She’s the first person EVER on national television to pronounce Billy Crudup’s name correctly.

THE COAST OF UTOPIA was a worthy winner for Best Play. At least 7 of its 9 hours were fantastic.

Did you notice that all the bad things on THE SOPRANOS started happening AFTER they killed Tim Daly, the screenwriter? Bad mojo. This is the only power the WGA has.

This was the year of actors portraying real people. Frank Langella as Nixon, Christine Ebersole as Edith Bouvier Beale & “Little” Edie Beale, and Ashley Brown as Mary Poppins.

Why are there no metal detectors at Holtsen’s Ice Cream Parlor? Especially at night?

I wonder how well this line went over in Alabama? Harvey Firestein said, “I wish I had a nickel for every time I gave it to an actor.” There were even some “Yikes” from the Tony audience.

12.8 million tickets were sold this season on Broadway. 11.2 of them for THE LION KING and MAMA MIA.

Those four-wheel drive SUV’s are perfect for rolling over and crushing a gangster’s head.

And that scene wasn’t nearly as stomach churning as the number from MARY POPPINS.

It’s hard to watch Fantasia sing on television without a phone number on the screen.

How important are the Tony Awards to CBS when they don’t even show them in HD? Although, considering all the face work of the presenters and winners, the Tony committee might have requested no HD.

“Don’t Stop” by Steve Perry expressed the thoughts of everyone watching that last scene of THE SOPRANOS. At least hang on until Meadow ordered.

Hey, my buddy Paul Kreppel won! Congratulations, Paul.

Not one audience shot of Les Moonves in the entire TONY broadcast. I thought, “Wait a minute. Is this not the TONYS?” And then a winner mentioned Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall and I knew I was in the right place.

Ohmygod, A.J. has the same job my daughter has this summer. And in a further coincidence, she too wants to own a nightclub.

David Hyde Pierce is a national comic treasure.

Great seeing he and Bebe Neuwirth together on stage. My partner and I wrote the FRASIER where they slept together. How lucky for us that we could write for two such gifted performers.

Making Paulie the captain of the construction business was like putting a certain former head of the Texas Rangers into the White House.

Julie White won the TONY for “Best Impersonation of a Harriet Harris” performance. She was very funny in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED. Probably funnier than her fellow nominees Vanessa Redgrave and Angela Lansbury.

Has Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo) ever NOT been shot to death in any show or movie he’s ever been in? Even home movies.

When they say everybody has “a little Broadway” in them, is that just a euphemism?

All in all, I thought the TONYS were entertaining and THE SOPRANOS fascinating (infuriating but fascinating). HBO reaches only a fraction of the country while CBS blankets the nation. I bet THE SOPRANOS had triple the audience of THE TONYS. Maybe that’s why Les Moonves wasn’t there. Even he was watching to see if Tony got whacked.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What it's like to win an Emmy

A reader asked for some Emmy stories. Here's what happened when I was fortunate enough to win one. And it puts winning in perspective.

You're in the audience suffering through the show. Finally it's your category. You wake up. The envelope is ripped open, your name is read, you can’t believe it, and you race up to the stage. You stand at the podium.

What’s going through your mind at a monumental moment like this? For me, honestly, I thought of all the assholes I went through basic training with in the army who thought I was such a fuck up. I was hoping they were watching and having heart attacks from shock. I was also aware that everyone in the audience was glaring at me. I saw the red light of the camera, knew that yes, this was my one big moment on national television. But I also knew that if I didn’t get the hell off quick – I mean REAL quick -- millions of people I didn’t know were going to hate my guts.

So I rushed through my prepared speech, thanked my wife, son, and I think Drill Sgt. Miller then was led off.

Backstage, we took photos with your presenters. In our case, Arthur & Kathryn Murray. Who knew they were even still alive? Then we were led from one interview room to the next. National TV, national radio, local press, national press, foreign press, magazines, food product surveys, I dunno. Light bulbs flashing. Questions coming from all sides. Microphones shoved in my face. And after a few minutes we’re ushered into the next room because the next winners are breathing down our necks. We were in a daze. We just went where they told us. Finally we were told to go through “that door”. We did. It closed and locked behind us.

And we found ourselves outside. In the alley. Next to the garbage dump, surrounded by buzzing flies. In our tuxedos, holding our shiny new Emmys. What the fuck?! We banged on the door to get back in. Nothing. We walked along the side of the building, trying other doors. All closed. I thought of maybe using the Emmy to jimmy one of the locks. No dice. It took us fifteen minutes to finally get back into the hall.

Which more than matched the fifteen minutes of fame.

TOMORROW: My review of the last SOPRANOS and the TONY AWARDS.