Friday, August 31, 2007

Space helmet on, O' Captain Video

Here's another classic clip from THE HONEYMOONERS. Ralph and Norton share a television set. At the time, the big kids' program was CAPTAIN VIDEO. Gleason's take just kills me. I've seen it a gazillion times, it always makes me laugh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Movie theater etiquette

This is me ranting about the little things in movie theaters that PISS ME OFF!!!

It’s not enough to just turn your cellphone on silent . PUT IT THE FUCK AWAY. Don’t look at it during the movie. It’s like someone turning on a flashlight in a dark room. It’s distracting. Don’t do it! And don’t text message.

Don’t bring a baby. EVER. Can’t get a sitter? STAY HOME. I also blame theater owners for this one. Don’t allow babies. A young cretin couple brings their one year old to see HOSTEL and you sell them tickets, you should be the one dipped in a boiling vat of canola oil.

Don’t wear a hat. Unless you’re Diana Ross or Don King. This goes for baseball caps. Just because you’re balding doesn’t mean you can annoy other people.

In a fairly empty theater don’t take a seat right in front of me. Especially when there are twenty seats on either side you could choose instead.

Realize when you buy those nachos with the plastic cheese sauce that you are repulsing everyone within two rows.

Put your sweater on or keep it off. Don’t keep changing your mind during the film.

Don’t throw your big honking coat over the back of your seat so that it’s completely in my lap.

Don’t yell, “Turn it up!” during the THX announcement. It’s not funny… and hasn’t been funny for ten years.

If you’re still yelling “Focus!” in the middle of the movie, it’s YOU!

Don’t save fifteen seats for your stupid late friends.

Never ask me to move over a seat so it’s more convenient for your party of six.

When you come in late and the movie has already started, don’t yell the name of your friend…over …and over…and over.

Scream in your boyfriend’s ear, not mine.

When you drape your feet over the row in front of you, you are kicking the seats of everyone in that row.

Don’t pay for one Goddamn box of Milk Duds with a credit card.

Don’t talk back to the screen. This may come as a shock to your morons but THE ACTORS CAN’T HEAR YOU.

I’m sure you have others. Have at it in the comments section.

Random musings and birthday wishes

First off, an announcement. I’m going to hold another SitcomRoom seminar later this fall. Dates and location to be announced very soon. To get an idea of what to expect, you can read about the very first SitcomRoom. If you want to receive all the details and registration info as soon as they’re available, you can sign up for my SitcomRoom alert list. Like last time, enrollment will be limited to twenty. And no, I don't give Pocket Fishermen to the first ten who sign-up.

Overheard: someone on a cellphone trying to sell a direct-to-DVD film called ASSASIN BALLARINAS.

There’s a new company called iScript that will record your spec screenplay. The idea here is that producers and agents who never read might actually listen to a script if they had the chance. In theory it’s a good idea and it’s certainly novel. But I have two concerns. Seems a small CD would be even easier for an agent/producer/reader to lose. So they will. Guaranteed! And I worry that the actors might not do the material justice. I attended a screenplay reading last year where the main character was the world’s most brilliant nuclear physicist. Billy Ray Cyrus played him. Viennese genius, Jed Clampet discussing quantum theory. So writers beware.

Oh boy! Katie Couric will be doing her newscast from Iraq and Syria the next ten days. Expect her to really get to the bottom of things. But here’s my favorite part of this non-story. When CBS Evening News executive producer, Rick Kaplan was questioned as to whether this is just a ploy to increase Katie’s horrendous ratings he said, “Only fools will perceive that.” I guess everyone on the planet is a fool then. I know I am. How about you?

If you wish you were in Hawaii (like I do every day, especially when I read the trades), put on an aloha shirt, make yourself a pina colada and tune into to “Hele me hoohiwahiwa George's ho'omaha loa”. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? It’s the only Hawaiian phrase I know. It means, “Come celebrate George’s retirement.”

And finally…

Happy birthday, Annie! My daughter turns 21 on Thursday. No longer will she need that Ms. McLovin fake ID. Annie, you’ve grown into a fabulous, caring, striking young woman. If only I could still convince you that Lulu is a great singer.

I love you, Annie and as everyone knows, there’s nothing like a daddy’s love.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And the thousands of winners are...

Who deserves an Emmy for producing a comedy or drama? It used to be easy. There were four or five of them – the show runner and those few writers who have worked their way up the ranks to producer. Now every show has more producers than West Virginia has registered voters. Stars get producer credits, in explicitly, so do their managers, non writing executives jump on the band wagon, studio executives horn-in on the credit, punch-up guys are now “consulting” producers, series directors join the act, and in lieu of studios giving writers bumps in salary they now just hand out producing titles. Yes, they’re making story editor money but they’re co-producers.

As a result, when a show wins Best Comedy or Drama it looks like the Normandy invasion as half the audience invades the stage to pick up their hardware. In an attempt to not deplete the world’s gold reserve the Academy has revised the rules and will now only allow eleven producers to be eligible for best comedy show Emmys and ten for dramas.

But then comes the question of which eleven of the say, twenty or fifty producers should be eligible?

Here are my thoughts. NO non-writing producers. These are all executive, not creative positions. Not saying that they don't have a role in the process but it's not in this area. Studio development people? Development is their JOB. They make calls. They come to meetings and just sit. They offer "support". And there's no "Best Supporting Producer" category. Directors? Sorry, this is the one medium you are not the king. And as for managers -- if the sum total of a manager's contribution is one time handing a pilot script to his client he does not deserve an Emmy (or the money he’s skimming off the show for doing nothing but that’s another story).

This is the bottom line: During a rewrite at 2 a.m., look around the room. Whoever is not there automatically should be eliminated (with one exception -- the line producer. He/she works harder than anybody, usually under the most impossible of conditions.) The non-writing producer who waltzes out at 6 to get to the Laker game? Disqualified. The actor who has no idea where the writers room is? Application denied. The studio exec whose only talent is doing a good Ari Gold impression? Not a chance.

Hopefully, when it’s just down to writers, ten or eleven slots will be enough. Consultants, by the way, don’t qualify. Full-time only. If the issue still isn’t settled then there’s only one way writers can resolve it, equitably -- taking into consideration seniority, contribution, loyalty – and throwing all that shit out. Nerf basketball! One-on-one. Round robin eliminations.

It's how writers make all major life decisions -- marriage, whether to go out on strike, which religion to believe it, etc.

I know what some of you are thinking -- isn't that a frivolous and irresponsible way to make important decisions? No. Not at all. But if you are concerned and want to settle these things in a more, shall we say, mature manner -- then I recommend Foosball.

Good luck to all the nominees in all the categories.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Live Large, Think Big

Back from Texas, deep in the heart of. Spent the weekend in Big D speaking to the Dallas Screenwriters Association, filling in for the Mariners (in town to play the Rangers), and risking gout with every meal. On every corner there’s either a steakhouse or a church. One place called “Holy Cow” could be either or both.

The current Dallas motto is “Live Large, Think Big” which is much better than “Not Just Hot But Humid”.

Believe it or not, Dallas has more restaurants per capita than New York City (although NYC has a huge lead in salad bars) and more shopping centers per capita than any city in the U.S. “Eat Large, Spend Big”.

It is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. Gorgeous downtown skyline, with its tall towers outlined in shimmering green and white lights. There are museums, a night life, and be careful going into that shit-kicker bar, it just might be gay.

Not to further tarnish Dallas’ sparkling redneck reputation but until recently their mayor was a woman…and Jewish, Laura Miller. And in 2004 Lupe Valdez was elected sheriff of Dallas County. She’s the first Hispanic, first woman, and first openly gay lesbian to ever fill that role. Hey, she might’ve had better luck getting into Miss Kitty’s bloomers than Marshall Dillon ever did.

Stayed at the Arlington Hilton and had a lovely view of people throwing up from 700 feet on the Six Flags Over Texas thrill rides. Nearby is Hurricane Harbor, a waterslide amusement park. I’m sure it’s very refreshing if you pretend that hundreds of people don’t pee in it a day.

Football is king in Dallas. High school games routinely draw from 20 – 50,000 people. And still, no one watches FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

Meanwhile, the entire world stops for the Dallas Cowboys. Last week when the Rangers broke an all-time major league record by scoring 30 runs in one game they still shared the front page of the sports section with the Cowboys training camp report on wind sprint drills.

They’re building a new stadium for the Cowboys in Arlington, affectionately known as "Jerry’s World" (for Jerry Jones, the team’s owner). It’s costing in the neighborhood of one billion dollars, will have a retractable roof, and the two largest glass panels in the world. Which makes sense financially because the stadium will be in use eight times a year.

Had to once again see the Texas School Book Depository (now an excellent museum) where Oswald shot Kennedy. Forget that it’s across the street from a Morton’s Steakhouse, it’s still pretty chilling. And on the street itself are X’s where the shots landed. I don’t think they needed the guys standing around selling grisly pictures however. America remembers and profits.

Saw the grassy knoll and the white picket fence that hid the alleged “second shooter”. But it’s not the original picket fence. It’s a replica. The real one I understand (true story) was sold on ebay.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the Conspiracy Museum to reopen. Their previous landlord booted them out – a plot no doubt engineered by the CIA, Rupert Murdoch, Korean airlines, and Posh Spice. I hope my phones aren’t tapped because I wrote this.

If you go to Black Eyed Peas' and order your first chicken fried steak (like I did fifteen years ago when I was fulltime with the Mariners) don’t ask them to cook it “medium rare”. I did and it was an E.F. Hutton moment as forty guys named Dirk stared at me in disbelief and disgust.

When you think of Dallas – what comes to mind besides JFK, football, cured meats, heat prostration, people carrying weapons, the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, rodeos, rodeo clowns like our president, country clubs, “Country” Charlie Pride, evil oil companies, the Renaissance Hotel that looks like a Bic lighter, J.R. Ewing, Dr. Pepper, Texas-Instruments, SMU, Verne Lundquist, the first Neiman Marcus, the Savings & Loan crisis, Tex-Mex, cheerleaders, and “Debbie Does”? Why radio station jingles of course! Dallas is the home of JAM Creative Productions the largest radio jingle mill in the country. Big D is filled with gifted singers who would all have huge careers if they could only sing songs that were longer than eight seconds.

There’s a chain of convenience stores called “Grab and Go”. I guess their target customers are robbers.

And the police have recently instituted a “no pursuit” rule so it’s “Grab and Go At Your Leisure”.

Goff’s Hamburgers no longer has an eight-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin out front. I don’t know about you but nothing says tasty burgers to me like the Russian Revolution.

If you want tacos there’s Taco Bueno, Taco King, Taco Cabana, Taco Bell, Taco Diner, Taco Express, Taco Grande, Taco Pronto, and Taco Loco Wagon. If you want a good deli, good luck. It’s easier to find a mountain in Dallas.

For Italian, there’s the aptly named Campisi’s Egyptian.

My dining trips took me to Pappadeaux, which was excellent (I find the more unpronounceable the title, the better the Cajun cuisine), Lawry’s for a light lunch, and Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse BBQ, clogging Dallas arteries since 1910. “Live Large, Think Pig”.

Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Mavericks, supposedly answers his email. Not true. I dropped him a note saying I’d be in town, and wondered if he could show me Bonnie Parker’s grave. He never responded, the bastard.

How perfect! There’s a highway named for George Bush… and it’s a toll road.

Guns are not allowed in bars or libraries.

Sunday night I filled in for the great Dave Neihaus and broadcast the Mariners-Rangers game back to Seattle. It was my first time in their new stadium. Originally named “the Ballpark”, they must’ve felt that was too generic because they’ve now renamed it the far more colorful, “Rangers Park”. What they really should call it is “the Typhoon”. My God! It was like the movie TWISTER. I fully expected to see a cow fly by the booth as I was describing the action.

Taking a cue from the Dodgers, the Rangers experimented this weekend with a “Country Style” section. For you tenderfoots and Jews, that means “all you can eat”. For only $29 fans could stuff themselves into oblivion. The tickets sold out almost immediately. The experiment was so successful the team next year plans to release their expensive players and replace them with corn dogs and ribs. Future tie-in promotions include: “Heart Attack Night” and “Heimlich Maneuver Night”.

We have a contest on M’s radio where we give a fan $7,000 if the team scores seven runs in the 7th inning. The Rangers had a similar one pay off last week – their “30/30” contest. If Texas scores 30 runs in a game one lucky listener wins a can of 30 grade motor oil. Enter these things because you just never know.

All in all, I had a great trip. I would’ve gained twenty pounds if I didn’t stop off at Six Flags Over Texas for some thrill rides on my way out of town.

“Live Large… or Think Bulimic.”

Our first script

A question I was asked when I spoke to the Dallas Screenwriters Association last week and one I'm ofter asked is how did David Isaacs and I write our first script?

It was 1973. It was also the first script for either of us. Going in, we knew…NOTHING. And came out knowing...not much more.

We decided to write a pilot about college life. We were told write about what you know and that was the only thing either of us knew. Two guys who couldn’t get dates living in a dorm. We wrote about what we knew TOO WELL.

I had never even seen a television script. I went to a bookstore in Hollywood that had old TV scripts on a remainder table. I bought an OLD ODD COUPLE episode for two dollars. So now we knew the format. We were ready to go! I mean, what else is there?

At the time, the way we wrote was that David took it down in longhand in a college binder then I would type up the script. One Sunday afternoon we wrote Fade In and just started writing. Did we prepare an outline first? Outline? What’s that?? We were more of the “toilet paper school” – just put a roll in the typewriter and write till you run out of paper.

We wrote and wrote and wrote until finally one day I leafed through the ODD COUPLE script and said to my partner, “What page do you think we’re on now?” David thumbed through the binder and said, “I dunno. About 34.” I said, “Really? You know, they start wrapping it up pretty quick here.” We stopped, took five minutes to come up with a big ending (which involved the university’s entire computer system going kablooey, spewing out thousands of IBM cards.), wrote it in about fifteen more minutes, and that was it. We were done. Off to El Torito for margaritas. Forget that it would have cost $24,000,000 to produce in 1973 and had no story, we were now writers!!

Needless to say, we did not sell it. But we enjoyed the process, had fun working together, and there were some funny moments buried in there somewhere. We were encouraged enough by the experience to want to really go forward and do it right. From there came crash courses in writing, more spec scripts, total dedication, and thanks to a little luck, ultimate success.

Your first script will probably be terrible (not as bad as ours but still). Your second will be better. But you can’t write your second until you write your first. And your third will be better still. So if you’re thinking of becoming a writer, take the plunge. Maybe learn a principle or two BEFORE writing Fade In (unlike us), an outline might be nice, but go for it. And no matter how bad it is, you’re still entitled to that margarita at El Torito.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Better living through television

Howdy y'all from Dallas.

Thought I'd show one of my favorite all-time comedy scenes. This is from THE HONEYMOONERS starring Jackie Gleason (Ralph)and Art Carney(Norton)from the mid 50's. In this classic scene they're about to go on live television and advertise a kitchen utensil they're selling -- their latest get rich quick scheme. Judging by today's informercials not much has changed.

We pick them up rehearsing.

30 runs

Hello and “Yeehaw” from Dallas where I’m in town to broadcast the Mariners game Sunday night on the radio against the mighty Texas Rangers who last Wednesday scored 30 runs in beating the less-mighty Baltimore Orioles 30-3.

Some fun facts about that game:

Since Texas pitcher Wes Littleton entered in the 7th and remained in the game he actually got a save. (The save rule ignores the run differential if the pitcher finishes and has protected the lead for 3 innings or more.) However, Dodger pitcher Brett Tomko could easily blow a 27 run lead.

The game was held in Baltimore not the Sepulveda Blvd. Little League Field.

Just prior to the game Baltimore manager Dave Trembley was rehired as manager for next season. Good thing he didn’t say “Let my lawyer look at this contract and get back to you.”

The bottom two guys in the Rangers line-up got 14 RBI’s.

The Orioles lost the second game of the doubleheader although they held the Rangers to 21 fewer runs so they had to feel good about themselves.

When Orioles radio announcer, Joe Angel finished the 8th inning he said, "And the score is, I really don't care anymore." Later, when called the final home run in the 9th to put Texas up 30-3 he said, “I hope you took the over in this game.”

The Rangers are still in last place.

See you tomorrow night on KOMO 1000 in Seattle, the Mariners Radio Network, and MLB.COM gameday audio.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fall Movies Preview Part Last

As I wing to Dallas, Texas for the weekend to speak to the Dallas Screenwriters Association on Friday night and fill-in broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners (in town to play the Rangers) on Sunday night, here is the final installment of my Fall Movies Preview. Sign up for Netflix NOW.

THIS CHRISTMAS – Oh God no, another “going home for the holidays and confronting where you are in your life” pictures. It’s the fruitcake of Christmas movie themes.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING – Nicole Kidman – THE INVASION, FUR, and BEWITCHED – is only one bomb away from television. Will this family drama by Noah Baumbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE) save her, or does she join the cast of BONES next fall?

BEE MOVIE – Jerry Seinfeld as an animated bee. Probably has some laughs but good luck being funnier than THE SIMPSONS MOVIE.

FRED CLAUS – Another Santa Claus high concept commercial holiday comedy. But the real Christmas miracle is that they got Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey, and Rachel Weisz to be in this thing. Tim Allen surely fired his agent.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH – CRASH writer/director Paul Haggis is back with this tale about a returning Iraq soldier. Haggis promises lot of exploration on the morality of this war. The first of what seems like twelve “explorations of the war” films lined up for your popcorn pleasure this fall.

THE KITE RUNNER – From the best selling novel. Friendship in Afghanistan. “Exploration of the war” #2.

LIONS FOR LAMBS -- #3. Robert Redford directs and stars as a professor who’s had too much plastic surgery (one operation more than Buzz Aldrin, six less than Mary Tyler Moore) and is unable to prevent some students from signing up for the war. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise, in a real departure, plays a slick guy. And Meryl Streep plays…aw, what difference does it make? She’ll be nominated for an Oscar.


CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR -- #5 but might be the best. All-stars at every position. (pictured above) Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and Mike Nichols directed. And if that isn’t intriguing enough – it’s a comedy.

LOOKING FOR CHEYENNE – A film about French Lesbians. Opens November 16. I’ve already got my ticket.

ELEVEN MEN OUT – Ho hum. Yet another gay Icelandic soccer player movie.

ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS – Michelle Pheiffer makes up for her acting hiatus by being in every movie this season. This time she falls for Paul Rudd. Depending on the make-up and cinematography she’s either twenty years or twenty months older than him.

FLAWLESS – Michael Caine and Demi Moore try to recreate the magic they created together in BLAME IT ON RIO with this jewelry heist caper film.

I AM LEGEND – Another Will Smith desperate attempt at an Oscar. In this one he’s the last man alive. It’s CASTAWAY in New York City. Not only will we better appreciate Tom Hanks, we’ll better appreciate “Wilson”.

GOLDEN COMPASS – Brace yourselves – another epic journey, another trilogy, another book adaptation, and another Nicole Kidman attempt to open a movie.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD – long title usually mean pretentious movie. Three years in the making, 34 different cuts, and five test screenings. Uh oh.

THE BUCKET LIST – Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as terminal cancer patients who live to the fullest. They jump out of airplanes, drive race cars, go to Knicks games and root for the Lakers.

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH – I’m assuming the autobiography of Victor Buono.

SWEENEY TODD – Tim Burton adapts Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece. With Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter (duh), Alan Richman, and Sacha Baron Cohen. My question: Can Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s girlfriend) sing? Or bake?

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH – Francis Ford Coppola directs his first movie in ten years. Financed by his winery. There was going to be a big car chase scene but the 2005 Zinfandel crop was disappointing.


WALK HARD – Another Judd Apatow comedy, this one starring John C. Reilly as a six decade rock star. FORREST GUMP meets VIVA LAS VEGAS. The only movie I’d see before this is the one about the French Lesbians.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fall Movies Preview Part Two

Here's more of what Hollywood thinks you'll be flocking to see this Fall.

ENCHANTED – (pictured above) Clever idea. A Disney animated princess comes to life. Starring Amy Adams. She finds it hard to live in a world where people flee at the sound of Alan Menken songs.

MICHAEL CLAYTON – George Clooney in a complex legal drama. If it sells four tickets expect a TV version with Ron Livingstone.

MR. WOODCOCK -- On and off of release schedules since the dawn of talkies. But the trailer looks funny. Billy Bob Thornton and Seann William Scott. I'll cut and paste this so I have it ready for the Winter Movies Preview.

DAN IN REAL LIFE – Steve Carell in a triangle love story involving his brother. Stay for the closing credits where he apologizes for EVAN ALMIGHTY.

LAKE OF FIRE – Director Tony Kaye’s 17 year examination of abortion. Good luck to the marketing department.

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL – Ryan Gosling falls in love with a wheelchair-bound plastic “girlfriend”. Tara Reid as the plastic doll. But only after seven callbacks.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE – Halle Berry’s auto insurance is so high after the hit-and-run she can’t afford fire.

SLEUTH – Who knew psychological torture could be such fun? Remake of the Michael Caine/Lawrence Olivier starrer. Caine plays the Olivier part in the new version. And Jude Law plays the other. You’re probably saying, “that part requires a real actor. How did Jude Law get the role?” He’s also the producer.

RESERVATION ROAD – Director Terry George had to deal with many atrocities while making HOTEL RWANDA but nothing prepared him for having to wrangle Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly, and Mira Sorvino. I assume at any given moment two were crying and one was locked in his trailer.

DEAD IN THE WATER – A new way to get sexy women…with fish hooks.

FAT GIRLS – the ones the guys from DEAD IN THE WATER throw back.

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD -- Directed by Sidney Lumet so I’m there opening day. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke rob their parents. But they screw up and steal the plasma TV’s out of their own rooms.

SILK – Costume drama set in Japan combining my two favorite things -- Keira Knightley and silkworms.

FIERCE PEOPLE – Been on release schedules since 2004. Always a great sign. Diane Lane as a coked-up mom. You’re telling me the marketing department can’t sell that???

VIRGIN TERRITORY – (pictured right) A romantic comedy set during the Black Plague. I hope they don’t just go for the easy laughs.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA -- Sounds like the same subject matter as VIRGIN TERRITORY.

AMERICAN GANGSTER – Denzel Washington as a smooth charismatic gangster. Denzel remains Mozart to Will Smith’s Salieri.

MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM – Dustin Hoffman assumes one of his trademark painful overly-studied affected voices for this CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY type movie filled with magic for the whole family… if the family is Ned Flanders’.

STEPHEN KING’S THE MIST – People face the sheer terror of their glasses fogging up.

CASSANDRA’S DREAM – Woody Allen’s 38th film. Hopefully his 15th good one.

I’M NOT THERE – A Bob Dylan biopic but with a twist. Several different people portray him, including Heath Ledger (okay), Christian Bale (okay I guess), Cate Blanchett (a bit of a stretch), and Richard Gere (WHAT??!).

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE – Innovate director, Julie Taymor’s surreal musical with Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess as two lovers who travel from the 40’s to the 60’s. At first blush, MOULIN ROUGE with hippies but the music is all Beatles so I’ll be seeing it.

Tomorrow: the final installment. Not to give anything away but Alvin and the Chipmunks are back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fall Movies Preview Part One

Time for this year’s Fall Movie Preview. After a summer of threequels, CGI storytelling, family fare/torture porn it’s time to move into the season of human drama, complex themes, and character studies – in other words, Oscar hopefuls.

THE KINGDOM – Jaimie Foxx in a high-voltage political thriller set in Saudi Arabia. It cost $70 million, the same as STARDUST. But instead of cute unicorns frolicking they gun down jihadists.

RUN, FATBOY, RUN – A guy who’s not really fat enters a marathon. Does he even really run? Title should be WALK FAST, BEER BELLY, WALK FAST.

LEATHERHEADS – George Clooney stars, co-writes, and directs this romantic comedy about pro football in the 20s. Should hold football fans until Michael Vick stars in LONGEST YARD 2.

3:10 TO YUMA – Either a western or the American Eagle flight you don’t want to be on.

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB – Jane Austen movies are becoming their own genre. Next summer expect Mike Myers to star in JANE AUSTEN POWERS.

TRADE – Human sex trafficking in Mexico City. Fortunately not directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

KING OF CALIFORNIA – Michael Douglas as a crazy person who believes there’s gold buried under the local Costco. Shovels are on aisle 23 and jackhammers are on aisle 16.

THE GAME PLAN – “The Rock” in the 2,864th version of "big tough guy saddled with a cute child and becomes a caring person." I bet there are diaper jokes.

SHOOT ‘EM UP – Enigmatic gunslinger who happens upon a newborn baby. The 2,865th version of previous movie. But stars Clive Owens and Paul Giamatti, which is a big improvement over “the Rock”.

BEOWULF – Robert Zemeckis throwing every CGI/stop action movie trick at the book you slogged through in high school. Good buzz. Supposed to be thrilling. It’s the oldest story in the English language. Just a week older than “tough guy gets stuck with tiny child and becomes a better person”.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON – Documentary on the men who walked on the moon. Interviews with Buzz Aldrin before his recent face lift. Oh how he misses those days of zero gravity!

LUST, CAUTION – (pictured above) I worry about any film with “Caution” right there in the title. Ang Lee returns after BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN with more standard fare: A Chinese language WWII espionage love story set in Shanghai. Starring Joan Chen, not to be confused with Julie Chen of CBS News.

THE HUNTING PARTY – A broad comedy starring the Charlie Chaplin of our generation -- Richard Gere.

EASTERN PROMISES – David Cronenberg’s scary Russian mobster movie. Stars Vigro Mortensen as Boris and Naomi Watts as Natasha.

THE BROTHERS SOLOMON – Exploring the untouched arena of childbirth comedies. The trailer looks absolutely ghastly.

SYDNEY WHITE – Amanda Bynes in a college fairy tale. Features Dopey, Cokey, Roofy, Cheney, Bong, Animal, and Ryan Seacrest.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE – Sequel to ELIZABETH. She’s back and this time she’s pissed!!

HEARTBREAK KID – Farrelly Brothers remake of the 1972 film, obliterating it, removing any nuance, satire, and substance. I refuse to see it.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED – The title says it all.

DECEMBER BOYS – Daniel Radcliffe gets laid for the first time in Australia. In the sequel he will go up on his girlfriend.

GONE BABY GONE – No, not the sequel to RUN, FATBOY, RUN. A Dennis Lehane novel given the “Affleck touch”. Written and directed by Ben, starring Casey. Hopefully it's not PROJECT GREENLIGHT featuring its creator.

SAW IV – This time Jigsaw takes a job as a Benihana chef.

More tomorrow including a romantic comedy set during the Black Plague. I know what you're thinking, "Shit! There goes my spec script!"

Monday, August 20, 2007

Written by Treva Silverman

Here are some scenes from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW written by Treva Silverman. These are from her first drafts. For those not familiar with the show, Mary's friends are Rhoda (Valerie Harper), Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and her boss is Lou Grant (Ed Asner).

Rhoda, who has been dieting for months, has just returned from a meeting at Weight Losers and is telling Mary about it.


So there was this big event tonight. Once a month the group leader announces how much combined weight all the Weight Loser groups lost in the whole city. And you know how much we dropped this month? Nine thousand, three hundred and thirty three pounds.

Really? Wow!

More than nine thousand pounds. I don’t really like to dwell on it, actually. I mean, if you took all that fat and shaped it around, kind of, you could make over six hundred strange little people –- six hundred mushy little round things. Who need a lot of muscle toning.

(As Rhoda's saying this, Mary unthinkingly starts unwrapping a candy bar. Suddenly she stops, flustered, uncertain what to do.)

Oh….uh --

No. Look, I mean, you have a right to live, too. And I have to learn how to deal with the….candy area of life. I can’t expect the whole world to stop what they're doing and survive on cottage cheese, now, can I? (A slight, almost imperceptible licking of her lips; plaintively) Mair, what does chocolate taste like?

Taste like? Really?

Yeah…Tell me…and don’t hold anything back.

(taking a bite) Well…uh…well, it tastes…dark….

(a little involuntary moan emanates from her throat; embarrassed) Oh, sorry….(dreamily) Yeah…dark…right…it’s dark and…textury…and richly smooth, right?

Well, yes…in a way…

(a far-off gaze) What about almonds? Does it have almonds?

(hesitantly) A few…

Oh, good, I love almonds! Are you eating an almond right now?

Uh, yes. Rhoda --

(Mary, self-conscious, turns a little away. Rhoda follows her, mesmerized. Finally Mary finishes the candy bar as Rhoda lives along with each bite.)

(sighs) Oh, Mary…that was the best candy bar I ever watched. (Hopefully) You know what I feel in the mood for? Why don’t you have some butter pecan ice cream right now?

No, I don’t think so. (doubtfully) Thanks.

Maybe later?

We’ll see.


Lou and Mary are in Mary’s apartment, talking.


(There’s a knock at the door. Phyllis bursts in. She’s wearing a very glamorous long dress.)

(upbeat) Hi, hi!

(unthrilled) Hi, hi.

Hello, Phyllis.

(Phyllis holds her arms out, demonstrating her dress.)

New dress. (whirls around) You likee?

Oh, very much.

(to Lou)
Lou, you likee?

Yeah, I……likee.

(Phyllis, in her own little world, laughs merrily.)

I saw it on the rack…and I thought, but it’s so glamorous. Do I dare wear something this glamorous? I mean, I’m not a model or anything….the very idea….I mean, me? A model?

(There is no reaction.)

(laughs) Me?

(She waits She laughs again. No reaction.)

A model?

(She laughs. Nobody reacts. She slowly stops laughing. Her eyes narrow.)

(flatly) What I’m saying is I think I’m not beautiful. I’m saying I’m almost plain -- too plain to ever become a model. Under any circumstances. Whatsoever.

No, you’re not, Phyllis. You…I mean…you know, maybe you could be a model.

(after a beat, preens) Oh, you’re just saying that.

Beginning tomorrow: my Fall Movie Preview. I summarize so you don't have to.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Treva Silverman

From time to time I like to introduce you to writers you might not know but should. So today, meet Treva Silverman.

Her comedy comes from character – keenly observing the behavior and absurdity of real people and real situations. Her laughs are hard earned because they derive from humanity not the easier route – cynicism. I’ve always believed that “only the truth is funny” and Treva’s built a nice career doing just that.

You probably have seen her name on many episodes of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Without making her sound like Jackie Robinson, Treva was one of the first women TV comedy writers and really did pave the way for others to follow. As with Jackie, she did it with talent, poise, and the ability to steal home.

Treva’s career began in New York. While playing and singing at piano bars at night, she wrote songs and 13 off-Broadway children’s musicals. That led to writing sketches for musical revues at the prestigious “Upstairs at the Downstairs”. Other revues employed as many as twenty sketch writers. “Upstairs” had one – Treva.

Carol Burnett caught her show one night and hired her to write for her first variety series, THE ENTERTAINERS. She was the only woman on staff. Knowing how writing rooms can be a bit raucous, Treva set out to prove she was one of the boys by dropping a few F-bombs the first day. One of the writers took her aside and said, “Please don’t swear. It makes us so uncomfortable.”

MADEMOISELLE magazine included her in an article about women on the rise in professions traditionally held by men. All that did was put extra pressure on her. It’s hard enough to succeed under the best of conditions but she felt if “If I fail I bring down all womanhood”.

Treva moved to LA to write for THE MONKEES, THAT GIRL, and GET SMART. So far all womanhood was safe. And then in 1969 Jim Brooks (who she first met when she was playing at a piano bar) called and said he and Allan Burns were creating a show for Mary Tyler Moore. Would she like to be involved? As a writer not a pianist.

She stayed with the show for five years, wrote 16 episodes, won two Emmys, and was one of its major creative forces. Allan Burns credits her with being the “voice of Rhoda” (although in person Treva could not be more different from the brassy Rhoda character) and Valerie Harper called her the “Feminist conscience of the show.” The guys, to their credit, never fought her…although the feminist attitudes did have to be pointed out to them.

Treva thought THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was the easiest and hardest job she ever had. Easiest because the show was so real. Hardest because the show was so real.

One thing she loved was that on the show she could write digressions. It wasn’t just story, story, story. Compare that to today’s sitcoms where there have to be B stories and C stories, and forty two scenes in a twenty minute show.

Needing a ditzy character to be the opposite of Rhoda, she created Georgette after seeing Georgia Engels in the Milos Foreman film, TAKING OFF. It was originally supposed to be just a couple of lines for one episode only but Georgia was so funny everyone decided she should be a series regular.

Of the many episodes for MTM that Treva wrote, some of my favorites were “Lou & Edie Story” (Lou’s wife decides to separate), “Better Late…that’s a pun…than never” (Mary gets suspended when she writes a joke obit and the guy promptly dies), “Cover Boy” (introducing Jack Cassidy as Ted’s brother), and “Rhoda the beautiful” (where Rhoda enters a beauty contest).

Tomorrow I will feature some of Treva’s work, but here’s just a sample. In that episode Rhoda lost twenty pounds but doesn't seem to be happy about it. When Mary wonders why she says, “Because I can never say again ‘gee, I’d look great if I lost twenty pounds’.”

After season five Treva left the show to live in Europe for several years. She came back to write pilots, movies, and was collaborating with Michael Bennett (CHORUS LINE, DREAMGIRLS) on a Broadway musical called SCANDAL. With a score by Jimmy Webb, and starring Swoozie Kurtz, Treat Williams, Victor Garber, Priscilla Lopez, and Rob Morrow it was slated for production. But unfortunately, Bennett died and the project never came to fruition. To this day Treva feels it’s the best thing she’s ever written.

Michael Douglas called her to fix ROMANCING THE STONE. Test audiences hated the Kathleen Turner character -- they thought she was too cold. Plus, they only had the budget to reshoot the first scene – where Kathleen is home alone, gets a call from her sister, and has to go save her. Treva had the solution. Give her a cat. Let her talk baby talk to the cat. Just that one bit of behavior completely won over the audience. And the rest is box office success and disappointing sequel (that I helped rewrite) history.

Recently, Treva has rewritten SCANDAL as a play. A NY Times article called it “purportedly brilliant and unproduced”. Since then there has been a flurry of interest and hopefully we’ll finally get to see it soon.

I hope Treva Silverman serves as an inspiration to young writers, not because she’s a woman or that she broke barriers, but because of her work.

I just had to share this.

My daughter's friend was standing in line at a Cineplex recently and saw a seedy homeless guy approaching. He went through his pockets in preparation for the inevitable beg for money. Instead the homeless guy said, "Don't see the new Lindsay Lohan movie. It's terrible!"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"He wore a cane and derby hat"...most of the time

This was one of my favorite TV theme songs as a kid. Back in the old days (of TV, not America) western heroes all had a schtick and a song. They all had "legends". They all were the fastest gun. They all had big jaws. My favorite was BAT MASTERSON. Starring Gene Barry (maybe the only Jewish cowboy), he was a struttin' popinjay in a suit and would foil hardened outlaws by twirling a cane. Here's the theme. Notice when they say he wore a derby hat that in that shot he's not.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Dealing with rejection is never easy. Especially when starting out. Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks, pictured right) has the philosophy that when a deal falls through or is rejected, his automatic response is: “Next?!”

Writers need a thick skin, belief in themselves, and five times a week therapy (prom rebuffs linger large). The good news is if you’ve written a spec, all you need is one person to say yes. (I know, you could say that about the prom, too. Get over it already!)

I’ve saved all my rejection letters and wouldn’t you know, a number of the writers who initially said I sucked eventually submitted scripts to me looking for a job years later. (No, I didn’t just send back their rejection letters and flip flop the names…but I wanted to.)

Keep striving to improve, maybe find some constructive use in the rejection (if it’s offered and useful), but never let your worth be decided by someone else. Supposedly, Richard Wagner once wrote back to a critic who panned one of his works by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “I am currently sitting on the toilet. At the moment your critique is in front of me. In a moment it will be behind me.”
I’ve written spec screenplays that have sold and others that haven’t. I used to ask my agent if they gave any reason for passing. I would hear such explanations as: too broad, not broad enough; too edgy, too soft; too familiar, too out there. And all these regarding the same script. My favorite rejection of all-time was from an idiot studio executive who said this about one of my screenplays:

“The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this script.”

How do you react to that other than laugh and drop him a note congratulating him on the success of FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY? I no longer ask for explanations. I no longer even wait to hear the reaction on one project before launching into another. I don’t consider any of my screenplays rejected, just “not having sold yet”.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stylin' at the Rock Awards

A follow-up to the Allan Carr story.

The pilot my partner and I wrote for him was about a girl who booked rock acts for a live music show like THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (which ran on Friday nights in the swinging 70s). One day Allan calls and says for research purposes we should attend the DON KIRSCHNER ROCK AWARDS. This was a bullshit network made-up award show, a predecessor to the AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS or MTV AWARDS, or FRED’S AWARDS if Fred could get someone to televise it. We were to mingle with the stars, get a feel of the world, etc. The tickets were free so what the hell?

It was broadcast live from the Hollywood Palladium at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. in the east). We were given house seats and told to dress black tie. So we had to hit the rental store. When the salesman learned the occasion he said, “You can’t just get black tuxedos. Not for the ROCK AWARDS. Are you nuts? You’ve got to wear something much hipper than that.” Considering we were the two un-hippest guys on the planet that made sense. We wanted to fit in. Didn’t want Peter Frampton thinking we were not happening. So we said, “What do you got?”

The day of the show we picked up our dates at about 3:00. They got one look at our outfits and both almost bust a gut. Like two complete idiots we were wearing matching brown tuxedos with peach colored ruffled shirts. All that was missing was paisley cummerbund.

Obviously, it was too late to do anything about it so off we went to the Palladium. And big surprise, we were the only two people there in brown tuxedos with peach ruffled shirts. Our dates were still laughing. Actually, the sound of snickering seemed to follow us wherever we went. Gone were my fantasies of Olivia Newton-John slipping me her number.

To save face I took off my glasses and tried to pass myself off as Prince.

It’s now 4:45. We’re seated. The stage P.A. calls out, “Chaka Khan? Is Chaka Khan here?” I don’t know why but I raised my hand and said, “Here!” The woman sitting right in front of me whirled around and said, “Hey, Fuckhead! I’m Chaka Khan!” So much for my mingling with the stars. (Chaka pictured right with sort of the warm expression she gave me.)

After suffering through the show (“Oh wow, man. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to receive this, uh…what is this again?”), we got out at about 7:30. Unbelievably, we weren’t invited to any of the post show parties. When Alice Cooper laughs at your outfit, you know you look like an imbecile. So now we had to get dinner. Where do you go on a Tuesday night in Hollywood dressed like the groomsmen of Liberace’s wedding?

Thank God for Kelbos!
Longtime Angelinos know what I’m talking about. Kelbos was a super tacky Polynesian themed restaurant with several L.A. locations. Picture Trader Vic’s for Homer Simpson. They’re gone now but back then there was one right across the street from CBS Television City.

(Side note: CBS Television City is in the heart of the Fairfax district, a decidedly Jewish section of town. The joke is to get to CBS just drive down Fairfax Ave. And the first window that doesn’t have a chicken in it is CBS.)

We walk into Kelbos, two Jerry Vale impersonators and their dates, and the host doesn’t even bat an eye. Shows us to a booth and even offers us complimentary drinks in skulls. We all must’ve laughed for an hour at how stupid we looked. But at least no one saw us.

Then I get home and watch the tape-delayed replay of the show. Chaka Khan wins an award. Jumps up. And there we are, in a lovely two shot, on national television. And it was an extra good idea to sit right next to each other.

I think Allan Carr was embarrassed. And this from a man who wore caftans and cold cream.

Recently I came across this on a fashion website:

If you are trying to decide the perfect outfit for your special man to wear on your wedding day, well don’t get stuck on the typical black tuxedo. For 2007, the hottest color is chocolate brown. Elegant brown is the new black! Many of the top designers have a handsome chocolate brown tuxedo for the new year. Check with your wedding planner to find out about specific designers offering brown tuxedos for 2007.

DON'T BELIEVE IT!!! I was a fuckhead so you won't have to be.

From my dusty archives...

I wish there was a cable channel that showed FORGOTTEN TELEVISION. Just because a series didn’t have 200 episodes doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrific. Many of these forgotten gems deserve an audience. One such series that my partner and I worked on was THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, an ABC sitcom from the 76-77 season. In it, Tony played a judge (Walter Franklin). One of the episodes we wrote is still one of my favorites. In it, Walter runs for superior court judge. In this scene he goes on a talk radio show. The announcer was played by David Ogden Stiers and this appearance helped get him cast the following season on MASH. Tony’s law clerk (Mario Lanza) was played by the hilarious Zane Lasky. Picture a young Dustin Hoffman only weaselier.



(IN A FAIRLY HIGH VOICE) The news will be over in fifteen seconds, and then we’ll take our cue. Speak directly into the microphone. Don’t be nervous.


Good evening and welcome to W-L-N-I’s “Philadelphia Forum.” I’m your moderator, Robert W. Cleaver, and tonight my guest is Judge Walter…Frankel, uh, Franklin. I’m sorry.

It’s all right.

Judge Franklin has taken on the near impossible task of challenging the beloved Samuel Barnett for Superior Court Judge. Before I bring on our guest, out phone number is 520-2467. Judge, it’s nice to have you with us.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. (READING FROM HIS SPEECH) Now, unlike my opponent…

It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Thank you…it’s nice to be here. Now, if I could just read this prepared statement… “Unlike my opponent…”

Judge, excuse me, but it’s our policy not to allow prepared statements. We’d prefer that you just answer questions from our listeners.


Our switchboard should be lighting up any minute. That number again: 520-2467.


I’m prepared to face the issues.


I’m sure you are.


There’s a lot to talk about.


The lines are wide open. 520-2467. C’mon, folks.


Rarin’ to go.


He’s rarin’ to go.




He’s rarin’ to go.


Do you have any questions for me?

No, not really.


Well, I do have one.

Fire away.

Judge, do you like Jewish food?

Well…uh, yes. I like Jewish food. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy foods of other lands. But Jewish food is very tasty.

(READING THE CARD) Then you’ll want to join Super Chef Roger O’Malley as he prepares Kishka tomorrow at ten here on W-L-N-I.

I’ll be listening. I love Kishka.


(EXCITED) We have calls!

Thank God.

(PUSHING BUTTON) Line one, you’re on the air.

(THROUGH A SPEAKER) Hello. I’d like to know what your guest thought of “A Star is Born.”

Lady, the movie critic was on last night… liked him, hated her.

Yeah, but I…

(PUSHES BUTTON) Line two, hello.

(DEPRESSED) I’m not sure my life is worth living. My wife has left me, I’ve lost my job, and I think I’m going to throw myself off the Delaware Bridge.

I’m sorry, our topic is the judges’ race. (HE CUTS THE CALL OFF)

(CONCERNED) Listen, to that man who’s going to jump. Life is worth living.

The judge’s opinion is not necessarily that of this station. (PUSHING BUTTON) Line three, you’re on.

I have a question for your esteemed guest, one of the finest legal minds ever to walk the streets of Philadelphia.

(EXASPERATED) What is it, Mario?

Which was a bigger thrill for you – winning the Congressional Medal of Honor or the Nobel Peace Prize?

(AGGRAVATED) I didn’t win either one of them. (BEAT) Ask a responsible question!

Okay. What’s kishka?

Tune in tomorrow and find out. Right now let’s pause for this brief commercial message. (FLIPS OFF MIKE, THEN TO WALTER IN HIS NORMAL HIGH VOICE) I think it’s really going well, don’t you?


Postscript: Caller #1 was played by Raechel Donahue, a long-time LA disc jockey and pioneer in FM rock radio, and Caller #2 was some guy named Harry Shearer.

A few thoughts before I forget them

These summer blockbusters generally have record breaking opening weekends then drop 62% the second week. Think of how much more money they could make if they were actually good. Instead of making a movie people might want to see, how about a movie that “people might want to see AGAIN?” Or a movie that “people might want to recommend to someone else?” I think TRANSFORMERS was such a hit because of the title. There wasn’t a 2 or 3 after it.

Thanks to Maureen Ryan’s column in the Chicago Tribune I found this: Rob McKenzie of Canada’s National Post offers these descriptions of Showtime’s new CALIFORNICATION -- "Alabummer; Alaskanky; Arizonerous; Arkinsulting; Coloradolescence; Connecticuttable; Delawary, as in how I’d feel about a second season..."

I haven’t seen it but I just know it’s bogus – a writer sleeping with all these women? A writer???

From my friend, David Pollock – when Bonds hit his historic home run last week, after the ten minutes of celebrating, the pitcher should have thrown the ball to third on an appeal play. What if Bonds hadn’t touched the bag and after all that the umpire called him out? Oh man would that have been classic!!!

And finally, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, at 77 just had a face lift. Why not just wear a space helmet?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Scooter

One of the great legends of baseball and broadcasting passed away late Monday night. Phil Rizzuto. He was 89, the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. Even though I've always hated the Yankees I've always loved "the Scooter". And no one in baseball could make me laugh harder. Rarely on purpose but still!

A former All-Star and MVP player, Rizzuto never really made the transition to broadcaster. And that was his charm. If there was a player’s name he couldn’t pronounce he’d just call him “Huckleberry”. He could never remember my name during the years I was a colleague so he always just called me “Mash”. When scoring a game he would often write WW following a player’s at bat. That meant “wasn’t watching”.

There are many great Phil Rizzuto stories. I'm sure over the next few days newspapers and blogs will be full of them. Here are my two favorites.

The Yankees were playing at Tiger Stadium one night. It was easy to hit home runs down the left field line. It was just a 340 foot chip shot. On the left field wall was a digital clock. A Yankee hit a home run and Rizzuto almost came out of his seat, saying on the air, “Holy cow, what a poke! He had that over the 808 sign!”

And then there was the day where his post game show was interrupted with the bulletin that Pope John Paul I had died after only a month of service. When he got back on the air, the first thing Rizzuto said was, “Wow. News like that could dampen even a Yankee win.”

For me, news of the Scooter's death dampens everything. One of his many quirks was that he would leave ballgames early. Now he's done that in life too. And yes, 89 is too early.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

SPOILER ALERT even though you probably know what’s going to happen without seeing the movie.

I loved THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM even though I know I shouldn’t. The beauty of the picture is that it has a million flaws and I just didn’t care. I loved it anyway.

Usually an action hero struggles for the first three-quarters of the movie. He gets the shit beaten out of him. He fails in his quest. He’s humiliated. And in the very end he somehow miraculously draws upon some hidden reserve strength and saves the day.

Not Bourne. From the first frame of the film he is like Popeye after downing the can of spinach. Nothing or no one stands in his way. Ever.

I didn’t care.

Superhuman strength at times. Fine. Survives horrific car crashes without a scratch (Not just one but like eight). No problem. Leaps from a twenty story building on the Westside of Manhattan, lands in the East River (forget that he has to clear that little thing called the FDR Drive), and survives.

Sure. Works for me.

Director Paul Greengrass’ action sequences were so well done you actually felt you were in the middle of them. Actually it’s what I assume happens to all tourists in Tangier and Moscow and Turin so I had no trouble making the buy.

Bourne somehow has an unlimited amount of money. Doesn’t everybody? He can enter any restricted building or office without being detected. Natch. It’s only the CIA’s secret headquarters. It’s not like he’s trying to get onto the Paramount lot.

The best villains are the ones with style and dimension. Bad guy, David Strathairm sneers when he gets out of a car. He orders civilians killed. He invites Joan Allen to breakfast and doesn’t stand when she arrives. Still, I loved him. Joan Allen played the Laura Linney/Hope Davis interchangeable part of stick-up-her-ass CIA Director. That role has bored me in seventeen other movies but this time thumbs up.

Our government apparently has surveillance equipment everywhere. Fifteen cameras can follow anybody anywhere. Handguns have video cameras. (It's the new Canon Cannon) The Waterloo train station in London? More cameras than Fox used on the Superbowl. It seems we can monitor every cellphone in the world and do. Yet, we can’t find Osama bin Laden in over six years. Okay, it’s a stretch but I’m confident one day some nerd in Apopka, Florida will discover him on Google Maps.

In the first two BOURNE films Julia Stiles had maybe six lines total. This time she was on screen for a good twenty minutes and still had maybe six lines. Every time Bourne asked her a question she just answered with a reaction. Their scenes together felt like Penn & Teller. Still, I dug her.

Matt Damon is immensely charming and believable. Jack Bauer without the angst, James Bond without the ego, John McClane without the AARP card. For me he effectively carried the movie, leaping over the logic holes as deftly as he did the rooftops in Tangier. And when I’m having fun I don’t mind as much that he can speak 195 languages and know everyone's phone number.

Critics are calling THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM an adult thriller, an intelligent action movie. What it really is is THE AMAZING RACE with guns. I highly recommend it… although in five years I’m liable to watch it again and think “what a piece of shit.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to interview a celebrity

As a public service to any toadie journalist assigned to do an inane starlet profile here is the style sheet YOU MUST FOLLOW!!!

Whether it’s for the LA TIMES, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, PARADE, or MERCENARY LIFE there is a specific protocol you are advised to follow to the letter. So please take note:

The interview must be a lunch date at a chic café, clearly identified.

The celebrity will arrive late. You must report how late and what her excuse was. And you must forgive her. Even if the excuse is, “I forgot” or “I had to liquor up to do this because I find you repulsive” you must be charmed.

It’s important to describe her outfit. Is Natalie Portman wearing jeans? Lead with that. Gwen Stefani has new sunglasses? Hold page one! And for godsakes, whatever you do, describe the celebrity’s hair. Was it pulled back? Tousled? No one gives a shit what Claire Danes thinks but they sure as hell need to know whether her hair was red, blonde, or strawberry blonde? You spent five years in journalism school at Northwestern. Use your tools.

Painstakingly note whether she picks at an egg white omelet or a Waldorf salad. Celebrities don’t eat, they “pick at”.

Note that she eats healthy and it’s paying off. You must compliment a celebrity’s appearance. Jennifer Aniston is “glowing” and “radiant” and when Courtney Love shows up looking like the dog’s breakfast she is dressed “casual” and “fun funky”.

Once the budding young diva starts yammering learn what is print-worthy and what is just utter brain-dead nonsense. Listen carefully because often you won’t be able to distinguish one from the other.

She will tell you that she is now in “a good place”. Report that. She’s learned some real “life lessons” on her last movie. At this point she’ll start talking real fast and you might have a tough time getting it all down. So make it easy on yourself. Write it all out before the interview.

She’ll tell you what she thinks of the world situation. She’ll have suggestions for how to fix it. Ignore!!! All of it. Complete balloon juice. This is where you can pick at your food.

She’ll gush about her latest movie. That’s the only reason she’s there. It’s certainly not to spend time with you. Should you excuse yourself after lunch and go to the bathroom for three minutes, by the time you get back she’ll have no idea who you are.

The thing about this film was that the director (just fill in the blank here) who is a “genius” allowed her to tap into an inner place she didn’t know even existed. He unleashed the “little girl” in her and maybe two or three past lives. It was really “scary” and “profound”. She “suffered” as a result but that’s okay because she is “all about the art”. It’s okay to eliminate all the “y’knows”, “ums”, and “likes”, but you must keep every “I’m all about...”

Do not bring up anything negative. Yes, she killed that pedestrian but it was only one and it was before she was in her “good place” and besides, she’s all about Africa now, so that’s what you need to focus on.

Never EVER talk about yourself or bring up any topic other than her. She will stare at you in disbelief like you just killed her puppy. A call to the publicist (who’s sitting at the next table with five of her best handlers) is certain to follow.

By now she’s sipping her cappuccino (which must be duly reported as well as whether she stirs it lazily, holds the cup with two hands, etc. This is vital information.). Very gingerly, bring up boyfriends. She may volunteer that her relationship is “in a good place” and then you’re home free. Again, no negatives. Do not mention that she ruined a marriage or broke up a home. Listen for these words: “(blank) has given me a real sense of self and opened my eyes to so many things.” It means she’s wrapping it up.

Thank her for taking the time. She will shake your hand and thank you. She’s amazed you got so much information out of her. She usually never is that revealing. You’ll look away for a second, a gesture of modesty. Poof! By the time you look back she’ll be gone.

If you get back to the office, write up the story, and see that you’re short you can always slug in the following: She gets great gas mileage on her Prius (even though she drove up in a Porsche). She never actually sees any of the movies she’s in. She’d like to do a comedy someday because people don’t realize it but she’s soooo funny. Harry Potter changed her life. And she’s all about the truth but she also just discovered power walking.

Write that up, see it three weeks later as a cover story in PEOPLE, and request a transfer to Iraq.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hey, who stole my flamingo?! favorite pitch meeting ever.
In 1978 my partner, David Isaacs and I were head writers of MASH. That fall we also signed on to write a pilot for CBS. Our producer was Allan Carr (pictured above). He was this rather flamboyant character famous for throwing lavish parties in the “King Tut Disco” in his home, producing such films as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE, and winning a Tony for producing LA CAGE AUS FOLLES on Broadway. He looked like composer Paul Williams -- short, cherubic, bespectacled.

We arranged a meeting to pitch our pilot story. Since we were dealing with MASH all day the meeting was set for 6 PM at his Benedict Canyon mansion (“Hillhaven Lodge”, complete with a giant eight foot Oscar statue in the driveway.)

We show up and are told by the butler he’s not ready. The butler ushered us onto the lovely outdoor patio where a bottle of wine was waiting for us as well as a Chasen’s ice mountain of fresh seafood. An hour later we’re still waiting although the bottle is now empty. And we start getting a little giddy. We were wondering how we could steal one of his ceramic flamingos. Would Allan notice the two long flamingo legs sticking out of my briefcase? We were really starting to get punchy.

Finally, we hear “Hello, hello” and quickly put on our serious game faces. A moment later Allan sweeps in wearing nothing but a flowing white caftan…and a layer of thick white cold cream all over his face. Holy shit! We almost lost it.

And now, not only must we somehow maintain decorum, we have to pitch a complete pilot story. Behind Allan sat the flamingos, making it even worse.

We somehow managed to get through it. Imagine this surreal scene – a normal pitch meeting, the producer and writers polishing a story, trading ideas, everyone acting as though there’s nothing unusual even though the producer is in a dress with Crisco dripping from his face.

We wrapped up the meeting, said goodbye, shook hands, he closed the front door, and we rolled around on his front lawn for 45 minutes laughing.

The pilot didn’t go thank God because shortly after that Allan had his stomach stapled. Lord knows what the story meetings were like following that.

More Jack Benny or... "Now cut that out!"

By popular demand, here are a few more examples of Jack Benny's greatness.

A number of commenters mentioned the famous "Sy" routine with Mel Blanc. Notice the timing... from both Mel and Jack.

Other commenters noted his influence on Johnny Carson. Here they are together.

And finally, Jack and his violin. This is a segment of a tribute to Benny hosted by another one of his disciples, Kelsey Grammer.

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on!

Yes, we had another earthquake in Los Angeles Thursday morning. 4.5 on the Richter scale. In comparison, a 9 would be like living through a Michael Bay movie. It came around 1 a.m. I was sitting at my computer. No one else in the flirt nook felt it. Lasting about a minute, there was a rumble, jolt, then more rumbling. Since my cable didn’t go out I knew there was no damage anywhere in a two hundred mile radius. My cable almost went out the previous day because of the New York rainstorm.

I’d like to say we Angelinos get used to earthquakes and just roll with them (so to speak). But each one is unnerving. In the back of our minds we’re always thinking, “Is this the big one?” followed by, “I hope the epicenter is under Rupert Murdoch’s house.”

But we try to stay philosophical. Every locale has something. Hurricanes in Florida, floods in Iowa, tornadoes in Brooklyn, bridges in Minneapolis. We just have to press on.

Well…not all of us. During one early morning quake the local Channel 4 anchor on-camera just dove under the desk in terror. Not exactly Edward R. Murrow reporting from London with enemy bombs dropping behind him.

The night of the Whittier earthquake in 1987 (Richter rated 5.9 if you're scoring.) I went to Dodger Stadium. It was the end of the season, I was trying to make a play-by-play audition tape I could send to the minors, time was running out, and I still sucked. But as I sat there in the first row of the upper deck I thought to myself, “If there’s a big aftershock is there possibly a worse place I could be than a giant 25 year old concrete overhang hovering precariously hundreds of feet above the ground?” And worse, I blew a big inning by mis-identifying Mickey Hatcher as Teri Hatcher.

But the real terrifying quake was the one in Northridge in ’94. That one had a magnitude of 6.7 and caused $12 billion in damages (including my fallen chimney). Plus there were aftershocks for weeks, some substantial. For months, every time someone turned on an electric razor people scrambled to get under door frames.

Thank goodness for Jack Popejoy. Jack was the morning anchor on KFWB radio, the all-news station. His unflappable demeanor, reassurance, and steady reporting had a huge calming effect on a very shaken population. Heroes emerge from trying times.

Everyone who lived through the Northridge quake has a story. But here’s the funniest I’ve heard. There was a business affairs guy at Paramount who took a couple of sleeping pills and slept through the entire thing. When he awoke, all of his things were strewn about the floor. So he called the police and said he was robbed.

Oh those wacky natural disasters!