Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The WGA strike

I imagine every writer who has a blog is offering his/her thoughts on the pending WGA strike today. Here, in no particular order, are mine.

And yes, I will continue to blog if there is a strike.


Make no mistake about it – industry strikes only occur when management forces the issue. ALWAYS. Every time. No exceptions. Who do you think can hold out longer? The story editor of KIM POSSIBLE with two kids in private school or Sumner Redstone? So who do you think has more to gain by playing hardball?

What’s scary is this: in the old days, one of the unions would strike, it would last for a few months and Lew Wasserman of Universal would say, “Okay, this has gone on long enough.” and it would be over. This year there is no Lew Wasserman. There is not even Universal as we knew it.


Some network officials are saying that since this season is already a bust with no breakout hits (and whose fault is that I ask those same network visionaries who programmed CAVEMEN, VIVA LAUGHLIN, and NASHVILLE?) a strike would be welcomed. They could cut losses from runaway production. That’s fine except that after the last strike in 1988 the combined network share dropped 10% and has continued to fall ever since. The industry suffered a half-billion dollars in lost revenue, and MOONLIGHTING ratings never recovered. Can the AMPTP really afford another big strike?

It’s like if you’re a restaurant that’s struggling is it a good idea to close on weekends?


How’s this for an idiotic remark? In a recent article in the LA TIMES, TV writer Robert Eisele suggested that in light of the strike if writers “can afford a Bentley, get a Mercedes.” Yeah, that helps the WGA’s image. We’re all driving Bentleys. Newsflash: NO writer I know drives a Bentley. And none will until they start putting Prius engines in the damn things! Oh...and we don’t light our cigars with hundred dollar bills either.


This acrimony between writers and management has been going on since the 1930s when scribes first rose up and had the audacity to…well, ask for things. Warner Brother czar Jack Warner warned that any writer who joined the union would “find themselves out of work forever”. And he claimed this wasn’t blacklisting because “it would all be done over the telephone”. Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox once said, “Throw that writer off the lot until I need him again!” Critic David Thomson says Hollywood writers are like divorce lawyers or private eyes. When you want them you have to have them, but later you despise them.

Is there any wonder we “Schmucks with Underwoods” have an inferiority complex and assume a defensive posture? We spend our entire careers trying to protect our work against studios, directors, actors, fellow writers, research gurus, networks, and girlfriends of the all of the above.


Networks claim that streaming shows on the internet and making them available for ipods is merely for “promotional purposes only”. If that’s true, why do they CHARGE for them on itunes? And even if they didn’t, by making shows available on the internet they reduce their value for reruns and syndication.


Nice timing of NBC Universal and News Corp to begin testing their joint venture – a video site focused solely on TV and film content – three days before the WGA contract was up.


And is it just me, or don’t writers who feverishly try to finish and turn in their drafts right before the deadline undermine the WGA’s cause? If Paul Haggis DIDN’T turn in the latest installment of the James Bond series, the studio might have a tad more incentive to make a deal, don’tcha think??

Meanwhile, other writers turned in multiple variations of scripts so the studios would have flexibility filming them. That to me is unconscionable. These are the screenwriters who stand to benefit from DVD and other delivery system royalties. All the rest of us are giving up work to fight for them and they turn in multiple drafts to accommodate the studios?? No wonder the producers think we’re idiots.

And thank you to actors like Vince Vaughn, who since he isn’t in the WGA, finds nothing morally wrong with agreeing to polish scripts during a strike. The fact that we go out on strike to craft a deal that will be the template for the SAG deal so HE won’t have to go out on strike apparently means nothing to him.


Without credit arbitration (won by the union in a hard fought battle) Jeffrey Katzenberg and Brad Grey might each have four Oscars for co-writing screenplays.


I will never make another joke about the Teamsters. I love those guys!!! If the Teamsters refuse to cross the picket lines this could be a much shorter strike than management expected.


I know WGA President Patrick Verrone. Worked with him on a project. Being in a writers room with someone on a show with problems is how you can really learn about a person. Pat is talented, reasonable, dedicated, and cool under pressure. He is far from the John Wayne his detractors claim him to be. We need to give him our support and we need to remain unified and strong.

I’ve been through three strikes already. Many of the companies I struck are no longer in business. Two-thirds of the people I struck with are no longer in the guild. And unlike actors and directors, when we go out it doesn’t just shut down the industry. It slows it. Hair restoration crèmes have faster results. But as someone who has prospered and enjoyed the gains writers before me have won, I feel it’s my obligation to fight the good fight for the next generation. And hopefully in twenty years, when the issue is holograms transmitted directly to the back of viewers’ eye lids, WGA members will hang tough for a piece of that pie.

We’re just looking for our fair share. MyPiece not MySpace. iShare not iTunes. NetWorth not NetFlix.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween

This has always been one of my favorite holidays, especially when the kids were little. Taking them trick-or-treating and seeing them so excited and happy was one of the true joys of parenthood. And then eating the candy they collected was fun too. Of course there’s always that one eccentric house. We had a dentist who gave out toothbrushes. Thank goodness he wasn’t a proctologist.

And where I live, near UCLA, there was always a second wave of trick-or-treaters. Later, after the kids had turned in for the night, sorority girls in yummy costumes would ring the bell. I’d be holding the candy bowl for them in one hand and my Emmy in the other.

During Matt & Annie’s elementary school years there was also the annual Halloween carnival. This was a public school catering to the local neighborhood but we were hardly a typical neighborhood. One year I volunteered by making snow cones and Hugh Hefner and his six bimbos strolled up to my cart. He had a kid in the school. A noted soft-porn actress whose children attended the school offered this for the silent auction: A two hour nude session where you could photograph or paint her. The principal graciously declined that offer but I bet it would have brought in a lot more money than the autographed WINGS script I donated.

For the school’s “Haunted House” Gene Simmons participated. He would pop up and stick out that four-foot tongue. One mother was so freaked she literally sued the school.

Ah, good times.

One thing I learned though, Halloween is an OUTDOOR holiday.

My son’s birthday is November 2nd. (Happy upcoming birthday, Matt!). When he turned five Halloween night fell on a Saturday. So for his party we invited a bunch of his friends to the house where I would take them all out trick-or-treating and then they’d come back for pizza and cake. 5-7 PM. No muss. No fuss. Great plan.

Except it rained. No, it POURED.

First off, as parents deposited their kids they asked if we’d take siblings since they couldn’t take them trick-or-treating in the rain. Of course we said yes, and so at 5:00 I had forty screaming crazed children running around my house – chasing each other with hatchets, and fairy wands, and Star Wars phasers. After relentlessly trying to wrangle this supercharged mob I finally sat down on the stairs and took a breath. I was so proud of myself. I had gotten through it. It’s almost 7. Then I checked my watch. 5:20.

If you have little kids enjoy these precious Halloweens. Soon enough they’ll outgrow you, want to be with their friends instead, and trade phasers for tequila shooters. At least I still have my memories… and the sorority girls keep coming around.

One last Halloween note: I’ve always found it odd that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in this holiday so they stay home…on the only night of the year when people would actually open their doors to them.

Happy Halloween.


Monday, October 29, 2007

The CHEERS script that could have ruined us

With another Writers Guild strike looming, I thought I would add one more day to my Sitcom Room seminar next weekend. I’d give all the participants signs and have them march around the hotel.

One byproduct of a writers strike is that studios may shoot existing scripts but may not change them. So jokes can’t be fixed, lines can’t be tailored to actors, locations can’t be changed (too bad if an exterior gets rained out – you can’t move inside to a new location), and special effects have to be executed just as described (whether they’re possible or not).

In 1985 there was also the possibility of a work stoppage. Back then our contract ran out March 1st, which was idiotic. We’d strike right as the TV season ended. So we’d be out for four months before the producers even knew it. All signs pointed to a peaceful resolution so life went on as planned. NBC asked for a last minute additional episode of CHEERS and David Isaacs and I were asked to write it. There was a big time crunch, the show needed to start filming the following week, so we had three days to write the script. The idea was we’d bang out a draft, turn it in on Friday, we’d all polish it on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday it went into production.

We turned in the script on Friday afternoon and on Saturday negotiations blew apart. An immediate strike was announced.

So now they had to film our very first draft, as is, no changes. This was the first BAR WARS episode. Needless to say, show night was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. I thought, “this is where we’re discovered as frauds”. Amazingly, the show played well. Not as well as it could have, don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of places where jokes could be improved and turns could be better finessed. But on the whole the show worked and there was no noticeable drop in quality.

I’m sure several writers find themselves in that spot today. The lesson here is that even if you’re only given three days to write a whole script, don’t just knock it out. Give it your best, treat it with the same care and hold it to the same standards you would anything bearing your name. Because you never know.

And the good news is, for maybe the only time in your career, the actors will HAVE TO say your words, as written. It’s almost worth taking the assignment just for that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Denver Boot

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox who won the World Championship by beating the Cleveland Indians and then had to fulfill their obligation to Major League Baseball by playing a National League team.

For the Colorado Rockies the fairy tale ended the way INTO THE WOODS did. But kudos for a great year. And they play the Dodgers 19 times next year so they have a good chance of repeating.

At least with a sweep we are no longer subjected to Tim McCarver. Was there even one sentence he didn’t begin with “We talked about this, Joe…”? Thank God for radio and Jon Miller.

With all the cameras Fox had capturing the reactions of every person imaginable, I’m only sorry they didn’t have a camera in Johnny Damon’s house.

I did enjoy the close-up of Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner yawning with two outs in the ninth – thus expressing the sentiments of most of the nation. It was the best owner shot since Jane Fonda was caught sleeping during a Braves playoff game.

Will World Series MVP Mike Lowell be replaced next season by A-Rod?

Nice classless touch of his uber agent Scott Boras to announce that he was opting out of his contract with the Yankees during the game. Reason given: Rodriguez was concerned over all the instability of the Yankees’ situation. REAL reason: Boras has another team already lined up – not that that’s kosher – not that he cares.

Alex Rodriguez will play for any manager and with any teammates if they pay him the most money. He’ll grow a beard and join the House of David if they come up with $240 million.

By the time catcher Jason Varitek leaped into pitcher Jonathan Papelbon’s arms the MLB.COM website was already offering Red Sox World Series championship merchandise. Get yer Manny do-rags in four decorative colors!

For the Red Sox it must be tough playing on the road to only 20,000 of their fans instead of the 37,000 who sell out Fenway every home game. And not being allowed to use a Designated Hitter in Colorado, Boston got a two RBI single from a pitcher and a pinch-hit home run from a utility fielder.

A year ago Jon Lester was undergoing chemotherapy. On Sunday night he won the clinching game of the World Series. How many producers do you think are standing in line to get the rights to his story?

Will Jonathan Papelbon show up this February sweeps on DANCING WITH THE STARS?

For the $103 million it cost Boston for Dice-K, it was Hideki Okajima who really shined.

Only seven of the players from the 2004 championship team were on this squad. Notably missing during the on-field celebration were Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo, Drew Barrymore.

Remember when the World Series was exciting? Remember when both teams were tough and equally matched and not just a juggernaut vs. schmuck bait? The last Game 7 in a World Series: 2002. And at the time THAT was the lowest rated WS. God knows what the numbers will be for this year’s fall classic. It may become the VIVA LAUGHLIN of premium sporting events.

Again, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox. The best team swept.

For more Red Sox observations and gloating please visit my son's highly entertaining Sox blog, Dirty Watah.

When do pitchers and catchers report? I already miss baseball.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Never think you're great

Glowing reviews are lovely but you have to take them in stride. The minute you start BELIEVING them you're cooked. Because as someone once said, "There are always Romanian judges".

David Isaacs and I wrote the screenplay for VOLUNTEERS (probably playing right now on Spike or the Food Network) and got our first taste of high profile movie reviews. To give you an example of why you can't take them too seriously, here are two reviews from presumably the same movie.

From the New York Times

Published: August 16, 1985

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

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

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

On the other hand….from VARIETY


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

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

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

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

Mary Tyler Moore Show spoof

Here's a great parody of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW from SNL in the 80's. The guy doing Lou Grant is not as good as the others but the rest of the cast is dead on.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The greatest 4 second hits

Everyone listens to the radio. Do you ever pay attention to the station jingles? Probably not. But in many cases they're the signature of the station and hearing them again jogs distant memories. For fun I've put together a montage of radio station jingles from the 60s-today (but mostly it's the older stuff). So hop in the Way Back Machine and relive some of your favorite 5 second songs.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No more hour episodes of THE OFFICE! Please!

Half hour shows are supposed to be… a half hour. Twice as long does not make it twice as good. It makes it a quarter more bad. THE OFFICE has been airing hour episodes and if you ask me it’s killing the show. THE OFFICE is normally a snappy show with a lot going on. These hour stanzas have been bloated and uneven. I’m sure it was the network’s idea to do it. Rarely do producers plead to do double the work.

I’ve written hour episodes (or two-parters) for MASH, CHEERS, and FRASIER. And here’s what I’ve learned: They turn out to be 45 minutes worth of story and fifteen minutes of filler. The stories are generally too long to tell in a half hour, not long enough to sustain a full hour.

The “Goodbye Radar” episode could have easily been a half hour. But CBS wanted to make a big “Sweeps” event out of it so we had to concoct this whole generator-going-out business, which did nothing to improve the show.

Often times episodes don’t start out as hours (or two-parters) but the first drafts come in so overloaded with story that you decide to expand them. And then you find it doesn’t expand enough. So you toss in a B-story and just keep going.

Sitcoms have their own rhythm and method of storytelling. Again, to use MASH as an example, we would normally tell two or three stories and pack each scene with as many jokes and quips as we could – to the point where we would often think it’s silly. Radar would enter the Swamp and Hawkeye would have to have a smart remark. I used to say, “What if, just once, and I know this is daring, he just said HELLO?! Y’know, like a normal human being?!” We got away with it in the half hour format but when we stretched the show to an hour the stylistic seams really started showing, and it felt like overkill.

But at the end of the day, these are writing issues and if you expressed them to the network they would laugh. Longer episodes mean more commercial time to sell, something special to promote, and one less half hour of a show that isn’t as popular. And for your series finale they want two hours. They just never realize that by forcing you to do hours along the way they hasten that finale by two or three years.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The LA wildfires

Hello from the giant ashtray that currently is Los Angeles. Our house is okay and thanks to you who have inquired. We live in Westwood, near UCLA, where the only major threat to us is earthquakes so we have great peace of mind.

But the entire region looks like nuclear winter. The sky is an eerie gold. A layer of fine ash is everywhere. The air tastes like stale mesquite. It’s odd to pick up the LA TIMES and for the weather prediction, where it usually says sunny or partly-cloudy or rainy is says “smoky” today.

NBC’s Brian Williams has said the mass evacuation as a result of the fires is the “Largest Peacetime Movement of Americans since the Civil War.” On the other hand, surfers who have been able to get to Malibu have reported that the waves are currently fabulous. Cowabunga, dudes!

Wildfires are a game of Russian Roulette hundreds of thousands play here in Southern California. Especially with real estate prices so high, younger families must move farther and farther away from the city. New communities pop up in remote canyons. Where brush fires once charred empty acreage now they’re threatening countless homes… and lives.

All of us are affected, even those in safe terrains. Eric Pierpoint, one of the actors from my play on Monday night, came to the theater after evacuating his home. My partner’s living room is filled with possessions from a friend who had to evacuate. Many Angelinos have taken in emergency houseguests. Your heart goes out to the over 500,000 whose lives have been disrupted and especially to those who’ve lost their homes and memories.

And there’s nothing you can really do to avoid such natural disasters.

It’s the old story – where you gonna go? After the big ’94 quake many residents considered relocating to a safer part of the world. But just where is that? Who doesn’t have floods, giant snowstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes, avalanches, pollution, terrorists, monsoons, wildfires, tulie fog, bees?

Needless to say, television and radio news crews have been all over this “National Disaster”. For my money, the best coverage has come from KNX radio’s Dave Williams (pictured left) and KFWB radio’s Jack Popejoy. For all the helicopter views, field reporters, update crawls, and graphics on local TV, there’s still nothing like the immediacy and intimacy of radio. KABC’s coverage has also been excellent. And their promos should win awards.

As for TV, when not stepping aside for ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and WHEEL OF FORTUNE the local stations have provided extensive coverage that ranges from outstanding to idiotic. The usual bobbleheads are filing on-scene reports. This is where you can really separate the reporters from the swimsuit models. Being able to talk on your feet, offer clear concise reports, and answer the often stupid questions from the anchors while on live TV is a talent few possess. Best in LA: Mary Beth McDade from Channel 2.

And then there’s Clete Roberts. No one is or has ever been in his league.

Roberts was the reporter in the famous MASH episode, “The Interview”. But in the 50s he was a local TV news reporter. I remember vividly watching him file a live report from the Benedict Canyon fire. He was composed. He was informative. In the background was a house burning to the ground. His house.

The winds seem to be dying down and the heroic, tireless firefighters are starting to get a handle on things. And always looking for good news, the LA TIMES had this article Wednesday: “The fires could end up being a boon for construction.

My best wishes and prayers to all affected.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The barbeque of DEATH!!!

As another World Series begins it’s always fun to look back at the season and salute the idiotic injuries players and coaches suffer. My thanks to ESPN’s Jayson Stark for uncovering these.

Bizarre injuries are a baseball tradition as much as the seventh inning stretch. My all-time favorite belongs to Dodger outfielder, Pedro Guerrero. This is a man who was up on a drug charge and the defense pleaded he was too stupid to know what was going on and he won! In 1987 during the Whittier earthquake Pedro decided to evacuate his house. Most people, when caught in that unfortunate situation, retrieve precious family photos, insurance policies, passports, etc. Pedro wrenched his back hauling his priceless big screen TV out to the lawn. The defense rests.

Now for this year’s bonehead casualties:

Raul Ibanez of the Mariners was out for a week in May with a back injury sustained when he tried to get some sleep on the team plane.

This is why I never run: Milwaukee manager, Ned Yost was jogging in Wrigley Field and tripped over a patch of loose concrete. He broke his collarbone.

Somehow in June Washington reliever, Jesus Colome suffered an “abscess on his right buttock”. The team’s General Manager, Jim Bowden is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “We pray for his buttocks and his family.”

Tampa Bay pitching coach, Jim Hickey hit a golf shot that missed the fairway, caromed off a curb and hit him the eyebrow, requiring surgery for a detached retina. No “Fore-eyes” jokes please.

Forget weapons. There should be an organization dedicated to the prevention of barbeques. They seem to account for a shocking number of baseball mishaps. Phillies centerfielder, Aaron Rowland missed a few games in the summer after “tweaking” his back while playing tag at a BBQ. Cub’s pitcher, Bobby Howry twisted his back carrying a gas grill across his patio. A dry run I’m sure in case he ever has to evacuate.

Meanwhile, Pirates pitcher, Ian Snell burned the tip of his index finger grilling chicken. “Let me just see if it’s done…AAAAAA!!!!”

Red Sox centerfielder, Coco Crisp (for you non-baseball fans, yes, that’s his real name) was struck in the knee by the Mariner Moose mobile. Apparently, the Mariner Moose was not looking where he was going. My guess is he was on a cellphone like every other driver.

And finally, there’s the Milton Bradley saga (again, for you non-baseball fans, I’m not making up these names). He got into an argument with an umpire and when his manager tried to break things up by flinging him to the ground he tore up his ACL. “Yer out!!…for a YEAR.”

Enjoy the World Series. And you might want to boil those hot dogs instead of grilling them.

Monday, October 22, 2007


There’s a reason most musicals don’t work on film. People in real life, as a rule, don’t break out into song. And there are no orchestras and background choruses on stand-by should they decide they do want to punctuate a conversation with a power ballad. Unless the project is so highly stylized that even Liza Minelli doesn’t think it’s real, musicals in real life settings tend to be well…creepfests.

Seventeen years ago, Steven Bochco decided to do a show combining a police drama and musical theater. It’s like if Reeses’, instead of combining chocolate and peanut butter, combined chocolate and toilet bowl cleanser. COP ROCK was an unmitigated disaster.

Well, I’m proud to announce that COP ROCK is no longer the worst most embarrassing show in the history of television. The monkey is off their back. There is now VIVA LAUGHLIN, so stupendously awful that no show will ever succeed in that time slot for the next 99 years.

In this series they trade cops for a casino operator but it’s the same premise. Actors inexplicably launch into songs and dance numbers. Imagine Warren Beatty in BUGSY suddenly breaking into “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper, Everyone loves Dr. Pepper”. That’s VIVA LAUGHLIN.

It was originally a hit in England but so was THE RICH LIST.

And how does something so utterly absurd get on a major network? Hugh Jackman is one of the executive producers. Network honchos got to have dinner one night with Hugh Jackman – take their picture with him, maybe get him to autograph their cocktail napkins.

I missed the pilot, which I hear was jaw dropping. But I did catch up to episode two (which, considering the ratings) also became the series finale. CBS Berlin called yesterday.

First it started with the now obligatory “Previously on” section (even sitcoms have that now). For three minutes there was this dizzying montage of unrecognizable characters blurting out random phrases. “He’s dead!” “I’ll call her in the morning.” “Did you pick up my cleaning?” “Ace beats a three.” “That Flomax really works!” Thanks. I’m all caught up now.

Then on with the show. Lloyd Owen is the star. Picture Mike Brady’s evil twin who talks like Greg Germann. He speaks in this bad Raymond Chandler dialogue. “Y’know yer problem, you play fair.” And his image as a tough guy isn’t compromised the slightest when he suddenly breaks into “I’m Still Standing” and dances up and down escalators in a pathetic attempt to recreate the Christopher Walken music video.

He has a sidekick. The “Boo Boo” to his “Yogi”. In this case, a schleppy Jewish guy. Who better to fret over the books and debt notices than a Jew? And nice touch having him sing along with “Money, that’s all I want”.

Melanie Griffith (shot lovingly through a filter of cheesecloth) plays a character named Bunny Baxter. That’s really all you need to know except Melanie’s face work came out much better than Candice Bergen’s.

Other names in this series are Nicky Fontana, Jonesy, Ripley, and Cheyenne. It’s as if everyone in Laughlin, Nevada is named after a member of the Village People.

Rounding out the group are Madchen Amick (as long as she doesn’t do comedy I’m in love), some Ryan Seacrest type pretty boy detective, and former U.S. President, Wayne Palmer from 24 (still blending into any background he stands in front of).

The episode began with two detectives spitting out five minutes of the most convoluted exposition I’ve ever heard. It would have been easier for the Nazis to break Navajo codes than to decipher this backstory.

Then an hour of hard-boiled clichés, this Mike Brady/Greg Germann (who leaves visible slime trails wherever he goes) flashy musical numbers sung by people who can’t sing, and the following plotline:

In order to get more people into his establishment, Mike/Greg tries to lure a big high roller from President Palmer’s casino to his. How? By enticing him with a hot chick. Ah, but there’s a delightful twist. He only likes fat chicks. So Mike/Greg enlists the help of an obese employee, who of course doesn’t have a problem with the idea of some weasel she’s never even met sleeping with her. In fact, she’s downright flattered that Mike/Greg asked.

And if that wasn’t scummy and reprehensible enough, there was this exchange of dialogue:

Mike/Greg explains he’d like her to turn on the charm and suck him in and she says, “If he’s that good looking I might do more than suck.


COP ROCK, please come back! I swear, I’ll never make fun of you again. Or SHOWGIRLS. Or PAINT YOUR WAGON.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Don't cry for me, Ellen DeGeneres

America is divided again. This great nation is again in danger of collapse, ripped apart by another major issue affecting each one of us personally and deeply – Was Ellen DeGeneres to be applauded for crying on television over a little doggie being taken away from a family or is she just a nut? Many claim it was refreshing to see someone on television express genuine emotion. Others think it’s time she admitted herself to the drooling academy. So I ask you, my dear blog readers – as diverse and insane a cross-section of the population as one can find, what do you think?

Was Ellen right to cry over this?

Did the agency also confiscate the dog’s bowl?

Was it okay for New York Yankees radio announcer, Suzyn Waldman to break down and cry on a post game show after the Yankees choked in the playoffs (again!) or did it set women sportscasters back a hundred years?

Can the same agency that took away the doggie (“Iggie”) do the same to Britney Spears’ child?

Were we wrong to think when Ellen was with Ann Heche that she was the stable one?

Should this be a lesson to anyone who “re-gifts”?

Should this be a lesson to anyone who sublets?

Are there worse things in life than this?

Is Katie Couric firing her staff for not thinking of this first?

Will the little dog now get his own daytime show? “Dr. Iggie”

Should Ellen have shown more composure and professionalism and waited until November sweeps to have her meltdown?

Is the dog better off in the new family?

Wouldn't this have made for a great episode of FRASIER?


Can't Ellen just buy the rescue agency?

If Juliet from The Fox Morning Show with Mike & Juliet did the same thing would anybody give a shit?

Do you even know who Juliet is?

And finally…will Ellen DeGeneres become the next Tammy Fay Baker?

Wanna see my play?

I know it's last minute but I'm having a staged reading of my play, UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL Monday night, Oct.22 at the Blank Theater at 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. It's a very small space with only a handful of tickets left, but if you're interested please go here, to the theater's website. Thanks.

Written By Ken Levine
Directed By Nikki Hevesy

Set in a hotel suite in New York, UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL is a comedy about how studios and writer/producers get their shows on the network fall schedule. It’s a world of competition, deals, deceit, allies, enemies, compromise, sex, love, death, savvy, ageism, ethics, and a fat guy in a Beefeater suit. UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL is a hilarious tragedy on the compromises creative people must make to succeed in television at the risk of losing their souls.

Speaking farce-y

Writing related stuff today.

The Toronto Star just published a blistering expose of the Sitcom Room by one of our first attendees, Rick Whelan. I've got calls in to my lawyers but of course they haven't returned them. By the way, we still have an open seat for Sitcom Room II. If you can be in L.A. November 3 - 4, you might want to grab it before someone else does. Here's where you go. Thanks.


One writing question I'm often asked is how are farces constructed? I’m sure fifty different comedy writers would give you fifty different approaches but this is mine.

First off there must be jeopardy. Something the characters need very badly and are willing to go to the greatest lengths to achieve. The situation can be totally absurd to us but to the characters themselves they’re very real. In fact, the greater the jeopardy the crazier they can act.

Secondly, a farce is built on a lie. A character lies and then to keep from getting caught must lie again. The lies multiply, the character digs himself into a deeper hole. And generally, there are several characters forced to lie. Often the lies contradict each other.

Needless to say, this takes careful planning. The structure of a farce is critical. Things have to happen with exact precision. The pressure must never let up. Constant roadblocks must be introduced. Complications on top of more complications. The vice tightens…and tightens…and tightens.

Generally, farces take place in real time. There are no fade outs, no dissolves, no relief. And as the piece builds the pace quickens. If done right, a farce should be a snowball rolling down a hill, gaining momentum and size.

Neil Simon, who wrote the wonderful farce RUMORS, is quoted as saying “At the final curtain, the audience must be as spent as the actors, who by now are on oxygen support. If the audience is only wheezing with laughter, you need rewrites or actors with stronger lungs.

They’re incredibly tough to pull off but unbelievably satisfying when you do. And for my money, no show ever did them better than FRASIER.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rated R for language

If you're familiar with the play or movie of David Mamet's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, you know it is laced with expletives. On a par with DEADWOOD or a Tommy Lasorda post game interview. Here's a great parody movie trailer. Warning: salty language. But I bet that doesn't stop you from watching.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The first scene that launched our career

Anytime I post something about MASH I get a lot of positive feedback. A few months ago I talked about our first MASH episode, how we got it, what it was about. Here's that post. You can imagine the unbelievable thrill of seeing our names for the first time on a MASH episode.

Here's the first scene from that episode -- "Out of Sight/Out of Mind".

I went out and bought a VCR unit so I could tape the show. It weighed almost a hundred pounds, cost $1700 and was 3/4". The salesman was showing me all the features. It had slow motion and even freeze frame. I asked why would anyone want those features? The salesman said, "Schmuck, for porn! Why do you want it?" Suddenly I felt sheepish saying so that I could freeze my credit and instead just said, "Yeah, porn. That's why I want it too."

You're welcome to freeze frame my credit... but only in the privacy of your own home.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Charles Emerson Winchester

I talked recently about new shows making adjustments as they try to find their way. Existing shows often make mid-course corrections as well in an attempt to stay fresh. Sometimes those don’t work out. A lot Jar Jar Binx have been added to hit shows much to their misfortune and defection of viewers. LOST seems to bury alive two new cast members a season.

But when a big change works it can revitalize a series, change the chemistry, and add years to the life of its run.

One of the most successful cast changes was Charles Emerson Winchester joining MASH. Larry Linville, who had played Frank Burns decided to leave the series after year five. It was a huge loss. Larry was a brilliant comic actor, incredibly easy to work with, and provided a lot of the comedy heavy lifting. There were those who claimed the character was the most unrealistic – how could the army sanction a doctor who was such a buffoon? But this is same army that just this week inadvertently took out a recruiting ad in an openly gay website. didn’t seem the least bit suspicious to them?

Criticism aside, the decision was made to have the new character be the complete opposite of Frank Burns. Anything else would be a faint carbon of the original. We all decided to make him a brilliant surgeon, even better than Hawkeye, and unlike Frank, a worthy adversary. Humor would come from his ego. Along those lines, we made him aristocratic. The show had never dealt with wealthy people being forced to serve – seeing a rich, spoiled, pompous ass having to live in a tent and use an outdoor latrine seemed delightful to us.

There was no casting call for the part. David Ogden Stiers was just offered the role. Executive Producer, Burt Metcalfe had seen him guest on a MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode was quite impressed and we had worked with him on a TONY RANDALL SHOW episode we wrote and were also huge fans.

We met with him the day before production began and discussed the character. He asked if he should do a Boston accent. He tried it, reading a portion of the next day’s script. We said it was good but we were concerned it would be a little hard to decipher. He said, “Well, let me back it off a little.” He read the same passage again and was perfect. We said, “That’s it!” And he did that, for every episode, the accent never slipping or changing. We knew we had a jewel.

Interestingly, the first episode he was written into was not the first episode that aired. David Isaacs and I wrote “the Merchant of Korea” (where he gets involved in a camp poker game and takes everyone’s money until they discover a tell). Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum used that to help guide them in writing the season premiere that introduced him.

I remember the opening night party, saying to David Stiers that as of tomorrow his whole life was about to change. I was right, of course. Thankfully, it changed for the better.

And MASH got a great blood transfusion.

One final trivia note: In college I once went out with a girl named Honoria. I asked if she used any nicknames, like maybe "Honey"? She arched her back and angrily said, "NO. My name is Honoria!" Needless to say we didn't click. But I used that name for Charles' sister. Never give shit to a future comedy writer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Things not to do at Disneyland

Saw this picture recently and it reminded me of a few of the stunts I used to pull at Disneyland in my younger days. Not that I'm proud of any of these of course. Tom Sawyer's Island had all those little caves and crevices. Ideal for smoking illegal substances. In the late 60's, nine out of ten teenagers would enter the park and head right for Tom Sawyer's. There could be no lines for Pirates of the Caribbean, we'd still pass it by in favor of the island.

There used to be an exhibit called "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln". A Lincoln robot would get up from a chair and deliver an eloquent speech. One time I got loaded and stood up in the middle and asked him a question. This did not sit well with others in the house.

By the way, the original Lincoln robot used to have bizarre spasms in the middle of his speech. It was discovered that the show's power supply was fed by the same sub station that fed 600 volts to the Monorail. Whenever the Monorail, ran in these sections, there would be a power surge, causing old Abe to become Jerry Lewis.

Crashing into people on the Autopia. They weren't designed to be bumper cars per se but if my friend was in the car just ahead of me -- whiplash city!

The big thing was (and is) to get Mickey Mouse hats with your name personally embroidered on it. I once slipped a guy $5 and he agreed to write "Charles Manson". This was not a big hit with Magic Kingdom patrons either.

And finally, one year I got another set of Mouse ears and had them write "Vincent" on the hat. I then tore off one of the ears. Those that got the joke were hysterical. The other 90% of Disneylan
d guests either scoffed, were confused, or just ignored me to get in line for churros.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Clayton

No spoiler alert necessary. I wish I were you and didn’t know how it ends.
MICHAEL CLAYTON is the best movie to open in fourth place this year. I’m sure it will do better after it wins a slew of Oscars.

But even with great reviews and George Clooney this Warner Brothers picture didn’t open. Jeff Robinov, the studio’s president of production recently announced that women can’t open movies and he would not greenlight any project starring a woman. So now I suppose he’ll expand that to include not greenlighting any project starring a man either.

Clooney meanwhile, gives the performance of his career. There’s something wrong when Dwayne Johnson can open a movie and George Clooney can’t.

MICHAEL CLAYTON is NETWORK meets THE VERDICT meets ERIN BROCKOVICH. For film students it’s a master class in story structure, character development, theme, and dialogue. If one USC film major is found in a theater seeing WHY DID I GET MARRIED? instead of this he should be thrown out of the department and banished to Pierce Junior College.

For all the accolades Aaron Sorkin receives, writer/director, Tony Gilroy may just be the next Paddy Chayevsky. As writer of the Bourne trilogy and now MICHAEL CLAYTON he is proving you can be great without constantly reminding everybody of it.

Every performance in this film is noteworthy. For my money Sidney Pollack is an even better actor than director (and I give him a bye for directing SABRINA). Tilda Swinton (great name) somehow manages to be both a villain and a sympathetic character (is there ANY British actor who isn’t great? I bet Benny Hill could have played Don Vito Corleone.), and Tom Wilkinson as Peter Finch is a shoo-in for an Academy Award (despite Thomas Hayden Church as the “Sandman” in SPIDERMAN 3).

Other notables include: Katherine Waterston as “Third Year”, Remy Auberjonois as “Fifth Year”, and Pun Bandhu as “Four Year”. I have no clue what those roles were but the really good ones make it look so easy you don’t even notice them.

So if you liked NETWORK, THE VERDICT, ERIN BROCKOVICH or any two of the three you should really enjoy MICHAEL CLAYTON. See it now before it becomes a TV series with Matt LeBlanc in the title role.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Hollywood is blaming the introduction of the video game HALO 3 as the reason why HEARTBREAK KID tanked. It wasn’t that it was a terrible movie. It was that kids couldn’t pull themselves away from their Xbox for two hours. Other contributing factors to HK’s poor showing: Mercury in retrograde, global warming, pies half off at Marie Calendar’s, new Britney Spears crotch shots on the net, Halloween pumpkins going on sale, and Oktoberfest.

It appears we’re heading for a strike. The producers’ position of “Take what we give you which is nothing and like it you assholes” is not sitting well with the WGA membership. No one wants a strike but remember the producers in the past didn’t just “give” us decent fees, residuals, health and pension benefits, and protected credits. Darryl F. Zanuck had the best description of what the studios and networks really think of us. “Throw that writer off the lot until I need him again.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.

I'm thrilled the Rockies won the NL pennant. Even more thrilled that they did it in four games. No more TBS coverage.

Another good reader question: “you once talked about some of the stupid things writers have to deal with, one being actors saying "but my character would never say that". If an actor has played the same character for years don't they have a feel for this?”

Absolutely – most of the time. And their input is invaluable. But some actors confuse themselves with the character or use that excuse to get out of saying something they think makes them look bad. Also, sometimes characters are based on the writers so it’s possible in those cases that the writer knows best. My favorite story on this topic: On HILL STREET BLUES, producer Steven Boccho was summoned to the set. Daniel J. Travanti said, “My character wouldn’t say that.” Steven looked at the script, pointed to the speech and said, “Yes he would. See? It’s right here.

Finally saw PUSHING DAISIES. People seem to be split on this show – either love it or find it icky. I’m afraid I fall into the ick category. For me it tries waaaay too hard to be charming, and it didn’t help that I watched it right after seeing a Salvador Dali exhibit at the LA museum.

Jorja Fox has left CSI. The good news is the show will continue. Jorja is off to pursue other projects and dreams, which is another way of saying Lifetime movies in a year.

Comic Steve Landesberg had a great routine on how networks cancel shows. You get that call from CBS Berlin. Imagine Hitler calling saying, “It’s OVER!!” Any guesses as to which new series will get that Rhineland call first? KID NATION is a pretty good bet.

How many times does Tyler Perry have to have a number one movie opening before Hollywood takes him seriously? If only he had done HEARTBREAK KID.

The answer to the question SAMANTHA WHO? is Jenna Elfman. That's who Christine Applegate is trying to play. Pretty good job on the body language, still needs work on the funny voices.

Last week’s episode of MAD MEN was the best hour of television I’ve seen all year. I’m bummed that this week is the season finale. Please don’t be like the SOPRANOS and go away for two years. MAD MEN must be the only series in history where the cigarette budget is larger than the wardrobe budget.

Jay Leno doesn’t want to be forced out of the TONIGHT SHOW in 2009 for Conan O’Brien. Conan, I have just two words for you: Deborah Norville.

And finally…

October 16th is the day I celebrate Thanksgiving. It was on this date years ago that I reported to Army boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. And no matter what crap I’m going through on that date I always take a moment to give thanks that at least I’m not there. Except the year I had to rewrite MANNEQUIN 2.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

You're on the air. Now what?

Got a good sitcom question from reader, Scott:

I think it was the 4th episode (of BACK TO YOU). If you caught the episode then perhaps you can explain some things... The guy who plays the investigative reporter wasn't in the show at all. The character is the one that cracks all the smart ass one liners (he's the maury amsterdam, murray slaughter, chandler bing). But the actor playing him was out sick/got another job/fired/quit.

There's another character, the weather reporter (Ayda Field, pictured: right) , who is a silly often oblivious, bimbo type.
However, in this particular episode she kept saying witty smart ass one-liners. And it was sooo out of character. Should we as the audience just presume that the writers of the show didn't want to depart with their great lines and therefore handed them to another character, even if the lines didn't fit?

didn't you ever run into this situation personally?

I haven’t seen the episode but have it Tivoed so I will soon. I still have to get to PUSHING DAISIES (a lot of you really like it), the replay of game two of the American League Championship Series (don't tell me who won), and fast forwarding through four TELL ME YOU LOVE ME’s to watch the sex scenes. But your question speaks to a larger issue. New series need time to find their way. The good showrunners are the ones who understand and embrace this. They don’t pre-write ten episodes and just film them as is.

Instead, they really listen to the audience reaction, they continually analyze what’s working, what’s not, what’s missing, are the stories being told the best way, is the tone right? In general, how could they do this better? And as a result characters may begin to shift a little. I don’t know the thinking behind any of the BACK TO YOU midcourse corrections but the fact that the show is evolving already is a good thing. Watch your favorite comedy series. Usually the better episodes come late in the first season or even the second.

The Fonz was originally supposed to be a minor character in HAPPY DAYS. Frasier first appeared on CHEERS in season three. WILL & GRACE really became “Jack & Karen”.

If you watch the first five or six episodes of CHEERS you’ll see we were all over the map. We didn’t know whether the show should center on its central cast or a series of colorful characters that entered the bar (a la BARNEY MILLER). So there are episodes that went in both of those directions. The one thing that became clear early on was that Sam & Diane needed to be at the heart of every episode. Their relationship was the key. And eventually the series settled in. (And the nutty characters coming into the bar was ixnayed.)

Also on CHEERS when Rebecca was introduced her character was meant to be a stern, together martinet. But it just wasn’t clicking. We found though that when Rebecca got a little rattled Kirstie Alley was really funny. And so we not-so-slowly moved her in that direction to where her character became a mess. And suddenly we had something.

Part of the fun of watching new series is seeing how the writing staff experiments and shapes it. BACK TO YOU has top people at the helm. My guess is they’re only going to make the show better. And if they give the hot weather girl a lot more to do I won’t need to fast forward through TELL ME YOU LOVE ME.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No more Frank.TV ads!!

First off, got a second to take the world's shortest and easiest survey? In case I do another teleseminar I want to know the ideal time of day to schedule it. So let me know by clicking here. Thanks.

A few thoughts on October TV (and radio)...

Have you seen a breakout hit this year yet? I haven’t.

Lots of buzz about PUSHIN’ DAISIES until it aired. And now -- nothing.

TBS baseball playoff coverage is terrible. Those endless Frank.TV spots alone are enough to make you want to kill. Now I don’t feel bad plugging the Sitcom Room once a week.

Best post season coverage is on the radio. Jon Miller for play-by-play and Dave Campbell for color. If only they were together. Dave Shulman (the other ESPN radio play-by-play man) does a good job but Joe Morgan, oh my God! He is…you know…the worst…and really… you know… has not provided a… you know…that word that means saying something you don’t know…you know?

The unfortunate thing about those Frank.TV spots is that they’re turning people off to Frank Caliendo before many can even see him. He’s a gifted impressionist and here’s an example of what he can really do.

And finally...

For some REAL talent here is beauty contestant, Stacy dazzling the judges with her incredible musical gift.

Friday, October 12, 2007


What a surprise! THE KINGDOM tanked at the boxoffice. THE VALLEY OF ELAH did even worse.

Who greenlighted these projects? It seems to me when we’re in a war that most Americans disapprove of, why would we want to see movies about it?

The marketing department for THE KINGDOM must’ve got an inkling of that. Every other day they changed their campaign trying to reposition the movie.

First it was a political thriller. As current as today’s headlines. Twists and turns. A game of cat and mouse. Betrayals and subtitles. Lots of sand in the trailer.

Then it was a love story. Operation Desert Date Night.

And then finally, it’s a Jamie Foxx action flick. He runs. He jumps. He fires weapons. There are explosions. It just happens to be in Saudi Arabia but it could just as easily be Compton.

I imagine a fourth campaign, featuring supporting player Jeremy Piven was also in the works -- Ari Gold is called upon to settle the Middle East crisis.

The time for these movies is when we have some distance. And there are probably five more of these pictures in various stages of development and production (hopefully the Farrelly Brothers aren’t remaking LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with Dane Cook).

So it’s one thing for the country to be torn by this war and our standing in the world severely tarnished, but now it’s effecting Hollywood. Now it’s impacting weekend sales.

Enough is enough. It’s now time to end this war. Ideally before the kids are out of school for Christmas break.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

5 things you don't know about me

A new meme going around asks: “what are five things people don’t know about you?”

1. When I worked at Wallichs Music City, an LA record store, in the 60’s I used to throw Neil Young out of the listening booths for smoking pot. Once every two weeks. If only he had shared!

2. Ann Jillian was my childhood friend (and still is).

3. As a teenager I was offered a job writing for LAUGH-IN. I declined in order to go to college. So I missed my chance to write comedy for Richard Nixon.

4. I’m an idiot savant trivia expert when it comes to Top 40 music of the 60’s. Titles, artists, even labels – I pretty much remember them all. Is it any wonder my sex life in high school was nil? Ask Ann Jillian.

5. And finally – O.J. Simpson was at my wedding. Now this requires explaining. He wasn’t invited. We got married in the outdoor patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel. O.J. had just finished playing a game of tennis, saw the ceremony going on and stood in the back and watched. He wasn’t there for the reception however. He was probably breaking into our room.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

the blogger and Torture awards

Wow! It seems my site is up for three blogger’s choice awards. A win here could make up for losing out on the Heisman trophy. Thanks in advance to anyone who votes for me. I promise to get us out of the war. You can vote by clicking on one of the icons to the right. So far I have like 5 votes in one category and 1 vote in the others. I don't think that's enough to win.

Not all awards are prestigious and coveted like the blogger’s choice, however. There are now “Torture Awards”. Honest. No foolin’.

Human Rights First, a New York-based (See? It’s not always Hollywood) nonprofit organization has nominated five TV series for excellence in realistically portraying torture or interrogation. The nominees are…


David Danzig, the director of Human Rights First’s Primetime Torture project said, “As incongruous as it may seem for a human rights group to honor the depiction of torture, these awards recognize that only a handful of TV shows have taken the time necessary to depict torture in a thoughtful, realistic fashion.”

As with any award competition, there are also worthy candidates who were unfairly slighted. In this case…

FOX baseball coverage with Tim McCarver

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Checking in on HOUSE

Why does anyone go to Dr. House? Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. But yikes!

Take last week’s episode, The Right Stuff. A young woman test pilot started seeing psychedelic images without the benefit of a Jimi Hendrix album. So she literally used her life savings -- $50,000 -- to have Dr. House cure her and this is what she got.

A group of 40 first year residents diagnosing her case. Actually, 39 young doctors and one imposter.

No nursing care since she wasn’t officially checked into the hospital.

A glass room so visitors could watch her fill a bedpan.

All tests performed by these newbe residents and imposter.

A mis diagnosis: Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

One test that went awry resulting in a heart attack.

Attempts to revive her causing her chest to catch on fire.

Another test resulting in a psychotic episode.

Medical students breaking into her house.

A second mis diagnosis: liver cancer.

Getting her drunk and almost causing the shut down of her liver.

She becomes unable to breathe.

A third misdiagnoses: lung cancer.

A lead doctor who thought he was imaging things.

A breast implant.

An illegal operation.

And never did anyone think that since it was her vision that was impaired that maybe they should give her an eye test.

HOUSE just seems to get more and more outrageous. Always entertaining but they seem to be reaching for stories now more than ever. As I was watching this episode, an exciting new plotline for the series came to me. I think it was during the paranoid psychotic episode. Dr. House becomes George Bush’s personal physician. Round up the green med students and the fire extinguisher!

Monday, October 08, 2007

More movies the Farrelly Brothers can destroy

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that THE HEARTBREAK KID tanked at the boxoffice. Talk about a remake that never should have been remade. The original 1972 version starring Charles Grodin, written by Neil Simon, and directed by Elaine May was a comic masterpiece. But in the hands of the Farrelly Brothers, all nuance, social commentary, elegance, and ethnicity was thrown out in favor of their special brand of gross out, low road, scatter shot humor.

I can imagine the other remakes the Farrelly Brothers have in development.

GUNGA DIN – Ben Stiller stars as Gunga Din, no longer a regimental bhisti, now a retard. He blows the horn to alert the soldiers of danger but since his mouth is full of old socks (the audience should scream at that gag) he has to blow the horn out of his ass. A HUGE improvement over George Steven’s little B-movie.

CITIZEN KANE – Ben Stiller in a fat suit stars as Michael Jackson Cane, a newspaper tycoon who builds Hearst Castle for all the paper boys who deliver the morning edition. When Stiller farts in the pool it causes a tsunami. Destined to be the version film historians will remember.

THE MIRACLE WORKER – Ben Stiller as Helen Keller, who now must save her home when the sewer backs up filling it with three feet of excrement. HILARIOUS scene where she mistakes floating turds for various household items or food products. Academy Award time for sure!

ERIN BROCKOVICH -- Ben Stiller in drag stars as Erin. In taking only slight liberties with this true life story, Erin drinks the toxic water herself and grows a penis. And every time she gets mad it becomes erect. The courtroom scene where she pokes the court reporter’s eye out is pure comic gold.

And finally…

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN – Ben Stiller, on vacation at a beach at Normandy is in for a shock when the D-Day Invasion hits. His pratfalls over dead bodies, and ducking just in time for bullets to hit unsuspecting soldiers will cause such laugher you won’t hear his funny rant on French hospitality.

Rent the original HEARTBREAK KID. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

To Sur, with love

Twice a year my wife has to go up to Berkeley for an academic conference so we took the opportunity to have a romantic night in Big Sur, visit our son in Silicon Valley (where he’s designing the new Apple iSomething), and have a leisurely weekend getting lost thanks to the Avis GPS system.

Rented my first Prius at the San Jose airport. For an extra $10 a day you can get one with Oregon plates so you’ll REALLY look like you’re going green. It would’ve been nice if Avis had included an owner’s manual. Questions I never solved: why did the little explanation point warning light go off? What does it mean? How do you get the car out of reverse?

Big Sur is absolutely breathtaking. And the drive to it on winding single-lane California Highway 1 offers spectacular views if you can just get by the traffic, gusty winds, septic tank trucks, construction, vertigo, panic attacks, drizzles, car sickness, and bikers.

You’ve seen Deer Crossing signs? There is a Pig Crossing sign on Highway 1.

Since the area is so stunningly gorgeous they take their New Age star gazing, crystals, plein aire painting, scented candles, and Yanni very seriously. Glad I opted for the Oregon plates.

Stayed at the Ventana Inn & Spa, which is my way of “roughing it”. A plasma TV and wireless internet is a must for this hearty outdoorsman. Sure the fireplace wood was pre-chopped, treated, and in a convenient burlap bag but I had to light it. Well…actually my wife lit it.

They have a clothing optional pool, which is wrong on so many levels. Let’s just say this is where the pig crossing sign should be.

Did not sign up for the mushroom hunting expedition, which reminds me, lots of old hippies still make Big Sur their cave. They can all show you Bobby Darin’s former trailer and where Jack Kerouac – all hopped-up on espresso – wrote his greatest novel (until it was explained to him that someone else had already written “Little Women”).

The drive back up to the Bay Area was equally treacherous/lovely.

Swung by storied Pebble Beach golf course in Monterey. I could almost hear the ghost of Bing Crosby saying to his caddy, “Hey, hand me a five iron, willya? Think I’ll beat Gary senseless with it.”

From the mean streets of Carmel comes this from their police blotter: “Parking complaint/violation of box delivery truck blocking in numerous cars in the Carmel Center parking lot. Driver found but had a disrespectful and cavalier response to complaining parties. His employer has been contacted/warned.” You’d think former mayor, Clint Eastwood would have cleaned up this shameful lawlessness!

There is a need for “stump removal specialists” in Carmel. Depending on how long the Writers Guild strike will be many of your favorite sitcom scribes may apply.

The Carmel Middle School was holding it’s 5th annual “Solar Tour & Sustainability Fair”. It’s as if Al Gore planned a Halloween Carnival.

Got out of there just before the moth spraying. Moths? Still??? What the hell did Mayor Clint DO for four years??

Drove past Santa Cruz. Lovely woodsy area. In California anytime you have a region with more than one hundred trees it is required by law that there be a Santa Claus Lane.

The Silicon Valley is now New Delhi with a P.F. Chang’s. Technology and the Indian culture just seem to go hand-in-hand. You see them everywhere, working at Apple and Applebe’s.

A Broadway winner with Broadway talent”. That’s what a San Jose theater was boasting with its production of GUYS & DOLLS “starring original cast members of Broadway’s CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG”.

The NHL hockey season is about to begin and folks from San Jose were surprised and delighted to learn they have a team – the Sharks. Now beginning their 17th season.

There is not one Coffee Bean in the entire south bay. However, my son Matt says there is one in Shanghai.

Palo Alto was going nuts Saturday night after the Stanford football team, a 41 point underdog, upset mighty USC. Crazed rowdy students filled the bars on University Avenue yelling, “Imported lager and Irish Red ale for everyone!

From the “Summer of Love”, San Francisco has moved into the “Fall of Maybe We Should Start Seeing Other People”.

KFRC has returned to an oldies format. But it is now the whitest radio station in America. Paul McCartney is considered ethnic.

When in Berkeley NEVER stay at the Doubletree Marina. There is a buoy in the bay that rings a bell every thirty seconds ALL NIGHT LONG. The homeless guys on Telegraph Avenue get a better night’s sleep than anyone staying at the Doubletree Marina.

Unfortunately, I was one week too late for the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. The Folsom Street Fair is a celebration of leather culture and sexual fetishism (not to be confused with the Carmel Middle School “Solar Tour & Sustainability Fair”). There were the usual couples leading each other down the street with dog collars and leashes, public floggings, men in thong underwear playing Twister, women dressed as dirty martinis in teeny silver dresses shaped like martini glasses and bra cups decorated like green olives, and for the shoppers, stalls selling such must-have items as baseball caps reading “Master” or “Slave”, silk ropes for being tied up, and a book entitled “Dungeon Emergencies and Supplies”. “The Solar Fair” offered recycling tips.

It was a hectic but fun four days. And to answer your next question: 40.3 mpg. But I understand you get even better mileage if you’re in drive.