Friday, November 30, 2007

Making chicken salad out of the new AMPTP proposal

The Writers Guild negotiating committee is taking the weekend to study the new proposal by the AMPTP. But don’t get your hopes up. Upon examination their proposal is really a big rollback. By the time this thing is settled Carson Daly will be stealing Double Bubble comics for his lame jokes.

Most writers I know are very disappointed. One or two are silently relieved, thinking, “Oh shit! If this thing is over soon then I’m going to have to actually write that pilot/episode/screenplay.”

The trick is not to get too disgusted. And yet it’s hard to find a positive spin for all of this. But in the interest of keeping moral up I have found maybe the only good things to come out of the strike so far. I know it’s a small list. If you have more, please tell me. I’m having a hard time believing the ones I have.

Anyway, they are…

The rest of the world has discovered that Nikki Finke’s website is the place to go for information.

YouTube videos have gotten much funnier now that David Letterman writers have joined the junior high nerds from Lancaster, Pennsylvania who normally contribute these comedy classics.

It hasn’t snowed.

Many writers are getting cardiovascular exercise for the first time since 1988.

I got mentioned in Rolling Stones magazine (but I haven't seen it yet so I'm not certain it's a good thing).

There was a rally to salute the veteran writers although I could have lived without the phrase "meet the writers from YESTERYEAR." It makes it sound like we're all the Lone Ranger.

We get to relive the 60s without being teargassed.

Agents for once have a legitimate excuse for not talking to their clients.

Other people may start to hate Carson Daly as much as I do.

SAG has really stood by us. Now I admire as well as lust after some of its members.

Jesse Jackson has moved on.

Bob's Big Boy gives a discount to striking writers.

And the biggest benefit – finally a new version of AMERICAN GLADIATORS!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Erin or Bonnie???

A raging controversy erupted last week in the comments section. Who was hotter – Bailey (Jan Smithers) or Jennifer (Loni Anderson) on WKRP? Commenter Mike Barer expanded the debate, adding a few more names. I can spot a blog topic when I see one! So to divide this country of ours even further, who do you think was hotter…?

Ginger or Marianne (GILLIGAN’S ISLAND)?

Kate Jackson or Farah Fawcett or Jackie Smith (CHARLIE’S ANGELS)?

Farah Fawcett or Cheryl Ladd (also CHARLIE’S ANGELS)?

Dick York or Dick Sargent (BEWITCHED)?

Diane or Rebecca ( CHEERS)?

Marcia Brady or Laurie Partridge?

Betty (ARCHIE) or Betty (FLINTSTONES)?

Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?

Patty or Cathy (PATTY DUKE SHOW)?

Christian or Sean (NIP/TUCK)?

Cutthroat Bitch or 13 (HOUSE)?

Erin Andrews or Bonnie Bernstein (ESPN -- pictured above)?

Daniel Craig or Sean Connery?

Lindsay Wagner or Michelle Ryan (BIONIC WOMAN)?

Melissa Stark (NBC news) or Kiran Chetry (CNN)?

Suzanne Pleshette or Mary Frann as Bob Newhart’s wife?

Tom Brady (PATRIOTS) or Peyton Manning (COLTS)?

Susan or Lynette or Bree or Gabrielle or Edie (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES)?

Kristen or Summer or Julie or Marissa on THE OC?

Napoleon Solo or Illya Kuryakin (THE MAN FROM UNCLE)?

Bea Arthur or Betty White on GOLDEN GIRLS?

Ariel or Princess Jasmine?

Dylan or Kelly on BEVERLY HILLS 90210?

And finally….

Marcus Carl Franklin or Ben Whishaw or Heath Ledger or Christian Bale or Richard Gere or Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’M NOT HERE?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

And now a word from our 250 sponsors

I know this sounds like one of my parodies but it’s legit. There’s a new TV show that is sixty minutes of nothing but commercials. It premiered on the ION network (whatever the hell that is) last Monday night. Firebrand, the production company making this show believes that kids LOVE commercials but they just don’t like them as interruptions in shows. So the solution: an hour straight of them.

Hey, it still has to be better than watching VIVA LAUGHLIN or DR. PHIL.

The idea is to make it seem like an MTV show. They even have CJ’s who will introduce the spots.
Now this may seem like a revolutionary idea but it really isn’t.

A version of this was done in Los Angeles way back in the 50s. Lloyd Thaxton (a TV pioneer who rivaled Ernie Kovacs in inspired lunacy) got stuck with roughly the same assignment. Lloyd was kind enough to share the complete story. (I also invite you to
check out his blog. It’s better than a Way-back machine.)
In 1959, KCOP started a drawing-for-prizes contest for small businesses, i.e., dry cleaners, gas stations, mom and pop grocery stores, etc. The merchants would pay to have a box put in their place of business and KCOP would promote the contest. For this fee merchants were also promised a 15-second commercial on KCOP.

It would be a voice-over slides commercial plugging their establishment. Lots of businesse
s signed up. As staff announcer, KCOP came to me to develop a show around this contest. In order to squeeze all the commercials in a one-hour a day show, each two-minutes break would have to have at least eight 15-seconds spots.

To make this happen, they had to interrupt the one-hour program for commercials every three minutes. Are you still with me?

Because a recording usually averaged about three minutes, we decided to do a TV DJ show called "Lloyd Thaxton's Record Shop." The problem, besides reading all of those commercials another problem, was what to do during the
three minutes of SHOW TIME when the record was playing. That is when I came up with all those gimmicks of making the music visual (the beginning of music videos?), i.e., lip-synching, piano synching, finger people, animated album covers. Anything I could come up with to fill the three minutes between commercials.

I had guests on the show like Jerry Lewis and Stan Freberg but you c
ouldn't interrupt an interview every three minutes. So, I would bunch up the commercials and sometimes their would be 16 spots all in a row (four minutes of commercials. It was all live. No breaks for the host. I loved it.

Who would watch such a stupid show? A guy reading boring commercials over boring slides every three minutes and then lip-syncing a record in-between. KCOP figured no one was watching at 11 AM, so they didn't really care. But I cared.

Surprise, surprise, the show slowly started getting an audience. It grew and grew. It was a nutty show, but guest artists not only enjoyed being on the show they were getting great exposure for what they were plugging (their albums, films, and single records). After three years, I added teen-agers to the mix, threw out all those commercials and the show became, "The Lloyd Thaxton Show." The rest, as they say, is TV history.

I wish I had tapes of Lloyd Thaxton's Record Shop. There was no tape then. Three years, five days a week, 52 weeks a year LIVE and all on one camera. We would go from a serious interview to my putting my lips through an album cover and syncing a song from my guest's new album. And then I would open my three-ring binder and start reading the commercials. I'm still asking, "who would watch a show like this?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Amy Adams deserves an Oscar for her work in ENCHANTED. I realize that’s a bigger fairy tale than an animated princess coming to life but her comic performance was so inspired that I’d vote for her over all the heart wrenching showy Kidman/Densch/Streep angstfests that will undoubtedly get nominated instead. This is the same Amy Adams who was nominated for an Academy Award for JUNEBUG and was fired off that brilliant CBS show, DR. VEGAS.

ENCHANTED follows an often-used formula – extreme fish out of water lands in New York. Other examples are SPLASH, ELF, and MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

But ENCHANTED turns out to be a really fun movie. I say that with a certain amount of surprise since this is the type of film I usually run from. And there are not too many guys who are going to say to their buddies, “Hey dudes, let’s go see ENCHANTED tonight.” But the movie is smart, funny, and a great send-up of all those classic Disney animated features that were so precious you wanted to buy a gun. And guys secretly want to bang the Little Mermaid so Amy Adams will certainly hold their interest.

The key to ENCHANTED is that everybody plays it straight, led by Amy. This is not a sketch. There’s no winking at the camera. Amy totally commits to this princess and that’s what makes her hilarious… and even believable. It’s the most fully realized two-dimensional character I’ve ever seen. And she can sing and dance!

Patrick Dempsey was handsome and likable and hopes his feature career takes off like Tom Hanks’ did with SPLASH.

James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, and the chipmunk also did yeoman work.

Screenwriter Bill Kelly didn’t miss a trick. There’s not a Disney cliché that isn’t spoofed other than killing Bambi’s mother (Oh. Sorry. SPOILER ALERT). It’s as if he’s saying, “Hey, you weren’t the only one who cringed at all this crap.” And the songs by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz are dead-on parodies of those horrible songs originally written by, well… Menken & Schwartz.

My favorite credit: Hag make-up effects: Rick Baker.

Disney will make a for-toon on this movie. Forget the boxoffice. There won’t be a thirteen-year-old girl in America who won’t own the DVD. And then there’s the inevitable TV series, Broadway production, and ice show. So Bob Iger will live happily ever after.

Meanwhile, ENCHANTED will transform Amy Adams into Hollywood Royalty. And even if she doesn't win an Oscar she's a shoo-in to cop a Golden Globe. But that's like saying she's not marrying the handsome prince but his valet instead.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Report from the front

First off, thanks to everybody for your nice comments on yesterday’s post. And great idea assembling a “Best of My Blog” collection for my second unsold book. It would have been a bigger hit than the first one if it had been published.

Back on the picket lines at 20th Century Fox. Another good turnout.

Everyone is walking much slower this week. Thanksgiving hit this union hard.

The toughest part at 20th is not the physical aspect of trudging miles in an endless circle. It’s having to look at that huge billboard for MR. MAGORIAN’S WONDER EMPORIUM. The movie’s a bomb! Take it down!

There’s an upbeat attitude now that formal talks have resumed. And rumors abound that we’re close to a settlement. Of course, there are also rumors that we’ll be on strike until June, and Ellen DeGeneres is going to have Michael Vick as a guest on her show.

I once asked my agent if a certain rumor was true and he said, “All rumors are true…eventually.”

One writer on line said to me, “Didn’t you quit the business and move?” Uh…no. But now I’m worried abut that “all rumors are true” theory.

At least it wasn’t my agent who asked me that question.

We hold up signs beckoning motorists to honk and when they do we’re the ones suffering the brunt of the loud harsh horn blasts. Inside the studio no one can hear them. Explain to me why this is a good idea?

We walk past this fountain, which is really torture because the nearest bathroom is at the Rancho Park golf course a half mile away. I usually finish my shift hopping on one foot.

A friend asked if I was going to be picketing NBC. I said no, I can't even get a meeting outside NBC.

Lots of talk on the line about what the Yankees are going to do during the winter. I suspect in the New York marches no one is speculating on the Dodgers next move.

Where are the agencies with snacks and drinks now that the camera crews are gone?

Didn’t see any stars out there either.

A food drive is taking place at all picketing locations. Food will be going to SOVA, a division of Jewish Family Services. SOVA serves the entire community – all races, religions, whatever. So the agencies weren’t there with snacks the one day they really would do some good.

Sell it, Sally.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two years ago today...

...I first began this blog.

When I decided to start one my daughter Annie was horrified. “Oh no! Another ‘I got up late this morning and brushed my teeth and flossed and then made myself some cereal” boring record of someone’s life.” I assured her I would never do that in this blog. Just her voicemail.

I would write penetrating, witty, sparkling articles on anything that interested me. Maybe offer some writing advice, tell a few war stories, review a movie or two, share some of the funny emails I had sent to friends in the past. And every so often I would succeed beautifully!

A fellow blogger suggested that to build an audience I should post at least three times a week. I figured, “Well why not everyday?” Compiling stories from a 30+ year career, and all that I’ve learned about the craft of writing, I should easily be able to post once a day…for two months.

The original objective was to increase my visibility in the hopes of getting a collection of humorous travelogues I emailed to friends published as a book. I had previously shown them to one editor who said “Very funny but no one knows who the fuck you are.” So I started a blog. So far that plan has been a giant bust. I can’t even get a book agent at the agency that represents me.

But my objective has changed. This blog has taken on a life of its own. Connecting with all of you – from all over the world (I still can’t understand why someone in Kuwait would give a shit about what I think of the Bionic Woman) has been an unexpected total joy. And then there’s the neat blog swag I’ve received. Some books, DVD’s, a few things I won’t specify because I plan on re-gifting them this holiday season, and the folks at Astroglide were so tickled I made a joke about their fine product they sent me an Astroglide mug. I’m keeping that. (Yeah, like I could give it to a woman.)

And amazingly, the two months have now turned into two years and I still haven’t run out of things to talk about. Between the strike, porn star karaoke, AMERICAN IDOL, award shows, THE CELEBRITY FIT CLUB, baseball, tips on writing specs, Debra Messing, golden memories of AfterMASH, worst song competitions, shamelessly hyping my seminars and play readings, travel tips, channel surfing, lost scripts of CHEERS, Katie Couric, and miscellaneous opinions on anything (whether I’m informed or not) I’ve been able to keep posting on a daily basis. (It’s also very helpful that you suggest topics and questions for me.)

Some goals for this year: To meet more of you in person. To have a few of you break into the business and thank me when you win an Emmy. To get a whole set of Astroglide mugs.

Thanks to everybody for finding and sticking with this blog. Tell your friends… especially if your friends are book editors.

Onwards and sidewards.



I know nobody reads the archives but if you’re curious, here was the very first post.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Levine's Laws

When I was broadcasting for the Mariners I came up with "Levine's Law". It is:

The lead-off walk will always come around to score, unless it doesn't.

So far I have never been proven wrong. These are the kinds of pearls I will be bringing to KABC radio in Los Angeles when I co-host a sportstalk show this Sunday night. (And yes, they stream. Here's their website.)

But just for you, my cherished blog audience, I share my other irrefutable laws.


Parking toll attendants at LAX are the slowest and dimmest people on the planet. They make postal clerk look like an Indy 500 pit crew. And the dimmest of the dim are working this weekend during the Thanksgiving rush.

There are more New York cab drivers who speak English than all the night nurses in all metropolitan hospitals combined.

There is not one mohel who doesn’t think he’s a comedian. There is not one mohel who is right.

The AMPTP will never give writers anything they're not absolutely forced to.

No pregnant woman looks good in a bikini.

If a waiter doesn’t write down your order he will get it wrong.

If you’re telling a joke in a restaurant the waiter will arrive and interrupt the minute you get to the punch line.

The driver in front of you is an idiot.

There will always be one young couple that brings a baby to a slasher movie.

A hostess in an empty restaurant will always lead you to the worst table.

If a restaurant patron has a walker or cane he will always be seated at the farthest table from the entrance.

In every article that mentions you, no matter how complimentary the article, there will always be one thing said or misquoted that will prevent you from Xeroxing and sending it to your family.

The heavier and more cumbersome your carry-on luggage, the farther your gate will be from the terminal.

When a hostess tells you it’ll only be five more minutes, they just have to clear off some tables – it’ll be twenty.

The minute you begin eating on an airplane, turbulence will begin.

When a couple from the mainland gets married in Hawaii the marriage is doomed. It's okay to honeymoon there, just not have the ceremony. Trust me, you have a much better change of survival if you tie the knot in an Elvis chapel.

Nine out of ten tourists at Disneyland are overweight. Ten out of ten if they stay two days.

The screw up because the hospital forgot to bill the correct insurer will never ever ever be resolved.

Women will always claim the number one thing they’re looking for in a man is a sense of humor and then pick the best looking guy.

On my sportstalk show, the first caller will have a question about something I know absolutely nothing about.

The story behind the CHEERS theme

Got a request for the full-length version of the CHEERS theme. There’s a great story behind it.

1981. Songwriter Gary Portnoy had just been fired as a staff writer from a major music publisher. His friend Judy Hart Angelo happened to meet a Broadway producer at dinner one night who needed a score written for a new musical he was producing. They decided to team up. Gary had never written for the theater, Judy had never written a song.

Somehow a tape of one of their demo songs found its way to Hollywood and the Charles Brothers. They thought it would be perfect for the theme of the new show they were developing, CHEERS.

But that’s not the song you know.

When the Broadway producer found out one of his songs was to be a TV theme he had a fit and legally blocked Paramount from using it. Crushed, Gary and Judy wrote new songs for CHEERS. But none of them connected the way the old one did.

Finally, after four or five rejected tunes they submitted “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” and that one struck a chord.

But even that’s not the song you know.

The original opening lyrics were changed to give it a more universal appeal. These are those original opening lines:

Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose
It’s a crisis in your life

On the run ‘cause all your girlfriends

Want to be your wife

And the laundry ticket’s in the wash

Once the song was written and approved there came the issue of who was going to sing it? Gary had sung the demo. There were those who wanted a big name and others who liked Gary’s rendition. With less than a month to go before the premiere it was decided that Gary would sing it and the arrangement would be simple just like the demo. Surprisingly, the Charles Brothers did not attend the recording session. We were all in the room writing one day when Glen Charles casually mentioned that they were doing the theme on one of the scoring stages. But their faith in Gary was rewarded.

The Portnoy-Angelo theme for CHEERS is one of the most memorable in TV history. Several weeks after the premiere Gary went back into the studio to record a full-length version of the song that actually made the pop charts.

Here’s that expanded version. To my knowledge it only aired on the show once, during the 200th episode.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

WKRP in Cincinnati

First off: Please tell me you weren't one of those people who got up at 4 a.m. to attend the Mervyn's sale.

Now for today's post.

WKRP in Cincinnati was a moderate hit when it originally aired on CBS and for some reason became a huge hit when it went into syndication. It was created by Hugh Wilson who went on to direct POLICE ACADEMY and FIRST WIVES CLUB. We worked together on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. I went on to direct ENCORE ENCORE.

I also knew Jan Smithers. We went to high school together although she was ahead of me. But I think I once drooled on her. In 1966 NEWSWEEK did a big feature article on "the teenagers" and Jan was on the cover (looking spectacular of course). Talk about a big celeb on campus. She was the star of Taft High. And at the time we had future Houston Astro Larry Dierker and a member of the Electric Prunes. There are rumors she's having some hard times. I know you join me in wishing her the best.

Now, as promised...

WKRP had a great theme song (back in the days when shows even had theme songs). Sung by Steve Carlisle, here is the hard-to-find full length version.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The greatest Thanksgiving episode ever

Here's a scene from the classic episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. The idea came from a real radio station promotion that went awry. A plane was going to drop free turkeys on listeners. But they used frozen turkeys. Here's the scene. And tomorrow, another WKRP treat. The rarely heard long version of the theme song.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The big Hollywood rally

When I was a kid growing up in LA, the Thanksgiving weekend always began Wednesday night with the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Blvd. I looked forward to it every year. Unlike parades with elaborate floats and impressive marching bands, this one featured Hollywood B-actors, second bananas, local fringe celebrities riding in cars with their names hand painted on the sides, and a few 100 year old guys from an American Legion Post playing trombones. The big finale was the arrival of Santa Claus, usually on a float that looked like a Cub Scout project gone horribly wrong.

The parade began in 1928 as a way to lure shoppers to Hollywood. In the 30’s and 40’s big stars would participate. It was the only time Bette Davis would get within a hundred yards of real people. In 1946, the parade inspired Gene Autry to write “Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Santa Clause Lane”.

Alas, the changing times have not been kind to the parade. The level of celebrities slipped even below Iron Eyes Cody. It was eventually discontinued.

But through the wonder of the Writers Guild strike it was back! In a fashion.

The guild sponsored a giant Solidarity Rally on Tuesday down Hollywood Blvd. Not only could I finally go to the parade, I was IN IT! Me and like 5,000 other people. Tons of folks I hadn’t seen in years. One writer said to me he saw so many people that he thought were dead.

Went with my partner David and my son Matt. We thought we were so cagey. Since parking had to be a nightmare in Hollywood, David suggested we drive to the Valley and take the subway in (Yes, we have a subway in LA. You have to drive ten miles to find it but it’s there.) Easy free parking, no muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, a gazillion other writers had the same idea. Every lot was full. It took forever to park.

But it was all worth it. No crazy people on the train. And the atmosphere was electric at the rally. Anybody who used to be somebody or hopes to be somebody was there. Most in red. A few in those “Tevye” caps to really give the feel of a Communist rally circa 1935.

Finding the stars was like playing “Where’s Waldo”. They were there but in amongst the writers, off spring of writers, the Health Care Workers (who unlike the writers actually chanted), CAA agents with trays of cookies, voice-over artists, Teamsters, guys handing out “Impeach Bush flyers”, crew members, hookers, sympathetic tourists, dogs, and of course that champion of labor – Spider Man.

Someone said they saw Debra Messing, I saw the hot blond from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. And then a thrill. I not only saw, but met, and got my picture taken with Steve Hibbert. You may not recognize him but you’ve seen him and thrilled to him on screen. He played the “Gimp” in PULP FICTION. This goes on my wall along with my picture of me and Michael Dukakis.

As we all assembled, Alicia Keyes gave a concert. We had enough people for a mosh pit but there was more business at hand.

Later, once we had marched down Hollywood Blvd past such landmarks as the Kodak Theater and the Fredericks of Hollywood Museum of Bras there were speeches. I was so far back I had no idea who was speaking or what they said. But I agree with them, each and every one.

It must’ve taken a good hour to march from Ivar to the Grauman’s Chinese Theater but that’s still faster than driving. Along the way I chatted with Batman. He wasn’t carrying a sign but did agree to put a WGA decal on the back of the Batmobile.

In all my years in the guild -- through four strikes and the awards show where Josh Logan fell off the stage during a dance number -- I’ve never seen such unity, such spirit, such resolve. I was proud to be there, proud to be a member of the WGA. And enormously grateful to all the other unions, concerned citizens, and superheroes who joined us in support. All the writers are asking for is a fair deal, nothing more. And as this rally demonstrated, we’re not going to settle for anything less.

It was the best Santa Claus Lane Parade in twenty years.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Movie Preview: Part 2

More of the movies Hollywood is force feeding you.

MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM – Another movie DOA. Dustin Hoffman in his studied meticulous attempt at whimsy. I know there’s torture-porn. Is there such a thing as enchantment-porn?

THE MIST – Stephen King’s latest horror film. Giant can of Lysol threatens the earth.

THE SAVAGES – Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are siblings dealing with their dying father. I bet they learn life lessons.

AWAKE – Jessica Alba (pictured right), whose last good movie was CAMP NOWHERE, tries it once again.

GRACE IS GONE – John Cusack seems to be a widower in every movie. In this one he takes a road trip. Life lessons and rest stops at Shoneys.

P.S. I LOVE YOU – Widows and widowers are in! Hilary Swank is the one left behind in this one. She tries to live out her ex’s to-do list. I hope “pay life insurance bill” was already crossed off the list.

CASSANDRA’S DREAM – Woody Allen’s 286th movie. Two brothers in London turn to crime. Original title: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE BRITISH.

THE PERFECT HOLIDAY – The one shopping mall Santa in history that gets lucky.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – Why? Younger viewers have no idea who they are and older viewers never loved them anyway. Add to that a shit joke in the trailer and you have the makings for the season’s biggest bomb.

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH – Francis Ford Coppola is back after ten years of stomping grapes to present a thriller about a professor (Tim Roth) on the run from the Nazis. If it was Alvin and the Chipmunks instead of the professor I think I’d root for the Nazis.

THE GREAT DEBATERS – Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker as debaters. Denzel also directs so I’m guessing he wins.

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR REQUIEM – Opens Christmas day so I assume it’s a holiday movie for the entire family. Maybe there are even songs!

THE BUCKET LIST – Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman have some things to do before they die. Morgan has to be in six more Ashley Judd-in-jeopardy movies and Jack has to be able to fit into size 44 pants.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman...written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols. Who cares what it’s about? I’m going!

Which one of these movies seems worth a $16 ticket at the ArcLight in Hollywood? Besides CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR.

Tomorrow: my report on the big WGA rally. The hottest out of work writers in Hollywood will all be there! Hope to see YOU.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Holiday Movie Preview: Part 1

What to see this holiday season? Look no further.

SWEENEY TODD – Tim Burton turns everything into SWEENEY TODD so this should be a natural. And it has Johnny Depp and Sondheim’s bulletproof score so how bad can it be? Also stars Helena Bonham Carter as the director’s wife who always gets a part.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING – Stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as the director’s wife who always gets a part. Also Nicole Kidman in her most “courageous performance” since her last most “courageous performance”.

ATONEMENT – Keira Knightley looks spectacular in the trailer. There’s a love story, battle scenes, star crossed lovers, whatever. As long as she eats.

FRED CLAUS – Already dead. Vince (“who needs writers when I can just fix scripts myself?”) Vaughn in a studio formula Santa Claus movie. ELF it’s not. ALF it’s not.

ENCHANTED – is about a live princess who used to be a cartoon character. Women! There’s always baggage!

JUNO – Teenager puts her baby up for adoption. Great buzz on the script. Written by a former stripper. If the strike drags on forever she at least has something to fall back on.

I AM LEGEND – Will Smith. Should be entitled I AM OSCARWORTHY.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD – Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS), it’s about an oilman in California and has a minimum of dialogue. Could either be a masterpiece or the feature long college student film from hell.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS – Sequel. Nick Cage finds treasure map in Thomas Jefferson’s wig receipt.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY – The one movie I can’t wait to see. John C. Reilly as a rock star moving through musical decades. Co-written by Judd Apatow. It sounds like FORREST GUMP meets SUPERBAD. Jack Black as “elfin” Paul McCartney. I gotta see the movie just for THAT.

I’M NOT THERE – Six actors and actresses take turns playing Bob Dylan. The “elfin” Jack Black is not one of them.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS – A giant spectacle featuring polar bears, wondrous worlds, children, and Nicole Kidman in her “most courageous role” since MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, unless she filmed this one first.

PERSEPOLIS – The title speaks for itself.

BEOWULF – When Christian monks first wrote this story over 1,000 years ago this is how they envisioned it – as a big blockbuster motion-capture digital animated thrill ride with Angelina Jolie coming out of the water...naked.

The conclusion tomorrow.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

I love cutthroat bitch

Anne Dudek has gone from "White Chick" to "Pregnant Neighbor" to "Cutthroat Bitch" but more on that later...

Encouraging news that the WGA and producers will go back to the negotiating table after Thanksgiving. Some say CAA's Brian Lourd initiated the call. Others say Alex Rodriguez.

Public opinion could have had an impact. Recent polls suggest more people believe O.J. than the AMPTP.

Let's hope the talks are productive and the producers don't want to spend a lot of time working out minimums for the WB & UPN, formulas for Betamax tapes, and new credit guidelines for hour variety show writers.

I couldn’t be happier that Patric Verrone is our WGA president in this difficult struggle but I just wish he didn’t look so much like Hitler.

There's going to be a big rally on Tuesday afternoon on Hollywood Blvd. We've had actors, writers assistants, and John Edwards participate. Now we invite prostitutes to walk the line with us.

My friend, Darlene Koldenhoven is an extraordinary Grammy winning singer. She recently performed on a bill with Jennifer Holliday and Natalie Cole and the LA WEEKLY said this:

Darlene Koldenhoven let loose a piercing high note near the end of her performance, it may have been the only time in history that an opera singer’s rapturous crowd response was led by someone in the audience yelling . . .YOU BETTER WORK, BITCH!"

High praise indeed!

Koldenhoven, by the way, is her stage name. She performs again December 2nd at the Jazz Factory in LA. She’s also the lead singer of the KRTH radio jingles, which is why she can sing all her big hits in under a minute.

Finally!! All-time home run chump Barry "U.S." Bonds, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on perjury and obstruction of justice charges after a four-year investigation into whether he lied under oath about his use of steroids. Big debate in baseball circles: should his police record also have an asterisk?

It's now likely the Hall of Fame will not have either the home run king nor the player with the most hits.

My favorite new character on television is "Cutthroat Bitch". Anne Dudek on HOUSE. Previously she starred in WHITE CHICKS and last season was the pregnant neighbor in MAD MEN. You can't say she's typecast.

Speaking of HOUSE, I was thrilled they kicked Michael Michele to the curb. HOUSE marks the eighth series I've found her charmless and cold.

Good news! The LA TIMES has begun its Oscar coverage with a weekly special section called THE ENVELOPE. Meanwhile, strike coverage has been relegated to the Business Section. I somehow can’t see THE DETROIT FREE-PRESS not running stories about an auto strike on page one. But then again GM doesn’t own the DETROIT FREE-PRESS.

And good luck to the stagehands in New York on their strike. Disney flew in a top labor relations negotiator from LA. It's one thing to strike Broadway, it's another to mess with THE LITTLE MERMAID musical.

Next up: My Holiday Movie Preview. Accurate mini-reviews of films I haven't seen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Talks to resume!

It was just announced that the WGA and AMPTP will resume formal negotiations after Thanksgiving on November 26th. Let’s hope for an early Christmas present.

Thanksgiving travel tips

The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here again are some travel tips:
Leave for the airport NOW. Especially if your flight is on Wednesday.

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an ear ache and make everyone come to YOU.

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Three words of advice if you’re driving a long distance: XM satellite radio. Especially if you’re crossing Texas and want to listen to Air America.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.

When you’re stuck in St. Louis and all flights are grounded (and trust me, you WILL be), grab lunch at Mike Shannon’s.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone whose already eating or reading Ann Coulter.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, THANK GOD YOU'RE HERE won’t be there (thank God).

Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jane Espenson on writing comedy & drama

Taking a break from the strike today.

One question I'm often asked is can a writer go back and forth between comedy and drama and just how different are the required skills? Since my drama resume is limited to selected scenes from MASH and comedies that didn't work so I called them dramas, I thought I would ask someone who really does thrive in both worlds -- fellow blogger and terrific writer, Jane Espenson.

Hi all. Jane Espenson here. Ken has been kind enough to let me drop by and shill my book here. It's a nifty little collection of essays, called "Serenity Found," about the dearly departed show Firefly and the movie Serenity that followed it.

Ken suggested that for this guest gig, I might want to talk about what it's like to go back and forth between writing comedy and writing drama. I've been lucky enough to get to do this, having written for half-hours including Dinosaurs, and Ellen, and more recently Jake in Progress and the newest Andy Richter project, Andy Barker, PI. My one-hour jobs include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, and my current position at Battlestar Galactica, among others. I was initially urged not to try to create a career like that -- my agent at the time worried that it would look "unfocused." Maybe he was right, but, man, I'm having fun.

Switching back and forth between some of these shows has been like that sport where you have to ski for a while and then shoot a gun and then ski some more. The activities are so different, require such different skills, that you feel crazy for putting them together.

I'm actually talking here more about the difference between multi-camera and single-camera, more than I am between half-hour and hour. It's the "puttin' on a show for a live audience" aspect of multi-camera that makes the whole procedure so different. The production of each episode is so intense and immediate, that it becomes the center of the staff's life, their time split between run-throughs and group rewrites on this week's script, and group rewrites of NEXT week's script. You spend almost all your time in that writers' room, and some of it on a sound stage, and none of it at home. And much of the time in the room is spent pitching jokes... tossing words into the air in full view of the rest of the staff. I love the sweaty energy of it, and when you feel like you're contributing, there's nothing like it. And, of course, nothing can compare to hearing a live audience laughing out loud at your joke. It's a job made of adrenaline and guts.

Writing for an hour drama, even a funny one, is a quieter job, with better hours. You still spend a lot of time in the writers' room, but you're looking at a cork board, breaking story, not at a monitor, pitching lines. It can still be a sweaty and urgent business, especially if a story is refusing to break, and the time to produce a draft is dwindling, but the quantities of sweat are smaller and don't actually fly off your head like in a cartoon.

Dramas also generally allow each writer to get more of their words into the mouths of the actors, since there isn't a communal rewrite process. The downside of this is that there's less opportunity to watch more experienced writers sharpen your thoughts for you right in front of your eyes. I always tell people to work on a comedy for a while to learn how to write jokes. Then go to a drama so you can get your jokes on the air.

To return to my biathlon metaphor, drama writing is the cross-country skiing part, requiring solitary patience and an evenness of effort. Multi-cam comedy writing is shooting the rifle -- intense, immediate, and loud.

And, in light of current events, let me add that despite these differences, the core of the job -- skillful word-wrangling -- is the same. Not everyone can do it. If you can, be proud, find the right niche or niches for you, and don't let anyone tell you that what you do doesn't deserve fair compensation.

If you're up in the middle of the night

Depending on when you read this I either will be or have been a guest on the Ben Maller national show on Fox Sports radio from midnight to one west coast time. So I’m either looking forward to it or had a great time.

Later tonight: a guest blogger -- one of my favorite people, Jane Espenson.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The WGA strike red carpet show!

On Tuesday hundreds of stars joined picketers outside of Universal. First off, thanks to all of them. Expect to get juicier speeches and more punch lines when this thing is over. But I was surprised more entertainment reporters weren’t out there to host “Red Carpet at the Strike” shows. Where were Joan Rivers and Melissa? Sam Rubin? Mindy Burbano? Tawny Little? Ryan? J-Lo’s sister? I can almost picture what those shows would have been like. Pick any one of those hosts as the reporter.

REPORTER: “Coming over now is Kim Delaney. Kim, gray is a really great color on you.”

REPORTER: “Here’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Great to see you out here. What a worthy fight. So did you see BEE MOVIE yet? What did you think?”

REPORTER: “Here’s Ray Romano from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. So it’s nice of you to be here because you’re already rich off that show. How much have you made?”

REPORTER: “Lisa Edelstein! You look gorgeous!! Who did your baseball cap?

REPORTER: “I’m talking with January Jones from MAD MEN. What is MAD MEN?”

REPORTER: “Here’s January Jones from MAD MEN. January, compare what life was life for writers in the 60’s to now.”

REPORTER: “Julia Louis-Dreyfus is with me now. Julia, have you talked to Jerry? What does he think about this strike?”

REPORTER: “Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller! So the fact that you’re out here, supporting the writers, does that mean you don’t blame them for HEARTBREAK KID?”

REPORTER: “Here’s Nicollette Sheridan from DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Maybe you can answer this question. Eva gave out pizzas last week to writers. What kind, do you know?”

REPORTER: “George Lopez is in the house. George, don’t you write your own material? Do you really need writers?”

REPORTER: “Bill Paxton from BIG LOVE. I know you play a bigamist on your show. Tell me, if you were a writer, do you think you’d be still be supporting the strike if you had three wives to feed?”

REPORTER: “Kaley Cuoco” is here! She’s on BIG BANG THEORY. I see you on that show and you’re so nice to those nerds. Is it harder today because you now around thousands of them?”

REPORTER: “I see Diane Farr. (calling out) Diane! Love your jeans! Love your sign!”

REPORTER: “Coming over now is Venessa Marcil. You see her every week on COLD CASE…what? VEGAS. I meant VEGAS. So, um…Vanessa, do you think the show is as good without James Caan?”

REPORTER: “Camryn Manhein! Hi! I haven’t seen you since the last strike.”

REPORTER: “Brad Garrett! Are you getting taller? No, seriously. Brad, I know you don’t do movies but do you think the strike will affect the Oscar awards?”

REPORTER: “Okay, I see just a bunch of writers approaching. This might be a good time to take a break. We’ll be right back.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another Special Edition of BLADE RUNNER? Really?

I understand this Christmas another special edition of BLADE RUNNER will be released. It will come in a briefcase, have a gazillion stills, and feature five different cuts of the movie. How many endings can there be?

All movies that have saved their original footage can re-release new versions. I’m surprised more do not. “The test audience hated version”. “The Andie McDowell version”. “The first director’s version”. “Kevin Costner’s cut version.” “The seven hour version”.

It’s not enough to sell DVDs today. Now they must come loaded with features. Like….

Hilarious outtakes. All the same, every movie. Actors going up on lines and laughing hysterically. I’m glad they’re amused. Unless it’s Julie Andrews saying “Motherfucker!!” I’m really not entertained.

Deleted Scenes. Imagine a scene not good enough to make the final cut of DEUCE BIGELOW. What a treat to see that! In most cases, deleted scenes are like bakeries trying to lure customers by offering day old muffins to their selection of fresh goods.

Theatrical Trailers. You’ve seen it seven times in the theater, twice on the net, four times at the front of other DVDs, and now you get to see it again. More fun would be “Deleted Trailers” – the ones that tested poorly, the marketing campaigns that didn’t work.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE must have nine of these. It’s a Beatles movie. It’s a drama. It’s a coming-of-age film. It’s a musical. It’s a Julie Taymor movie. It’s a period piece. It’s a romance. It’s a two-hour music video. It’s THE LITTLE MERMAID with drug related songs.

The "Making Of" Documentary. A fifteen minute journey into pretension, justification, and self delusion. See the serious artists at work as they make GOOD LUCK, CHUCK.

And finally, Bonus Commentary Tracks. According to the current WGA contract, producers are obligated to let writers record a commentary track. However, they are not obligated to include it. So when a writer records a track and a director records a track and they decide to use only one, which do you think it will be? But at least the writer got to waste a day recording it.

For every good insightful, revealing director’s track there are a hundred useless ones. They just describe what you’re seeing on the screen. “In that shot I wanted to show the car.” “Okay, here is where I thought you needed a close-up.” Zzzzzzzzz. Put a mike in front of most directors and they become Tim McCarver.

Here’s a wacky idea. Instead of loading these DVD releases with unnecessary and often costly features, how about if the studios used that money instead to pay fair royalties to the writers, directors, and actors responsible for those movies in the first place? Is the “Making of EVAN ALMIGHTY” worth major labor strikes?

Allow me to be the last to recommend this

This has been going around industry circles and some of you have commented on it, but since I have a lot of non industry viewers I thought I'd point it out. This video is really all you need to know about why we're striking.

Coming up later tonight: a non strike post.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Week two begins...early

We were out there picketing 20th Century Fox this morning at 6. By “we” I mean the Writers Guild. I showed up a little later. But it was during the heat of the day so hey, I suffered!

With Monday being a school holiday, it was “Bring Your Kids Day”. If you didn’t have a kid, that’s okay because the major agencies were out there distributing them along with bagels and Subway sandwiches.

Very few reporters were on hand. Those that were interviewed the kids.

Tuesday I believe is “Bring an Actor Day”. I have a call into Beyonce. Hey, don’t laugh. I know her. We almost got hepatitis together at the SI swimsuit party.

Meanwhile, I will personally give $100 to the writer who shows up with Ellen DeGeneres.

Will there be prizes for the writer who brings with the biggest actor, the prettiest actor, the actor with the most award nominations, the actor with the most rehab stints? Extra points if your celebrity is not wearing underwear.

No rah-rah guys were on hand to lead chants. Probably a wise move. You don’t want airhorns around with that many small children.

I got a call from an LA TIMES reporter from the Style Section asking about “Picket Line Etiquette”. First of all, this must the first time a Style Section person ever called a TV writer. She asked what I thought of young wannabes marching along in the hopes of networking and meeting established writers. Did I think that was bad form? I said, no, I would actually give the young hopefuls points for resourcefulness. But if one of them offered me a spec, became too pushy, or had notes of my SIMPSONS parody I would just point to someone at random and say, “Hey, there’s the showrunner of LOST” and wave goodbye as he took off after that unsuspecting victim.

Observed at the Sony picket line: Two young writers kept checking their Blackberrys to see if the strike had been settled. While they’re at it, check to see if the Iraq War had been called off.

Overheard by me: A writer calling his agent while on line being told the agent would have to call him back. He was busy. Writer: “Busy? With WHAT?

There was a guy on a skateboard who held a little dog on a platter. After trudging around Fox for a couple of hours I envied that dog.

But I’ll be out there again tomorrow. Hopefully with Beyonce but more likely with Elvis the alligator from MIAMI VICE.