Thursday, January 31, 2008

Are you ready for some PRE-GAME??!!!

Fox’s news release promised their pre-game coverage would “mix the safety blitz with Hollywood glitz.” So right away you know you’re in for a nightmare.

It’s the same release Fox News has issued for their Super Tuesday coverage.

Instead of showing tailgate parties or stories on the economic impact of the game – which has been done to death – Fox is going to do something completely groundbreaking and revolutionary – they’re going to interview celebrities. Who cares what Terry Bradshaw thinks when we can get Jennifer Morrison’s expert analysis?

There will be an actual red carpet show, hosted by (who else?) Ryan Seacrest. It’s a chance for a number of actors to finally give their Golden Globe acceptance speeches. “LA VIE EN ROSE was an extraordinary experience and if Edith Piaf were here right now I’m sure she’d be saying GO PATRIOTS!! WOOO!!!”

Who needs satire when Paula-Abdul is actually singing on the pre-game show? Scott Ackerson, the show’s producer, is quoted as saying Paula’s song is “going to surprise a lot of people.” When asked in what way he said, “It’s going to be good.”

In the twelve-hour pre-game show Fox promises that at least three minutes will be devoted to actually previewing the game. But not consecutively.

In fairness though, last year when CBS did the pre-game show they used Katie Couric.

One thing Fox did get right: Joe Buck doing the play-by-play.

The average ticket price for the Superbowl: Around $4,125. Parking not included.

The over/under for Jordin Spark’s singing of the national anthem is 1:42. Take the over.

TONIGHT SHOW correspondent, Kellie Pickler refuses to give her pick. But she’s been there reporting all week and now almost knows who the two teams are.

Sorry sports fans, no LINGERIE BOWL this year. That’s the halftime Pay Per View event where scantily clad bimbos play flag football. Don’t blame the WGA strike for this one. I’m sure they’d be willing to give them a waiver.

If the Patriots win and make history, Boston fans at the game will still chant, “YANKEES SUCK!”

Bridget Monynahan, who had a child with Tom Brady just before he dumped her for someone else, works out in my gym. I told her she should have named the baby Peyton.

TV Azteca must've been so proud when their correspondent wore a wedding dress to media day and proposed to the two quarterbacks. Where'd she get her Journalism degree, from an on-line program offered by J-Date?

Why does Sirius satellite radio make such a big deal of having Howard Stern when they also provide the Telenet (Flemish) broadcast of the Superbowl on channel 119?

The Patriots are going to win but take the Giants and the points.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the Learning Annex

Several big US and Canadian cities have LEARNING ANNEXES. These are adult education classes that vary from being very worthwhile to some that are downright wacky. Many are taught by “experts” looking to push their books and lecture series. And a lot of the courses are self-help oriented. I always grab one of their catalogues when I see them.

Here are some of the courses being offered by the Los Angeles LEARNING ANNEX for Jan/Feb/Mar.

TEA TASTING AND WORKSHOP (“If I’m not mistaken that’s Lipton.”)

HOW TO OVERCOME ANY OBSTACLE by “Best selling author and superstar” Jenny McCarthy (I assume this is a course on oral sex.)

HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF BIRTH AND DEATH – includes the First Law of Chaos and the “truth” about truths. (How can chaos have a law?)

HOW TO START A SUCCESSFUL JEWELRY LINE – with “Jewelry Designer to the stars” Loree Rodkin

HOW TO KICK YOUR SUGAR HABIT – become a “savvy sugar sleuth” and learn to recognize “sugar pushers”. (“Hey little girl, want some candy?”)

HOW TO START A PRIVATE INVESTIGATION BUSINESS – start your own agency with or without a license. (Prerequisite: HOW TO BE A LOWLIFE).

MAKE MONEY AS A PERSONAL COACH (Isn’t personal coach just a fancy name for mother?)

BECOME A SYNDICATED COLUMNIST IN THREE DAYS OR LESS (Day one: Buy the Tribune Company. Day two: Learn how to write.)

A SMART MAN’S GUIDE TO ATTRACTING AND DATING BEAUTIFUL WOMEN (I guess the Dumb Man’s guide is setting a bear trap with a sign that says “Free Food”)

LEARN TO SPEAK ANY LANGUAGE IN JUST THREE HOURS (to the disappointment of many – Klingon not included).

EVERYDAY FENG SHUI (as opposed to Feng Shui for those “special occasions”)

GET A PERFECT BODY WITH KETTLEBELLS (Cost of surgery not included)

With great courses like this you just wonder why there are still so many losers out there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So that you're not LOST

My favorite show, LOST returns this week. It’s people stranded on a tropical island without Jeff Probst saying, “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” But since LOST is an ongoing serialized adventure, if you haven’t been watching you might be a little, well…lost. So allow me to get you up to speed.

CHARACTERS:

JACK (Matthew Fox) – A handsome doctor who the castaways look up to, not because of his leadership ability but because the actor has a feature career. He’s verrrry serious. A joint the size of a piñata would do him a world of good.

KATE (Evangeline Lilly) -- Hot brunette. Killed her boyfriend. I would still date her in a second, even if she wants to go to a gun show.

JOHN (Terry O’Quinn) – Miraculously able to walk on the island. Yet still parks in handi-capped zones. Very mystical. Good candidate for Scientology.

SAWYER (Josh Holloway) – The good looking bad boy. Edgy. Dangerous. Defiant. Every girl wants him when he’s 20. When he’s 50 and living in a trailer park he’s lucky if Bea Arthur gives him a second look.

SAYID (Naveen Andrews) – The one terrorist who tests well.

HURLEY (Jorge Garcia) – Fat guy/comic relief/castaway mascot. Keeps things loose 'round camp when people are kidnapped or eaten by animals.

SUN (Yunjin Kim - pictured) – Korean married to Jin. Pregnant. There's a slight chance that it’s her husband's baby. Can speak in English or Korean subtitles.

JIN (Daniel Dae Kim) – Korean married to Sun. Outsider of the group because he can’t speak English, has no personality, and never needs to shave.

CHARLIE (Dominic Monaghan) – Dead. So much for the Charlie spin-off.

CLAIRE (Emilie de Ravin) – Had a baby on the island. Still better than a Kaiser hospital. Is really Jack’s sister but neither of them knows that. Should they ever have a romance and get married the island will be renamed West Virginia.

DESMOND (Henry Ian Cusick) – The character they added that no one likes. Has a Scottish accent. Calls everyone “brother”. Has premonitions. Likes the Patriots on Sunday but says “take the points, brother”.

BENJAMIN (Michael Emerson - pictured) – The leader of “the Others” (another group of island inhabitants. They resent the castaways for calling them “the Others” when they were there first. As a result, want to kill everyone.) If Harold from Harold & Maude grew up, moved to the tropics, and went off his meds he’d be Ben.

JULIET (Elizabeth Mitchell) – Fertility doctor from Portland Oregon recruited by the Others. Once she got to the island she realized, “Hey, this isn’t the Mayo Clinic!” Still not the worst career move she’s made. She played Mrs. Clause to Tim Allen in the last two installments of the Santa Claus trilogy.

PLOT

In a flash forward we just learned that Jack and Kate have gotten off the island and have returned to civilization. He’s now a suicidal drunk and she’s Venom on AMERICAN GLADIATORS. At the end of last season Jack tells her they’ve got to go back. Good luck finding another flight that plans to crash there.

Meanwhile, on the island we’re introduced to yet a new group of folks –the Freighter People (alternate name: The Other Others). They’ve arrived to either rescue our castaways or use them as pawns in some insidious plan, the purpose of which will be clearly explained in fifty more episodes. Which one do you think? But knowing LOST whatever we expect they will do something different, fresh and shocking, and we will be in for another great ride.

So pack up, Kate. Jack's right. It is time to go back.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The future of television...and BURKE'S LAW

I’ve been fortunate to work on some shows that are still being shown today. MASH in particular has stood the test of time (granted you have to go up to channel 200+ now to find it but it's there). And it got me wondering – which of today’s hits will still be around in twenty-five or thirty years? Will LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA still seem very cool or will the Y-generation look back and say, “Jesus, how turn of the century"? Will the procedures used by the twelve CSI shows seem archaic in a few years? (“Look at that. DNA. Were they cavemen back then?”) My guess is LAW & ORDER will hold up, 24 (a show that I love) will look ridiculous. The SIMPSONS will go on forever and be the first show from Earth to be a hit on Jupiter.

What shows do you think will survive and which will not? I keep hoping ALMOST PERFECT will be re-discovered but that dream is starting to dim.

I bring up this topic because recently on the American Life network I caught an old episode of BURKE’S LAW. When this show premiered in 1963 I thought it was the coolest show EVER. How could it not with this dynamite premise – middle aged heartthrob Gene Barry is a police captain solving murders. He is also incredibly rich, lives in a mansion, has an Asian houseboy (allowing him to make Charlie Chan jokes), and drives around investigating crimes in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. (Very similar to THE SHIELD.) Every hot babe who could easily be his daughter swoons and throws herself at him whenever he pokes around a murder site (always in a tailored suit). There is no action whatsoever. He just questions different guest-star celebrity suspects and eventually put two-and-two together, usually while sipping champagne with some flight attendant on her 18th birthday.

Talk about wish fulfillment. What 13 year-old hormonally challenged boy didn’t want to be Captain Burke (except for maybe the 45 years old part…that was kind of ick)?

I hadn’t seen an episode in a gazillion years. Much to my complete and utter shock BURKE’S LAW didn’t hold up. For the first time I started thinking – how much was he on the take to afford that mansion and sweet ride? God, those girls were golddiggers! It’s not that he was suave, it’s that he had bucks. Larry King could have played that part and scored just as well. Every suspect was a loon. In the episode I watched Michael Ansara was a fitness expert who went around with a bow and arrow, Fernando Lamas was an insane guitar store owner, Jim Backus played a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who just kept confessing for reasons known only to the writer, Diana Lynn was a drunk over-sexed widow stuffed into slacks like they were sausage casing, and in his most over the top performance (which is really saying something) -- William Shatner was a beatnik. The only bright spot was Joanie Sommers, one of my favorite singers of the 60s (jazz, pop, Pepsi) doing both a number and a scene in which she dished out gobs of incomprehensible exposition.

After one season, either ABC or producer (Aaron Spelling) decided that this format wasn't happening and retooled it. Next season Captain Burke left the force and his mansion and became AMOS BURKE SECRET AGENT. Even at 14 I knew this was a crock of shit.

Television series have clearly evolved over the years. The production values, depth of character, and storytelling – especially in dramas – have advanced to where they’re often feature quality. At least that’s what we think now. Let’s see in thirty years. Please check back with me then. I'll be the pathetic guy at the Hollywood Collectibles Show handing out cast photos of ALMOST PERFECT.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lost in Translation

Some great comments on yesterday’s post. And since we’re trading unfortunate audience stories in sitcoms here’s a couple more.

I was directing a show for ABC called BROTHERS KEEPER in the late 90s. During rehearsals sometimes tours would come in, sit in the bleachers for ten minutes, get incredibly bored, and leave.

On this particular day I was blocking a scene where Billy Ragsdale (who played the dad) was scolding his eight-year-old son (played by Justin Cooper) for something he had done (lost his homework, killed someone, I forget). Since Justin was required to spend so many hours a day in school we would rehearse with a fifty-year-old stand-in who let’s just say was only Justin’s height.

A group of Japanese tourists came in and sat down in the bleachers. None of them could speak English. What they saw was this:

Me, making a guy in his 30’s scold a middle-aged dwarf to such a degree that the dwarf breaks down crying and runs from the set.

They were appalled! Outraged! As one, they got up and marched out, glaring at me and calling me things that did not need any translation.

Needless to say I have not been invited to direct any Japanese sitcoms. And I don’t think Billy Ragsdale has had too many offers to appear over there either.

And from my friend Dave Hackel comes this experience. (Among his many credits, Dave was the creator of BECKER and longtime showrunner of WINGS.)

The show was in good shape. Laughs were there. Actors were on the money. But after each joke -- nothing. Then fifteen seconds later, a titter. The writers were thrown off. The actors were thrown off. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then I turned around and saw the man signing our show to a large group of deaf people.

The amazing thing is that every writer who has worked on a multi-camera show seems to have at least one story like this. It's why we all have facial tics.

The late brilliant comedian Mitch Hedberg said it best: "Y'know, you can't please all the people all the time... and last night, all those people were at my show."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The show we wrote with no laughs

With the primaries heating up, Super Tuesday just around the corner, Hillary about to cry again, and the debates getting uglier (and more entertaining) by the moment, I am reminded of the election episode my partner, David and I wrote for the TONY RANDALL SHOW.

I’ll pause for a moment while you say “what the hell was the TONY RANDALL SHOW?" It was an MTM series in the late 70’s starring the late Tony Randall as a judge in Philadelphia. It’ll probably never be shown again but it was a damn funny show.

In this particular episode, Tony’s character runs for Superior Court Judge, his opponent dies during the election but too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. Lo and behold, he wins. Tony was beaten by a dead man. The show played great all week with hardly any changes. We were expecting great things.

And then on show night, in front of the audience – death, nothing, tumbleweeds, crickets.

Needless to say, we were stymied.

One of the executive producers was doing the warm-up, and was so mad he turned on the audience. (It didn’t help that the entire staff was drinking frozen margaritas in the prop room between scenes).

He started saying things like, “Hey, I think your hearse is waiting”, “Hey, wasn’t that moderately amusing?”, and the tag was Tony entering his office which was now completely empty (his furniture moved in anticipation of the certain victory) to which the warm-up man shouted at the audience, “Get it?! What’s different about that room? Anybody?”

It was only after the crowd filed out that we learned the truth. The entire audience was Hispanic, bussed in, and spoke no English.

Remember all the bad things I said about the laugh track? We sure used it that week.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys -- Germany's team

If you were upset with the Cowboys losing to the Giants you weren't alone.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stupid notes

Thanks to everyone who was on board for my teleseminar on Thursday night. I hope my answers were as good as your questions. One person wanted to know the worst network note I ever got. It’s hard to say because I’ve had quite a few to choose from. But these few just spring to mind.

On a pilot we once got this note about an actress: She’s too fat. Another actress note we received was: Her breasts are too big. It’s distracting.

Yeah, like we could just go back to the writers room and fix those things.

I was directing one of those TGIF shows that ABC used to run on Friday nights. In this episode the kid was caught stealing. The note: "Gee, do we like him when he steals?"

Another time I was directing the Al Franken sitcom LATELINE in New York. It was set in a big newsroom. For our network runthrough we set up a satellite hookup to LA. I had one camera and the poor operator had all he could do to just capture what was going on. The network note: "Aren’t we going to have any close ups?"

When I was doing ALMOST PERFECT the network wanted us to do stunt casting – bring in a celebrity for a guest appearance. Since Nancy Travis’ character wrote for a cop show we thought it would be cool to get Angie Dickenson (the original Policewoman). Our network liaison, who was maybe 25, was not excited. Her response: "Can’t you get somebody anybody’s ever heard of?"

On the ill-fated AFTERMASH the studio was pushing hard for stunt casting, wanting us to get Loretta Swit for a guest appearance. We told them we had spoken to her and she wasn’t interested. Their reaction: “So what? It doesn’t have to be Loretta. We just need somebody to play Hot Lips. “ I said, “Fine, I’ll place a call to Diana Ross right away.”

An actor once gave us a name note. There was a character in that week’s episode named Lana Lewis. During runthrough he said, “Isn’t that kind of stupid name? Can’t you guys come up with anything better?” I then introduced him to our assistant who was standing right next to him. Lana Lewis. In fairness, the actor is a good guy, and I think he’s still apologizing to her.

And finally, we wrote a pilot for CBS about a large family. We had a scene where they’re in one of those obnoxious Shakeys good time pizza parlors. The family gets into a big argument. At the height of their yelling the happy waiter comes over and starts playing his banjo. He is pelted with salads. That's the joke. That's the end of the scene. The studio note: “Did they eat the pizza?”

What?!

“Well they ordered this pizza and they don’t have a lot of money so would they leave without eating it?”

After my initial shock wore off I said, “They got it to go.”

“Okay, great. Thank you. Then we’re happy.”

I’m sure there are more stupid notes but I’m thinking about that actress whose breasts are too big and I’m getting distracted.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Daytime TV

Don’t come too close. I’m sick. Been leveled by the flu all week. So I did what I usually never do – watched daytime television. This resulted in depression along with the fever. The commercials alone can get into your head, pounding the same message – you’re a LOSER! You have no job, you can’t post bail, you can’t get auto insurance, you don’t know a trade, you’re a trapped housewife, the day is soon coming when you’re going to need the “Scooter Store”. Why Dr. Kervokian doesn’t advertise on morning TV I’ll never know.

Anyway, I decided to do a little channel surfing and at random this is what I found from about 10 to noon on Wednesday, January 23, 2008.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT – Drew Carey does a nice job, very personable. Doesn’t let on that he thinks these contestants are idiots (which, good God they ARE). That takes a real talent. I couldn’t do it. Someone would say a new car costs $3000 and I would say, “Are you fucking kidding me? Are you a moron? $3000 for a new car? What world do you live in? Has anyone told you you’re too fucking stupid to live? And by the way, that cowboy hat looks ridiculous and you’re on a national television show, you can’t wear anything better than a fucking T-shirt?”

TODAY – How many hours is that damn thing on? Ann Curry was doing her best to stay awake.

JERRY SPRINGER – A streaker with balloon animals wrapped around his head was being chased through the studio. So a typical day.

MIKE & JULIET – Mike has had more face work than Mary Tyler Moore. Phyllis Diller looks more natural. There was a debate over whether your kids should be permitted to have sex in your house. Brain trust Juliet asked one of the experts: “Does age make a difference?”

THE VIEW – Tom Brokaw was guesting with the hens pimping his book 1968. They managed to zero in on the most significant event of that year – bra burning.

LEG MAGIC INFORMERCIAL – Testimonials from women who have gone from size 20 to size 16. Hosted by hot bulimic models.

DIVORCE COURT – A husband was accused of cheating on his wife and having sex at work. Angrily he responded, “It wasn’t at work!”

There were 7 channels selling jewelry.

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE – First line of dialogue I heard, “Daddy, can we go to church tomorrow?”

C-SPAN – the U.S. House of Representatives were discussing the practice of stalking. Most seemed to be against it. But that could just be because it's an election year.

JUDGE MATHIS – Judge Judy has spawned like ten more judge shows (another reason to hate her). This one wants to be Cosby. From what I gathered, a woman was suing a guy because he was no longer performing well in bed. Didn’t Fat Albert have the same problem?

JUDGE ALEX – Captain America in a robe (pictured right) . A couple having problems because they were both sleeping with each other’s best friend.

STEVE WILKOS SHOW – Who is this guy? I’ve never heard of him. And he has his own show. It’s as if Dr. Phil were a member of the Sopranos. Only host capable of killing his guests right on camera.

KCBS-2 NEWS – Britney Spears custody hearing with a live report.

There were six channels showing music videos.

TYRA BANKS – Dr. Drew was the guest. Isn’t he the guest on every show? Reverend Gene Scott didn’t get as much airtime.

MATLOCK – This was the classic episode where he wins his case.

ER – This was the classic episode where someone was brought in with an emergency and we follow the gurney as everybody runs along and yells instructions.

Seven channels have SESAME STREET. Big Bird is aging much better than Maria.

BEST OF MIKE & MIKE – Radio on television is always great.

FOX NEWS – Click!

CNN HEADLINE NEWS – A flying saucer citing.

LIVING SINGLE: Girl: “How’d you get to be a handyman?” Guy: “Well, I’ve always been handy and I grew into the man part.” Huge laugh from the audience. Click!

WILL & GRACE – Should be called JACK & KAREN because they’re the funny ones.

WALKER TEXAS RANGER – Chuck Norris teaching teenagers how to break jaws.

ROCK OF LOVE 2: Hot skanky women in a roller derby competition to win the favor of a guy who looks like Meatloaf wearing a bandana. It’s the bikers’ version of THE BACHELOR.

At this point I turned off the TV and took my meds, even though I wasn’t supposed to for two more hours.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"What is time again?"

Of those that remember a movie my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS, the scene most recall is the “what is time again?” scene. So here it is.

To refresh, it’s 1962 and Tom Hanks plays Lawrence, a spoiled preppy who takes his roommate’s place in the Peace Corps in Thailand to avoid a gambling debt. He befriends At Toon, a Thai villager. They’re kidnapped and brought to the lair of Chung Mee, a fierce warlord. To spoof all those characters who spoke so cryptically in these types of movies we decided to have Chung Mee speak exclusively in cryptic double-speak.

INT. CHUNG MEE’S DINING ROOM – DAY

A spacious atrium. Chung Mee, financed by the CIA, has loads of household gadgets – blenders, air conditioners, etc., none of which work on account of there’s no electricity. It’s the thought that counts. Instead of air conditioning, an AGED MAN pulls the rope for an overhead fan.

Chung Mee is feeding fish raw meat as At Toon and Lawrence are brought in by the huge sumo guards. Chung Mee has an unlit cigar in his mouth. He dips the end in a brandy snifter.

LAWRENCE
This is nothing. My parents have friends who are twice this pretentious.

CHUNG MEE
The bridge you are building. When will it be completed?

LAWRENCE
The bridge? You’re interested in our bridge. Here you go –

He takes a wooden match and strikes it along the stubble of one of the monster sumo guards presenting Chung Mee with a light. A frantic scuffle ensues, but Chung Mee stays cool and accepts the light, eyeing Lawrence shrewdly through the smoke.

LAWRENCE
We’ve got a fine young man working on it, but it’s hard to say. Why do you want to know?

CHUNG MEE
Opium is my business. The bridge means more traffic. More traffic means more business. More business means more money. More money means more power.

LAWRENCE
Before I commit that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?

CHUNG MEE
Speed is important in business. Time is money.

LAWRENCE
No, you said opium is money.

CHUNG MEE
Money is money. And money is my objective.

LAWRENCE
Then what is time again?

CHUNG MEE
When the bridge is completed, you can have whatever you need.

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to At) And they told me to go on those interviews at Yale. (to Chung Mee) Well, gosh. Of course, for now, I’d want to run things in Loong Ta. And then, when I’m ready to leave, passage to Bangkok and a plane ticket to America. And – it’s hardly worth mentioning – twenty-eight thousand dollars in cash. I have some library books overdue.

AT TOON
Nice knowin’ you.

CHUNG MEE
I want the bridge finished in six weeks or you are finished in seven.

AT TOON
(to Chung Mee) You’re goin’ along with that?

LAWRENCE
No problem, commander. The bridge is yours.

CHUNG MEE
And you are mine.

LAWRENCE
It’s only fair.

A door opens and a beautiful Eurasian WOMAN enters. She wears a slinky low-cut dress and gloves. She is obviously the most enchanting creature Lawrence has ever seen.

CHUNG MEE
Business is completed. After business comes pleasure. Pleasure is also my business.

LAWRENCE
For me?

CHUNG MEE
If I say “yes” and not “no.”

AT TOON
You want me to translate?

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to Chung Mee) A little incentive. You’re a sly boots. (walking to the woman) Lawrence Bourne the Third, junior partner. And you, of course, would be…

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

NOTE: Lucille speaks English with a very thick Chinese accent. It’s indecipherable, so her words are always SUBTITLED.

LAWRENCE
Pardon me?

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
Lucille! Her name is Lucille!

LAWRENCE
Oh, Lucille. That’s highly erotic. How did you get a name like that?

LUCILLE
My mother was English.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
(losing patience) That is her name!

LAWRENCE
She’s staying for dinner, of course.

CHUNG MEE
Yes, but you are leaving.

LAWRENCE
Right now? I just got here. (sidles closer to Lucille, sotto) What do you see in him? Are you a chubby chaser?

Lucille grabs Lawrence’s hand and bends the fingers back. He winces in pain.

CHUNG MEE
Lucille is my bodyguard. She doesn’t like it when my orders are questioned.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers and Lucille releases Lawrence.

LAWRENCE
Thank God my fly was zipped.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers again. The two henchmen grab Lawrence and At, leading them out.

LAWRENCE
Glad to be aboard.

AT TOON
Thank you for dinner and not killing us.

LAWRENCE
I’m free any night. Lucille… Did I mention that back home I own a Corvette?

The group exits.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Really rotton 'ritin'

I don't know how legit these are but who cares? They're really funny.

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual similes and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusementof teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other fromTopeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are known to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for awhile.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with powertools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Thanks to toadking.com for the image.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette

Sometime in the mid 70s Lorenzo Music, one of the creators of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (and voice of Carlton the Doorman and Garfield the cat) and his wife Henrietta starred in a pilot. I went to the taping. For the big finale Lorenzo & Henrietta were joined on stage by the MTM all-stars. All the cast members from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, RHODA, PHYLLIS, maybe even PAUL SANDS’ FRIENDS AND LOVERS was that year. It was quite dazzling. Idols like Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore in her absolute prime. But the thing that struck me was how Suzanne Pleshette was so stunningly beautiful that it was almost like she was in color and everyone else was in black in white. She was simply radiant. Shimmering. Breathtaking. And all she did was just stand there.

If there is such a thing as star presence Suzanne Pleshette had it.

She passed away on Saturday. She was only 70. Don’t smoke.

I’m sure when you think of her you think of Emily Hartley, Bob Newhart’s wife on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Words you might use to describe her – in addition to gorgeous – are funny, sophisticated, smart, compassionate, definitely sexy. And these would all be accurate. But there’s one more.

Raunchy.

Yes, dear sweet Emily Hartley could drop F-bombs with the best of ‘em. And every other word and expression you might hear on DEADWOOD. But God was she funny. Used to maximum effect, and in that deep husky voice, Suzanne could shock and pulverize you almost instantly. And somehow she always managed to be racy without being vulgar. How do you do that? I guess that’s why the Tramp is still a Lady.

Maybe the most thankless role in sitcoms is the star’s wife. Usually they’re relegated to the voice of reason, the wet blanket. Not Suzanne. She was Bob’s partner, his equal. Bob and Emily didn’t have to fight to be funny. They didn’t have to be opposites. They were grown-ups. Their comedy sprung from how real and relatable they were. You always bought them as a couple – even if the “Bob Newharts” of the world don’t usually get the “Suzanne Pleshettes”. You just knew they had a good sex life. And you knew they’d be together forever (even if Bob did have this bizarre dream where he was running an inn and married to someone else).

I will always think of Suzanne Pleshette as she was that night at the pilot. We lost a gifted comedienne, a first class beauty, and one helluva broad.

Overwriting and why it's bad to write more than you need to make the same point

When reading a spec, one of the most common traps I see young writers falling into is overwriting.

When I receive a spec the first thing I always do is check its length. If I get a hernia lifting it, that’s not good. A comedy screenplay should be no more than 120 pages and that’s stretching it. Sitcoms vary depending on the rhythm and format of the show. But if you write a spec EARL and it’s 50 pages, I can tell you sight unseen it will be unseen. WINGS scripts (multi-camera) generally topped out in the low 40’s. When I was consulting on the show we had a writer who routinely turned in 65 page drafts. His rationale was that he gave us choices. We could whittle it down to the best 42 pages. Fine and dandy except THAT’S HIS JOB!!! If you can’t tell your story in the allotted time then maybe you’re not telling the story right. Or there’s too much story and that has to be addressed.

The only thing worse than a TV script of screenplay that’s overwritten is a stage play. Plays have no length requirement so the playwright has free reign to torture us long into next month. When a two character piece about what to pack for a vacation is longer than NICHOLAS NICKLEBY that should be a clue.

And then there’s the dialogue.

This may sound obvious but worth stating anyway: Always remember that actors have to perform your script.

Soooo many times I’ll see full page speeches with sentences so long and complicated that no human being on earth could ever deliver them. And certainly not in one breath. Read your script out loud. If you need CPR by the end of a speech, rethink. Dialogue has to sound natural, conversational. And rarely do we speak in big whoppin’ speeches.

When writing a TV spec, writers often go overboard on character quirks. They’ll hear Frasier utter something a little flowery and think that every word out of his mouth has to be Noel Coward. In fairness, shows themselves get caught up in that trap. On MASH the tendency to give every line a spin evolved into absurdity. In a later season (after I had left the series) Potter once said to Klinger, “It was curiosity that KO’d the feline.” WTF?? Who would ever say that? And why?

There is a tendency to want to impress by working in all kinds of complex themes and philosophies – show how you’re the next Paddy Chayefsky. In truth, it’s your inexperience not intellect that’s being put on display. If long intricate theories and complicated Byzantine ideas are your cup of tea, write a book.

More often than not these long speeches have characters express in detail their emotions and attitudes. Not only is it taxing to listen to this balloon juice it also gives the actor nothing to play. Might as well go on to the next scene. Sometimes a look or a gesture can say volumes more a two page speech that James Joyce would find too convoluted.

Whenever my partner, David and I go back to polish a draft we thin out the big speeches. If the speech is 14 lines we make it 11, if it’s 11 lines we make it 9. There are ALWAYS trims.

Same is true in stage direction. A reader sees a big block of stage direction I GUARANTEE he will not read it. You could describe a sex act in detail and he’ll flip the page.

As a rule it’s better to underwrite than overwrite. We have an expression. We like “open pages”. Much more white than type. This may sound obvious too but: You don’t get paid by the word.

Go back through your script. I bet you could lose two pages. (Probably page 8 and one other.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Afternoon everybody. NORM!!!

These are "Normisms" from the first season of CHEERS. My partner and I wrote a bunch of them. It was a running bit that lasted all eleven seasons. However, if you don't know it's a running bit it's usually not as funny. We learned that the hard way on CHEERS. We filmed the first eight shows or so before the series premiered in September of 1982. The "Normisms" for those tapings, some of the best and the ones you'll laugh loudest at, were met originally with confused silence. Enjoy them again and you're welcome to guess which ones David and/or I came up with.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Oooooh, Katie Couric says a "bad" word.

There is a new video circulating the web of Katie Couric anchoring CBS's election coverage on January 8. It's when she was off the air, chatting with the crew. As you know I'm not a huge fan of Katie Couric doing the news but I really feel she got a bum deal here. She's being portrayed as this crazed out of control tyrant who is overly demanding, profane, and disrespects her fellow colleagues.

Come on, people!

Judge for yourself but to me she's doing nothing wrong. She never has a meltdown, is keeping the atmosphere light for her crew, mocks Meredith Viera in the most innocuous way, and big fucking deal -- says shit. She's a grown up. She wasn't on the air when she said it. So who cares?

Here's the video. What do you think?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The DGA deal and other topics

The DGA just announced a tentative agreement with the AMPTP. As a writer and a director, I'm waiting for more analysis before I decide whether that's a good thing or not.

Meanwhile, could Nikki Finke have picked a worse week to go on hiatus? Now I have to get my strike updates from the crank who stands in front of Jamba Juice.

There’s a new kid on the blogosphere. Earl Pomerantz, writer of TAXI, CHEERS,THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, creator of MAJOR DAD, BEST OF THE WEST, and one of the original producers of COSBY, now has a blog. He’s very funny. Here’s a sample from his first post:

I’m proud of my credits, except perhaps for one. I acted in a movie called "Cannibal Girls." Pretty girls pick up hitchhikers, lure them home promising certain enticements – I can’t remember what they were, though I remember the pretty girls didn’t button their shirts all the way up. After serving us a sumptuous banquet, the pretty girls kill us and eat us. I can’t recommend "Cannibal Girls", since I haven’t seen it all the way through.
You can check out Earl’s blog here.

Lock your doors and hide your daughters and football memorabilia. O.J. Simpson is out of jail again. Who needs to write jokes when the actual bail bonds firm he used is named “You Ring We Spring”?

Jack Bauer is out of the hooskow next week. He’s staying in the Emmy winner’s wing of the Glendale jail.

Picketing highlight of the week: Elvis Costello was marching with us Wednesday at 20th.

Expected temperatures for the two NFL championship games: New England 23 degrees with 20 mph winds. Green Bay 6 degrees. Might we have Ice Bowl 2? Why in God’s name does anyone go to those games? Brett Farve gets $9 million dollars. The idiot fan with the cheese hat gets frostbite and trench foot. Can you not be a real Packer fan if you haven't lost the tips of three fingers? Do these people know the games are ON TELEVISION?! Starting price for a ticket to Lambeau Field (I kid you not): $588.

Great headline in THE ONION: “Phil Simms Mistaken for Life-Sized Cardboard Cutout Of Phil Simms”.

Because SEINFELD is Giant quarterback Eli Manning's favorite show, the Milwaukee affiliate will not air it Saturday night, figuring Manning will be in his hotel room and probably would be watching it. Maybe they should also send Jessica Simpson up to his room.

By the way, new nickname for Jessica Simpson among Dallas Cowboy fans: Yoko Romo.

I will be guesting Friday with Paul Harris on KMOX, St. Louis from 2-3 pm. I imagine we’ll be discussing the WGA strike and ways to make a chicken.

How perfect that up against the season premiere of AMERICAN IDOL NBC aired THE BIGGEST LOSER.

Mac users: is there anything worse than seeing that damn little spinning beach ball?

Woody Allen is often criticized for churning out a movie a year but at least his premises are fresh and original. His new one CASANDRA’S DREAM is about two brothers who kill someone in the act of a crime. And before you say that’s the exact same premise as BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD just know Woody Allen’s movie is completely different. It's set in London.

They have “Open Mic” nights in comedy clubs. How about “Open Knife” night at Benihana’s?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES

I think I would cheerfully let Terminators try to kill me if I could have Summer Glau as my protector. Is it too weird to have a crush on a robot? Now I’m starting to finally understand LARS AND THE REAL GIRL.

Summer Glau (pictured above) plays a “good” Terminator, assigned to protect teenager John Connor from the “bad” Terminators who are trying to whack him before he can grow up and save the world. Scientologists believe the same is true of the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes baby. The Terminator legend is more grounded.

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (which premiered to big numbers against no competition on Fox) is essentially THE BIONIC WOMAN meets THE FUGITIVE. But unlike THE BIONIC WOMAN, which is a dreary saga only Harlan Ellison would love, THE TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is kind of fun. Don’t confuse it with a mini series about Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Conner, this is an action show in the spirit of HEROES, 24, and the last two minutes of MONK.

And Summer Glau steals the show. She’s everything Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan is and a bag of (computer) chips.

Sure THE TERMINATOR defies the laws of physics, nature, gravity, and time but they follow PRISON BREAK so logic is obviously a complete non-issue.

A few things I worry about:

Leah Headley, who plays Sarah, needs some of Roger Clemens’ steroids. She’s trying her best to act tough but it’s like Calista Flockhart: Bad Ass.

I miss Arnold Schwarzenegger, the original Terminator. Who can ever forget his great line, “Fuck yooo, asshorrr!” In this TV version will John Conner be hunted down each week by a different Oakland Raider lineman?

When they time travel they must do so naked. Is Summer Glau anatomically correct?

And here’s the only thing I think would make the show better:

If they’re going to use different Terminators, why not have celebrity Terminators? Wouldn’t you just love to see Ann Coulter shot with bazookas, hit by a truck, electrocuted with a million volts, and crushed in a vice? Throw in slow-motion and you have multiple Emmys.

THE TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES has promise. But I’m now a cyborg chaser so you can’t completely go by me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Force manure

As expected, networks and studios “with deep tremendous and heartfelt regret” wasted not a nanosecond evoking force majeure to terminate overall deals all over town. Their real regret is that they couldn’t do it Christmas Eve. Over fifty deals killed already.

The 20th Century Fox tear-stained press release said, "Because of the adverse effects of the ongoing WGA strike on our business, we have been forced to terminate overall deals with a number of talented writers and producers.”

FORCED? FOX was forced? The week that AMERICAN IDOL returns? Three weeks before they carry the Superbowl? Two days after their new TERMINATOR show premiered to record numbers? Where's all that money they made by selling the Dodgers?

Any writer or director or non-writing producer who had a deal and didn’t have a HIT show currently on the air was axed. ALIENS IN AMERICA (great buzz, bad numbers), K-VILLE (bad buzz), JOURNEYMAN (no buzz) -- the creators who they loved in July were kicked to the curb in January. Even actors like Hugh Jackman saw his production company heave-ho'ed. Good luck CBS getting him to host the Tony awards anytime in the next ten years.

The worst offender of course was Disney (that bastion of family values). Their TV production arm, Touchstone ABC, dumped thirty overall deals. 20th, CBS Paramount, WBTV, and UMS only terminated half that number. So far. They're the studios with a heart.

When every one of these development deals were originally announced in the trades, invariably the studio president was quoted as saying they were so “thrilled to be in business with X, X has such a unique voice, X is just the kind of writer we want at this studio, X is so gifted, this deal begins what we know will become a long term partnership.

And now, these same unique gifted talented artists? Get the fuck off the lot! NOW!!!

Most if not all of these writers will work again after the strike. At least one will go on to create a monster hit. And there will be some studio that let him get away thus losing out on a billion dollars. But hey, they sure showed him!

Other fired writers will turn to the internet and other venues when the strike is over. And the studios will get pilots picked up subject to A-list show runners being attached and guess what? They’re not available. Or they’re not interested. Some projects will go up in smoke. And these A-list show runners were already right there on their lots, just sitting in their bullpens, ready to go.

Yes, the networks and studios have tremendous regret…at least they will in another year. In the meantime, enjoy the little money you save. Don’t spend it all on one victory lunch.

Monday, January 14, 2008

24: the next two hours

First off, thanks to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for including me in their list of the "100 Greatest Websites." I've just renewed my subscription for five years.

Yesterday I revealed the first two hours of what 24 had planned for this season. Here are the next two. I know it's more fun to actually watch the four hours over two nights but since the show has been postponed for a year I figured this will at least keep you. So fasten your seat belts.

The following takes place between 3 and 4 PM.

A nuclear bomb explodes outside Washington D.C. Fortunately, this does not interrupt air travel. Chloe calls the kidnappers, says, “If you kill Juno (her baby) you won’t get the Anthrax shipment. Why you’d even want Anthrax I can’t imagine but it’s going to take longer to remove from the government’s secret storage warehouse at 10875 Magnolia Blvd.” Abdul-Paula will give her another hour but ups the ransom as a penalty. She must now also bring $8.95 for the Huggies. Chloe asks if he is responsible for the nuclear blast. Abdul-Paula is enraged. “Sure, it’s always the TERRORISTS!”

Chloe calls Jack to update him. Fortunately, he gets cellphone service at 35,000 feet. Jack now has one hour to get to Washington D.C., save Audrey, find out who set off the bomb, then fly back to Los Angeles to rescue Chloe’s baby.

4:00:00

The following takes place between 4:00 and 5:00 PM

Jack lands at Dulles Airport and catches a cab to the city. A postal worker spots him and another chase ensues. Hundreds more are dead. Since there’s no traffic in Washington DC (enough commuters were killed in the nuclear blast to make driving a real pleasure) he arrives downtown in five minutes.

The President calls. President Taylor (played this season by Cherry Jones: pictured) heard Jack was in town and has a special top secret mission for him. He’s instructed to report to the White House. He calls Chloe but there’s pandemonium at CTU. Apparently someone released nerve gas and only Karl Rove happened to have a gas mask. Fortunately, Chloe locks herself in the conference room, which like all glass-enclosed rooms is sealed air tight. Chloe’s baby has an accident and as Abdul-Paula goes for the handi-wipes the baby accidentally activates a timer to a series of suitcase bombs that in two minutes will blow up every Dunkin Donuts in Los Angeles.

Jack arrives at the White House and is ushered into the Oval Office. President Taylor hands him a letter. “This is my Verizon bill. It’s overdue. See that it’s sent by midnight tonight.” The bomb timer ticks away. 5 seconds…4 seconds…3 seconds…2 seconds…1 second. BOOM! Fortunately there are no Dunkin Donuts in Los Angeles so the damage is minimal.

Jack is about to leave when President Taylor stops him. She has one more thing he needs to look at. The CIA and Oprah's people did some uncovering and apparently Jack’s great-great grandfather was Hitler. Audrey is being strapped to electrodes. Applause from the attendants. Chloe is calling maintenance to come fix the air conditioner. It’s stuffy in the sealed conference room. Karl Rove’s wife is downloading music illegally. Former President Palmer prepares Banana Foster. Kim and her captors rob a Hibernia Bank branch in San Francisco. Jack goose steps to a mailbox.

5:00:00

Sunday, January 13, 2008

If 24 HAD been on

Like many of you, I was eagerly awaiting the beginning of another season of 24 Sunday night and am disappointed it will be put off for another year. However, I have EXCLUSIVE advance information on what happens the first four hours (two night premiere). The hell with a spoiler alert, you’re going to want to read this – whether you’re a 24 fan or not.

The following takes place between 1:00 and 2:00 PM.


It’s one year later. In an effort to slow things down in his life, Jack quits CTU and joins the U.S. Post Office, assigned to their Culver City branch. He’s making the adjustment well. For the entire first hour he is helping one customer. She needs stamps.

2:00:00

The following takes place between 2:00 and 3:00 PM

He finally says “next!” and his next customer is former colleague/computer geek/charm school drop out Chloe. She’s frantic. She just had a baby and it was kidnapped. If she doesn’t pay the ransom in one hour it will be killed. Jack asks why she waited until the last minute? She says she didn’t. She’s been in line for six hours! Fortunately, Jack is owed a break (since he hadn’t had one in over ninety minutes). He calls his daughter Kim who is currently kidnapped herself. Leave it to Kim to have a ‘tude. “I’ve been locked in this cellar for like what, eight months? And this is maybe the second time you’ve called?” Jack feels tremendous guilt for one second then presses on. Does Kim know anything about the Chloe kidnapping? “Oh sure, it’s always MY captors!” Jack says that’s not it. Maybe she’s heard something. Kidnapper scuttlebutt, shop talk, an inquiry to sublet the cellar? Kim says she’s got to go, they’re changing her ropes.

Chloe is beside herself but has to tell Jack that because he’d never guess from her blank expression. He vows to see what he can do but could Chloe help out by providing him the blueprints of every building in Los Angeles? She says no problem, that’ll only take a minute, and returns to CTU, which has now been relocated to where Tower Records used to be on the Sunset Strip (other than the electric fence that encircles it and the armed guards on the roof you’d think they were still open and selling the Taylor Hicks’ CD for 80% off).

Seven minutes later she has a lead. In a stroke of luck that could only happen on 24 it seems the ransom note was written on personal stationery. Abdul-Paula Shakira, terrorist organizer/AMPTP public relations consultant. Fortunately he’s only two blocks away. Jack hijacks a mail truck and heads over there. The postal inspector is irate. Jack has broken protocol! A madcap chase ensues at 5 m.p.h. with other postal vehicles in hot pursuit. Shots are fired. Hundreds are dead.

While in one of the many tunnels that Culver City is famous for, Jack gets a call on his cellphone. Reception is perfect! It’s former President Wayne Palmer, now a sous-chef at Duke Ziebert’s in Washington D.C. He just learned that Jack’s former flame Audrey Raines has had another breakdown. She thinks she’s an actress. Audrey's been admitted to the local drooling academy. They’re scheduled to administer shock treatment that will probably kill her, or at least render her lifeless (which is how she always was anyway).

Jack calls Chloe. Stall the kidnappers. He has one thing he has to do first. What? Fly to Washington D.C. and rescue Audrey. Chloe is upset (not visibly or audibly of course). She got him the blueprints and everything. Jack is annoyed. Why doesn’t anyone trust him? He’s saved the world seven times already for Chrissakes! You’d think he’d be entitled to a little respect. Chloe begrudgingly says okay but still believes he took steroids. New co-worker Karl Rove overhears this conversation and sends a text message to his Iranian wife who is in the middle of breaking down an M-16. Jack turns around and heads to LAX, which conveniently is only two blocks away. Audrey is in a padded cell doing the Faye Dunaway “wire hangers” speech from MOMMY DEAREST. Kim’s captors are filling out their tax forms, listing her as a deduction.

3:00:00

Next two hours tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dumb entertainment reporter theater

It's a common mistake. John Cusack is often mistaken for... Kevin Spacey.



Do your homework, people! Or at least go to a movie.

Sunday night I will be on KABC radio again from 7-10, talking sports. If I have time after analyzing the latest AMERICAN GLADIATORS I might even get into the NFL playoffs. But I dunno. I only have three hours.

This is the night 24 was supposed to premiere. For those fans who need a fix, tomorrow I will reveal what was supposed to happen. Okay, I may take a "few" liberties but I'm sure I'm pretty close.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bill Idelson

Writer/actor Bill Idelson passed away last week. He was 88. His acting credits are as recent as WILL & GRACE and as far back as network radio. (He once was a regular on a radio series playing a character named “Skeezix”.) Maybe his most famous role was playing Sally Rogers boyfriend on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Talk about being ahead of your time. He was the consummate nerd in 1962.

I knew him as a comedy writer. In the 60s and 70s he was on the A-list. (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ODD COUPLE, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, GET SMART, GOMER PYLE, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, even that laugh riot TWILIGHT ZONE.) He won two Writers Guild Awards (one for GET SMART and the other for ANDY GRIFFITH). He did an episode of MASH for us that was a sheer delight (meaning: we didn’t have to change any of it!).

But Bill’s real contribution was as a teacher. For years he held a comedy writing class in his house – BILL IDELSON’S WRITING WORKSHOP, For Writers who want to be professionals. Many of today’s top comedy scribes were mentored by Bill. And if you were in his class you could always call him, bounce ideas off him, seek advice, which he always freely and lovingly gave. More than anything else, Bill was a great cheerleader. So supportive of young writers. He didn’t just teach, he inspired.

In his own words, his philosophy:

Pointing out that an idea has been done is off limits. If you say it’s been done, everything stops dead, but if you stick with it, it will probably turn out to be something totally different. And it shows it was good to go on the air. The main thing is to keep a positive attitude. If you start turning things off before they are developed, you’re going to put everybody in a frightened mood, and they are going to get very negative.

I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of guy I want teaching me a creative skill.

He wrote a book WRITING FOR DOUGH. It's well worth checking out.

I bet on the picket lines next week there will be a lot of great Bill Idelson stories. I’m only sorry he won’t be there with us, telling them himself.

Thanks to Hanks

Another week of picketing at 20th Century Fox is in the books. Happy to report no one fell in the fountain this week. In fact, no one has fallen into the fountain since the holiday break.

News crews are still showing up and reporting on us. Except now they're all foreign language. Who knew that Rwanda TV had a Hollywood correspondent?

Gee, I guess the honeymoon is over. When wunderkind Ben Silverman became Prez of NBC he made a big show about how he was the writer’s best friend. He invited writers to bring their projects to NBC because he above all other network chieftains appreciated and valued writers. After the Golden Globes were canceled this week he said, "Sadly, it feels like the nerdiest, ugliest, meanest kids in the high school are trying to cancel the prom. But NBC wants to try to keep that prom alive."

Okay, we may be the nerdiest and ugliest but meanest? Us?! Did we break off negotiations? Did we refuse to bargain in good faith? Did we hold the entire town hostage, cost innocent workers their jobs all in the name of greed and winning? No, it was the popular kids who did that. And so I say fuck your prom. We nerds wouldn’t be allowed in anyway.

In addition to a lot of writers on line being offended by that remark they were also pretty much in agreement that the “life is high school” metaphor is now really old and cliché. But that could just be another example of how mean they are.

So the NBC fallback plan is for the Golden Globes to be considered a “news story”, not an awards show. Uh, doesn’t that tarnish the news department’s credibility and reputation just a tad? Somehow I can’t see Huntley and Brinkley announcing the Golden Globe winners and then turning to John Chancellor to analyze why “Walk Hard” didn’t win best song.

If anyone from CAA is reading this, we haven’t had our churros in a long time now. Where are you guys?

I love Jon Stewart but he is really being a dick. He knows damn well why Letterman got a waiver and he didn’t. Letterman’s show is produced by his independent company. Stewart’s is produced by Viacom, the aft section of the death star. Stop being petulant. Aren’t there Republican debates every night to make fun of? Rudy Giuliani’s staff went door to door in New Hampshire wearing Yankee caps. You can’t do ten minutes on that?

On the other hand, God bless Tom Hanks. He’s the first big name superstar to come out publicly and urge the AMPTP to end the strike. He said, "I just hope that the big guys who make big decisions up high in their corporate boardrooms and what not get down to honest bargaining and everyone can get back to work." Thank you, Tom. They don’t care if every writer and below-the-line worker in the world hates them but they do care that you might be unhappy.

Someone said that the cost of THE GOLDEN COMPASS is more than all the revenue the WGA would receive if the AMPTP accepts our offer. And yet somehow our offer is irresponsible and would cause complete financial ruin to the industry.

Meanwhile, the WGA announced the feature nominees for their annual awards. Here’s the list. Congratulations to all the very deserving screenwriters. The guild also announced it is discontinuing its big gala presentation this year because of the strike. But that's okay. We’re used to not going to proms.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What do you mean there's no midseason?!

The last time the writers went out on strike it was March, right at the end of the TV season. We were out three months before the AMPTP even knew it. This time our work stoppage has caused a lot more havoc. January is traditionally the time when midseason shows premiere, existing hits resume with new episodes, and the Golden Globes herald in the much anticipated season of self-serving award shows. But not this year. Here in ’08 look for a barrage of reality shows, two or three remaining episodes of your favorite scripted shows, recycled cable series (CBS airs DEXTER but turns it into PG, which I suppose means instead of killing people he just lectures them), and AMERICAN IDOL. We all just take it for granted that TV’s second season begins in January. And it got me thinking – what else do we just take for granted? What else won’t we appreciate until they’re gone? Here are a few I’ve thought of. I’m sure you can provide more.


Vin Scully will always broadcast for the Dodgers.

Email will be free.

The Clintons will always be married.

That Twinkie you ate in 1993 will leave your system.

Major airlines will provide pillows and blankets for free.

Time won’t run out on Jack Bauer.

There will always be Yankee Stadium.

There will always be record stores.

“Paul Harvey…good day!”

Gasoline will always be at the bargain price of under four dollars a gallon.

Major sporting events will be on free TV.

You’ll be able to hear the Beatles on the radio.

Tattoos will always be in fashion.

There will be three new Woody Allen movies a year.

There will always be new games for your Playstation 2.

The Lakers will always finish higher than the Clippers.

Labor Day will mean the Jerry Lewis telethon.

There will always be newspapers.

Roger Clemens will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Sharon Stone will think you want to see her naked in a movie.

Splenda is good for you.

Manny will be Manny.

There will be anti-trust laws.

The New York Giants and New York Jets will always play in New Jersey.

HBO will always have better original shows than SHOWTIME.

There will always be one or two groups on tour calling themselves “the Beach Boys”.

There will be Marlins in Florida and Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Your little TV with rabbit ears will always get a signal.

You’ll love it at Levitz.

There will be a SAW VI.

There will be a ROCKY XXVI.

There will be rainforests.

There will be a New Orleans.

There will be a United States of America.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Overcoming Writers Block Part 2

Thanks again to all the writers who have contributed to this post. Again, for pictures I am offering incentives as to why you WANT to break through your writers block.

LLOYD GARVER (FRASIER, HOME IMPROVEMENT, ALF, THE NORM SHOW)

Years ago, I actually took a course about writer's block at UCLA extension. We were taught stuff that you and I pretty much already know: put anything down, keep moving forward, etc. One interesting thing was that many people are afraid to mess up the perfect blank page with what they think is shit (obviously, I'm not one of them), so they have a hard time getting started. This was in the pre-compute days, and the teacher suggested that those people draw on the paper, crumple it up, do anything so that it's not pristine. Then they won't feel like they're messing up a perfect page with their first draft attempt.

For me, if someone is paying me or even waiting or expecting what I'm writing, I have no or little trouble with writer's block. I'm motivated by fear -- "fear of getting in trouble," so I put something down.

Other things that I do if I get stuck -- if I've been sitting at the computer, I try writing longhand. Or I may try dictating into a tape recorder.

I do not use a yo-yo to relax me. (Note from me: I do.)

ALAN EISENSTOCK (MORK & MINDY, WHAT’S HAPPENING, author of nine books)

I've never had writer's block. Like some well-known writers, I have a trick. Hemingway supposedly sharpened pencils to get him going. Faulkner supposedly fucked and drank all night and started blasting away at his typewriter every morning. I've heard that Joyce Carol Oates runs five miles every morning.

Here's what I do.

I tape a copy of my mortgage statement above my computer.

Works like a charm.

PHOEF SUTTON (BOSTON LEGAL, CHEERS)

Sweating blood and hitting your head against the keyboard?
I'd have written sooner but I couldn't think of what to say.

MARC FLANAGAN (TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, MURPHY BROWN, GRACE UNDER FIRE)

Is not writers block just a romantic notion, an artist in crisis, an excuse to drink absinthe or take some kind of drug...isn't it just a state of depression. I wrote an episode of "High Society", I was working on it as an Exec Prod. Jean Smart (so talented) played a trashy novelist ( a Jackie Collins type) and we tried to tell a story about her missing a deadline because of writers block. The story never took off, the lesson we learned was that writers block is neither dramatic or amusing, perhaps too internal a conflict... as a condition or a narrative device - it stinks.

RUSS WOODY (MURPHY BROWN, DREW CAREY SHOW, BECKER)

Here's some stuff that helps me:

Read--Classic novels, works you most admire; Joseph Heller, Hosseini, Hemingway, Palahniuk, Steinback, the greats. Spend a day or two just reading. Read as fast as you can. Gets the brain working faster.

Also--read books about writing. It can be very inspirational.

Journalize--write in a journal, no limits, no boundaries, no spelling worries, no censors, just write. About dreams, about things/people that make you angry. Write a letter to your dead mother, or mine. Or just write gibberish (to free yourself up). Write five pages of rambling, incoherent thoughts. Something will click.

Read biographies about great writers. Read about how they had blocks and drank themselves into oblivion or beat their wives or cats, or shot someone, or committed suicide. Makes you feel a little less alone. Except for the suicide thing.

Then rent the movies you most love/admire. Just watching them can spark other ideas, inspire, motivate.

But, mostly read. Read, read, read.

MIKE TEVERBAUGH (DREW CAREY SHOW, ALMOST PERFECT,

I walk. The anxiety becomes too much and I have to expend that energy by walking. That's one of the reasons I purchased one of the much-maligned Blackberries. I can type on it and make notes of whatever pops into my head while I'm out walking. I have, on occasion, been very rude to neighbors who see me out wandering around and want to join me. And then I spend the next hour obsessing about whether or not I've hurt their feelings. Anyway, that's what I do.

TOM CLEAVER (Roger Corman classics)

I personally think Hemingway had it right when he said a writer had to sit down in front of the typewriter for an hour every day at the same time, whether anything came out or not. Eventually it gets so boring sitting there, you come up with something. And then the good news is that computers make All Writing Is Rewriting so much easier, so you don't have to worry that everything appearing on the screen is gold.

I also have a rule when working: I can't go fuck off and do something enjyable till there are 5 pages done that day. Hopefully, things get good and the enjoyable thing to do that day is to write. But 5 pages a day will get you through to "fade to black."

JON SHERMAN (RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, FRASIER, SABRINA, blogger)

If by "writer's block" you mean hitting a wall on something, well, then I turn to other friends and/or family (some of whom are writers, some not) and bounce it off them to see what they think. I have one friend who loves it when I turn to him for ideas. Needless to say, he's an actor.

If, on the other hand you mean running out of ideas completely, well, then I would turn to my agency. They appear to have no shortage of (mostly crappy) properties. I was actually pitched "Life's Little Instruction Book" as a series because as one agent said, "every page in it is an episode idea!"

Yeah. Every episode in it is an episode idea. Just like every relative you have works someplace that "would make a great series!"

Except that what makes a great series isn't the idea, it's the execution. If all you needed was an idea, "Hello, Larry" (Following the breakup of his marriage, radio talk-show host moves from Los Angeles to Portland) and "Frasier" (Following the breakup of his marriage, psychiatrist moves from Boston to Seattle to become a radio talk-show host) would have had pretty equal success.

ALLAN KATZ (MASH, RHODA, MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ROSEANNE)

If you don't care about the quality of what you write, writer's block is never a problem.

STEVE PETERMAN (HANNAH MONTANA, MURPHY BROWN, SUDDENLY SUSAN)

I get into a room with six other people and a clock. We look at the clock, realize that we don't possibly have enough time to write the next episode, let alone have a block about it, and then we write it.

ALEX EPSTEIN (Canadian screenwriter, author of excellent book: CRAFTY TV WRITING)

1. I turn off the wireless internet and force myself to actually focus on the problem. That cures most cases, which are really just letting distractions get in the way.

2. I find talking through the problem with my wife, or another writer, or an assistant, helps quite a bit.

3. Analyze the scene. What does each character want? What is the relevance of the scene to the overall piece? Actually writing down the bones of the situation often makes clear what I need to be writing.

4. Look at other people's work that's similar in genre. If I'm doing a horror comedy, I watch horror comedy.

5. Clean my desk (pay bills, etc.). Likewise, this results in a feeling of accomplishment, reduces angst, and gets the bills paid. The theory is that afterwards I'll be better able to focus on the writing. I'm not sure this is true, but I've got to pay the bills some time.

ME (you know the credits)

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