Friday, February 29, 2008

How I'll spend my summer

As an astute reader discovered, I will be hosting Dodger Talk this season following Dodger games on Talkradio 790 KABC. The station streams if you ever want to listen sometime. And you can call in with your thoughts, although I would kindly ask that you reserve all "Levine, you suck!" comments to the blog. Thank you.

Speaking of the blog, the daily posts will continue. I never stand down from my comedy watch. The only interruption: no AMERICAN IDOL recap this week because I will be heading to Florida for spring training.

God, I hope Sandy Koufax has a good year.

For those interested, here's what I sound like doing play-by-play. It's from a game I did last season for the Mariners.

We hate you! Now SING!

Am I the only one who thinks it is inhuman to make the AMERICAN IDOL contestants who just got booted off then have to sing? You learn on live national television that 30,000,000 people just rejected you, you can almost hear a collective cheer going up in the country when your name is announced, and now you’re expected to man up and perform. Yikes!

Last night one of the four bootees, Alaina Whitaker was so wrecked she didn’t want to do her song. To his credit, Ryan jumped right in and reassured her she didn’t have to. Alaina eventually did it but I’m amazed more kids don’t refuse. This is your big moment? With mascara running down your face and your throat all choked up?

And the song they make you sing is the same one that got you eliminated in the first place. All the criticism from the night before – poor song selection, you’re not good enough for that material, you have no charisma – all that’s going through your head as you stand before the largest audience you will ever face in your life.

I just don’t get it. Why not let the four people who got the highest vote totals reprise their songs? Those are the people we obviously liked.

Or better yet, whatever four contestants DON’T cry get rewarded with the Thursday night repeat performances. (Hell, just make them the four finalists and send everyone else home. That damn crying is nauseating already!)

But what I saw last night was AMERICAN IDOL completely destroying Alaina Whitaker then moments later announcing that AMERICAN IDOL CARES.

I dunno. It just didn’t work for me, dawg.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

AMERICAN IDOL: those swingin' 70s

Unless David Archuleta knocks up Miley Cyrus in the next two months he’s the new American Idol. The rest are playing for hometown parades and royalties on the eight iTunes they sell. The girls were screaming just at the mention of his name. The fact that he can sing too helps but it makes no difference. He’s your new American Osmond.

This was 70s week – a chance for the kids to sing all their favorite songs they never heard of before last week. I hope next week will be hits from the 30s.

Top three lines when you pull the string on the Paula doll: “You are an amazing singer.” “You have trouble on the low notes.” And “You’re relevant”.

The boys went Tuesday night. I’m starting to think this is GROUNDHOG DAY. Every year it’s the same kids singing the same songs the same way.

First up was Michael Johns. He wants to be Rob Thomas but is really Michael Bolton. He screeched through a Fleetwood Mac song.

In the getting-to-know-you segment with Jason Castro we learned that he’s an idiot and takes pride in it. Bullwinkle could have done a better job answering simple questions. Maybe after the show he and Paula can collect string.

Luke Menard is the Hugh Jackman guy. Did an okay job with “Killer Queen” but this is the wrong show for him. He could easily win AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.

Robbie Carrico considers himself a hard rocker – but the kind that could play Disneyland. His hobby is drag racing. He can sign-up for one next Tuesday night. He’ll be available.

Danny Noriega is the contestant most likely to become one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes. He sang “Superstar” for 70s week but who are we kidding? He should have sung “My Girl Bill”.

David Hernandez has a big voice but no idea what he’s singing. He tackled the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” belting out words completely at random. “Papa was a ROLLINGGGG stone, wherever he laid his HATTTT was his home. And WHENNNNN he died, all he left USSSSSS was alone.”

And pretty boy, Jason Yaeger was even worse. Completely clueless. He chose the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running” and had a huge smile on his face belting out the line “she lost her home and her family and she won’t be coming back”. Parr-teeee! But at least he didn’t cart out his son again this week.

Chikezie did a nice job of a Donny Hathaway song. But so what? He’ll be going home weeks, even months before Danny Noriega.

Then came authentic benign rocker, David Cook. He revealed that he’s a “word nerd”. He loves unusual words. Here’s a few: tedious, tiresome, lackluster, wearisome, humdrum. But unlike Jason Castro, he at least knows what those words mean.

As always, they saved the best for last. David Archuleta sang a fabulous interpretation of “Imagine’. The judges were knocked out by the originality. And they should be. When Eva Cassidy first sang it that way years ago on one of her albums it was quite extraordinary. Much better than Archuleta’s original cover.

On Wednesday night the girls took the stage.
Carly Smithson was in much better voice singing “Crazy on You”. And her breasts bopping up and down should be good for another ten million votes.

Syesha Mercado sang “Me & Mrs. Jones”, a gut wrenching ballad about two disillusioned married people having an affair. It was the perfect song for a 21 year old.

Brooke White did a nifty job with “You’re So Vain”. Brooke can’t sing those power ballads like all the rest of the girls. Maybe that’s why she’s my favorite.

Ramiele Mulubay is the only American Idol contestant in seven seasons shorter than Ryan Seacrest. She sang the instantly forgettable “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.

You wonder why the contestants picked such boring songs when these 70s classics were available: “The Night Chicago Died”, “Billy Don’t be a Hero”, “Muskrat Love”,“Sweet & Innocent”, and the incomparable “Chick-a-boom/Chick-a-Boom”.

Kristy Lee Cook revealed that she’s really a tomboy. I could see her fishing in her prom dress. Boring belter. Next!

Who knew? Amanda Overmyer is a “book worm”. What does she read? English literature? Russian novels? No. Rock star biographies. That still makes her the intellectual of this bunch. With the wild streaks in her hair and zebra slacks I thought she was joining the cast of CATS. She sang “Carry on Wayward Son” and Randy thought it was “too much melody” for her. Yeah, melody can really get in the way of a good singer.

Alaina Whitaker is delightfully compulsive-obsessive. Her eggroll and rice can’t touch on the same plate. What would freak her out more? Getting eliminated from American Idol or being forced to eat a KFC Chicken & Biscuit Bowl?

Kady Malloy doesn’t have to win. She’s cute, she’s funny, she’s talented. She’ll be hosting her own VH-1 show long after David Archuleta is headlining Sponge Bob on Ice. She sang Heart’s “Magic Man”, another monster hit Simon had never heard of. If Petula Clark didn’t sing it, he doesn’t know it.

Wrapping it up was Asia’h Epperson who tried to belt “All By Myself” so hard her liver almost came out her mouth. Simon was right. That song was waaaaaay too big for her. Celine Dion she’s not. Dionne Warwick she’s not. (Oh, for Simon’s benefit: Dionne Warwick was a very popular American singer in the 60s & 70s).

I’m still waiting for that great performance. Oh well. Maybe on Kurt Weil night.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Okay. This is going to be fun. Wild but fun.

Not everyone loved NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN even though it won Best Picture. Bob Gale, a screenwriter who I have enormous respect for (among his credits: BACK TO THE FUTURE) is one of those naysayers. He had a few teeny-weenie logic issues and one or two questions. Here's his assessment and I know the comments are going to start flying. I'm just the hockey referee. I drop the puck and you guys go for it.

The puck drops....NOW.

It made no sense at all!

Javier the bad guy wanders around Texas doing a bad impression of “The Terminator,” lugging a big compressed air tank and hose instead of just carrying a pistol with a silencer that he could put in his pocket. Right.

The Deputy arrests Javier, takes him to the station, then turns his back on him (perhaps not noticing he is twice his size) to call Tommy Lee instead of putting him in jail first. Right.

Tommy Lee doesn’t put out an APB for the entire state of Texas regarding the killer of his own deputy. A cop killer is on the loose but no one knows. Right. Of course, maybe he did, but since nobody in the whole movie listens to a radio or watches television because there’s just so much to do in west Texas, how would anyone know?

Then we meet Josh Brolin, hunting deer in the desert – there’s a natural habitat for you – but he doesn’t have a canteen with water. Right.

Then, after ripping off a bunch of dead drug dealers who have been massacred with machine gun fire, Josh decides in the middle of the night to go back to the desert to bring water to one of the dying drug dealers he just ripped off. Great idea. Does he wait until morning? No, he chooses to do this at night when you can’t see shit. And he doesn’t bring a flashlight. Double right.

It just so happens that the very next day when Josh and his wife clear out of their trailer, that’s the day when the phone bill comes so Javier can find it. Right.

Plus, knowing that drug dealers are going to be after him, he decides not to tell the lady who runs the Trailer Park a cover story that might get the bad guys off his trail. Oh, he’s brilliant.

Why does Javier kill the 2 guys who at the scene of the crime who have just hired him to find their money? Did it not occur to him that they would be working for other guys who might not like having their people killed? Does he think this will look good on his resume?

And these guys just happen to have the most powerful transponder and tracking device in Texas, which can pick up a signal from miles away. James Bond didn’t even have this. Right.

When Josh Brolin finds the transponder, he doesn’t throw it out the window to decoy the bad guy or conceive some clever plan to lure Javier into a trap. No, he just sits right next to it. Genius.

Josh Brolin fires a shotgun with double aught buck at Javier who is 6 feet away from him behind a door and he doesn’t kill him, nor blow up his compressed air tank. What planet are we on where the laws of physics work in such mysterious ways?

There’s a big burst of machine gun fire in two different motels, and then a whole bunch of shooting in the main street of a dead quiet small town and it doesn’t bring the police or any armed citizens. Oh, wait – I missed the part that explained we’re on a different planet. Or something.

Josh Brolin can just walk across the border into Mexico AT A BORDER CROSSING, dripping blood, without being stopped by the Mexican authorities. What is this, some special “Bleeding-fugitives-can-get-into-Mexico-free Day?” Where exactly was the sign that was advertising this promotion? At least they could have had Josh bribe the border cop.

Javier is looking all over Texas for Josh and can’t find him, but Woody Harrelson finds him immediately in a hospital in Mexico. I guess I also missed the scene where they explained that Woody had super-powers.

Woody can find the money, but Javier can’t. Wow, those super-powers of his are really amazing. And Josh decided to keep the money in its original suitcase because obviously he knew there would be no way the bad guys would be looking for THAT. Oh wait, I forgot, he’s a Vietnam Vet so the war must have messed up his ability to think.

Who killed who in the El Paso motel? How did the mother-in-law die? In the shootout? Then why didn’t Josh’s wife get killed? And what was the point of the woman at the pool who wants Josh to have a beer with her? What finally happened to the money? There’s a whole bunch of carnage at this motel, but Tommy Lee and the local Sheriff have time to have coffee so the Sheriff can complain about kids with green hair. Sure, why not.

Did Javier kill the wife or not? And how come Javier just happens to have an auto accident at the end? I guess it was because he was looking in his rear view mirror, worried that the 2 kids on bikes might have some serious armament and be coming after him because, goddammit, they look like dangerous bad kids in the employ of a rival drug dealer. The one kid gets money and the other doesn’t. Why doesn’t the other kid rat out Javier to the cops? Meanwhile, Javier is just walking down the street, dripping blood, with police sirens approaching and no one is going to notice? Oh yeah – I keep forgetting that it’s another planet. That would be Planet Deaf Dumb Blind and Stupid.

Meanwhile, Tommy Lee is pontificating about nothing with some crippled fucker in the middle of nowhere. And everybody talks….real….slow….because…it’s….real…important…philosophical….existential…claptrap…and…this….is…a ….real….important…motion…picture…

And then the movie ends with Tommy Lee telling his wife about some fucking dream he had? What the hell was that????? Oh wait – I get it – the whole fucking movie was his dream.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What is the best way to write a pilot?

Reader Brad from Boston asks: What is the best way to write a pilot? I can’t speak for dramatic pilots since I’ve never written one but here are some thoughts from the trenches on comedy.

First off, there is no easy answer. But here are some pointers:

Make the premise simple – something you can pitch in one or two sentences. If you have to say

it’s about two brothers who were separated at birth and now find out they had a sister by another mother who has a diner that she wants to convert into a pizza place but needs help running it because she’s also an actress at night and is raising five kids, three of them orphans from Africa

then your pilot is dead and you’re dead because you’ve killed yourself trying to write this unwieldy mess.

Make the show about something – I put that in bold because it's important. You know me -- I don't put things in bold haphazardly. Have a theme, a reason for being. Example: THE OFFICE. Trying to survive and find some happiness in a go-nowhere career.

Remember: You have to set up your premise, introduce your characters, establish the tone, and be funny all in the first five minutes. It’s a bitch. Don’t make things harder on yourself by overloading the show with too many characters, too much exposition, a Byzantine story harder to follow than THE BIG SLEEP, or a part for Jim Belushi.

Don't give the girls boys' names and the boys girl' names. It's confusing enough remembering who all the characters are without Sam being a girl and Jan being a guy. And every pilot seems to have a "Kevin". Even if it's set in ancient Rome.

The most common mistake most young pilot writers make is that they over-reach.

It’s part romantic comedy, part workplace comedy, set in a foreign country with its own language and customs. Kinda like ENCHANTED meets THE WIRE”.

Trust me, by page five you're throwing yourself in front of buses.

When Studio and network people read pilots they ask themselves these questions: Do they like the premise? Does the show make them laugh? Do they get a sense of what the series is about and where it’s going?

Where it’s going is especially key. I once helped out a night on a pilot. (Yes, I was the “creative consultant”) It was about midnight and we were bogged down in the story. I said to the creator, “What is episode two of this show?” to which he blurted out, “There is no episode two! Who are we kidding? This show will never get picked up!”

He was right. When you’re developing your show ask yourself: Are there five years worth of stories with this? Don’t write FADE IN until the answer is yes. On the other hand, you don’t need to know all five years worth of stories. We once pitched a pilot and the network president said, “What’s the first show of season seven?” How the hell are we supposed to know that? I said, “The Clip Show because if we’re in season seven we’re a fuckin’ HIT!” And we would’ve been too…if only he didn’t pass on the pilot.

Best of luck with yours.

A few more Oscar thoughts

According to the overnight ratings, this was the lowest rated Oscarcast in history. When AMERICAN IDOL has Barry Manilow night they almost beat it.

So now comes the blame game. I don’t want to hear the producers say the show was never promoted. Or the problem was the absence of Joan Rivers.

Or the Writers Strike. It doesn't take four months to write, "He's an internationally known actor or a auto dealership, here's Harrison Ford."

Jon Stewart will doubtless take a hit. But it’s not entirely his fault. You’d think Hollywood would know. You get a big star to fill a big starring role. Rainn Wilson is very talented but I wouldn’t cast him as Michael Clayton.

I say get Martin Scorsese to host. He’s a God in the industry, reveres movies, the camera just loves him, and he talks so fast the show might actually get off on time for once. You can’t claim this is Hollywood’s most prestigious event and expect a late night cable pundit or daytime talk show host to carry it off. Get Scorsese. Promise a recount on RAGING BULL if you have to.

And people want to see stars. Real stars. Not Disney Channel stars. Not World Federation Wrestling stars. Not reality show stars. When they start showing faces in the crowd and you have to go “Who is that?” more than twice – CLICK!

And whoever the host is, play to us, the audience, not Jack Nicholson. We can turn you off. He can’t.

Then there’s the tiny matter of Hollywood’s total disconnect to the movie going public. All five nominees were art films – four that can only be viewed on Lexapro. NORBIT actually made more money last year than NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Hollywood needs to start making mainstream movies again. There’s no middle ground. It’s either THERE WILL BE BLOOD or ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.

Considering there were no Golden Globes and much curiosity following the Writers Strike (Would the show come off? What would it look like? Would Cate Blanchett deliver during the Price-Waterhouse tribute?), you would expect a boost in the ratings. Instead it was just the opposite.

There's a clear message here. You’re losing more audience every year. Do something now or soon there will be such a lack of interest you can rename the show The Emmys.


When contacted about the Brad Renfro oversight in the "In Memoriam" piece, a spokesman for the AMPAS said it was an "editorial decision made because not everyone could be included." Oh really? But it's okay to show a couple of agents.


Whoopi Goldberg was in tears on THE VIEW because in the montage of Oscar hosts she had been omitted. She does have a point. She was the first woman emcee, first Oscar winner emcee, and first to wear a Big Bird suit, but did she have to actually cry? Come on. You're a former Oscar host. Show some dignity. It's not like there was a pet adoption snafu.


When Michael Caine won an Oscar for HANNAH AND HER SISTERS he was unable to attend the ceremony because he was in the Bahamas filming JAWS 4.


And I will leave you with this – for my money, the line of the Oscars comes from writer Allan Katz:

Jessica Alba; a perfect color dress to go with her present shape -- eggplant.

My tenth annual Oscars review

This was Hollywood’s biggest night -- when we paid tribute to this year’s excellence in motion picture Oscar campaigns. The two leading contenders for Best Picture were one with a baffling ending and one that puts half the audience into a coma. Those marketing boys know how to spin a yarn.

I’m sure for most viewers, these are what they thought were the five nominees for Best Picture: Something Something Country, Something Something Blood, Michael Jordan, that thing with whatshername, and one of those Knocked Up movies.

Was there a single winner the first hour from America? This was the United Nations general assembly with production numbers. Every speech was like Borat but not funny.

We ended the writers strike for THIS? Jesus! The best thing I can say about this Oscarcast is that there were no shadow puppets this year.

Had we not settled this is what the show would have been, and tell me you wouldn’t have preferred it.

“Please welcome your host, ABC foreign correspondent, Joohee Cho!”
The “In Memoriam” tribute would be stretched so long that by the end someone new would have to be added.
“Singing the nominated song from ENCHANTED, here is ABC sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein!”
“The theme this year: Stunt doubles. Those brave men and women who look like your favorite stars and tonight will get to BE them.”
“The no-good son of a bitch nominees for best Original Screenplay are…”

At least that show might have had some surprises. All the locks won. Something Something Country swept the big awards. The only surprises were Marion Cotillard beating Julie Christie (and by the way, doesn’t Edith Piaf clean up well? Wow!) and LA VIE EN ROSE edging out NORBIT for Best Makeup. Eddie Murphy was robbed AGAIN!

The flood watch was canceled prior to the show. We didn’t get to see Anne Hathaway in her Jimmy Choo golashes.

But those inane red carpet shows went off as planned. My favorite was the local one for KABC in Los Angeles hosted by entertainment boot lickers, George Pennachio and Richard Roeper. When they’re not gushing like school girls they’re asking the most idiotic questions. George to Heidi Klum: “It’s great to be at an event like this. How did YOU get invited?” To Amy Ryan he asked, “If you win will you be thanking the Teamsters?”

Richard Roeper to Tom Wilkinson about his role in MICHAEL CLAYTON: “You had those big operatic scenes and were able to play way over-the-top.” Surprisingly, Wilkinson took offense at that. George asked Sara Lawson if she beaded her dress herself? And serving as a fashion expert was Channel 7 Eyewitness News anchor, Michelle Tuzee. Just last week after reporting a bus plunge she complained that new Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias was a “nightmare in blue”.

“Who are you wearing?” used to refer to dress designers. Now it means tattoo artists.

No Joan & Melissa Rivers this year. The red carpet equivalent of Mom & Norman Bates have run out of networks. Joan is doing a one-woman show in LA and for the first time ever on Oscar night is performing to more than 200 people.

The Hollywood cause this year: the campaign to close Guantanamo. Celebrities wore orange ribbons to show their tremendous concern for this issue. Ask them what last year’s cause was. Most will say, “Uh…red ribbons?”

Red was definitely the color of the night. Every other gown was red. It was like being at the Nebraska Cornhuskers homecoming dance.

Jon Stewart was funny but you need someone bigger, more larger-than-life to host such a grand event. Seriously, Joohee Cho would have kicked ass!

Usually they start out with an actor category or two. Not this year. We were forty minutes into the show before anything happened. Kinda like sitting through Something Something Blood.

Since Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan, shouldn’t she be nominated for Best Supporting Actor?

Even pregnant and showing, Jessica Alba still was the hottest woman in the room.

My daughter Annie has a good rule. No movie over three hours should be eligible for Best Editing.

It would have been interesting if Roderick Jaynes had won for editing Something Something Country. Roderick Jaynes is just a pseudonym. The Coen Brothers actually edited their own movie.

I’m so excited. For the first time ever, a movie I co-wrote, VOLUNTEERS was included in an Oscarcast. There was a two second clip of it in the “periscope and binoculars” montage. Between that and picketing, I really feel like I’m part of the industry now.

RATATOUILLE deserved not just Best Animated Picture but Best Picture as well. You didn’t have to say you liked the movie just because critics did. You could actually like the movie yourself.

Katherine Heigl was a knockout!! Marilyn Monroe at her most radiant and lucid.

Diablo Cody came as Cleopatra: biker chick. I was happy she won for Best Original Screenplay. I liked the message Hollywood was sending: “No more Nancy Meyers comedies!”

How could the Academy nominate LARS AND THE REAL GIRL for writing and shun I KNOW WHO KILLED ME?

Tilda Swinton looked like Conan O’Brien. I was glad she won too. Maybe now she can afford two sleeves.

Al Gore and Cher have more Oscars than Johnny Depp.

How do I describe Cameron Diaz’s dress? It’s like if you tried to gift-wrap a vacuum cleaner.

Owen Wilson looked good and is apparently over that pesky suicide deal. They should have had him intro the “In Memoriam” tribute. By the way, they forgot Brad Renfro.

Oh no! Jerry Seinfeld pimping that Goddamn bee movie AGAIN?! Make it stop!! At least in the “hilarious” montage they didn’t show MY GIRL where the lead character dies from a bee sting.

Daniel Day-Lewis finally won his Oscar for GANGS OF NEW YORK. When he someday shuttles his mortal coil I’m sure the cause of death will be: choked on some scenery.

If you want to vote for the eleven-year-old girl from the AUGUST RUSH song – 1-866-IDOLS 04.

I guess Nicole Kidman couldn’t decide which necklace to wear so she wore them all. She looked like a Christmas tree with tinsel put on by a drunk.

My guess is the three songs from ENCHANTED canceled each other out. For Kristen Chenowith’s number there were dancers and acrobats flying everywhere, a bridge, flowers, props, costumes. But for the star of the film, Amy Adams – a bare set and a dress she couldn’t move in. Nice.

I was thrilled however when Best Song went to Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova for ONCE. And the highlight of the night was letting Marketa come back and deliver her acceptance speech after the music had pushed her off. Watch. Cuba Gooding Jr. is going to want to come back now. There’s fifty more people he needs to thank.

The speeches I like are those rare few with genuine emotion. Marion Cotillard’s and surprisingly, Diablo Cody’s. She did not have to be censored even once.

I also was moved by 98 year-old, Robert Boyle, who received an honorary Oscar for working on hundreds of great, classic movies and DRAGNET.

Penelope Cruz was smashing as usual but I’m not sure about furry black gown. She looked like Barney Rubble ’s prom date.

Every year it’s the same thing. The five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary are four war movies and one about dance.

The winner of Best Documentary was from Austria and noted that many great film directors like Billy Wilder had to flee that country because of the Nazis and as luck would have it, his movie is about the Nazis. What is he talking about? Every Austrian movie is about the Nazis! Along with every book, every article, every children song.

How’d you like to be in Paul Thomas Anderson’s limo after the show? The director of Something Something Blood is probably going postal. “They don’t understand my brilliance! My genius! I try to elevate the movie going rabble! Give them art! Give them beauty! Take them to worlds the ingrates have no business seeing. And do they appreciate me? Do they at least acknowledge that I have been touched by the hand of God? No! They humiliate me in front of billions of people. They give away my award – MY award -- to two hicks! Oooh, some trailer trash person finds a suitcase of money. That’s real original. And bad guys are after him. Who’s ever seen that before? Meanwhile, I make a masterpiece. Look at these ads the studio took out. What more proof do you want than that?! Oh, the hell with it. Just take me to the Vanity Fair party! I can drink myself to death there… What? Canceled?! Why? Writer’s Strike? What the hell?!”

Remember when Al Pacino and Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro used to be at the Oscars? Now it’s Miley Cyrus, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Heidi Klum (how DID she get invited?), Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen.

It’s just not the same. It’s just not as good. And it’s still just as long.

But we watch. Every year we watch. I guess we just can’t resist a good Oscar campaign.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The MASH Oscar show

Getting ready for the big Oscar show. I’m avoiding Hollywood Blvd. and Highland (as I do every other day as well). Filled out my Oscar ballot with a resolution to next year maybe see some of the movies I trash. My laptop is at the ready. Bring on the red carpet shows and let the narcissismfest begin! My Oscar review will follow early Monday morning.

Back in the day” as we “old schoolers” used to say, when I was working on MASH we designated one episode a year as our “Oscar” show. Usually it was apparent which episode should receive this lofty distinction.

You might remember that for many years the Oscars were held on Monday night. MASH was also on Mondays. So once a year we would go head-to-head with the Academy Awards and of course get slaughtered in the ratings.

That is where we put our “Oscar” show. It was the worst episode of the year and happily we were always able to bury it. In summer reruns it would air on July 4th – the lowest viewing weekend of the year.

So, if for no other reason…I’d like to thank the Academy.

For those of you can't get enough Oscar coverage, here's my review of last year's ceremony.


A reader asked me recently to talk about my sordid days doing improv. I started in 1979. Disco was dying and I was looking for the next big thing. My partner, David and I sold a pilot to NBC about a Nichols & May type improv team. The concept was could a man and woman work together and just be friends (long before Sally faked her orgasm for Harry)? To research the arena I called Dee Marcus, director of the improv group OFF THE WALL (still in existence, still performing Friday nights in Santa Monica, and still hilarious) and asked if I could audit a class. She said only if I agreed to participate. I figured, what the hell? I couldn’t be much worse than the other beginners.

I arrived and was blown away by how unbelievably great everyone was. SNL quality people performing over a beauty school at Santa Monica Blvd. and Fairfax. These were the beginners? Shit! I was lucky to get through a scene without pissing on myself (although, I know I passed up a sure laugh) After a few trying weeks of this I learned Dee hadn't put me in the beginners class, she put me in the performance class. These were all the top professionals. (Thanks, Dee) The tip off came when Robin Williams showed up one night.

I stayed in the class for a couple of years, learned an enormous amount, and eventually became part of a comedy troop, THE SUNDAY FUNNIES. We played to crowds often fewer in number than the cast.

After many years of sabbatical I’ve recently started popping in on Andy Goldberg’s class. Of all the improv teachers he’s by far the best. As a comedy writer I recommend improv training. It teaches spontaneity, committing to a character, and creating scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends. The hardest part is going to a deli afterwards and watching your classmates eat fried kreplachs at 11 at night.

One story about Robin. Needless to say, doing scenes with him was an adventure. He is so fast and brilliant he just uses you like a prop. One night I got called up to do a two person scene with him. If you were lucky you sometimes could get in two words. The scene began, he went off in fifteen different directions. I didn't even know what the hell he was talking about. Finally, I heard a beat of silence. He must've been taking a breath. Now's my chance, I thought. I don't know why but the only thing I could think to say was "fuck you". Much to my surprise it got a laugh. He was off and running for two more minutes of inspired word jazz and then it was my turn again. Since it got a laugh the first time I said, "fuck you". It got an even bigger laugh. This became the scene. Robin riffing, me occasionally blurting out "fuck you". And every time I got the biggest laughs.

When the scene was over I worried that Robin would be pissed that I upstaged him. Instead, he took me aside and said, “that was great.” I consider it one of my greatest achievements in comedy.

And I guess he remembers it because every time I see him the first thing he says to me is “Fuck you!”

Friday, February 22, 2008

STRIKE BACK: Written by strikers for hungry workers

I participated last night in a fund raiser for the Industry Support Fund – providing financial assistance to all the non-writers who were affected by our strike. I was one of several WGA members asked to read an original essay or contribute a short sketch. My contribution follows. The event was sponsored by the Met Theatre and Theatre East and was a huge success despite my piece.

Allen Rosenberg, the President of SAG, spoke at the outset. It was worth the hour drive in the rain just to thank him for his invaluable support to our cause and pledge an equal commitment to his.

In addition to all the internet stuff, SAG has a number of very valid issues that need addressing. One is product placement. Studios and networks are slipping products into shows and asking the actors to endorse them while in character. And of course they’re not paying them any more. Excuse me, but that’s
a commercial and the actors deserve to be compensated.

No one wants another strike. But if God forbid there is one I’ll be at the head of the picket line. All I ask is that they tell me where the L WORD cast is marching.

Anyway, here’s what I read – a modified blog post from a long while ago. It got big laughs I’m happy and relieved to say… except f
or the Kurt Cobain joke. Jesus, did that bomb. March Madness has arrived again -- the NCAA basketball tournament. Thus the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for me and three of my middle aged sports nerd television executive buddies. Slater, the Banger, and Mr. Syracuse. Slater brought his girlfriend (who goes by either Karen or Valerie -- long story) thus increasing his chances of "getting lucky" by maybe 1%. Mr. Syracuse brought his wife thus decreasing his chances. My son, Matt flew in from Boston. He's now 21 so what better way to see Las Vegas for the first time than with his dad and three guys who look like the Pep Boys?

We stayed this year at the Paris Hotel. The theme is French hospitality (an oxymoron). I'm sure I would have been given a nicer room if I registered as Himmler. The casino features a low ceiling that is painted to look like the sky, a la the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. It's an odd shade of blue however, one that suggests nuclear winter. There are cobblestone streets and carpeting. A replica LePont Alendre III bridge overlooks the nickel slot machines, and there is an Eiffel Tower that is fifty stories high. Tours are offered. There is a sign at the entrance that reads "No food, beverages, smoking, weddings" (true story).

I don't know why these hotels opt for these elaborate themes. The truth is: NO ONE CARES. People schlepp around in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops. If I ever put up a hotel in Las Vegas I would use as my theme the HOME DEPOT.

There was an Anti-Aging conference in town. Am I the only one who finds it odd to hold an Anti-Aging conference in the one place where people stay up all hours drinking, gorging, smoking, and enduring the enormous stress of losing their money? I guess it's held there out of respect for Joan Rivers. My feeling is if the President of the Anti-Aging organization isn't 117 then it's a sham.

Matt and I went to Le Cafe for breakfast. They said "inside or outside?" What??? Outside of course meant under the sky painted ceiling. We chanced that it wouldn't rain and took the outside.

The in-house cable had a channel that spelled out emergency exit procedures. Leave it the French to provide a surrender strategy.

Remember when Frank Sinatra used to play Vegas? This weekend it was Carrot Top and (at the Riviera) "America's Tribute to Neil Diamond". Not even the real Neil Diamond, an impersonator. In two weeks the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (true) will be appearing. I'd love to see Shecky Green open for them.

Of course you could always pay a gazillion dollars to see Celine Dion screech out five songs a night. Or is that just a Barbra Streisand impersonator?? (That one didn’t get a big laugh either)

The Paris had "Arabian Nights Spectacular", something else to make the Jews feel comfortable.

Next morning before the games, Matt and I hit the beach. Mandalay Bay has it's own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But we took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

Somewhere in the great beyond Bugsy Siegal is saying “If this is what I ultimately created I deserved to be shot.”

From the Mandalay Bay we hotel hopped. Had to stop in at the Excalibur -- a casino in Sleeping Beauty's castle. This is home to the black socks, shorts, and wife beater shirt crowd. You know you're in trouble when they have a special parking lot just for motorhomes. Handing a pair of dice to one of these idiots is like handing a gun to a monkey.

Then it was on to the Bellagio, where Matt and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!" The paintings were glorious and it was just nice to be in the only room in Las Vegas where everybody voted for Kerry.

One thing you can say about Vegas, it has the most amazingly beautiful women in the world. And so where did we spend 90% of our time? At the Sportsbook, the one place that none of them would ever be caught dead in. There were 48 games in four days. At times four were going on simultaneously. I'm betting on teams I've never heard of. The place was packed with rowdy men and good old boys chugging long neck beers. We ordered White Russians, Tequila Sunrises, and Rusty Nails. No one fucked with us!

One hazard: you see the same commercial seventeen thousand times. Especially the one for "Cialis", designed to keep a man ready for 36 hours. Too bad I'm not single. One of those magic pills would be perfect for me. 35 1/2 hours to find a woman then a half hour to perform.

The Banger bet on exhibition baseball. Even Pete Rose never did that.

In keeping with the theme, French accordion music came out of the urinals. Finally, the correct venue for that music.

Elegant dining = no Keno boards.

Slater's girlfriend Valerie/Karen is vegan, which means there are only six things she can eat and she's allergic to four of them. She and Slater are the two nicest people on the planet but I have dubbed them "America's Waiter Killer Couple". Slater switches every table and sends back every order while Valerie/Karen has the kitchen prepare items not on the menu every meal. I’m afraid to eat with them. The cook or waiter might spit in my food.

Valerie/Karen's back was bothering her so she toted around a pillow to make sitting more comfortable. But a hot girl walking through the casino with a pillow -- she looked like a hooker who advertised.

You're not allowed to use your cellphone in the Sportsbook. And I so wanted to make reservations for the “Curt Kobain on Ice” show at the Aladdin.

Featured at the Paris Hotel: drinks in plastic Eiffel Tower glasses. $12.50 (true). There was a line. I wonder how many of those people thought they were buying the "actual" Eiffel Tower?

What is Pai Gow poker???

At the end of the weekend all of us either made a little money or broke even, Stanford and Kentucky got eliminated, and the waiters at the Paris hotel got together and paid for Slater's cab to the airport. It was great great fun. And I picked up a new name:

Kenny "the OTHER gambler" Levine

Thursday, February 21, 2008

AMERICAN IDOL: Hot chicks with Nyquil

We got our first look at the girls Wednesday night (Thursday morning for me ‘cause I tivoed it). They’re cute, they belt, they have sob stories, and they’re all going to end up in the touring company of MAMA MIA. But for now their hopes and cheeks are high.

We were told over and over that some of them had the flu. But showing the same grit and fortitude they had when they attended their senior proms despite breaking a nail, they hung in there and gave courageous performances of 60s bubblegum hits.

First up was Kristy Lee Cook. She sold her horse to fly from Portland to Philadelphia to audition for the show. There were also auditions in San Diego, which is closer. She could have just sold her cat. Kristy was one of the flu victims. What will her excuse next week be for being boring?

Joanne Borgella was next. She’s the “plus size model” filling the LaKisha/Jennifer Hudson role this season. Simon said to take a risk and she did. She wore jeans.

Alaina Whittaker followed. She’s 16, blond, and has that Lauren Hutton space between her two front teeth that make her seem wise beyond her years. Alaina sang “More Today Than Yesterday” – the same song that Chipote (or whatever the hell his name is) sang the night before. There aren’t a gazillion songs in the 60s? They had to repeat the same four?

Finally! Something that Paula knows! The group that had the hit with “More Today Than Yesterday” (Spiral Starecase). Amazingly, Simon had never heard of that tune. Obviously he doesn’t listen to oldies radio. They play it eight times an hour. Along with…

“Happy Together”, which Brooke White sang (and David Cook mangled the night before). Brooke is a dead ringer for the young Susan Anspach (pictured below Brooke). She labels herself as “the good girl”. A couple of weeks in the bottom three and she’ll be wearing leather and going down on the mic.

Amanda Overmyer, the cool rocker chick who looks like an owl, scatted through “Baby Please Don’t Go”. Again, Simon had never heard of it. He can tell you every Lulu tune but is unfamiliar with Van Morrison? Amanda is a breath of fresh air. And even if she had the flu, who cares because she sounds like she has the flu anyway.

Amy Davis is gorgeous. I’d vote for her if she coughed up phlegm for three minutes. She sang one of Simon’s favorite kick ass songs from the 60s – “Where the Boys Are”.

Then it was Alexandrea Lushington (which would be the perfect name for Elaine Stritch). Randy and Paula loved her. Simon did not. I agree with Simon. Just another boring belter. Next!

Kady Malloy is this year’s Carrie Underwood wannabe. Big voice. Did a slow sexy rendition of “We’ve Got a Groovy Kind of Love”. Why? It’s an innocent teenybopper song. Why not just do a smoldering blues version of “My Boy Lollipop”?

Kady was followed by Asia’h Epperson. I’m still trying to tell all these people apart. I have in my notes for Asia’h: “dead dad girl”. Sang “Piece of My Heart”. Won’t make anyone forget Janis Joplin. Or even Amanda Overmyer.

One of my favorites was next. Ramiele Mulubay. Little girl. Big pipes. Irene Cara without all the lawsuits.

The goofy names continued with Syesha Mercado. (Notice all the cheerleader types are named Kristy and Amy and Brooke?) Will somebody tell her the Diana Ross look is not becoming? The only thing missing was plastic surgery and a cape. Another boring belter.

And finally, there was Carly Smithson – the girl with the sensational voice, scary tattoos, and Hannibal Lector smile. AMERICAN IDOL has taken a lot of heat lately for not disclosing that Carly is a professional singer who even signed a million dollar recording contract once. So to avoid looting in the streets and rioting, this “secret” was revealed on the program. Carly should be in the top two…if she wears long sleeves every week.

All in all, a good group. But certainly not a great group. Maybe the third touring company of MAMA MIA.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Treatment

I am completely hooked on IN TREATMENT. It airs nightly on HBO and they’re in week four of nine. But you can catch up and watch the episodes on their website or HBO replays them whenever they’re not showing the “Making of SPANGLISH” or one of those other unwatchable movie – cough cough -- “documentaries”.

It’s adapted from a popular Israeli series so you know it’s not PETTICOAT JUNCTION.

The remarkable Gabriel Byrne stars as the therapist, Paul. And he’s just what you’d want in a shrink – he’s in a screwed up marriage, he’s getting burned out, he has the hots for one of his patients, and he can’t lose his accent.

You find yourself completely engrossed with each of his cases but it occurred to me that maybe it’s because they’re all sexy.

Mondays feature Laura (yummy Melissa George), a smoking hot anesthesiologist who’s in love with Paul and deals with rejection by hopping into bed with anyone.

On Tuesdays it’s Alex (Blair Underwood), an arrogant Navy fighter pilot who killed a bunch of innocent people during a bombing raid in Iraq and is there because he can’t get a good cup of coffee.

Wednesdays belong to Sophie (Mia Wasikowska), a cute high school gymnast banging her coach. She’s a cross between Juno and Chloe from 24. My heart goes out to her when I don’t want to smack her.

For Thursdays, Paul treats Jake & Amy (Josh Charles & Embeth Davidtz), a young couple struggling with infertility, marital issues, and who are we kidding? The Bobbits’ have a better chance of growing old together.

But the best is Fridays where Paul sees a therapist. (Actually, that’s not true. One Monday when Laura described giving a stranger a hand job in a bathroom that was more fun than Paul’s ennui.). But it’s fun to get in Paul’s head and Dianne Wiest (pictured) steals the series acting-chops-wise.

Like I said, sexy scenarios all. But in real life, this is probably Paul’s caseload:

Mondays – Ida. 81, nervous to interact socially because her Depends leak.

Tuesdays – Sarah. 25, actress wannabe. For a whole hour it’s just me, me, me, me, me, me, me.

Wednesdays – Rick. 54, hates his job at Aetna insurance, which he goes into with great minute detail.

Thursdays – Natalie. 64, Cries the entire hour. Just cries.

Fridays – Howie. 49, writer. Last credit: THE ROPERS. Guess what he talks about week after week after week.

But fortunately for us IN TREATMENT has more sizzle and intrigue. And when it’s over I know I’m going to feel such a void, such a loss that I’ll need to start treatment myself. Just hope I bump into Laura and not Ida.

AMERICAN IDOL: Boys will be girls

Since it’s the first week and there are four hours of performance shows I’m doing separate reviews for the boys and girls…this week only.

Tuesday night we got our first look at the boys. At least I think they were the boys. Half of them are prettier than the girls.

As opposed to last season, these kids are far better singers and wow, are their teeth white! They can sing, they can bleach – there’s just no end to their talents.

Ryan began by introducing them as “your top 12”. Mine?? I’m seeing half of these guys for the first time. To be honest, with all the 17 year-olds, it looked like the roll call for New Mouseketeers.

The theme was 60s night but to be accurate they should have called it “Mimic Peabo Bryson night”. Who knew every song from the 60s could sound like “Beauty and the Beast”?

Simon was in mid-season form, offering brutally honest critiques and questioning Paula’s sanity. At one point he pressed her to explain some daffy thing she said and she had to go to Randy for help. She should admit to being on drugs. We would have more respect for her.

First up was David Hernandez. Picture a young John Tarturro. He showed us how Peabo Bryson would sing “In the Midnight Hour”. But he’s got a big voice and will likely stick around.

Then we had Chekezie or Parcheesi, or Jacuzzi, I dunno. Usually before performers go by only one name they wait until they become major stars, or at least make it through to the second week. I think he sang “More Today than Yesterday” but as I remember that song, it had a melody. Chekezie could soon be Outthedoorskie.

There’s always one contestant who has never heard of shampoo. This year's grooming nightmare is David Cook. He’s the deranged outlaw that John Wayne killed in the first five minutes of every western he appeared in. David gave the Peabo Bryson interpretation of “Happy Together”. And he has the distinction of being the first contestant to pick up the mic stand. Please consider that when you’re voting.

Jason Yeager was next. Who??? If these people are too boring to be shown in either the auditions or Hollywood week (we’re talking 100 hours of airtime here) then you know they won’t be around long. He sang “Moon River”.

Moon River, wider than a mile, a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, my huckleberry friend…

You get the idea.

Then came Jason Castro (pictured). Imagine Lisa Edelstein with dreadlocks. Here’s the only time I disagreed with Simon. He loved his rendition of “Daydream”. I thought it was weak. Paula couldn’t keep her hands on the table.

Colton Berry must think he’s in Flock of Seagulls. What’s with the blond hair swept way to the side? He looked like he was attacked by a leaf blower.

This year’s token rocker is Robbie Carrico. The judges were fawning over him because he’s so “authentic”. They completely missed that he’s a Bret Michaels clone.

They also loved loved loved David Archuleta. The fact that they were so excited about a 17 year-old who could easily pass for 9 creeps me out more than a little. Still, he’s a good singer and four million middle school girls had their first orgasm Tuesday night.

Luke Menard. Again, who???? Much weaker voice than the others but looks like Hugh Jackman. Will be around long into the competition.

Danny Noriega is an 18 year-old who looks like Jane Fonda in Klute. He sang “Jailhouse Rock” (an Elvis song from the 50s not 60s) with all the soul of, well…Jane Fonda in Klute.

The cute girls continue with Garrett Haley (pictured). Ryan says he looks like Peter Frampton or Leif Garrett. If you ask me, he’s Heather Graham with a schnoz. He sang “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” through his nose. Next to this guy Neil Sedaka is Springsteen.

The best was saved for last. Michael Johns. Great voice and charisma. Sang “Light My Fire” as a rock song not the theme from “Aladdin”. Should wind up in the top two if he’s not disqualified for getting Paula pregnant.

The girls are next. My thoughts on Friday. And for the tenth year in a row I will be filing my bitchy Oscar review early Monday morning. I guess that means I’ll have to watch them. Shit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"My oh my!"

How's this for a phone call on your birthday? Dave Niehaus picked up the phone at 10:00 AM on heard this from the president of the baseball Hall of Fame:

"Dave, welcome to the Hall."

Happy birthday and WOW.

Dave Niehaus of the Seattle Mariners has been selected as this year’s broadcaster to go into the Hall of Fame. FINALLY!! It’s an honor long overdue and I could not be more thrilled. Even Castro’s resignation? Big deal. Dave Niehaus is going to Cooperstown!!

Dave and I worked together with the M’s and he’s the best partner I ever had. His enthusiasm, love of the game, and heart as big as the Puget Sound has always been an inspiration for me. He’s a throw-back to the days when announcers had distinctive styles, unique personalities, and memorable catch-phrases. “My oh my!” is how he punctuates a great play. “It will fly away” for a home run, and the inimitable “Get out the rye bread and the mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time!” for a grand slam.

For 31 years “the Veteran Spieler” (as we call him in the booth) has announced almost 5,000 Mariners games. And during that time they won at least 300 of them. From 1977-1994 he probably called more losing games than any announcer in baseball. But you’d never know it from listening. Dave is always up, genuinely having fun – and so what if the M’s are losing the first inning? When you hear “My oh my!” you know something thrilling is happening and you don't want to miss a minute. If I had to describe all those losses my signature catch-phrase would probably be "Kill me now!"

Because of Dave, fans in the Northwest grew to love this team, even though they were usually mathematically eliminated by opening day and played in a nuclear reactor (the Kingdome). It’s only been the last dozen or so years that the Mariners have been contenders. But ratings for Mariners games have always been the highest in baseball. Far higher than the Yankees. It’s gotta be ‘cause of Dave. No one made a point to tune in because Ron Vallone was pitching.

When I was with him our team was getting trounced on a daily basis. How do you keep an audience with that product on the field? Here’s how. Dave and I would sing the “Wabash Cannonball” anytime the Mariners fell behind by ten runs. Unfortunately, we sang it so often it literally became our theme song. But that was Dave. Instead of getting down on the team or angry he found a way to humanize its plight and spin it into a good-natured bit.

Dave has had a number of opportunities to move to other teams, winning franchises in major markets. Had he taken one of those jobs he probably would have been in the Hall ten years ago. But he felt a commitment to the team and a connection to Seattle. I’m proud to call him my friend, my colleague, and mentor.

Listen to the jingle the rumble and the roar
as she glides along the woodland
‘ore the hills
and by the shore

hear the rush of the mighty engine
hear the lonesome hobos call

he's riding through the jungle on the Wabash cannon ball

Next stop Cooperstown.

Congratulations, Dave. And happy birthday. Maybe next year you can get a World Series ring.

Monday, February 18, 2008

AMERICAN IDOL: Hollywood Week


This is AMERICAN IDOL not DARK VICTORY. This is not a Meredith Baxter Birney Lifetime MOW where she comes down with whatever disease killed the last patient on HOUSE. This is not LOVE STORY. This is not OLD YELLER!!

This is a bunch of cute looking kids who all sound like Aretha Franklin or Michael Bolton vying for a chance to be on television every week. It’s not, “Ohmygod, I can walk. I CAN WALK!”

At least in years past these wannabes were asked to perform together in groups during Hollywood Week so you had the fun of putting six rats in a box with only one piece of cheese. There were cat fights, there were alliances, there were questions. Who would rise to the challenge? Who would crack? Who would ruin it for the others? Who would Paula sleep with?

That’s all been replaced with a non-stop blubberfest. Winners cry, losers cry, Paula cries (the one she really wants to bang is only 16). The only one with dry eyes is Simon, who makes $2.45 for every tear.

Now there are solo auditions (most we never see), and a knock-off version of CHORUS LINE. “Back row, you’re going home. Front row, you’ve made it through till the next humiliation.” “Waaa waaaa!!”


The worst was this boy (pictured) who lives in his car and looks like Kellie Pickler. Jesus! He was inconsolable when the Clippers lost. I’m sooo glad he was finally eliminated. He cries so much he probably needs windshield wipers on the inside of that car.

Where are the cocky assholes? Where’s the happy-go-lucky bi-polar guy? The stoner? The guy wanted in four states? Instead we get 24 Terrell Owens (“He’s my quarterback, man!”).

That’s followed by an entire hour of kids walking back and forth down a long hallway. It’s supposed to be real dramatic. One by one they enter this huge room and must cross to the judges to learn their fate. Back to a life working at the Dairy Queen or performing live on national television for a few weeks and then back to a life working at the Dairy Queen? So our stomachs are supposed to be in our throats as we hear the decisions. Except that, well…we don’t give a shit about any of these people yet!! Some of these kids we’re seeing for the first time.

And it seems that in order to qualify for the final 24 you had to be able to sing, cry, and have parents or friends who are all 300 pounds or more.

But at least now we’ll get a chance to meet them, hear them sing, and more importantly, can begin making fun of them. And they think they had a reason to cry before

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why we have this day off

Hopefully you’re all enjoying your three-day weekend. But please take a moment to remember why we’re celebrating this holiday. It’s my wife Debby’s birthday!

I know, I know…I went a little overboard getting her gifts this year. But there are so many things that I know she wants and maybe I spoil her but I just had to get them all.

She really loved the upgrade to the Movie Magic Screenwriter program. And the new Wii. I also signed her up for the “Extra Innings” Major League Baseball package on the cable. Not to mention the DVD box set of the three TERMINATOR films, a signed Kobe Bryant jersey, the Joe Eszterhas autobiography, the newly remastered PET SOUNDS Beach Boys CD, four days in Vegas during round one of March Madness, a gift certificate from the Writers’ Store, tickets to WRESTLEMANIA, a subscription to Screenwriters’ Magazine, a UCLA Bruins license plate holder, a bound copy of my 1992 Seattle Mariners scorebook, the Robert Evans KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE book-on-tape, a Fernando Valenzuela bobblehead, a new Laserjet printer that can turn out a hundred page script in five minutes, and brunch at her favorite place – Mr. Cecil’s Ribs.

Happy birthday, sweetie. I love you. And thanks again for the earrings you got me last week for my birthday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The smartest shows of all-time

MENSA, the worldwide organization for “people from every walk of life whose IQ is in the top 2 % of the population” (how democratic they are!) just announced their picks for the ten smartest television series of all-time.

Side note: Whichever MENSA nerd designed their logo must've been a big Batman fan.

I assume only a small portion of the club participated since most only “watch PBS” of course. But of those select members who do admit to watching commercial television, here is their top ten along with comments from Jim Werdell, the Chairman of MENSA.

1. M*A*S*H – It had smart repartee and was so much more than a comedy.
2. Cosmos (with Carl Sagan) – Sagan was able to communicate something extremely complicated to the layman and do it well, and that’s unusual for a scientist at his level.
3. CSI -- The way they use science to solve their programs is intriguing to viewers.
4. House – Again, it’s high level type of show; it’s the personality that makes it a winner, plus it deals with science.
5. West Wing – you had to pay attention to stay up with it. The repartee was fast and furious and you needed a fairly high level intelligence to keep up with it.
6. Boston Legal – It’s primarily because of the characters. The story lines are okay, but the characters are incredible and the writers give them great dialogue.
7. All in the Family – The show dealt with social issues before it’s time and was on the forefront of trying to show people’s feelings, beliefs and the complexities of personality, in both a serious and comedic way.
8. Frasier – The repartee was sensational; the main characters were very good. Even though they portrayed people who were likely of high intelligence, they also showed their weaknesses.
9. Mad About You – It’s a personal favorite, I loved the characters and the back and forth. It was very smart.
10. Jeopardy – It’s about the only game show that really tries to test people’s intelligence. There’s very little luck involved, and there are few game shows like that. I don’t watch it all that much honestly, but from what I’ve seen it tests more than knowledge, it tests intelligence too.

Okay. I certainly have to agree with #1 and #8. Not sure I’d put Mad About You and Boston Legal in there over The Wire or Battlestar Galactica but who am to argue with genius?

So after reading this list I thought, has anybody assembled a Top Ten of the stupidest shows in television? The problem is after Hee Haw there are so many to choose from. So I’ll throw it open to you, my dear discerning readers. What shows do you are the dumbest of all-time? Two groundrules: You can’t pick My Mother the Car because that’s too easy nor AfterMASH. It was terrible but not dumb.

I look forward with great anticipation and horror to your choices.

The latest rejection emails

Okay. This is great.

A number of prominent writers are reporting that since the strike ended they received rejection emails for their spec screenplays or pilots. The studio loved the concept and dialogue but it just doesn’t fit their needs. In the case of one rejection from Disney the writer’s characters were not “female friendly” enough and it would be an uphill climb to sell it to ABC.

Fine except for one thing: these writers did not submit scripts.

Apparently studios and production companies are so intent on passing on material written during the strike they’ve even sent out some rejection emails to people who haven't submitted anything.

Gee, I sure hope the novel I haven't written doesn't get shot down. Just the years I've spent not doing research for it has been a major investment.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stairway to Heaven...yeah yeah yeah!

It was 44 years ago this week that the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Here's how they might've sung STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What is a Creative Consultant?

A reader wanted to know just what it meant to be a “Creative Consultant” on FRASIER. First of all, these titles are arbitrary and completely made-up. They can mean anything and nothing. For my responsibilities on FRASIER I could just as easily have been called “Teleplay Consultant”, “Script Captain”, “Producer for a Day”, “Supervising Shecky”, or “Power Forward”. In the theatre the job was called “Play Doctor”.

Essentially you come in one night a week and help to rewrite the script currently in production. You attend the runthrough and go back to the room and help fix the show. Primarily it’s punching-up the jokes but it can also be story help too. Often times the staff can get too close to a story and it helps to have a pair of virgin eyes. Even mine.

In this day and age of tightening budgets, “creative consultants” are a luxury most shows can no longer afford. It’s too bad. A good consultant can not only contribute to the script but also provide a welcome boost to the rest of the weary staff. Another screen credit could be "Part-time Buddy Sorrell".

I’ve done that job on many series including CHEERS, FRASIER, BECKER, WINGS, SIBS, MAMA’S BOY, IT’S ALL RELATIVE, LATELINE, and countless pilots. It can be great fun but also long hours. And when you’re working on two or three shows a week, and each rewrite goes until 3 AM your life become the Night of the Living Dead by Thanksgiving. Jerry Belson, one of the funniest punch-up guys EVER, worked on two shows a week at one time. LOVE SIDNEY on Monday and CHEERS on Wednesday. Except LOVE SIDNEY was in New York. Jerry would commute back and forth every week.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest “Creative Consultants”. In addition to Jerry Belson, there’s David Lloyd (the Noel Coward of television) and the all-time king of this field – Bob Ellison (pictured).

I marvel at Bob Ellison. The man is just a machine. He can come up with more jokes and BETTER jokes faster and more plentiful than anyone I’ve ever met. Most writers look for any excuse to get out of the room for a short a break. They’ll call their agent, use the bathroom, make some coffee, agree to a root canal if it’ll buy them an extra four minutes. Not Bob. He’ll sit down at 4:00 and not move until 2:00 AM. And during that time he’ll pitch great joke after joke. Bob can come up with more quality material in one night than most accomplished comedy writers can deliver in a year. And for twenty years Bob worked on as many as four shows a week. How he does this and remains so sharp and funny and consistent – night after night after night -- I will never know.

An example of Bob (and there are literally millions): There's a writer who always wore black. Bob crossed paths with him while walking across the Paramount lot and noticed he was wearing a white shirt that day. Without missing a beat Bob asked, "Who died?"

Like I said Bob Ellison is the King. Maybe that’s the screen credit he should be given. “King of Comedy” or even “Executive King of Comedy” if they want to spruce it up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day

Most guys don’t love Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday designed to trap them. If you’re dating more than one woman, you’re dead. If you get the wrong gift, you’re dead. If the gift is too cheap or too elaborate, you’re dead. If you get her a humorous card with Bush on the front you’re dead (although in that case you deserve to be).

Or worse, they love the gift and card too much. Then you’re REALLY dead.

My problem with Valentine’s Day is that it’s also my birthday. Try going out to a nice celebration dinner when every restaurant is packed, all the prices are jacked way up, and everyone is trying so hard to create a “romantic atmosphere” that when their date isn’t looking they’re popping Lexapros like Tic Tacs.

Still, not to be a cynic I would like to offer this touching love song as my way of saying Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The strike is suspended!!!!

The WGA strike has been officially suspended pending ratification (which is pretty much a cinch considering 92% voted yes to suspending the work stoppage). For the first time since the beginning of November writers can go back to work on Wednesday.

What does this mean?

For TV writers on staff this means you say goodbye to your family and friends for the next two to three months. Once you enter the studio you will never leave. You might as well be checking in to the Hotel California. Round the clock writing sessions seven days a week to catch up. For the first few days it’ll be great. You’ll be rarin’ to go. By week two you might be looking back nostalgically to those halcyon days when you just picketed in the rain for four hours.

The good news is the final product will be terrific, probably even better than early season episodes when you had more time. Why? Because you won’t have time anymore to address endless notes. There’s a lesson in that of course but those that need to learn the lesson won’t.

With feature writers the amount of interference depends on whether your script is on the fast track or slow. If it’s fast they’ll want the draft TOMORROW. No time for them to say “What if we changed the drugged out rock star to a nun?” But if they’ve been sitting on your draft there’s no hurry then look out. They’ve had four months to obsess over the script. They’ll want you to change the rock star to the nun even if a rock star is not in your screenplay.

Warning: If you’re an A list feature writer and your phone doesn’t ring on Wednesday – you’re now a B list feature writer.

5,000 half-written screenplays/novels/plays will now go back into the drawer never to be seen again.

The Bill Maher Show will become funny once more. It’s been painfully obvious that you could replace Bill Maher but you can’t replace Chris Kelly and the rest of the writers.

Agents will be inundated with calls from writer clients saying, “Okay. I’m ready. Get me a job.” Every time these writers call back the agents will be “in meetings”.

Even though he can now get top name talent to appear on his show again, Jay Leno will still have Mike Huckabee on.

All the writer/directors who used to give money to both WGA and DGA causes will now make their contributions to WGA and SAG foundations.

And finally….

Pitchers and catchers report this week. I know that isn’t strike related but so what? Pitchers and catchers report!!!!

(photo by Jim Stevenson -- Deadline Hollywood Daily)

Monday, February 11, 2008

The return of my AMERICAN IDOL recaps

As expected, with the strike almost over I’ve been getting a lot of email questions. I thought they would all be about the deal points, what this means for the future, etc.? No. Most were wondering when I would lift my ban on AMERICAN IDOL recaps? Honestly, until they get down to actual contestants and voting the show is like watching the ninth sequel of POLICE ACADEMY.

The initial auditions used to be great fun. But not anymore. They say 100,000 people try-out each season. Well, we’ve now seen every one of them. How many times can we laugh at the same joke? How many tears can we shed for the same trailer trash sad sacks?

Daddy’s in prison after killing my sister but I know he’d be proud of me if only I can advance to Hollywood.

I’m sixteen, I have five children. I just got fired from Burger King for being too stupid, and I think I just conceived again in the waiting line, but I know things would improve if I became a star.

It’s either this or I go back to spending my life throwing flowers off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Christ! And then there are the idiots who bring in puppies or (this season) a day old baby to butter-up the judges. Social Services people should be in the room ready to just confiscate these items and press charges.

The Hollywood auditions might be interesting. I suspect a lot of morons cracking under the pressure of having to learn the words to “She Loves You”. I’ll have to see.

In the meantime, here are some representative pictures from the open audition-freak show. All you need to know about twelve hours of airtime you’ll learn from scanning these for twelve seconds. Now don’t you wish you had those twelve hours back to do something productive like campaign for Fred Thompson?

Let’s get to those ten finalists, Barry Manilow night, the one contestant who has a porn video on the net (that's how you butter-up Simon), and let’s have some fun! More recaps then.