Monday, March 31, 2008

The night the last CHEERS aired

I’m frequently asked about the last CHEERS. The night is best remembered for the cast being smashed on the TONIGHT SHOW that followed the finale’s airing. May 20, 1993. Here are my recollections of that night in Boston.

The CHEERS bar you see on television (now called CHEERS but originally named THE BULL & FINCH) is owned by Tom Kershaw. He owns the entire building. Upstairs are lounges and libraries.

The final airing was a national event. Far different from the premiere on September 30, 1982 when the cast and writers had a modest viewing party in the small back room at Chasen’s. We ate chicken pies, watched the show, and left. But for the finale, wow! Honored to say I was present for both.

The festivities began around 7. Thousands of people gathered outside the building and watched the show on two giant Jumbotron TV screens specially set up for the event. My guess is one or both of them are now in Simon Cowell’s living room. It had rained earlier in the day and even the threat of more did not deter the crowds. At most there were drizzles that night. No one was seriously electrocuted.

We were not allowed downstairs in the actual bar. Technicians were setting up for the TONIGHT SHOW. And to be honest, there wasn’t much to see. Unlike the TV show, the real CHEERS bar is tiny. The bar itself is up against the back wall. That night it was filled with thirty guys in T-shirts toting walkie-talkies named Dave.

The party was on the second floor. It was packed with invited guests, VIPS, NBC execs…oh yeah, and a few people who worked on CHEERS. Governor Dukakis was behind me in line at the buffet. Wade Boggs cut in front of me at the bar. I spent some time with Bob Costas who I knew from my sportscasting life. There were so few people he knew in that throng that he was actually happy to hang with me. Large monitors were scattered around the room and this is where most guests watched the show.

On the third floor there were two smaller lounges. That is where the cast, CHEERS people, studio and network honchos watched the program. I was sitting next to NBC Chairman, Bob Wright. Tried to talk him into letting me anchor the Olympics but he didn’t seem to go for it.

Every time there would be a big joke you could hear thousands of people laugh outside the window. Where were they for the AfterMASH premiere?

As the show unfolded the realization that CHEERS was really coming to an end began to hit us. Eleven years of dedicated talented people pouring their hearts into one project. 275 episodes. All the re-takes and rewrites and now all that will be left are reruns.

The show ended at 11. The next half hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.

And at the very height of that, a rep from the TONIGHT SHOW popped her head in and said, “Okay, we’re ready.” The cast, in no condition to face anybody much less 40,000,000 dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show. Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV…in horror. But in fairness, they should not be held accountable for anything they said or did. And I do believe, that Jay’s inexperience with running the show then contributed to the whole thing falling apart. I’ve always maintained that Letterman would have kept things more in control.

When the actors returned they were so blitzed they still didn’t realize what a trainwreck the show was.

Two final memories:

During that emotional half hour from 11-11:30 the thousands of fans in the park remained and cheered. At one point Ted Danson leaned out the window and waved. As a goof I joined him. I said, “I have a feeling you’re the one they’re waving at.” And he said, “Yeah, but a year from now you’ll be working.” Obviously Ted scraped together one or two jobs since that night.

Second memory:

My partner David Isaacs and I have what we call the “Prince of the City” theory. Simply put it means the moment you think you’re hot shit is the moment you will be cut back down to size. It never fails.

So it’s about 2 a.m., I’m walking back to the hotel. It’s a bit chilly, I’m wearing a trench coat to protect against any more rain. And I’m reflecting on the night and how this little show I’ve been involved with had become a national phenomenon. And I allowed myself to think I must be a pretty damn good writer to be a part of it. Just at that moment a passing truck roared through a big puddle and I got completely drenched. I mean, sopping wet, soaked to the bone. And I had to laugh. Hail to thee, Prince of the City.

You had to be there...

115,300 people filed into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night to watch an exhibition baseball game between the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, setting a world’s record and requiring 115,300 designated drivers. Fans started tailgating at 8 a.m. By noon they were hammered. Guys in blue face-paint and beer is not a good combination. But for the most part the crowd had a ball and behaved themselves. There were isolated fights but if you jam 115,000 people into a Barbra Streisand concert you’re going to have violence.

I was there for almost twelve hours, hosting pre and post game radio shows on 790 KABC and avoiding the nimrod dressed like Fred Flintstone in a Dodger helmet toting around a stuffed animal. I’d bet my house he’s one of my regular callers.

The event was a one-day return to 1958 when the Dodgers first arrived in Los Angeles. They played in a football stadium for their first four seasons. The dimensions were wacky as a result. Left field was insanely short and Right field was larger than Rhode Island.

All proceeds went to “Think Cure”, a new charity the Dodgers are instituting to battle cancer. The game took in over a million dollars and the McCourts (Dodgers owners) matched it. So the event was a huge success even before the first pitch (although by that time half the crowd was so blitzed they thought they were at a Raiders game).

I arrived at noon for a 7 p.m. start. I wanted to check out the scene and soak in the color before my 4 p.m. three hour broadcast. The festivities began with “Fan Fest” – baseball related games and booths. There was a moon bounce for kids and anyone who could pass a breathalyzer test. My station, KABC hosted a pitching booth featuring a great prize. If you hit the target you got a weekend show. Oldtime players were available for autographs and who wouldn’t want their picture with Jerry Reuss?

Music was supposed to be from the 50s but I guess that meant 50 Cent. I don’t recall the Platters ever singing “The Realist Niggaz”.

My broadcast partner, Josh Suchon and I checked out the press box and walked down to the field. Seemed like a real good idea, take pictures, stand at home plate. Then I discovered there’s no elevator back to the press box. Just a thousand stairs. By the time I reached the booth I wanted to plant a flag.

Back down to “Fan Fest”. It was now 3 p.m. and I was famished. Almost fainting six times builds up a hunger. Surprisingly, there was not much there to eat. One Carl’s Jr. roach coach with a mile long line. No way I’d make my show doing that. The only alternative was a KFC across the street. Sometimes a man is faced with a tough decision. Just how starved was I? Plus, I knew if I didn’t eat now I wouldn’t have another chance for four hours.

I passed.

The team buses arrived. I don’t want to say the Coliseum’s clubhouses were wanting but the players all came in uniform.

Found our broadcast location. It was right next to the row of porta-potties. Thank God there was no wind. I co-hosted the show with KABC’s morning man, Doug McIntyre. Like me, Doug is also a TV comedy writer so we bonded over people we hate. This was the highlight of the day for me – getting to interview former Dodger greats from my misspent youth. Carl Erskine, Wally Moon, Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly, Roger Craig, Chuck Essegian, and even Joe Pignatano stopped by. And of course I don’t have to tell you who any of them are.
(Pictured: Wally Moon, Carl Erskine, your intrepid blogger, and Doug McIntyre)

How L.A. is L.A.? Roger, a Dodger peanut vendor has an autobiography out.

The gates were open an hour early and fans were able to watch both teams take batting practice. Since the Coliseum was renovated once in last fifty years the dimensions were even more absurd. Only 200 feet to Left field, which is like the length of a stretch Hummer, with a 60 foot screen. So essentially a high pop fly that didn’t come straight down was a home run. The hitters were having a field day. Boston catcher Jason Varitek took one look at the configuration and said, “Final score, Dodgers 85, Red Sox 81.”

Traffic was horrendous. In addition to this event there was a Clippers game (accounting for twelve additional cars) and the Wiggles at the Nokia Center. (I wonder how many fights there were at that show?)

After signing off I made my way up to the press box, which in the spirit of the evening was not behind home plate but way up the right field line. We had a better view of the liquor store robbery on Hoover than the game. But again, that was part of the charm.

I will say this, the pre-game ceremony was spectacular, especially the Vin Scully tribute. Vin was honored for his fifty years of broadcasting Dodger baseball and being the most beloved figure in Los Angeles since Zorro.

The Coliseum may not have had an outfield but it did have Hollywood stars. Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and Bing Crosby were regulars at the ballpark. Today’s equivalent was in attendance – Pamela Anderson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Yankee DH Billy Crystal.

When it was time to “Play Ball” a hundred thousand flash bulbs started popping. Picture Britney Spears getting out of any car. The game itself was utterly ridiculous. The Dodgers didn’t even bother playing a Left fielder. The shortstop handled that. A Red Sox player tried to steal second and was tagged out by the Center fielder. When have you ever seen a 2-8 caught stealing? As expected there were a few cheap homers over the screen. Manny Ramirez didn’t play. Too bad. He could have hit two home runs in the same at bat. I was also disappointed a pitcher didn’t play a ball off the screen.

Boston won 7-4. They should be ashamed of themselves.

I left early, hustling back to the station in time for Dodger Talk. According to the callers everyone had a great time. Even Fred gave the evening an enthusiastic “Yabba dabba doo!”

Congratulations to the Dodgers for organizing and pulling off such an enormous undertaking. It was like staging the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the Oscars, and the Matthew Levine bar mitzvah all at once.

I hope they don’t wait 50 years to do this again. Do it in 37.

(thanks to Howard Hoffman, Mike McCann, and Jon Weisman for the photos.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It seemed like a good idea (but not as good as our original idea) at the time.










I talk from time to time about doing the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle, MARY for CBS in 1985. Here is a sample of the pilot script (written by David Isaacs and me). And since you’ll never see the show on the air, even as cable channels grow to the thousands, I figured, it’s either here or nothing.

CBS wanted an updated version of her old show, believing that Mary’s audience would only accept a more mature version of Mary Richards. We listened to them instead of doing our original idea. That was our first mistake.

The premise everyone agreed upon was that Mary, a high class fashion writer found herself unemployed when her magazine folded. She winds up working at a Chicago tabloid, the kind that views the Sun-Times as if it were the NY Times. We tried to put her in a much funkier, edgier arena than WJM. And we tried to give her a love interest. Our inspiration was HIS GIRL FRIDAY. We wanted someone who was handsome, charming, and kept Mary completely off guard. Was he a cad or just pushing her to be better? We hired James Farentino who was GREAT. Here’s the scene where they meet – Mary’s job interview.

**********

INT. FRANK DEMARCO’S OFFICE – DAY

THIS IS THE ONE PLACE THEY DIDN’T CLEAN UP AFTER THE CHICAGO FIRE. FRANK IS SITTING BEHIND HIS DESK, ON THE PHONE, GETTING A HAIRCUT.

ALSO PRESENT IS A TALL, THIN MAN WHO WEARS HEAVY BIFOCAL GLASSES. THIS IS TULLY, THE COPY EDITOR.

MARY ENTERS.

(NOTE: THIS SCENE SHOULD PLAY AT 200 MPH)

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) Of course the cop won’t let you take a picture of the body. You slip him fifty bucks, he turns the other way, you go in and get the shot. Do you want the Pulitzer or not?! (TO MARY) Come on in.

MARY
Did I get you at a bad time?

FRANK
(WITHOUT LOOKING UP) Not at all. (TO BARBER) Keep a little in back. (THEN) Tully, how many S’s in “disappear”?

FRANK HANDS HIM A DUMMY SHEET. TULLY HOLDS THE COPY AT ARM’S LENGTH AND STRAINS TO SEE IT.

TULLY
Where?

FRANK
In the headline!

TULLY
Oh. Three.

FRANK
(TO MARY) Unions. I have to keep a legally blind copy editor. (TO TULLY) There’s two! Should be one. Fix it and print it.

TULLY
Big deal, so I’ll take out an “S”.

FRANK
Out!

TULLY EXITS. FRANK EXTENDS HIS HAND.

FRANK
Frank DeMarco.

MARY
Nice to meet you, Mr. DeMarco.

FRANK
Please…Frank. You got some samples of your work?

SHE OPENS HER ATTACHE CASE, HANDS HIM ONE.

MARY
Yes, well, this article from 1980 won an award from the fashion writers of…

THE PHONE RINGS.

FRANK
Hold on. (INTO PHONE) Yeah…

MARY
…America.

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) What do you mean he won’t take fifty bucks? This is Chicago! All right, for one picture we’ll get him floor seats for a Bulls game.

HE HANGS UP.

MARY
Look, if you’re busy I could…

FRANK
(YELLING) Tully!!

TULLY (O.S.)
Coming!

FRANK
Let’s do it now, Mary. This afternoon it’s gonna get crazed.

TULLY POPS HIS HEAD IN.

FRANK
You know the drawing the Sports Department is having for the Bulls tickets?

TULLY
Yeah.

FRANK
We just got a winner.

TULLY
Who?

FRANK
Me.

TULLY
Right.

TULLY EXITS.

BARBER
Finished.

THE BARBER HOLDS UP THE MIRROR.

FRANK
Well, Mary, what do you think?

MARY
About what?

FRANK
The hair.

MARY
Fine.

FRANK
Mary, if you’re gonna work here you have to have an opinion.

MARY
Am I going to be working here?

FRANK
I don’t think so.

THE BARBER PACKS UP TO LEAVE.

BARBER
See you Friday.

FRANK CHECKS HIS POCKETS.

FRANK
Son of a gun, no change. Mary, you got a buck?

MARY
No.

FRANK
I’m getting no help today, Henry. Catch you next time.

THE BARBER EXITS.

FRANK
Mary, just looking at you I can tell you’re a very talented writer.

MARY
I am.

FRANK
But the thing is, see, I’ve only been here three months. It’s my job to turn this turkey around. And that’s fine ‘cause that’s what I like to do. Storm into town, make a lot of noise, rattle some cages, leave a silver bullet, and move on. Look around you. I don’t need fashion talk. Most of our readers use this paper for clothing.

MARY
Then why did you agree to see me?

FRANK
Because I do have an opening, but I don’t think you’re right for it.

MARY
Oh, what is it?

FRANK
You really wanna know?

MARY
Not really, but I’m here so what the hell!

TULLY POPS HIS HEAD IN.

TULLY
Sorry, Frank, the guy’s already picked up his tickets.

FRANK
Thanks, Tully, you’re a big help.

TULLY
You can’t fire me, you know.

FRANK
Get outta here.

TULLY EXITS.

MARY
You know, Frank, you’re probably right. I don’t think I really fit in. Actually, I just came here as sort of a last resort but there must be resorts even worse I can try.

FRANK
I want to start a consumer “Help Line” column. Readers send in all sorts of problems. Our advocate fights like hell, cuts through the red tape, and we print the best stories.

MARY
That’s the job?

FRANK
Sensation sells papers, Mary. But above all what I want for the Eagle is credibility.

THE PHONE RINGS.

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) Yeah…The cop went for it, huh?… Good. Okay, take the picture and tell him you’ll drop by later with his circus tickets… What? Basketball tickets? Where am I gonna get basketball tickets?

HE HANGS UP. MARY IS STUNNED. SHE CAN’T BELIEVE THIS GUY.

MARY
Well I should be going. I’ve been here… (CHECKING HER WATCH) Whoa! Two whole minutes.

FRANK
Sorry to waste your time. But I doubt if a woman with your background could handle auto mechanics, immigration, city hall –

MARY
(IMMEDIATELY) How do you have any idea what I can or cannot do? You don’t know anything about me. I have faced more than my share of crises with a great deal of poise.

FRANK
Personal crises?

MARY
That’s none of your business. And as far as a car mechanic is concerned, I’d rather face one of them than an irate designer any day. Let me tell you about the time –

THE PHONE RINGS.

MARY
Oh for godsakes…

FRANK

(ON PHONE) Yeah… He doesn’t want me going with the story? Tough! He’s an elected official. As long as he’s got his hand in the till, I’m gonna be on his back.

HE HANGS UP.

MARY
… Let me tell you about the time they wouldn’t let me into a showing at… what elected official?

FRANK
It’s confidential but I’ll open my closet if you’ll open yours.

MARY
No, thank you.

FRANK
I knew I was safe. Now, you were saying?

MARY
I was going to tell you about the time…

FRANK
That’s well and good, Mary, but have you ever read the Post? A lot different style than Woman’s Digest.
MARY
I can write anything. I’ve done all kinds of material… short stories, novellas (PROUDLY) .. rejected by some of the finest publishers in this country!

FRANK
Where do you find the time to write all that?

MARY

Oh, nights.. weekends.

FRANK

Don’t you have a social life?

MARY/FRANK
That’s none of your/my business.

FRANK
Bottom line, Mary, I just don’t think you’re tough enough.

MARY
I am tough enough.
FRANK
Prove it.

THE PHONE RINGS. FRANKS REACHES FOR IT BUT MARY BEATS HIM TO IT. SHE GRABS THE PHONE AND YANKS IT OUT OF THE WALL.

MARY

There!

FRANK

I’ll try ya.

MARY

(STILL DEFENSIVE) It sounds like fun.

FADE OUT. END OF ACT ONE.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I get to interview Duke Snider!

On Saturday night the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game will file into the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the Dodgers host the Boston Red Sox. 115,000 people are expected. Imagine how many more if the game wasn’t just a meaningless exhibition. But for anyone like me who remembers the Dodgers first coming to LA and playing in this crumbling relic for four years (until Chavez Levine opened) it’s an amazing trip down memory lane.

Not to get too nostalgic but how can you not miss and yearn for a venue…

Where you couldn’t see?

Where the seats were all hard benches?

Where they weren’t allowed to serve beer?

Where there was no parking or public transportation?

Where the dimensions were so wacky they needed to erect a 42-foot screen in left field otherwise you could bunt for a home run?

Where there were no dot races?

To celebrate the Dodgers’ 50th anniversary in Los Angeles, in a stroke of genius they’ve scheduled this one day return to those happier simpler times when Russia was testing nuclear bombs and the U.S. Post Office was banning “Lady Chatterley's Lover” on obscenity grounds.

But talk about a dream come true for a kid who went to games at the Coliseum and idolized these Dodgers, I’ll be hosting a three hour pregame show on 790 KABC where I get to interview them. It’s from 4-7 PDT and I believe KABC is streaming it on the net.

After the game I’ll be hosting Dodger Talk (with my partner Josh Suchon) for my dream audience – 115,000 trapped people trying desperately to get out of the parking lots.

I can’t wait. In fact, if I even remotely hope to get a parking place I better leave now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where's Johnny Cash to write a song?

Prison is a horrendous place. Just watch OZ or PRISON BREAK or old episodes of DAVID CASSIDY: MAN UNDERCOVER.

On Monday the Vermont Supreme Court will hear arguments in a class-action suit brought by inmates who are claiming a certain prison practice is cruel and unusual punishment. No, it’s not creating an environment that leads to relentless violence and brutal rape. That the inmates can live with.

But some prisons are serving Nutraloaf at mealtimes and the line of cruelty has to be drawn somewhere. (I can almost see you OZ spec writers racing to your computers.)

Nutraloaf is a prison created dish often given to inmates who are unruly or throw their normal food in the mess hall. Guards got tired of having to clean hand-cut fettuccini pasta with Sonoma lamb Bolognese, Hudson Valley foie gras, and pan-roasted French turbot off the walls. So they were served this meatloaf-like concoction instead.

What’s in Nutraloaf? It’s whole wheat bread, nondairy cheese, raw carrots, spinach, seedless raisin, beans, vegetable oil, tomato paste, powdered milk, and dehydrated potato flakes. You’ll probably see Rachel Ray prepare it next week.

Prison officials argue it’s nutritious (and to prove it, “Nutra” is right in its name) and easier to clean (the yardstick for all fine food).

I’m sure, like me, you will be anxious to hear how this plays out. Depending on the ruling, Spam and KFC Meals-in-a-Bowl could be next.

My one piece of advice to the Defense attorneys – do not let the judge or jury eat the evidence.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gallagher es muy mala!

Oh no!! Gallagher is back touring!

Maybe the unfunniest comedian in the history of show business is on the comeback trail, smashing watermelons in a town near you. He performed a show in nearby Cerritos in 1999 that resulted in a review so scathing and hilarious I had to keep it. If you can imagine the thinking that could have produced such a staggeringly ill-conceived show, you laugh twice as hard.


And so, as a public service to anyone even thinking of attending an upcoming Gallagher show, here is this LA Times review.

CROSSED-UP CROSSOVER

Comedy: Promoted for Latinos, Gallagher's pseudo-Spanish show is a litany of degrading stereotypes and insults.

By ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ, Times Staff Writer


Hmm. How to put this delicately? We'll simplify: Mime-like, stringy-haired man in black hat smashes food with mallet on stage for living. Man, who no espeakey no Spanish, hears Spanish, thinks Spanish good, Spanish muy muy dinero. Man spends one month learning important Spanish words such as cerveza, caca and culo (butt). Man invents Spanish words, such as "sperm-o" and "embarazamante." Man decides this is enough Spanish to put on show for Latinos. Man smashes pinatas, wears giant sombrero and shakes keg-sized maracas. Man mocks Jews and gays and women and constipated old people. Man thinks he is muy funny comedian-o.

Man hopes all Spanish-speakers agree.
But wait. There's more. Mucho more.

Man rents hall in Cerritos. Man advertises "Gallagher en espanol: La Fiesta Grande" on Spanish radio. Man hopes thousands will come. Two hundred come, many with children and babies and old (possibly constipated) people. Man babbles for three hours Thursday night in "language" neither English nor Spanish. Language heretofore known as Gallagher-bonics. Next day, executive director of Cerritos Center for Performing Arts issues statement stressing that "Gallagher show was a rental event and not produced or presented by the Cerritos Center."

Man hires dance troupe to open show. Man performing for mostly Mexican American audience. Dance troupe, called Salsa Kids, performs Puerto Rican dance style. Male dancers wear guayaveras, the four-pocket shirts worn by old Cuban men in Miami. Mexican American audience appears unimpressed. Stone faces say: Ugh, bad medicine. "Is this like ballroom?" a woman in the audience asks. "My sister, she's taking that ballroom dancing."

Show goes on.

First nine rows of audience are in white plastic chairs. People in white plastic chairs equipped with clear plastic bag to wear over clothes because later mayonnaise and refried beans will spew over them. Signs warn: Cuidado, Piso Resbaloso. Wet floor. Man shoots water on audience from giant penguin after salsa dancers leave stage.

Other man named Vic Dunlop, a comedian hired to help because he supposedly speaks Espanol, takes stage. Dunlop wears Mexican blanket, sombrero and glasses with eyes painted on them. Makes jokes about black people and blind people in bad Spanish. Says show is sponsored by Culo Cola, the soda with the taste of an expletive. In audience, Debra Garcia, 50, is bored and thinks the show immature and plans to leave early.

Man appears with penguin and yells, "Como? Este hombre no esta en mi show. Vamanos."

Second assistant "comedian" who actually does speak Spanish comes on stage. Her name is Dyana Ortelli and she is Mexican American and makes a living mocking Jennifer Lopez's bottom, stereotyping Chicanos, and wearing bad wig and no pants. Ortelli helps man throw chocolate at crowd. Man says: "Quien no tengo chocolate?" Translation: Who I don't have chocolate? No one sure what he is saying.

Man introduces Chupacabras. Chupacabras is goat-sucking monster seen in Puerto Rico three years ago. Man in ape suit pretends to be goat-sucking monster. Man forces child onto stage with monster. Man asks: "Quien tiene mas pelo de Chupacabra?" Translation: Who has more hair of Chupacabras? Child makes disgusted face, jumps off stage. Ortelli looks sad. Man babbles about goat-sucker: "Es muy fuerze, es muy fuerza." Translation: Is very strength. No one laughs. Man frustrated. Tries to say "espectaculo," which means "show," but says "specta-culo," which sort of means butt-gazer.

Man calls for rock band. Fulano de Tal, from Miami, plays well. Man wears giant parachute dress and dances. Man spray-paints a lie on the back wall: Yo No Soy Gringo. Man says in Spanish that he is a cowboy. Man says he is newborn Mexican and caresses his naked hairy belly.

Man tells joke about bear and rabbit pooping.

Man gathers audience volunteers for Mexican hat dance. Says "Tengo un muchacha" over and over. No one laughs. Man says "Culo, culito" until people laugh. Man says "moco" for extra humor. Man is tired of trying. Man says in English "I need a beer." Man curses under breath off mike, but audience hears anyway.

Man begins dumping buckets of food onto plates. Man stops trying to speak Spanish. Man gives up and speaks English. Man says: "We were expecting a big crowd tonight and we're going to do a show for a big crowd anyway" because the crowd is small and shrinking. Man is booed again. Man yells: "It's the Fourth of July weekend, you don't got no place to go so just shut up." Man hits Pop Tarts with tennis racquet. Man says "Un muchacho quiero comer," which means "I want to eat a boy" and the boys look scared.

Many people who paid between $21.50 and $26.50 per ticket walk out as man flashes white underpants and yells culo, culo, culo and cerveza. Man angry Latinos have no sense of humor. Man throws egg and marshmallows at old woman and baby as they waddle out of theater. Man calls old woman vulgar name in English. Man spits beer on children. Some in audience too polite to leave. Others impolite enough to boo. One courageous enough to hurl a lunchbox-sized chunk of watermelon at man's head.

Man smashes food with 16-pound mallet. Man says, inexplicably, "Todo el mouthwash el hits me en el crotch-o." Man sings "La Cucaracha."

Man smashes more food. Show over. Man bows. Man slips on floor.

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 10

Oh no! All those homely baby pictures and overly precious home videos of dorky kids with teeth missing – this week AMERICAN IDOL was like attending the Bar Mitzvah reception from hell.

Flattering” was not the look of the night.

Host Ryan Seacrest sported a large frontal cowlick, a tribute to the King of Cool – Ed Grimley. And Paula graced us with long black leather gloves and a shimmering prom dress, perfect for a night on the town with Client 9.

Shameless Fox had the stars of ‘TIL DEATH in the front row. Next week Hannity & Combs will be whooping it up in the mosh pit.

The theme this week was music from the year the contestants were born. My daughter Annie said, “Does that mean David Archuleta is going to sing something from 2001?”

Ramile Mulubay got things off to a rousing thud with “Alone”. Her screeching caused garage doors to go up all over America. Ramile’s excuse was that she was sick. Can I offer an alternate explanation? She’s just not that good.

Jason Castro, the sweet sensitive girl in pants sang some song called “Fragile”. I don’t know where she got it. I also don’t know where she got the Ecstasy but she should not take it before the show.

Syesha Mercade must have been born in 1971 because she sang Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman”. Although when Gladys sang it there was a melody. Paula could have used a better choice of words than to call Syesha the “Dark Horse” of the competition.

Every ballad Chikezie sings sounds like “Aladdin” so what difference does it make what he picked? He’ll be telling you to remove your shoes and put your laptop in a separate bin within the week.

Brooke White went back to what works – sitting like a lox at the piano. She has a knack for being able to screw up and still have it come off endearing. This week she had a little stutter at the beginning of her song (“Every Breath You Take”) but she recovered with poise and it was a moment that reminded us the show is live and unexpected things can happen. I wish more would. Like wouldn’t it be kinda fun if someone’s mic cut out for a second or the entire set collapsed?

Michael Johns returned to the Queen card, as he always does. Great performance but I worry when it’s Dolly Parton night that the Freddy Mercury interpretation of “9 to 5” is just not going to work.

When they were showing Carly Smithson’s adorable baby videos I wish I could have seen her at age three getting her first tattoo. She sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and she’s a good singer, there’s no question – but I dunno, she just seems like the Hillary Clinton of the group. It’s so clear that everything Carly does is designed solely to WIN!!! I’m waiting for her to say she didn't have sufficient rehearsal time because she was under sniper fire.

Pictured: Hillary singing "This is why I'm Hot" on the results show.

What the hell was David Archuleta singing? “You’re the Voice”? There are not enough recognizable songs from 2001? But I guess that’s what happens when you’re so busy stalking Kelly Clarkson that you have no time to listen to the radio.

Kristy Lee Cook followed with the most blatant example of pandering I’ve ever seen. She sang “God Bless the USA”. Yeah, America’s going to vote her off singing that. I bet Carly is pissed she didn’t think of it. Next week expect her to come out wearing nothing but the American flag singing the Star Spangled Banner while showing off her new tattoo – the Declaration of Independence which will cover her left arm.

The best performance of the night was the last – David Cook doing a killer version of “Billie Jean”. Only thing is – the judges fawned all over him for his originality when in fact he was just mimicking the cover by Chris Cornell. It’s one thing for the audience to not know, but these judges are supposed to be in the goddamn music business! Simon, there are more recording artists than just Whitney Houston and the Teletubbies.

All in all, it was a better show than last week’s character assassination of the Beatles but still, more accurate than “songs from the year you were born” the theme should have been called “songs from the year you were bored”.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Where can I get a good Screaming O Honey Vibrating Enhancer?

Who needs books? If you go to Amazon.com and search for “Adult Products” or “Adult Gifts” you’ll find they have some delightful items. Note: these are all real. I’m not making any of them up. I’m not that creative.

The Screaming O Honey Vibrating Enhancer

The Screaming O Vibrating Waterproof Octopus Massager (marked down from $19.99 to $9.99 so jump on it.)

Jingle Jugs Animatronic Singing Dancing Boobs

California Exotics / Swedish Erotica Crotchless Fluttering Butterfly G-String

Nearly Me Gaff (which appears to be male underwear with the sock built in)

Deluxe Ben Wa Balls Silver Kegel Exerciser (Yeah, take that to the gym)

French Wrestling DVD (Do both contestants give up? I'm just askin'.)

Brown Beaded Pocket Pal Erection Aid (No fanny pack or purse should be without one)

Adult Play Pail РRomantic Gift Set Contains: strawberry whipped cr̬me, Hot Stuff warming oil, pina colada one oz. Container of wild fruit body dust, two bottles of cinnamon AfterHours massage oil, one bottle of cherry kissing potion, banana body drops, scented candle, and exotic feather.

Naughty Candy Assortment Gift Box (And you thought Big Hunks were sexy)

Boyfriend Body Pillow (I bet it still doesn’t cuddle)

Black Furry Metal Handcuffs Bachelorette Party Wedding Gift (Check out which store she’s registered at first)

Prisoner of Love Gift Basket (Perfect anniversary gift for the gal who has the Black Furry Metal Handcuffs)

Wireless Male Ring Erection Aid Purple (It’s gotta be purple. No one would be caught dead with a green one.)

Centerfold Pinup Sticker

Sexy Sticker Set-Cell Phone Stickers

Humorous Adult Sucks Laser Italian Charm

Tiny Tins Spoons Game (Don’t know what that’s for but maybe it appeals to the guy who needs the Nearly Me Gaff item.)

Fart-O-Meter Adult Costume

The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Adult Incontinence Products. (If you didn’t have trouble holding it before, you will when you see the price: $795.00.)

Hungarian Wrestling, Vol. I DVD (I hope it features the death match between the Great Orsolya and the Queen of Mean – Zsuzsanna.)

Tongue Dinger Personal Massager – Purple (Clearly that’s the in color this year.

Adult Mask

2-Piece Set: Spiderweb Lace Tie Top with Shorts (black, so it’s ideal for formal occasions or funerals.)

Adult Fantasy Baby Bouquet (I can’t even imagine!)

Protection Plus Disposable Adult Pull Ups -- Options: Size Large 40” – 56” with Overnight Protection (and I don’t think they’re talking about delivery guarantee.)

And finally....

James Earl Jones Reads the Bible – Audio CD

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Filling in for Wolfman Jack

It’s fun to be back on the radio hosting Dodger Talk on KABC. It’s a far cry from my weirdest radio gig.

I once filled in for Wolfman Jack on XERB.

If you’ve seen AMERICAN GRAFFITTI you know who Wolfman Jack is (or, more accurately now – was). He was this Jewish guy, Bob Smith, who had a macabre piercing voice and a yen to be in radio. He got a job at a Mexican station right across the Texas border – XERF. Since Mexico did not have strict laws restricting how much power you could use, XERF beamed four million watts right up into the US at night. You could hear it as far north as Mars. Smith adopted the name Wolfman Jack, played R&B, rock, and blues, sold advertising to fly-by-night concerns, and built a name for himself.

At one point the Mexican government tried to take back the station and there was an actual gun battle as Jack and the staff held down the fort. Picture the Alamo except Davy Crockett wins and they play Screaming Jay Hawkins records.

After a couple of years Jack moved out west and did the same schtick on XERB, out of Tijuana. The entire west coast at night was blanketed by their unrestricted signal. Among the Wolf’s many listeners was George Lucas in Central California and obviously it made an impression. (I wonder if Darth Vader was spinning country hits on the station across town.)

Jack’s following grew. He opened a restaurant on Melrose in East Hollywood that served “Beef Bagaloos” – the greasiest nastiest taquito type abominations you could imagine. GRAFFITTI premiered in 1973 and a few years later he left Mexican radio for more legit stations, syndication, and a TV gig on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. Ironically, his first US station was WNBC, New York. He went from dealing with the Mexican Federales to the more dangerous corporate suits of the National Broadcasting Company.

But back in ’75 he was still on XERB. At the time I was writing spec scripts with my partner, David Isaacs and teaching at a rip-off broadcasting school to pay the rent (“This week I’m going to teach you all how to give weather reports. Take notes because this is really tricky stuff.”) Out of the blue I get a call from the program director of XERB. He needed someone to fill in for the Wolfman for two weeks and was a fan of my questionable act. I was using the airname “Beaver Cleaver” during that period of my failing career, which he thought was perfect. I asked if I had to go down to Tijuana to do the show and would I be paid in dollars, pesos, or hookers? He said they had studios in Hollywood and would pay me US dollars but not enough to get a decent hooker. I was in.

Their studios were two rooms over the Hollywood bowling alley, not too far from the Pussycat adult theatre, and lounge that featured nude female mud wrestling. (Jack left THIS for 30 Rockefeller Plaza??) I would go in at 6 in the morning and record my six hour show on equipment that had been built when the Kaiser ruled Germany. My sponsors were “Mr. Satisfy” (sugar pills designed to maintain an erection -- they didn’t work), and mail order oldies record packages (“For the cost of just one carton of cigarettes you get these 100 great hits like Papa Ooo Mow Mow by the Rivingtons!”).

When I finished taping my show I would pack the reels into a metal box, drive it over to the Hollywood Greyhound bus station, slip the clerk a fiver, and he would put it on the bus to San Diego. An hombre from the station would meet the bus, hide the box in his car, drive back over the border, and at 9 p.m. I was on the air.

It was a wacky but really fun experience. Anytime I see AMERICAN GRAFFITTI I think about it. Also when I watch TRAFFIC.

Have mercy, baby!

Sad postscript:

Another radio legend has passed. Jackson Armstrong, only 62. In an era of high energy personality radio, no one sounded better, had more fun, or talked faster than "Big Jack, your leeeeeeeeaderrrr!" He bounced around the country with stops in Charlotte, Cleveland, Hartford, Denver, Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, Fresno, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Greensboro, and Los Angeles where I worked with him at TenQ. As great as he was on the air he was even greater as a person. And his passion was infectious.

He is survived by his loving family and "the gorilla".

Saturday, March 22, 2008

When to STOP writing

Sitting down to start writing each day is tough. And so is knowing when to stop. If the two events are usually within fifteen minutes of each other pick another profession. But if you’re really putting in the hours, and there’s no foreman telling you when quitting time is, when is quitting time?

Some screenwriters go by number of pages. Others set a time limit. One I know eats chocolate covered coffee beans all day and when his hand starts to shake that’s the time to wrap it up. There’s no right answer, except maybe the last one.

A lot of writers will hang in there until they finish a scene. They like that sense of closure. There is something to be said for that peace of mind. Especially if you’re neurotic and from what I hear, one or two writers are.

On the other hand, I like to stop when I get stuck. It’s usually in the middle of a scene. (Ernest Hemingway used to stop in the middle of a sentence. I always wondered if he wrote a suicide note that read: “I’m sorry, I just can’t go…”)

Instead of gutting it out, I will walk away from the computer and just let my subconscious mind work on solving the problem. I know that sounds very “Yanni” but for me, a relaxed state is when I do my best thinking. I’ll keep a notepad by the bed and in the morning just lie there like a slug and let my mind run free. Very often the answer will come. Similarly, the shower is a good place to problem solve, and one of the few shower activities you can admit to.

The added benefit of allowing yourself the night and morning to break through your problem is that when you sit down to start writing again you’ll already have a head start. You won’t have to face the “tyranny of the blank page.”

Writing is rewarding but never easy. We resist starting and constantly fight the temptation to stop. Kurt Vonnegut talked of the difficulty. He said whenever he’s in a room with writers they’ll all be bitching about how hard the process is. All except one. He’ll say it’s a breeze. Every day it just flows. Invariably HE’S the worst writer in the room.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My favorite schlocky movie

A number of you have asked what is my favorite schlocky movie? That would have to be the Roger Corman 1975 masterpiece, DEATH RACE 2000. It's your typical low budget exploitation science fiction apocalyptic violent cross country auto race romp. The tagline:

IN THE YEAR 2000 HIT AND RUN DRIVING IS NO LONGER A FELONY. IT'S A NATIONAL SPORT!

I have to love a movie where the Real Don Steele's name is on the one-sheet but Sylvester Stallone's is not. (The above poster hangs in my office.)

The delightful confection of a story is that there is a cross country race in modified Batmobiles and the drivers get additional points for running down pedestrians. (Hey, don't laugh. It's still a better premise than the last RAMBO.)

Here is a sample.

Warning: Not for the squeamish -- and by that I mean anyone who can't bear to watch really bad cheesy special effects.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fragments or smaller...

I’m going to need therapy for Separation Anxiety when IN TREATMENT goes off the air. And I know I’m a bad person but I still hate Sophie. Just once wouldn’t you love to see a scene where a psychiatrist says to a teenage patient, “the problem isn’t your parents or the environment. It’s that you’re a fucking Emo bitch!!”?

So AMERICAN IDOL announced their mentors for this season. Mariah Carey will instruct the kids on proper diet techniques, plastic surgery options, how to marry the best Svengali, and preferred diva bad behavior. And I’m sorry Amanda Overmyre was voted off before she could sing one of mentor Andrew Lloyd Weber’s tunes on “Plagiarism Week”.

Miley Cyrus gets immortalized in wax at Madame Tussauds in New York this week. And speaking of wax figures, Dolly Parton will be another AMERICAN IDOL mentor.

The baseball players union is looking into possible collusion charges to explain why Barry Bonds -- under indictment by the Grand Jury, universally loathed, now old, and too big to fit into any uniform – hasn’t been signed to a big deal by a major league team. Collusion charges are also being investigated regarding the non-signing of F.P. Santangelo and Stan Musial.

LOST this season has been phenomenal! Every episode has had a mind-blowing ending. Especially last week's with Sun & Jin. And I keep watching the flash-forwards hoping to see if gas prices ever go down.

Career goal I can strike off my list: TV game show panelist/personality. But the dream is still alive to become a Mouseketeer.

ABC will carry the presidential debate on April 15th. Judges determining the winner will be Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Bruno Tonioli.


The opening weekend of March Madness – the only orgy your wife will let you attend.

I hate myself for laughing but KLAC sportstalk host Big Joe McDonnell said this about the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce settlement: she made a lot of money for spreading her leg.

Can you Digg it? Part II

Having me explain this is like Kellie Pickler asked to explain Quantum Physics but my good buddy (Ken's Damn Friend) explained there are ways to attract new readers. There are websites that alert people to interesting features or articles they might not otherwise find. So KDF installed this little Bookmark icon at the bottom of each post. If you like a particular post you can click on it and then click on any number of aggregator sites (Digg being one of them).

What happens as a result? I haven't a fucking CLUE. But it's supposed to be good.

Thanks for your support and my real daily post/rant is right below.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Open letter to airlines: we hate you

Major airlines spend billion of dollars annually on splashy ad campaigns trying to get our business. “Friendly Skies”, “Doing what we do best”, blah blah blah. . And no one’s buying it. In fact, we all hate you. Traveling is now an ordeal and you’re a big part of it. Security lines are a pain but that’s fifteen minutes. The rest of the six hour wisdom tooth extraction is all you. If airlines really want our patronage and loyalty, save the ad budget. There are better uses for that money. Just adopt the following simple policies.

TALK TO US – Even if it’s five announcements in five minutes. We hate to be left in the dark. Don’t worry that the news will upset us. What we’re conjuring up is far worse.

Pilots are real chatty on the PA when they’re pointing out the sites of Lubbock, Texas on your left, but when we’re just stuck at the gate, and we see maintenance men and guys with clipboards coming in and out of the cockpit, tell us what the fuck is going on. When we’re stuck on the tarmac for a half hour let us know why. It’s not like you’re busy. You’re just sitting there in idle like the rest of us.

When our flight is delayed and a hundred frustrated people are milling around the gate, would it kill you to give us an update? You say you do but trust me, YOU DON’T. Instead we have to go up to the counter so you can blow us off individually.

We’re not just doing this to annoy you. Many of us have connections to make.

TELL US THE TRUTH – Not every flight is delayed due to weather at O’Hare. There has to be a different reason the Sydney to Tokyo flight is cancelled. And get your stories straight. Ask two airline officials why a certain flight is delayed and invariably you’ll hear weather problems from one and maintenance problems from the other. (And the truth of course is neither)

Also, you KNOW when a flight gets in late that is supposed to turn right around it’s going to be late taking off again. First you assure us it’ll still get off as scheduled and then you systematically push back the departure time every fifteen minutes. It’s going to take off an hour late. You know this. Tell us.

Arrival times are now padded to make it appear more flights are on time. Don’t crow about your sparkling on-time record. We know it’s bullshit.

One airline justified its charging extra for heavier luggage because they were concerned for their baggage handlers, worried that the additional strain would result in back problems. But that extra fee we pay, does it go directly to the baggage handlers? Does ANY of it go to them, even indirectly? No. Of course not. Just who do you think you’re kidding?

Passengers are tired of being lied to. You must either hold us in contempt or think we’re all really stupid. Either way you have let the credibility gap widen to the length of a cross-country flight.

PRETEND THAT YOU CARE – Okay, we get it that you don’t. That’s very clear. And you’re in a quandary. If you do pretend you give even the slightest rat’s ass about us then you’re not telling the truth again. We’ll give you a pass on this one. I can’t say just act pleasant, that might not compute. So just act like you would if you wanted something from someone.

Now of course I understand that not all airline employees are like this. Some are lovely compassionate people who genuinely want to help. Have them wear badges so the others can see whom to emulate.

Look real busy and active so you give the impression you care that the flight gets off on time. Recently I was on a delayed flight and of course told the reason was weather at O’Hare (I was flying to Hawaii). Then I overheard the counter agents say the pilot was late. He hadn’t shown up yet. Fifteen minutes later this guy strolls in with a Starbucks coffee he must’ve waited in line ten minutes for. Two hundred people arrive late, half of them miss their connecting flights because the woman ahead of the pilot had to ask which muffins were diet.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CHARGE EXTRA FOR A PIECE OF LUGGAGE THERE SHOULD BE A BIG PENALTY IF IT DOESN’T ARRIVE -- And I don’t mean within the month. I mean on THAT flight. It’s bad enough you lose our bags but now we have to pay you for the privilege?

IF THE FLIGHT IS DELAYED GIVE US THE FUCKING SNACK PACKS FOR FREE. Half the passengers won’t take them anyway because they’re disgusting at any price, even free but it’s a nice gesture.

HAVE ENOUGH BLANKETS AND PILLOWS. You had ‘em before.
GIVE US THE AMENITIES WE WANT. For instance -- snacks
with our drinks. A little bag of peanuts. Those stale pretzel sticks. Is that too much to ask? You say you’re trying to save money? Shit can the goddamn Sky Mall magazine.

And finally….please PLEASE….

STOP APOLOGIZING – It’s so disingenuous and patronizing. You’re not sorry. Not in the least. If you were you’d adopt the above guidelines. And everyone knows you won’t.

That's all. You're now free to go about screwing the public.

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 11

I think there were one or two product placement ads in the show this week. But they were handled so subtly and deftly it was hard to even notice.
Yeah yeah yeah!

It was Beatles night again. The producers paid for that songbook and by God they were going to use it! Last week it worked great. This week it was the Camp Chippewa talent show for parents weekend. The judges were right that the song selections were bad. If only the contestants had come to me first.

Amanda Overmyre sang “Back in the U.S.S.R.” She should have sung “I Want to be Your Man”. Every Amanda performance is the same. But don’t take my word for it. Go to iTunes and download her songs today!

Kristy Lee Cook – So many better songs she could have chosen besides “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”. For example: “I’m a Loser”, “Don’t Bother Me”, “The End”, and of course, “You say Hello and I say Goodbye”. Terrible again. Wants to be Carrie Underwood. Instead she’s Carrie Stiffaswood. You can read all about Carrie Underwood and all other American Idols by going to my blog -- Kenlevine.blogspot.com – and writing “American Idol” in the search box. Or you can text the words “Ken Levine Carrie Blog Idol pitchy.”

American Osmond, David Archuleta rebounded nicely after last Tuesday’s misstep. This week he sounded as good as the fidelity you’ll get in your new AT&T Nokia phone. His “Long and Winding Road” was the best performance of the night. I like David but there’s something unsettling about him. It’s always the nice, sweet, perfect boys who get caught wearing their mothers’ clothes.

Michael John tried to condense “Day in the Life” into 90 seconds thus making it “Couple Hours in the Life”. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a medley of one song. Total disaster. Michael must feel pretty low right now. But you know what would perk him right up? An ice cold Coca Cola! Unlike his horrible rendition of a Beatles classic, Coke is the real thing!

Brooke White – This week we discovered her Achilles Heel and it turns out it IS her Achilles Heel. Brooke can sing but she can’t move. Fine when she’s at the piano, a Clydesdale when she has to dance. She sang “Here Comes the Sun” and was not great. But to her credit, she acknowledged that. I love her honesty. Every week she somehow wins me over – the way Ford will win you over when you take a test drive of the new Mustang! Or, go to Kenlevine.blogspot.com and just order one!

Simon was right about David Cook. He’s not as good as he thinks he is. Paula jabbered on for five minutes about the ear monitors some of the contestants wear to better hear themselves sing. David Cook must wear his 24/7. He did “Daytripper” but not the Beatles arrangement. He chose the better-known and far superior Whitesnake version. But you can download both on itunes and judge for yourself! And you can then vote by going to Kenlevine.blogspot.com.

I finally figured out who Carly Smithson reminds me of – Divine in a dark wig. This week she unveiled her new “7” tattoo on her knuckle – in honor of the number of colors now available for the new ipod mini! She did a nice job with “Blackbird” although Simon took issue with the song selection and I must agree. A better ballad would have been “I Am the Walrus”. Has there ever been a better, more heart tugging lyric for a torch singer than, “Yellow matter custard/dripping from a dead dog’s eye”?

Carly’s “7” tattoo could also be referring to the IQ of Jason Castro. He butchered “Michelle” and didn’t know that “ma belle” was French. He thought it was “Michelle, my bell” and what woman wouldn’t melt being compared to a fire alarm? Speaking a “ma bell”, AT&T has the fewest dropped calls! Go to Kenlevine.blogspot.com and find out more!

Syesha Mercado whined through “Yesterday” as she whines through every song. But at least she dropped the Don King hair.

Chikezie is trying to stand out. There’s no question about that. But unlike the new Ford Mustang that stands out because it’s classic design mixed with modern technology, Chikezie’s version of “I’ve Just Seen Her Face” was a blend of Baby Face and Country Bear Jamboree. Last week he had a fiddle, this week a harmonica. I can’t wait until next week when he trots out the Latin zither for “Beatles-songs-covered-by-other-artists” week.

And finally, Ramiele Malubay who took ass kissing and boot licking to a new level by emulating Paula Abul. What was with that stupid hat? She sang “I Should Have Known Better”, which she should have. A Beatles song more in line with her personality would be “I’ll Cry Instead”.

All in all this was a lackluster week -- worthy of the Freddy & the Dreamers songbook. So who do I think will go home this week? I’ll let you know… after the break.

Monday, March 17, 2008

MASH writers reunion

Pictured L to R: Burt Metcalfe, David Pollock, Tom Reeder (partially hidden), Elias Davis, me, Karen Hall, Mike Farrell, Gary Markowitz, Dan Wilcox, Thad Mumford, Rick Mittleman, John Rappaport, Burt Prelutsky, Larry Balmagia, David Isaacs, Allan Katz, Gene Reynolds.

Thanks to the Writers Guild for organizing a recent MASH writers reunion. It was great to see everyone, I’m honored to be in their company, and I still have notes on all of their drafts.

The purpose of the reunion was that the WGA is trying to get a “Fair Market Value” bill passed through the California legislature (Bill #1765 if you're scoring). Here’s why:

A studio like 20th Century Fox produces a big hit like MASH. Some of the members of the creative staff (in this case Alan Alda and Larry Gelbart) have an ownership piece of the series. 20th offers the show for syndication. There’s a bidding war. They take the best offer – a huge windfall. Alan and Larry share in the largesse. And since residual rates depend on the deal – actors, writers, and directors receive nice royalties. Everyone wins.

But now these studios are all swallowed up by mega conglomerates. And agendas change.

20th becomes the property of News Corp. News Corp. wants to start a cable network (FX). They need programming. MASH would be perfect. So instead of renewing a rich syndication deal, they sell it essentially to themselves for nothing. Now the profit participants get nothing. News Corp. receives all advertising revenue from MASH and uses the show to lure viewers and build their cable network. Ultimately, the cable network will be more profitable to the conglomerate than the syndication sale. Residuals are smaller and the creators get screwed.

That’s what News Corp. did with MASH and X-FILES, and Universal did with WILL & GRACE. In all three cases the profit participants sued and each received a giant settlement. The congloms have done this with other series and have gotten away with it because the cost of litigation is so high.

So the Guild is trying to prevent this practice in the future. And this bill would go a long way towards that end. Over the next couple of months we MASH writers will be going to Sacramento to plead our case to state legislatures. We might even get to see the Governor if we promise to say we didn't hate AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

What does it say when we have to get an actual law passed because “everyone wins” just isn’t good enough for them?

Note: A number of readers have asked how they can help. Bless you. We need people to send letters to state senator Sheila Kuehl in support. I've provided a sample letter in the comments section. Thanks.

Note #2: Next up: A recap of tonight's AMERICAN IDOL. I hope it's all ice skating music night.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

If a major studio gave notes on JUNO

Diablo Cody won an Oscar for the screenplay of JUNO. Whether you like the movie or not you’ve got to agree that the film had a distinctive voice and clear vision. But that’s because it was sold to an independent. If Cody had sold the spec script to a major Hollywood studio however, this is the notes memo I imagine the producer would receive:

First of all the title is confusing. JUNO. It’s the same name as that city in Alaska, even spelled the same way. Research tells us that Nina is a popular name with the target demographic. Also Kristin, Chloe, and Caitlin (but with a C, not a K).

When Juno says “it all started with a chair”, we’re missing an opportunity for a block comedy scene and a trailer moment by not seeing the actual sex act between Juno and her boyfriend. Make it funny and not explicit of course. We’re missing a bet for physical comedy – two horny teenagers, a chair – imagine young versions of Jim Carrey and Carol Burnett. Wow!

In this current draft the parents react to Juno’s pregnancy announcement by accepting it. This seems false. We’ve certainly never seen a scene like this. We believe they should be furious. Unless they really scream at Juno we don’t believe they love her.

The very notion of an abortion clinic is a downer. Not to mention controversial. Do we even have to raise this issue? How ever they handled it in KNOCKED UP, just do that.

Are there really cheeseburger phones? Let’s just make it a cellphone so we can sell the product placement.

Can Juno’s girlfriend be funnier? Give her a “tude” as the kids say. As it is now she’s just supportive and quirky and allows Juno to describe her true feelings so what’s the point?

We love when Juno’s mother tells off the ultra-sound person. Do more of that. Let her tell off Juno’s teachers. Let her tell off the kids who don’t approve of Juno. It’s even worth adding characters so the mom can tell them off too.

You set up this great potential relationship with Juno and the yuppie husband but never pay it off. What if they sleep together? Think of all the fun complications that could cause. Not to mention all the possibilities for comedy. Sex with someone with a big belly – clumsily trying to find a good position, she could be on top of him and crush him with her weight, he could hurt his back. Again, nothing explicit but there’s got to be a way of making sex with a middle aged man and a pregnant teenager hysterical.

At the end the teen boyfriend/father should declare that he won’t let Juno give away her baby – THEIR baby. Just picturing that moment gives us chills. And when Juno sees her baby for the first time, her heart melts…and trust us, test scores will go right through the roof. Juno realizes there’s no way she could give up this precious child to someone else and she and the father agree to raise it themselves. It’s more satisfying and sets us right up for the sequel. Remember, we’re not making movies, we’re making franchises.

Casting: Ellen Page will not sell tickets. We’ve taken the liberty of slipping the script to Miley Cyrus along with a firm offer. If she passes we feel Amy Adams could play young.

We like your suggestion of Jennifer Garner but not as the yuppie wife. The part of Juno’s mother is bigger and has that great scene with the ultrasound technician. Not that Allison Janney isn’t a gifted actress but with that much screen time we’d prefer someone who is more attractive. Jason Bateman we’ve never heard of. We understand he comes from television. Ben Affleck would be a better choice. For the friend we envision that girl from HAIRSPRAY. The minute you see her on the screen you know – comic relief.

Jason Reitman is a talented director but very “independenty”. Tom Shadyac is looking for something after EVAN ALMIGHTY. We’ve been trying to get into business with him since THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. This could be the project. We’ve also taken the liberty of making a firm offer.

And finally, the dialogue in this script is way too stylized. Half the time we have no idea what the characters are saying. We have grave concerns that this baby writer does not have the skill or experience to elevate this script to the level of AMERICAN PIE, which is how we envision it. We strongly recommend you replace her. We have a list of approved writers – all Ferrally Brothers veterans.

JUNO has the chance to become a breakout hit. Funny, provocative, and deeply touching. But first we have to change it radically from its present form.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Notes from the front: our pilot pitch meetings

Now that the strike is over writers are beginning to come up with pilot ideas for next season. To help get you in the mood, here are a few things that happened to me and my partner during some of our network pitch sessions:

We had to pitch a pilot the day after 9-11. The VP cried. (We sold it)

We pitched ABC (years and many executives ago) and started with a joke. We said we had an idea that was tailor made for their network. We called in “Tuesday Night Football”. The girl with the pad was writing it down as if we were serious. (We didn’t sell the idea or TNF that day.)

Our PA on CHEERS who used to get us lunch became the VP of comedy at a major network. We had to pitch our PA. (No sale. But we were offered drinks.)

The comedy VP (who later became the president of that network) once asked us “What is the opening episode of the seventh season?” Huh??? How the fuck do you answer that? We said “the clip show, featuring all the highlights of the many Emmy winning episodes.” (No sale)

This happened several times: The VP hears our pitch then says they bought something just like it only yesterday. But if it’s any consolation ours is better. Oh yeah. Tremendous consolation. That’s like “if I hadn’t met your brother first I would have slept with you.”

We were overseeing two young writers. The studio rep began the meeting by introducing all of us to the network people by saying, “So with Ken & David we have the old with the new.” Jesus! Why not just say, “we went over to the broadcast museum and dug up the guys who wrote MR. PEEPERS”?

We had a great pitch once. The VP called to say it’s not final but we were on “the one yard line”. Turns out we hit a tough goal line stance. And the clock ran out.

We pitched a show that took place between midnight and six. The network said, “We LOVE it. We’ll buy it. Only one small alternation. Can it not take place between midnight and six?” Uh, then what are you buying? They weren’t sure but they liked the area. (No sale there but we did sell it elsewhere.)

Easiest pitch we ever had -- David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I went into CBS to pitch ALMOST PERFECT. We said, “a young woman – on the day she gets the job of her life meets the guy of her life. How does she juggle the two?” SOLD. Just like that.

And finally, how original do the ideas have to be? In 1976 we sold our first pilot to NBC. It was called BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY. The premise was a behind-the-scenes look at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Considering they had two shows on the air last season with that exact same premise I’d say just pick up our show instead. Unfortunately, 30 ROCK is better than our show, and half of our cast is now dead.

Tomorrow: What if a major Hollywood studio gave notes on JUNO?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ohmygod! What were they thinking???

As the Dodgers play two exhibition games in China this weekend (and I know you'll join me for Dodger Talk on KABC at 1:30 in the morning) here is a 1986 music video that the then-Dodgers made that probably set the franchise back ten years. Gather your friends, hang your best disco ball, and dance along to the BASEBALL BOOGIE.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flexing my WINGS

Channel surfing recently I came upon the first episode of television I ever directed – a WINGS. It was also one of my toughest. Complicated crowd scenes, a stunt, dream sequence, a difficult actor, and that was nothing compared to the “new scene”.

For a neophyte multi-camera director, camera blocking is a nightmare. The show is performed like a play in front of a live audience. Four cameras are going simultaneously, recording all the action. You have to make sure everything is covered, you have all your close ups and reactions. This requires methodical instructions to each cameraman for every little move or change in the scene. You must also anticipate action, like having a camera already in place for a character’s entrance. It’s a complicated maddening process when you’re new and don’t know shit.

I’ve now directed 50 episodes. I can camera block a show now in about 4 or 5 hours. Back then it took 12 – and I was jamming! Jimmy Burrows can do it in like eleven minutes.

So getting back to my WINGS. On show night we had our standard dress rehearsal at 3. The actors broke for dinner and make-up at 5. The writers went back to the room to do their customary polish – a new line here or there.

At 6:30 the audience began filing in. At 6:35 I received the revised pages. And to my horror discovered…they added a whole new scene!! I can’t rehearse it or block it because the audience has already arrived. I came very close to wetting myself.

What I decided to do was go backstage, gather the actors in the scene, and roughly block it out in the wardrobe room. Then I went to the cameramen and told them basically what was going to happen and asked them to just get what they could. After the show when the audience had left I’d go back and stage and block it properly.

So the filming began. I was sitting in front of the quad split – a bank of four monitors that show what each camera is shooting. Next to me was the NBC executive assigned to the show.

Things were moving along. There was a big mishap in the first scene when Crystal Bernard accidentally flipped a whole birthday cake over but we had another one and the clip was shown for years on blooper shows so I’ve made some royalties.

And then we came to the “new scene”. It basically played well for the audience but you should have seen the quad split. Cameras were swishing around, only getting the top of heads, framing shots in bizarre positions, weird tilts, missing the actors completely, changing sizes on the fly. It was utter madness. Not having been briefed, the NBC exec almost flew out of his chair. When the scene was over he was so apoplectic he couldn’t speak. Sensing this, I decided to have a little fun.

I called out, “Okay, moving on. I got what I need. I’m happy.” As the cameras rolled to their next scene marks the NBC guy almost had a heart attack. I told him I was going for something stylistic and when it was all put together it would look great. What’s the point of directing if you can’t leave your mark? The show runners and writing staff picked up on what I was doing and all chimed in their support. For the rest of the show this network guy just paced.

He was very relieved when we finally let him in on the joke. So relieved that he didn’t even bother to stick around for the re-blocking and shooting of the scene. I think his exact words were, “Anything’s gotta be better than that crap you shot before”.

What director wouldn’t be over-the-moon THRILLED with that vote of confidence?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Sunshine Boys of Summer

One of the joys of my new assignment as host of Dodger Talk on KABC is getting to go to spring training in Florida, and one of my joys as a dad is being able to bring my son along with me. For five days Matt and I drove around the state, went to ballgames, watched ballplayers in their natural habitat, and bonded as only a father and son can at Hooters.

First stop was Ft. Myers. As a blog reader reminded me, it’s in the county with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Every county wants to be number one.

Ft. Myers is the spring home of the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. I saw a thousand people wearing Red Sox hats and jerseys. The only time I saw the Twins logo was on a really scary rally monkey in a CVS pharmacy.

Stayed at the LaQuinta Inn. There’s a sign in the elevator: “In case of fire – RUN”.

People think of Ft. Myers as a beach community, a golf community. No, it’s the home of furniture stores. Hundreds and hundreds of furniture stores. No wonder there’re so many foreclosures. In every condo there must be seven divans, eleven coffee tables, and three dining room sets. Who has anything left over for mortgage payments?

Ft. Myers is also where Thomas Edison invented the phonograph so it’s the birthplace of music piracy.

Hit the Dodgers-Red Sox game on Thursday at City of Palms Park, not too far from the estate of noted anti-semite Henry Ford. It was a typical well-played spring game with the Dodgers scoring seven runs in the ninth inning off of two pitchers who will spend the summer as mop up men in a beer league.

Convenience stores don’t get robbed enough that a Florida chain had to name theirs “Grab n’ Go”?

On Friday we hit the ATM machine at the Fifth Third Bank (I’d hate to be the voice-over announcer doing those commercials), took in the Red Sox game, and sat with ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons who told us some great stories like the kid who played winter ball in Venezuela and mailed an entire shipment of cocaine to the team’s spring training ballbpark. He’s in the outfield one day and seven federal agents call time and take him away in handcuffs.

The three-hour drive across the state through “Deliverance Country” went without incident. No banjos, no townfolk who make Henry Ford seem like the B’nai Brith Man of the Century.

You think I’m kidding? There’s a Yeehaw Junction.

Based on a three star rating, we checked into the Windsor Garden Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens. Their slogan: “Taste and see the artistry”. Our tiny room was practically on the highway. We could see and taste the artistry of fumes. There went one star.

Since it was Friday night and even the Outback Steakhouse had a 70 minute wait (Why??? It’s an Outback Steakhouse!), we decided to give the hotel’s highly regarded restaurant a try. It was five tables and a bar filled with loud drunks from Ohio. The waiter was also the one bartender and I imagine the fine chef. There went star number two.

Later in the room, I stepped into the bathroom to discover water pouring down from the ceiling. A virtual waterfall that destroyed all of my toiletries. We were moved to an ugraded room. Next to the drunks from Ohio. Three stars and you’re out.

Caught up with the Dodgers again Saturday at Jupiter to play the Cardinals and do my first of two daily radio shows. There was nowhere to sit. You’d think with all those goddamn furniture stores in this state they would have a few chairs.

NFL icon Bill Parcells was in the next booth with Tommy Lasorda. They played a three-hour game of “Can you top this?” Tommy won because he now has his own brand of wine. I so wish I were making that up.

In the 7th inning a vendor yelled out, “Last call for beer and soda!” Soda??? People can’t drink soda after 3 PM?

On to Vero Beach after the game. Thought I saw one motorist off to the side failing a breathalyzer test for having one Pepsi too many.

Matt, my broadcast partner Josh Suchon, and I went to grab a fast bite before our radio show. We made the colossal mistake of going to Applebee’s. Yes it had tiffany lamps and was very colorful. But as the saying goes: “you can put lipstick on a pig, it’s a still a pig.” The worst service ever from a staff that collectively was dumber than Kellie Pickler. The food, when it finally arrived after an hour, was essentially army chow with fun names. As we were leaving, one of the Dodgers was coming in. We told him, “No!! Go back! Go somewhere else!” He did. I consider it a favor worthy of his next World Series ring.
This is probably the Dodgers’ final season at Vero Beach. For 60 years they’ve been coming to this converted World War II naval base and it is finally sinking in why the Navy chose this location. It takes forever to get to it. No Axis Power army would bother. So you can understand why even die hard fans from Los Angeles go as far as the Epcot Center and stop.

But if you do arrive it is baseball heaven. Fans can stand right by the batting cages and practice fields. It’s your chance to call a guy “a piece of shit” and have him actually hear it!

Streets in the complex are named after Dodger Hall-of-famers. “Jackie Robinson Ave.”, “Duke Snider Drive”, “Vin Scully Way”. Next year the Baltimore Orioles might take up residence there. Somehow it won’t be the same walking down “Boog Powell Road”, “Moe Drabowsky Blvd.”, “Gus Triandos Way.”

Larry King was on hand for Sunday’s game. He threw out the ceremonial first wife.

Did our three-hour radio show from the press box Sunday night. We were on the scene live to call the action if a fan who had too much Tommy Lasorda wine snuck onto the field and took a pee. I’ve got to say I love my broadcast team. My partner Josh is terrific and a breeze to work with, and our producer/engineer extraordinaire (also named) Josh keeps us laughing even when we have to go back on the air in five seconds with the injury report.

Drove to Orlando on Monday to reluctantly fly home. I found it amusing that just after you pass Disney World there’s a billboard advertising VASECTOMY.COM, “It’s easier than you think”.

If you turned in an Avis car needing gas it was $7.20 a gallon. If you went to the gas station right near the rental car return locations it was $4.60 a gallon. But if you drove another two blocks (like we did) it was $3.19.

This was one trip I hated to see end. So many laughs and stone crabs. And as a lifelong Dodger fan it was a very meaningful experience for me to be able to introduce my son to the players. I just wish he wasn’t wearing his Red Sox sweatshirt when I did it.

For Matt's views on the trip (which is a little more baseball oriented) visit his blog, Dirty Watah and just scroll down a little. Commentary and photos.