I wrote an article for VARIETY that appeared in their Emmy Preview Issue this week.
My assignment was to create different Emmy categories. I contractually can't reprint it in full but here's the first paragraph and the link to the full story. Is it worth the effort of that one extra click? Probably not but what the hell?
Hooray! It's Emmy season again: Screeners have been sent, full-page ads have been ordered, and self-congratulatory montages are already being assembled for the big night. The town is abuzz. Will Showtime get more nominations than HBO? Will TBS get more nominations than CBS? Will NBC get any? Who does Debra Messing know to get nominated every year? Will there even be an Emmys telecast if the actors go out on strike?
Here's the complete article.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
I wrote an article for VARIETY that appeared in their Emmy Preview Issue this week.
Friday, May 30, 2008
I was quite saddened to hear of Sydney Pollack’s passing earlier this week. I always thought he was an excellent director and an even better actor. In the many tributes I’ve seen and read the films of his that receive the most accolades are TOOTSIE, OUT OF AFRICA, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and THE WAY WE WERE (a movie that makes me absolutely cringe).
But there’s one film that is just in the pile of his “other” works that I think is his very best picture. And so it becomes my NETFLIX PICK OF THE MONTH (just in the nick of time too since this is the last day of May).
THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY? came out in 1969. It’s not a comedy despite that hilarious title. During the Great Depression (as opposed to our current one) there used to be ballroom dance marathons. Couples would compete for cash prizes by staying awake and dancing for weeks on end. Last couple still standing won. You’re probably wondering, how could they get a full movie out of that? Watching zombies schlep around a dance floor for weeks doesn’t seem like riveting entertainment.
But that’s the genius of the movie because Pollack does make it riveting. Also compelling, heartbreaking, and disturbing. Jane Fonda starred and deserved the Oscar nomination she received and probably would have won if she wasn’t also “Hanoi Jane” at the time. Gig Young did win an Oscar for his performance.
Check it out. You’ll have a better appreciation of Sydney Pollack and Dr. Scholl’s.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Based on what you said you wanted to see more of, I’m beginning a new feature today: Friday Questions. Each Friday I’ll try to answer one or more of the questions you guys send in. So keep ‘em comin’.
How much attention do you pay to continuity on a long running show or character? For example, I believe that once on CHEERS Frasier's mother appeared being played by the woman who played Tony Soprano's mother and I think she threatened to kill Diane. In some cases continuity errors between CHEERS and FRASIER were kind of smoothed over, but was this a priority or just something done to shut up nit picky fans?
The problem with long running shows is that there is often turnover in the writing staff. After a few seasons it’s not uncommon for creators/show runners to flee to Hawaii or be admitted to Bellevue. And with new writers on board sometimes things fall between the cracks. Often times a background fact about a character is buried deep within an episode. Names of relatives, number of children, those sort of things are apt to change. But in fairness, who remembers their wife’s name or number of kids they have?
When we wrote the episode of FRASIER where Sam Malone visits we took a few minutes to cover a few inconsistencies (like Frasier saying he was an only child and his father was dead) and update what was going on at Cheers.
Some shows keep “Bibles” – detailed records of each episode. These are great for ensuring continuity. Unless you don’t want continuity.
There are times when writers will purposely just ignore something from years past that gets in the way of what they want to do now. Here’s their justification: Hell, no one’ll remember. Unfortunately, there are reruns, DVDs, websites, chat rooms, and uber nerds who live in their parents’ basement and do remember. Anyone recall that in the second episode of CHEERS we establish that Sam’s divorced and we meet his ex-wife? She and the marriage are never brought up again. This policy of just pretending something never existed is now very popular in politics.
Casting changes also stretch the limits of creative license. Suddenly a different guy is playing Darrin Stevens on BEWITCHED without any explanation. (In that case it would have been so easy to have Sam just say “Mother, what have you done?!”) Harry Morgan first appeared on MASH as an insane general. He was brought back as Colonel Potter. On LAW & ORDER I see the same guest actors playing different characters every season. (Just once I’d love to hear a witness swear in and state his profession as doctor/guy at the deli counter/longshoreman.)
Bottom line, whenever possible we try to keep our facts straight. But it’s not like LOST where every miniscule of information is a clue and has great import. Someone in the room comes up with a great joke about Frasier’s sister. It gets a big laugh. It goes in the script. And we get home before midnight.
What are your questions?
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
When I call for tech help I don’t care that I’m calling India or Botswana or Denver I just want someone who can talk in even broken English. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I’m a complete computer retard. I have this very real fear that I will press the wrong key or make the wrong menu choice and it will crash every computer in Europe. I call this Y-2Ken. I also panic whenever anything goes wrong because I don’t know if it’s a computer problem, a server problem, a “me” problem, or residual payback for having co-written MANNEQUIN 2.
One night last week our power went out. Usual reason – underground explosion on the next block. I was forced to sit in the dark and worse -- Tivo was out. Five hours later the electricity returned and all was back up and running except my cable and internet – the two most crucial features of my life.
So I called tech support. Maybe there was something that had to be re-set, or maybe they were aware of the problem, or the BIG god forbid – maybe they had to send someone out here.
After going through the automated menu, pushing sixteen buttons while having to “listen closely because our options have changed”, enduring fifteen minutes of canned music (I think it was from the “Mantovani plays Guns & Roses” album), I finally get connected to Latka, the character Andy Kaufman played on TAXI.
He asked me for my account number. I thought he meant reboot my computer. He asked me for the phone number on my account so I dutifully disconnected my router. He wanted to know to whom he was speaking. As per that request I pulled out the power source to the modem.
A half hour later my internet still wasn’t up but I had changed four smoke alarms, moved the microwave to the den, re-set each clock one hour ahead, and turned on the backyard sprinklers. It appeared I needed a – gulp -- service call.
I was transferred to another department. Ten more minutes of lilting strings playing “Dead Horse” then got someone in Seychelles who spoke enough English to say “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that” almost on a continual loop. The earliest they could get a maintenance guy out to my house was in eight days. WTF!!? A month ago I got a call from this same cable company offering me a spiffy new overall package that would include cable, internet, and long distance phone service. Was I interested? They could have a truck out there that afternoon, or tomorrow morning if it was more convenient. But to restore service I was already paying for, that would take over a week.
After much pleading and being transferred again, then told their computers were down (although there was something poetic about that) they said the dispatcher from my area would call right back and he would set up an appointment for that morning. I said, “Do you have a direct number so I could call you if there’s any problem?” “Sorry, sir, we can’t do that.” So I hung up and waited for the dispatcher to call.
He never did. Big surprise.
Fortunately service was restored in a few hours. Why or how I do not know.
Five minutes ago I get a call from the cable company confirming my service appointment for tomorrow. I told her it was no longer needed and she said I might be getting a follow-up call from the cable company wondering if I thought she was helpful and courteous. I asked if they had a feedback section for their notorious tech support department and she said no. I could go to their website and file a complaint, which would immediately go directly into a trash bin.
So in protest, no, I did not buy their great new overall package. Maybe that’s the only language THEY’LL understand.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
... is really just the deleted scenes from the first three Indy movies. I can’t believe a reader of this blog said it was important to see this potboiler the first weekend because the emulsion deteriorates. Trust me, emulsion is the least of this film’s problems.
If you’re an Indiana Jones fan, better than spending two hours watching this movie, go to Disneyland, wait in line an hour and fifty-six minutes and then just take the ride.
There was something new added to the ending, however. I will give them that. But it was so utterly ridiculous that the denouement of the Hope/Crosby comedy, ROAD TO UTOPIA was more plausible and in that one fish talked.
Harrison Ford did an admirable job considering he’s approaching the age of the artifacts he’s collecting. Action heroes tend to be more believable if they’re younger than Keith Richards. Still, I thought Harrison pulled it off nicely. But Van Damme, please, don’t get any ideas.
Cate Blanchett played Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons. Russians are the new Nazis. Sporting a Prince Valiant haircut and a form-fitting gray dominatrix uniform, poor Cate trotted out every Roosky cliché short of “die you capitalist lackey dog!” She seemed to be having fun though. Playing Queen Elizabeth I guess she never got to fire a gatling gun.
It was good to see Karen Allen again. Shame on her for leaving Hollywood to live a normal happy life.
Shia LeBeouf also came aboard to ensure a younger audience and sequels. We learn that his character is really Indy’s son. I would have posted a spoiler alert but village idiots could see that coming from the first frame. There’s one action sequence where Shia is running while dodging a million rounds of machine gun fire. They cut to Indy who has a big grin as if to proudly say, “Yeah, that’s my boy!” It’s the typical reaction any father would have upon seeing their son shot at by hundreds of soldiers.
Steven Spielberg directed with his usual attention to detail and mastery of the camera. But there wasn’t a shot you hadn’t seen from him before. And there were the requisite skeletons, ancient temples, spider webs, snakes, leaping from car to car, treasure maps, curses, monkeys, poison darts, natives, caves, riddles, double crossers, quicksand, fistfights, kidnappings, and cliff hangers to remind you that this was really cool 27 years ago.
What’s most disappointing is how the movie fell apart. The first half hour was rollicking fun and it looked like this was going to be a fun ride. But then it just sank under the weight of its own franchise. Pity because I really wanted to love it. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is still one of my favorite action flicks.
But here’s all you need to know about this one: Indiana Jones survives going over what is essentially Niagara Falls and lives through a full-out nuclear explosion.
And then it gets stupid.
Monday, May 26, 2008
First of all, I was delighted that IRON MAN was a superhero movie and not another Lou Gehrig biography. I mean, PRIDE OF THE YANKEES was only 1942. Who needs a glut of these films?
I must say I enjoyed IRON MAN but for all the wrong reasons. I loved all the scenes where there was no action, no special effects, no dazzling stunts. For me the best part of this movie was – are you ready? – the acting. Robert Downey Jr. was terrific. Finally! A superhero who wasn’t brooding, deeply conflicted, or had a Christ complex. (Downey even makes cheeky reference to that.) Insouciance is not a quality given most protectors of justice. Nor is depth and nuance.
But Downey was all that and a bag of (computer) chips. If he can just stay out of jail he still could become an A-list boxoffice star. He’s great in everything he does, from CHAPLIN to ALLY MCBEAL.
Another pleasant surprise was Jeff Bridges. What a good bad guy. It took me out of the film just a tad cause he looked like my friend Larry but that shouldn’t bother you.
And both were helped by a smart fun script by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway along with pitch perfect directing by Jon Favereau (who avoided all the ROCKETEER pitfalls).
Gwyneth Paltrow was also in the movie basically to remind us that her kid is now in day care and she’s accepting movie roles again. Welcome back, Gwynee. We missed you.
Once Downey put on the suit it became just your by-the-numbers superhero movie. Lots of flying, saving innocent pedestrians, kicking serious ass, and the inevitable battle of the titans with the bigger, badder supervillain in Manhattan at night, propelling each other into buses, billboards, and buildings. The world is at stake. The hero has to outsmart the baddie and “the girl” (this time Gwyneth) has to push some button at just the right time. Explosions galore and a lot of crunching.
Ah, but those scenes that didn’t require computer animation or spinning helicopter blades, those were delightful. IRON MAN is a fun rollercoaster ride, much more fun than PRIDE OF THE YANKEES.
Tomorrow: my review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Above is a photo of real MASH doctors.
Several times studios and networks have come to my writing partner, David and me asking us to create another MASH. Well, that can’t be done. MASH is unique. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a life and death situation. And the entire premise is built around insanity. The insanity of war, the insanity of doctors treating patients who never should be there in the first place. Comedy that comes from pain, from futility.
When you watch MASH, as well as hopefully being entertained, please appreciate the sacrifice these young soldiers and all American soldiers have made for their country.
Our thanks and prayers go to them and their families on this Memorial Day.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
There are long lines and big waits to get in to see the new INDIANA JONES movie that opened this weekend. I know many of you are heartbroken that you couldn’t get in to see it. Well I have good news. No. GREAT news!
I have heard, from a reliable source who chooses to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, that they’ve decided to continue showing the movie even beyond this weekend! That’s right. You can go Tuesday or Thursday or even next weekend!
So no need to postpone that wedding or miss your daughter’s graduation. Help your elderly parents move as planned. Give birth to that baby if you have to.
It turns out movies are not like live performances. Any time you see them they’re exactly the same.
So if you see the film this weekend, great. But if not, that’s okay. You’ll have another chance. Keep checking this blog for updates and I don’t want to get your hopes up but there’s a chance – remote I know – that the INDIANA JONES movie may even still be around in two weeks.
Yes, there is a God.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Finally! A cause I can believe in. As you know I don’t usually delve into politics on this blog. (Side note: On those rare occasions when I do, invariably I’ll get these angry comments from people saying they’ll never read my blog again and then a month later they’re right back commenting.)
But sometimes a person emerges who is so exciting, so inspiring that you almost feel it’s your obligation to help further his career. And that is why, and again – remember I don’t usually do this, I am asking you, my dear readers, to help Blake DeWitt get into the All-Star game.
Who is this Blake DeWitt you ask? And why have we never heard of him?
That’s the problem. That’s why we need your help, ladies and gentlemen. To spread the word.
He’s the third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wait! You non-baseball fans, just before you click on “next blog” hear me out. You don’t have to love sports. You just have to love a great feel-good story, one that Hollywood would write if it hadn’t already written it to death thirty times over.
Blake DeWitt is a 22 year old kid from Sikeston, Missouri – the only city in America too small to qualify for an NBA franchise. At the start of spring training he was just another young huckleberry in the Dodgers’ minor league system. He was ticketed to start the season in Jacksonville or one of those towns where the Olive Gardens is reserved for special occasions.
There were maybe nine third basemen ahead of DeWitt on the Dodger depth chart. But miraculously, through injuries, visa issues, better offers from the Ice Capades, and missing the flight back from Beijing, China – Blake got the job. The Dodgers had so much faith in him they were trying to deal for another third baseman up until two hours before opening day. They even inquired about Ty Cobb I understand.
But having no other option they gave DeWitt a chance – fully expecting that when any of the nine other third sackers returned he’d be shipped back down to the land of cow milking contests between innings and Shoneys.
Long story short, Blake DeWill has been nothing short of SENSATIONAL. As I write this he is hitting about .320, tops for any rookie. He has four home runs (including an inside-the-park homer) and has been a vacuum cleaner defensively. He signs autographs. He agrees to go on radio postgame shows. He stands during the national anthem.
Clearly, he is having an All-Star season. But he is not even on the ballot. And that is why I am asking your help. You can vote on-line and write in candidates. You can also fill out ballots at any major league ballpark (but that doesn’t help you if you’re in Cambodia).
These campaigns have worked. True story: One year Steve Garvey and his then-bride, Cyndy took home stacks and stacks of ballots and every night wrote-in thousands of entries. It worked. How he had the strength to even hold a bat after that I dunno.
Since Steve and Cyndy are no longer together and both are busy I must instead turn to you. You can vote on-line here. Just click on VOTE NOW.
By the way, stuffing All-Star ballot boxes is completely acceptable. Especially in Florida where that’s all they know.
For the sake of the underdog, apple pie, great kids who never give up, dreamers, and let’s just say it – America (Or, if you’re in another country, whatever that country is) write-in your vote for Blake DeWitt to be the All-Star third baseman of the National League.
I thank you. I’m sure our nation thanks you. And if God reads the sports section He thanks you as well.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
One of the biggest laughs we ever got on CHEERS was taken out when the show aired. Not that big laughs are so easy to get that it’s no big whoop to just toss one, but in this case we felt it ruined the show. Here’s the backstory.
First season. The episode was called “The Coach’s Daughter” (written by Ken Estin and directed by James Burrows). From the title you can probably get the gist of what the show was about. The Coach’s somewhat plain daughter introduces her fiancé to her dad and the gang at Cheers and he’s a real boorish lout. (He sold flame retarded reversible suits and yet he wasn’t reputable.)
Sidenote: The actor who played him was Phillip Charles MacKenzie. For the first two days we had someone else and he just didn’t work out. The trouble was finding someone really funny but still likeable enough that you didn’t storm the stage. Funny/obnoxious is not easy to pull off. And it had to be someone who could step in and be up to speed almost immediately. My partner and I had used Phillip in a pilot we created. He was great. I felt worse for him than us that NBC passed on it for PINK LADY AND JEFF. So he was our suggestion and he made us look good. In later years Phillip became a director and we used him often on ALMOST PERFECT. End of sidenote, and no I’m not going to say who the actor was that got fired.
Late in the episode there’s a lovely scene where the Coach has a heart-to-heart with his daughter, Lisa in Sam’s office. It’s clear to everyone (but the Coach of course) that she’s marrying this clown, Roy out of insecurity not love. Lisa tells her dad that Roy thinks she’s beautiful. The Coach says, “You are beautiful. You look just like your mother.” It was meant to touch Lisa’s heart.
We were holding our breaths hoping it didn’t get a big gooey “Awwwwwwww!” Instead it got this thunderous laugh. Applause even. Everyone on the stage was stunned. We shot the scene again, thinking this time they’ll see it differently. Nope. Huge laugh the SECOND time.
Still, when we assembled the show we all felt it hurt the scene and ultimately the story. Kudos to the Charles Brothers for being willing to lift the episode’s biggest laugh to preserve the emotional core of the show.
Sometimes jokes can also sacrifice the integrity of your characters -- make them too stupid, too insensitive, etc. When that even becomes a borderline call my vote is to dump the joke. Same with jokes of questionable taste. Take the high road.
As hard as it is to write big jokes, it's always much harder to discard them. But the rewards are greater and you'll like yourself in the morning.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Okay. Change in plans. Couldn't wait until Friday. Had to comment on David Cook winning.
This won't be an actual review since, well...I didn't see the show. I'm writing from the Dodger Stadium pressbox. Unless Ken Griffey Jr. sings in rightfield I have nothing to critique.
But I must say I was surprised and pleased that David Cook won. Not that I disliked Archuleta. He could certainly sing Dan Fogelberg songs. It's just that, well...I'm not twelve.
And I also hated how his early coronation robbed the show of any suspense. Yes, there was the twist at the end but that's like a romcom where Hugh Jackman gets the girl instead of George Clooney. Big shocker.
At the end of the day I think America just couldn't stand hearing one more "Gosh!"
I only hope David Archuleta's dad doesn't ground him for a year.
As for the show itself, I'm guessing it was the usual bloated padded finale. Did they do the bit where the contestants sang with established acts? Did Brooke White sing with Axel Rose or Jason Castro with Barbra Streisand? Did they cart out all the other contestants? Were there a couple of big group numbers like salutes to Nirvana and Christian Rock? Did former losers anchor coverage in the finalists hometowns where we got to see thousands of excited sheep?
How many times did they plug itunes? And Coke? And Ford? And AMERICAN IDOL summer camps or museums or tanning salons or whatever else they've dreamed up to fleece the public? How many plugs for the upcoming tour? The over-under in Vegas is 50. Will there be an AMERICAN IDOL Renaissance Faire this year?
How many former AMERICAN IDOLS sang? How many former AMERICAN IDOLS could they find?
Did they show the bad auditions for the 90th time and bring the worst ones out on stage so the country could humiliate them just once more?
Was the show so overproduced that the Orange Bowl halftime show was demure by comparison?
I'll be interested to know if I'm right about any of this. And if I am, then that's the problem. When the only thing unpredictable is the outcome and even that's a big ho-hum it's time to rethink things. As Simon (the only thing worth keeping) might say: "It's stale and old fashioned. No wow factor. Poor format selection. Sorry"
So congratulations to David Cook. And good luck next year to you 100,000 idiots who are probably starting to line up at stadiums right now. Will I be watching? Yeah, hell, probably.
UPDATE: I'm going to post my AI recap anyway at 10 pm pdt, even though I didn't watch it.
Due to a power failure my season ending AMERICAN IDOL recap will appear Friday. I'm sure some of you are saying "take all the time you need. Take a year". But I'll have it Friday. We need a sense of closure. A new post follows shortly.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
My last AMERICAN IDOL recap of the year will appear late tonight/early tomorrow. I’ll only recap it next year if the show gets a whole lot better than it was this season. I don’t think I could stand one more bad Alicia Keyes knockoff.
But the big finale is finally here. All of those kids we obsessed over for three months will disappear from our consciousness the minute Ryan says “Your local news is next”.
And so I started wondering, what’s happened to some of the previous AMERICAN IDOL contestants? Those household names we couldn’t remember now if we were hypnotized. So, as a public service, I have sought out many of these AI-alumni and have uncovered their whereabouts today.
RYAN STARR – (pictured above) Parlayed her singing talent to become a print model.
JULIA DEMATO– Completed her cosmetology studies in Fairfield, Connecticut and is touring the country as the “singing beautician”. Admission to her show includes dinner and a rinse.
KATHERINE MCPHEE -- Waiting for Linda Eder to retire so she can take over her career.
SCOTT SAVOL -- Just released his first CD: “Love Me or I’ll Beat the Shit Out of You”. Fan base mostly in prison.
AMANDA AVILA – (pictured right) trying to launch a singing career through her myspace page. Fan base mostly in prison.
KEVIN COVAIS (Chicken Little) – Graduated high school, now a mercenary in Rwanda. Sings Barry Manilow songs for the rebels to boost morale following a failed coup.
MIKALAH GORDON – Co-hosts AMERICAN IDOL EXTRA on cable channel 967. The buzz is she is now almost abrasive and overbearing enough to be considered for co-host of THE VIEW.
ANTHONY FEDOROV – Found better luck in his homeland. Is the current Ukrainian Idol. Really excelled on Anzhelika Rudnytska night.
MANDISA – Joining the “Legends” show at a downtown Las Vegas hotel, where singers impersonate legends (living and dead). She’ll be appearing as Fantasia.
JOHN STEVENS – Listed in Wikipedia as a former American Classic Pop Singer. Former? Jesus! He’s only 20.
JENNIFER HUDSON – Rumored to have won an Oscar. Could be the next Judi Dench.
CHARLES GRIGSBY -- Paula Abdul’s personal assistant. Hours are from midnight to two.
RUBEN STUDDARD – No one knows?
Monday, May 19, 2008
Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who responded to yesterday’s post. Your all-too-generous comments were greatly appreciated. Especially since – in the last two years – I’ve been accused of being a racist, sexist, plagiarist, toxic, homophobic, greedy, narcissistic, demented and my writing has been termed vile, hateful, irresponsible, and the unkindest cut of all – not funny.
The only one of those I really resent is being called demented. That's harsh and unfair.
So it’s heartening to read your lovely supportive comments. Thanks again.
Here’s a true story I’d love to see them do on COLD CASE. It was reported by the DailyRecord.co.uk:
A WOMAN SAT DEAD IN FRONT OF HER TELEVISION SET FOR 42 YEARS.
Zagreb resident Hedviga Golik fixed herself a cup of tea and sat down in her favorite armchair to watch a little TV. This was 1966. Her remains were discovered last week. The cup of tea was still by her side.
She was found by local authorities who had broken in in an effort to determine who owned the flat.
Neighbors thought she had just moved out.
A police spokesman said: "So far, we have no idea how it is possible that someone officially reported missing so long ago was not found before in the same apartment she used to live in.”
Uh, yeah… we’re heading into some serious Inspector Clouseau country here.
I know it’s a horrible story but I just can’t help imaging police breaking down the door, guns drawn, entering the living room and discovering this 42 year old corpse watching golf.
Yeah, hell. That person is right. I am demented.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
It’s only taken 2 1/2 years, several dozen anonymous hate comments I’ve had to delete, a post that led to a big brouhaha in the LA Times, numerous snarky award show and AMERICAN IDOL reviews, travelogues, movie previews, war stories, script samples, writing advice, and just general rants on anything that comes to mind whether I’m informed or not…but I have now reached 1000 posts. (For fun, here’s the very first one.)
When I began this little experiment in self indulgence a fellow blogger suggested I post at least a couple times a week in order to attract readers. So I decided why not post daily and really build a huge audience? So I did and it worked! Within three months I was getting six or seven people an hour!
Posting daily became a habit and now, incredibly, after 2 1/2 years I’m getting twice that many!
More importantly, I’ve made a lot of new friends.
And then there’s the blog swag. I’ve gotten a few books, DVD’s, and even an Astroglide mug!
This has been a fun hobby, a great outlet, and I look forward to the next thousand, although by then I should be so out of material that I’ll be telling you what I had for breakfast and what songs are on my iPod like those airhead teenagers on Facebook.
Today I want to hear from you. Especially you new readers and lurkers. How’d you find the blog? How long have you been aboard? Where in the world are you? What topics do you want to see more of (and less of)? Any suggestions ? When I write a TV show or a play I have the benefit of hearing an audience. But when I write a post and hit “send” it just goes out there… in silence. So it would be nice to get some feedback. I look forward to hearing from you (although I might regret that).
Thanks for your support and sticking with this blog. I know that out of 1,000 posts not every one can be a gem. Two, maybe three had to really suck.
Here’s another Natalie Wood picture but this time it’s because she is relevant to the post.
Getting a lot of fireworks on my recent article about stage parents. Check the comment section. Diana DeGarmo’s mother responded to my piece (hint: she didn’t love it), which set off a flurry of other responses.
First of all, I thank her for writing. As a humble little blogger it’s always an honor to receive first-hand reactions from people mentioned in my pieces. And if they spark debate, that’s even better.
I’ll let you decide where you stand on this issue. But I must offer my strong opinion that stage parents do exist and they can be very harmful to their children. Read any biography on Natalie Wood (see, I toldja it would all tie in).
Not all kids who go into show business are scarred for life. And not all supportive parents are monsters. But there are some. MANY.
I mean, for godsakes, Lindsey Lohan’s mother used her daughter’s success to get her own reality show.
Fortunately, I can't see Diana DeGarmo ever appearing in the tabloids or her mom hosting KID NATION anytime soon.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
I post this essay every year but even if you've read it, it's a good reminder. As for the above picture, I couldn't find anything really appropriate so when that happens I post Natalie Wood photos. What can I say? I love Natalie Wood.
Now that the networks have announced their fall schedules...
IT’S STAFFING SEASON!!!!
When a showrunner hears from the network that his pilot is not being picked up, his typical reaction is “Oh shit!” If he hears that it is getting a pick up, his reaction is also “Oh shit!” Because now he has to make the show. First order of business is putting together a staff and crew. Showrunners will get calls from agents they’ve never met, climbing on the phone and saying “Hey, guy, how was your weekend?” Like they give a shit how your weekend was. Submissions will be arriving by the truckload.
MAKE SURE YOUR SPEC IS ONE OF THEM.
You’ve slaved away for months. You’ve given it to people you trust and have revised and polished it. You’ve wisely taken out that dream sequence. Now you’re ready.
A couple of things to remember: Readers WANT to like your script. You may only get five or six pages to grab them but they’re desperately looking for the next great writer. Even if there are 500 scripts in the pile, if yours is good it’s going to be recognized. So make sure it’s in that pile.
If you have ANY connections, now is the time to use them. Call in favors. Reconnect with your estranged father. Email your former fiancée who you caught sleeping with your estranged father if her new boyfriend is in the biz. Drop the lawsuit against her even if she’ll make a call on your behalf. So what if it’s humiliating? You’re a writer. Get used to humiliation.
If you can get an agent, even a shitty agent, get him. As long as the agent is a WGA signatory you’re in business. It doesn’t matter that he’s currently renting Philip Marlowe’s old office and his last successful client wrote for MR. PEEPERS. You can do the legwork yourself. Print a bunch of copies of your spec, get his office to stamp them, then send them out yourself.
In some cases being with a small agency can be a plus because if you’re with WMA you know your agent has bigger clients he’s going to push first. That said, if WMA will take you on, thank the Gods and take it.
Check to see which, if any, studio will accept unsolicited scripts.
And finally, send your script to EVERY show you can. Don’t be picky. Send it to network shows, C/W, cable shows, Disney Channel shows, the Cartoon Network – anybody.
The goal is to get noticed. The goal is to impress. The goal is to get hired.
New writers will get their first break this staffing season. New writers will get discovered. Why not you??
Now get on that pile!!!
Friday, May 16, 2008
David Isaacs and I wrote seven episodes of FRASIER. This is my favorite -- "Room Service". And this is my favorite scene. Directed by David Lee and featuring Bebe Neuwirth, David Hyde Pierce, Kelsey Grammer, and a superb cameo by John Ducey as the waiter.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
In case you might have blinked, the annual network Upfronts were this week. It’s the annual ritual where the major networks roll out their new fall schedules with great fanfare and entice Madison Avenue to buy advertising “upfront” for these new schedules based on a few clips and pilots that will be retooled or scrapped, committing billions of dollars on nothing more than blind faith. As I describe the process in my play – it’s as if you put an off-track betting window in a mental institution.
But this year it’s all been very low key, which begs the question – if the networks themselves aren’t excited about these new schedules why should we be? The networks claim they’re now adopted a new business model, programming year round. What that means is they’re waiting until midseason to roll out most of their new product (or recycled shows picked up after other networks canceled them).
In the past that’s been a good strategy, launch shows without the clutter and competition of all those fall premieres. But now that they’re all launching them together in January what’s the point? It reminds me of a bit from a HONEYMOONERS episode. Ralph and Ed have to move a heavy dresser. Ed gets the brainstorm that it would be easier if they removed the drawers. So they do… and then put them on top of the dresser.
Certainly the writers strike has been a factor. But I think the networks see that more as a convenient excuse to make fewer pilots and spend less money. In that regard I can’t blame them. For years they’ve wasted gobs of money on scripts and pilots that never got on the air. Their batting average has to be worse than Andruw Jones’.
But the answer is not to make fewer pilots. It’s to make BETTER pilots.
Hire the right people and let them carry out their vision. Trust them.
THE SOPRANOS never could have been hatched in the current system where the creator is bombarded with helpful input. Neither could SEINFELD, THE SIMPSONS, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, THE WIRE, FAMILY GUY, LOST, ER, DEXTER, and all those other good, I mean HIT shows.
Take a chance – set up your own off-track betting window. Let someone like James Gandolfini star in one of your shows even though he has a face like a knee. Give a writer who’s old enough to have a colonoscopy a shot to do the show he’s always wanted to do. You could be hugely rewarded.
And that excitement that is so clearly missing this Upfronts season will be back. Your horse will finally come in. .. while the so-called “experts” put all their money on K-VILLE to win.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
There should be a special place in hell reserved for stage parents. They should spend all eternity having to watch Hillary Clinton star as GYPSY and do her own singing.
The latest example of this unique form of child abuse is AMERICAN IDOL hopeful David Archuleta’s overbearing father being banned from rehearsals. No wonder when little David has to speak he sounds like a whipped puppy. You would too if your dad was the Great Santini. It’s hard enough to sing “Imagine” but when your dad is bouncing a basketball off your head during rehearsal it must really be tough.
Under the guise of “only wanting the best for their children” these parents drive their little meal tickets so hard that most wind up totally fucked up and the lucky few turn out like Brian Wilson . Social Services, please, take these kids away before they’re cast in ANNIE!
If Michael Jackson didn’t have the stage father from hell I’m sure he would have had a different life… and face.
You hear stories of toddlers standing in audition lines, 2 year olds wearing tiaras. Judy Garland was on diets and pills before she was old enough to smoke (seven).
A few years ago I went to an AMERICAN IDOL dress rehearsal and met the contestants in the make-up room. Diana DeGarmo had one of these hovering oppressive mothers. The AI staff member introduced me and mentioned some of my credits. All of the kids feigned giving a shit, politely said hello, and I left. Two minutes later Diana DeGarmo literally came sprinting down the hallway after me. She shook my hand, said what a pleasure it was to meet me, couldn’t have been more effusive and bubbly. And as she was doing this all I kept thinking was, “I bet her mother said ‘Diana, didn’t you hear what they just said? He’s a Hollywood PRODUCER. Get your ass out there and introduce yourself to that fucking idiot NOW!'”
I felt so sorry for her. As I do for all those kids who have auditioned for me over the years.
Whenever there’s a casting call, there they are – little robots just out of school, nicely dressed, sitting obediently in a room while their stage parents read VARIETY, check their Blackberrys for callbacks, and scream at agents on their cellphones. Meanwhile, these kids’ classmates are playing baseball, hanging out in the mall, ripping people on Facebook, drinking when no one’s looking -- you know, normal healthy kid activities.
And sometimes when the choice is down to two and they’re pretty equal I choose the one who I think would be screamed at the loudest if he didn’t get the part. How sad is that?
And the “lucky” ones who get the roles don’t get off too easy either.
I directed a few episodes of a series that featured a kid. He was a grizzled world-weary middle-aged man trapped inside the body of an eight-year-old. That was ten years ago. Today he’s probably golfing with Henry Kissinger.
The loss of childhood is not worth becoming an American Idol or a New Mouseketeer. In the name of all that’s decent and Natalie Wood, let your kids be kids. Let them have their own dreams.
Note to Mr. Archuleta: one loving father is worth more than 30,000,000 votes.
The fun weeks of AMERICAN IDOL are over. All the interesting stoners, tattoo ladies, hayseeds, emotional wrecks, biker chicks, foreigners, cretins, cheerleaders, divas, endomorphs, satyrs, and future serial killers have been voted off. Now it’s down to three and you know who’s going to win so it’s kind of like dragging a dead horse across the finish line to shoot it.
Sorry to say but AMERICAN IDOL has jumped the shark. I think it was the night Danny Noriega sang “Jailrock Rock.”
The format has gotten tiresome. We’re sick of seeing the damn Coca Cola backdrop. Tired of saying “Who the hell is that?” after each audience shot of a so-called “celebrity” (like we’re supposed to recognize the great Diane Warren). And bored to tears of hearing “in the zone,” “ you look gorgeous tonight”, and “you could sing the phone book, dawg”. At least Paula mixes it up by critiquing performances that hadn't happened yet.
If there was a theme this week it was “going through the motions”. David Archuleta, without the benefit of his dad Geppetto (banned from rehearsals by producers – my post tomorrow is on stage parents and why they should all be shot out of cannons) sang one of Billy Joel’s lesser efforts, then got down with “With You” displaying a funky side we haven’t seen since the Carpenters, and finally – the douchiest love song maybe ever, “Longer”. I contend it's impossible to sit through that song if you have a gag reflex.
But the little girls in the Idoldome screamed. So who cares? He’s going to win.
The one stand-out performance for me was David Cook singing Roberta Flack’s 70s hit, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (or, as I used to call it in my disc jockey days – “The First Time Ever Your Face was Sawed”.) Too bad he’s going to lose. His other two songs were better than anyone else’s. Too bad he’s going to lose. I think the Democratic Convention will have more suspense than the crowning of this year's Idol.
Poor Syesha Mercado was just schmuck bait – someone else to fill out the show. She sang her heart out, vamped, and even danced in slacks. And I’m sure as you read this they’re doing the final edits on her “have a nice life” tribute video. But not winning doesn't mean she'll have no career. Former losers have gone on to be huge rock stars, win Oscars, appear on Broadway, and lose ten pounds on the CELEBRITY FIT CLUB.
Next week I’ll just recap the finale. Although truthfully, I could be like Paula and just review it now.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
There is a grassroots campaign to save BACK TO YOU. Fox canceled it but CBS is supposedly interested. I always thought CBS would be a better place for it anyway.
There is a petition you can sign to show your support.
Best of luck and if it works I'm starting a petition for ALMOST PERFECT.
AMERICAN IDOL recap to follow shortly.
Monday, May 12, 2008
WALL –E – Pixar space movie from the director of FINDING NEMO. Robots have to clean up Earth, which has become a giant trash dump. Set twelve years in the future.
THE LOVE GURU – Mike Myers plays another painfully unfunny character in a movie that, judging by the trailer, could be the worst comedy ever made. And that includes STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT starring Mr. Funny Boots, Sylvester Stallone.
WANTED – A nerd is recruited by a secret society and turned into a lightning fast superhero. Has a love scene with Angelina Jolie but she doesn't know it.
SPACE CHIMPS – Ohmygod, is this what Stanley Tucci’s career has come to?
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY – The superhero who looks like pitcher Randy Johnson with two cans of Spam wedged into his forehead is back to save the world. If ever a movie was made to be shown on a one-inch iPod screen this is it.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3-D: Or for those with bad depth perception – JOURNEY TO THE WORST HEADACHE OF YOUR LIFE.
KENNY – I was so honored that a movie was named after me until I learned Kenny delivers and maintains Porta-potties.
THE DARK KNIGHT – Christian Bale returns as the Batman who could use a prescription of Zoloft or a blowjob. At least the Joker has a few laughs.
MAMA MIA! -- Film adaptation of the smash hit musical. Starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. I worry that they won’t do justice to those brilliant Abba songs.
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED – I guess this is a remake of the PBS television series because the ad line is “See it without the pledge breaks!”
STEP BROTHERS – John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in a slacker movie. A three minute SNL sketch stretched to 90.
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE – Mulder and Scully are back, this time trying to prove the existence of their careers.
MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN – Take that vegans!
THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR – Indiana Jones with an Ace bandage.
HELL RIDE – Rival motorcycle gangs starring Dennis Hopper and Michael Madsen. The AARP version of THE WILD ONE.
THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – A stoner comedy starring Seth Rogen from the Judd Apatow assembly line. Expect the first dick joke to come before the opening Sony Pictures logo.
SWING VOTE – An election comes down to one voter – Kevin Costner. Based on the year DANCES WITH WOLVES won as Best Picture.
MIRRORS – Keifer Sutherland as a security cop in an abandoned department store. Jack Bauer can save the world but can he save Macy’s?
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – Even they’re copying themselves now.
TROPIC THUNDER – A war film shooting in Southeast Asia turns into reality. Who hasn’t seen PLATOON and thought, “There’s a comedy in this subject matter”? Stars Ben Stiller and looks funny.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN – Adam Sandler as an Israeli commando who becomes a hairstylist in New York. A one joke premise, goofy accent and “smell my feet” gag in the trailer. I don't think I will mess with this movie.
The only superhero who doesn't have his own movie this summer is the Teeny Little Super Guy from SESAME STREET and the only comedian-who-was-once-funny-and-is-now-kinda-sad that doesn't have a high concept idiotic premise comedy is Jim Carrey. So at least we have something to be thankful for this summer.
Tomorrow: AMERICAN IDOL recap
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Time for the annual Summer Movies Preview so grab your popcorn and leave your worries and brain at home.
IRONMAN – Already a monster hit. Audiences have really taken to this superhero who can stop crime and press clothes. Robert Downey Jr. goes from behind iron bars to Hollywood stardom.
SPEED RACER – Those nutty Wachowski brothers (or brother and sister, I can’t keep track) took a cheesy amine kids’ cartoon series and added adult confusion. Didn’t get to the first turn before crashing horribly, not just hitting the wall but explosions, wheels flying, everything. It's the summer disaster to beat.
SURFWISE – documentary about a doctor who left his practice to go to Israel in the 60s to be a surfer. Two shana maidels for every guy.
VICE – Michael Madsen/drug bust/cop /date movie.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS – Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz as strangers who awaken to learn they’re married. Hey, Ashton, you’ve been punked!
BLOODLINE – Filmmakers discovers papers from a 19th Century French priest claiming to have evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross. The CSI Jerusalem gang is summoned to investigate.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN – Adaptation of the epic fantasy novel that didn’t include Harry Potter or Hobbits.
NOISE – Tim Robbins as a Manhattan lawyer who goes wiggy because of all the noise in New York. If he takes a baseball bat and bashes in a car whose alarm has been blaring for five minutes, NOISE will be my favorite movie of the year.
THE HAPPENING – Not to be confused with the 1967 classic where hippies kidnap Anthony Quinn while the Supremes sing. This is M. Night Shyamalan’s movie about paranoia. I wonder if it’s about a brilliant but misunderstood filmmaker/self proclaimed genius who believes the world is conspiring against him because he hasn’t made a decent movie in about ten years.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – Indy better find that fountain of youth and quick!
GET SMART – Adaptation of the 60s Don Adams/Barbara Feldon sitcom. Now with Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway. I’m sure it’s hilarious. Would you believe funny? Would you believe if you’ve had four tequila shooters it has its amusing moments? I know one of the writers so I’m hoping it’s the first.
POSTAL – U.S. religious zealots take on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Which side do you root for?
MEET DAVE – Eddy Murphy aliens-land-on-earth comedy. I read the script by Rob Greenberg & Bill Corbett several years ago and it was hilarious. Let’s hope Eddy didn’t “improve” it.
WAR, INC. – John Cusack portrays a trade show salesman who’s really a hitman. Wants to kill a Middle Eastern oil minister and looky-loo who never buys his line.
SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE – They’re back and they’re old.
KUNG FU PANDA – No synopsis was provided so I have no idea what this cartoon is about.
MISS CONCEPTION – All the scenes and plot twists that were cut in BABY MAMA and JUNO.
THE PROMOTION – Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly are two schleppers vying for a promotion at a Walmart type store. Comedy in aisle five! More fun: wait till it’s on cable, gather your friends, and play the drinking game every time there’s a pratfall.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Yes, this is a re-post from over two years ago. But it's one of my favorites and
I've talked about the need for showrunners to hold down the budget. What I didn’t mention was how difficult that can sometimes be. Hollywood is notorious for huge mark ups. Studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost.
Here is an example, in the form of a memo. And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.
Report from TV Special Effects Department:
Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.
Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojack.)
Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.
Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)
So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.
I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.
Loved the script by the way.
Tomorrow: my Summer Movie Preview. Oscar season begins... in the fall.
Friday, May 09, 2008
My most recent AMERICAN IDOL recap also ran this week on the HuffingtonPost. Among the comments I received was this:
Ken, there are a MILLION sad, pithy movies you could have chosen to compare Syesha's tears to. I got a sick, racist rumbling in my belly over your choice of "Old Yeller." If she were caucasion, I wonder what film would have been appropriate?
May I just respond by saying WHAT THE FUCK?!
At what point did we become the most politically correct, thin-skinned, overly-sensitive nation in the universe? This is beyond ridiculous.
Comedy by its nature is subversive. It is sometimes pointed, sometimes biting. Larry Gelbart once said:
If what you're writing isn't likely to offend or annoy anyone at all, go back and start again.
We need to stop taking ourselves – and everything else – too seriously. I’ll leave you with one other quote, this by Erma Bombeck:
When humor goes, there goes civilization.
LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE!
It’s an Old Yeller joke for crissakes!
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Cue the violins.
Network viewing is way down following the Writers Strike. ABC alone is off a whopping 24% since they began their “Welcome back” or “Welcome home” or “Your little friends have returned” or whatever the hell their campaign slogan was. Meanwhile, the number of people watching television has gone up 2%. So people are watching. They’re just not watching YOU.
Even bulletproof hits like GREY’S ANATOMY and ER are taking big hits. AMERICAN IDOL’S numbers are also down (even with the most talented group of performers since Bucky Covington). One time big hits like HEROES are in the shitter (The hell with the goddamn cheerleader. Save YOURSELVES.)
Trying to put a good spin on things, networks are saying that a few new big hits next year and the viewers will all be right back.
They didn’t come back after the 88 strike. Collectively, the four of you couldn’t come up with even one breakout hit last year. And this year you’ve made fewer pilots and many of those are just “presentations” (cheap approximations of what the shows might look like). You don’t have as many existing hits so launching these new shows will be harder. And to make matters worse, your competitors (the dreaded cable) are rolling out new shows far more interesting than yours (like AMC’s MAD MEN).
And here’s the thing ABCCBSNBCFOX– it all could have been avoided.
When the AMPTP chose to push the WGA to strike, believing they could corner them into taking a bad deal, they did so fully aware that this network erosion could occur. It did in 88 and there were fewer options for viewers in those days (no internet, no GRAND THEFT AUTO, no pillates). The deal you finally struck could have been settled long before November 1st. The season could have gone on uninterrupted, next year’s movie slate would have rolled out as planned, and much financial hardship would have been avoided. Same deal. Same terms. And you would have had the Golden Globes to boot.
Why do I bring this up now?
Because the SAG contract is up in a few months. And from what I’ve seen your negotiating tactics with them are the same you used with us. Stonewalling. Blaming the other side. For everyone’s sake…even YOURS… negotiate in good faith for once and reach the deal now that you’d make in October. Otherwise, IRON MAN 2 might not come out until 2014 and GREY’S ANATOMY will lose in the ratings to BIG BREAK KAANAPALI on the Golf Channel.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Thanks for watching the ALMOST PERFECT pilot. Thanks also for your comments. I’ll post more episodes in the near future. I don't know why some of you had trouble playing Pts. 2 & 3. They're both still up there and functional.
That strikingly handsome rake who played the maitre’d is my dad. Ironically, he’s only on screen for a few seconds. But it was that portion that the network used for their promos all summer so he was on CBS five thousand times. Baffled friends of his would approach and ask, “Are you starring in a new show with Nancy Travis?” He of course said yes.
Since we later used that venue as a regular hangout my dad became a semi-regular. We even started giving him a line now and again. Pretty soon he wanted a hot tub in his trailer. It’s unbelievable.
The guy who was Nancy’s blind date (the real Tom Milner), the guy at a table stuffing his face with bread. That’s my partner, David Isaacs.
Chip Zien (who played the high strung writer, Gary) was not cast until after we had gone into production. We had the table reading and the actor originally playing that role just wasn’t up to the others. This was on a Thursday. The next day was Good Friday so we were shut down for the day. Chip lived in New York. We had seen a taped audition of him a month before but were told he was attached to another pilot. To save money, the other production decided not to lock him in but pay him just for a guest spot – assuming of course that he’d never get another pilot at that late date and they’d save a bunch of money. Once we learned that he was available we got him approved by the studio and network and made the change. He was on a plane that night.
David Clennon (who played the weird writer, Neil) came in for his reading wearing that get-up. He sat down on the couch, said his first line – “I’ve got a big problem with that” – and that was it. We knew we found our guy.
The hardest part to cast was Kevin Kilner’s (Mike). Nancy read with a few other candidates and quite frankly she wiped the floor with them. We really had to scramble. By this point we had read maybe a hundred guys. A tape arrived from New York with Kevin. At the time he was starring in a Tennessee Williams play on Broadway. He took the redeye to LA arriving on a Monday morning. Nancy was filming a movie-of-the-week so we took Kevin to her location and had them read together in her trailer. Instantly, we knew this was the guy. After she wrapped for the day we drove them both to Paramount to be approved by the studio. They were thrilled. We then set up the network audition. They wanted to do it the next day. We said it had to be that night because Kevin was taking the redeye back. So they reluctantly agreed but were not happy about it. Plus it was the night of the NCAA Basketball championship game (UCLA won. Yay!) and they weren’t thrilled about missing part of it. It’s not the way you want to go into a network audition.
Usually the procedure is after the actors finish their audition they leave the room and the network hedges and wonders who else is available. Producers have to beg, plead, twist arms, etc. Not this time. They were over-the-moon ecstatic. They even thanked us for finding him. Of course, one year and one president later we were told to find a replacement but that’s another horror story.
The pilot was really a “presentation”. That means do a full half hour pilot but do it at a fraction of the cost. We had no money for sets. The restaurant set was Paramount property, used in hundreds of shows and movies. The writers room was a set we borrowed from ELLEN. And Nancy’s house was really Helen’s house from WINGS just repainted. Once the series got picked up we had our own sets built.
The tie continuity issue drove us nuts. In the last scene you'll notice Kevin's tie placement doesn't match from cut to cut. We pieced together the best performance from two takes. At the end of the day we opted for best performance vs. continuity. And hey, it's not like SPARTACUS where you can see the Hollywood Freeway in the corner of one of the battle scenes.
The music was from Bruce Miller, who composed (among other things) the closing song from FRASIER. We only had ten seconds for the opening. So we needed more of a jingle than a theme song. We were looking for something distinctive and something to convey the spirit of the show. We decided on going with a big band from the 40s sound. This was the “Swingers” era so old time dance music was cool again. It was up, fun, and we felt suggested those screwball romantic comedies of the era. No lyrics were ever written. Too bad because I’d love to hear David Archuleta sing it on AMERICAN IDOL.
We were told the pilot tested better than any CBS comedy since MURPHY BROWN. And watching it again with the distance of time I think I now know why. Dad, you were great!
First off, ANYONE who cries should be disqualified immediately. This is AMERICAN IDOL not OLD YELLER! Syesha broke down this week. I forget why. Maybe it was when Paula was blowing sunshine up her skirt, telling her what a great star she is. Of course she also said that to Vonzell Solomon, Anthony Federov, Carmen Rasmussen, and Trenyce.
But I will give her this -- Syesha had the line of the night. Talking about why she chose to sing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come” she equated the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s to her journey on AMERICAN IDOL. Get real, Syesha! You had it so much harder.
I hate this week and next. There’s no suspense. We know who’s going to win. David Archuleta clinched that Tuesday night. The fun geezer mentors have all moved on to more drastic plastic surgery or their ninth comeback tours, we’re past the actual “theme” shows (can anything beat last year’s “Latin Night”, which did more harm to U.S./Latin relations than the Spanish-American War), your favorite has been booted off, and the Fox celebrities in the audience have been reduced to the bald guy on PRISON BREAK.
Tonight’s theme was the “Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum”. (The producers must be getting a buck for every admission ticket sold this week.) This is such a narrow theme that “Baba O’Reilly” and “Love Me Tender” both qualified.
(Next year for the Top 4 why not make the theme the "4 Tops"? I'm just sayin'.)
David Archuleta’s dad chose two very good songs for him. “Stand By Me” the 1962 Ben E. King hit that David just “happened” to sing all the time in his room, thus making him the only 17 year old in America who knows of that song. (Dad picked it, who we fooling?) And then “Love Me Tender” from the Rock n’ Roll Museum’s schmaltzy wing.
But not only did he sing both great, he out-sang David Cook – and this was rock n’ roll night. David Cook’s milieu. It’s like if there were “monosyllabic grunt night” you’d expect Jason Castro to do well. Or at least passable.
David Cook’s two songs were “Hungry Like the Wolf”, which was “Boring Like the Drying Paint” and “Baba O’Reilly” – better but hardly “kick ass”. More like “accidentally brushing against ass”.
Syesha’s first tune was “Proud Mary”. She thought she was doing Tina Turner, but she was really doing the road tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. Her second song was “A Change is Going to Come”. Sam Cooke originally sang it with a certain ease. Syesha almost brought her liver up through her throat.
And then there was Jason Castro. If AMERICAN IDOL were THE GODFATHER Jason would be Fredo. This guy is an absolute disgrace. This week he massacred “I Shot the Sheriff” (adding the nice touch of having a guitar but never playing it) and then on “Mr. Tambourine Man” he not only killed it but then had sex with its empty skull. What does it say when he forgot some of the lyrics and that was the best part of his performance? Jason Castro HAS to go.
Next week I imagine is the tedious visits to the finalists’ hometowns. The banners. The proclamations. The parades down Main Street and through the trailer parks.
Just announce that David Archuleta is the winner and let us get on with our sad pathetic lives already.
Monday, May 05, 2008
You've heard me talk about it for two and a half years. Now, finally, through the wonder of YouTube, here is the pilot of ALMOST PERFECT (created by Robin Schiff, David Isaacs, and me). Later in the week I'll fill in some background but now, for the first time in years, here's the pilot that led to two seasons of ALMOST PERFECT.
Some things to look for:
Do you understand who the characters are and what their relationships are to each other?
By the end of the show, do you know what the main characters want?
Can you follow the story?
Based on this pilot, do you get the sense of what the series will be about?
Tomorrow: AMERICAN IDOL recap
Sunday, May 04, 2008
For those of you lucky (or unlucky) enough to have your pilot ordered you are now in the toughest part of the process – casting. These are the most crucial decisions you will ever have to make on your project. Everything else can be fixed. Scripts can be rewritten, scenes re-shot, set dressing changed. Even your premise can be altered. But if your actors suck you are dead.
The only thing worse is that the actors suck, you get picked up anyway, and then you are dead and sent to a hell reserved for Hannibal Lector and the guy who created WINDOWS 98.
So may I make one suggestion? It sounds incredibly obvious but you’d be surprised.
HIRE FUNNY PEOPLE.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Sorry you waiters at the Cheesecake Factory but there are not that many really funny people out there.
And there is the growing ham fisted network interference that attempts to take the casting decisions right out of your hands and give away your prize parts to old retreads or J. Crew models. More important than comic chops to these networks are good teeth and breasts that test well.
But that’s not what YOU should be looking for. You want people who are funny. And beware. There are enough good actors in Hollywood who are skillful enough to know where the jokes are and how to get them. You can be fooled. So don’t just go by the reading.
Go by the look, the attitude, their body language, their voice. They are intangible qualities but you can spot them right away. Just look at the cast photos of MY NAME IS EARL and THE OFFICE. Then compare them with say the Americanized version of COUPLING.
Good rule of thumb: if someone walks into your office and you immediately want to write a new half page of dialogue for him or her, that’s who you hire.
And as for the network battles? Sometimes they’ll be won over too. Laughter is a great selling point. And then there will be those times you’ll hear, “Yeah, he’s funny but…” Just remember – there ARE NO BUTS. You can be diplomatic, praise them for their choice of actors but suggest they might be even more wonderful in that exciting new procedural pilot they have where a special team solves crimes by looking at cremation remains. But at the end of the day you want the funny choice, even if he’s not known. Sometimes it’s BETTER that he’s not known.
Producing a pilot is like one man facing an army. There are constant battles and it’s always hard to know which ones to fight. But this is the big one. Fight to the death for funny.
Just imagine SEINFELD with William Devane as Kramer and Kim Ravers as Elaine.
Best of luck with your project. I'm not going to hope it's good. I'm going to hope it's close to your vision.
TOMORROW: a pilot surprise!!!