Monday, June 30, 2008

Gee, what's Amy Winehouse up to today?

Did she spit on a fan today?

Was she hospitalized?

She hasn’t been arrested in a week, so perhaps that was on her to-do list.

Anyone new suing her?

Is she suing anyone new?

How long has it been since her last complete breakdown?

Did she destroy any hotel rooms in a drunken rage?

Does she or doesn’t she have Emphysema?

Does she or doesn’t she have an irregular heartbeat?

Has she been stung by one of the bees that obviously live in her hair?

Any new sex tapes discovered? And if so, is it worth watching?

Has she been voted the worst dresser of Cher?

Has she been called a racist again?

Has her health insurance provider dropped her?

Will her crack den be featured in ARCHITECHURAL DIGEST?

Is she in or out of rehab? And if so, which one?

Has she caused a ruckus in rehab when the attendants wouldn't let her watch the World Series?

Did she win six more Grammys?

Did she sell them for heroin? Or cartons of Virginia Slims?

Has her father had her committed?

Has any fan mistaken her for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark?

Has she been denied a visa?

Has she been denied a Costco membership?

Did she have a nice visit with her husband in prison?

Any new eating disorders we don’t know about?

Has she discovered there’s no such thing as “Recreational Ketamine”?

Did she get her tooth replaced?

Have plans been scrapped to serve as spokesperson for the American Lung Association?

Has she been deported from Norway for possessing cannabis and trying to tip the doorman with it?

Was her latest tattoo (the Teletubbies and Hitler) drawn with an infected needle?

I like Amy Winehouse. I love her music. It's distinctive, original, and no one will ever cover it on American Idol. But I worry that her self destructive behavior will finally catch up with her, that her record label will drop her, her concert tours evaporate, her fortune goes up in smoke or her nose, she's in total despair and finally one day I get that inevitable call. The one l I dread.

“Did you hear about Amy Winehouse?”

“Oh no. Don’t tell me. Did she…?”

“Yep. 5:00 this morning.”

“Oh Jesus, that’s so terrible.”

“Yeah. She signed with CAA and is meeting with writers about doing a sitcom. Are you free for lunch on Thursday?”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Netflix pick of the month

Okay, so I waited until the last day.

In a rare and probably futile attempt to show I have even a modicum of depth, this month’s pick is not a comedy. It’s THE STUNT MAN from 1980 – one of the few movies that was nominated for a bunch of Oscars and yet very few people have heard of it. Directed by Richard Rush from a script by Laurence B. Marcus and Rush (adapted from the novel by Paul Brodeur) THE STUNT MAN is that rare movie that combines a compelling story with great acting, terrific action sequences, and Barbara Hershey when she was really hot.

Here’s the plot: Peter O’Toole (in his best performance EVER…and yes, I know he was amazing in SUPERGIRL) is a flamboyant brilliant director making a movie about World War I. Steve Railsback (no one can play a psycho better – not to give him a swelled head) is a fugitive running from the police. He accidentally finds himself in a scene being filmed and just as accidentally, kills a stunt man. O’Toole agrees to hide him if he takes over for the fallen below-the-line worker. From here the lines of reality and art and ethics and game playing and illusion blend into one thoroughly engrossing experience. Can anyone say that about THE MUMMY III?

Visually, the film is also striking. It was filmed primarily at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, the same location Billy Wilder used for SOME LIKE IT HOT, although Wilder never took advantage of the roofs to stage a World War I battle scene. Everything about this movie crackles, from the pace, to the music (done by Dominic Frontiere several years before going to prison for scalping Superbowl tickets).

If there’s such a thing as a postmodernism thrill ride movie, this is it.

When THE STUNT MAN came out it was poorly marketed and didn’t get the attention it deserved. As Peter O’Toole said, “the movie wasn’t released, it escaped.” The DVD features all kinds of bonus goodies and commentaries. And there’s Barbara Hershey.

Check it out.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why writers direct

Billy Wilder (pictured above), a superb writer/director was once asked if he thought a director should be able to write. His answer was: “No, he should be able to read.” The question always arises: why do writers want to direct? As a writer who also became a director ten years ago I can tell you the answer. And it’s not the answer you expect.

Most people think it’s to protect your material. That’s a factor certainly but especially in television the show runner is king. The director is his bitch. David Chase didn't have to direct every SOPRANOS episode to carry out his vision. David E. Kelley never even goes down to the stage. In features it’s obviously different. There it’s the director’s show and the writer is lucky if he gets a drive-on at the gate. But studios rarely hire writers to be first time directors unless they’re big successes and if they are big successes chances are their material wasn’t ruined. And the independent route is expensive and very risky. Directors have to be turning your period piece love stories into sci fi slasher pictures to make you want to mortgage your house.

No, the real reason writers want to direct is this: directing is easier. Sure there are long hours, a million stupid questions (who gives a fuck what color the floss is? It’s floss!!), difficult actresses, and Faye Dunaway. But your job is to make something that already exists work. That’s a whole lot easier than creating something out of nothing. I wish I knew who said it but supposedly a writer who was sick of always hearing about the “Capra Touch” set 120 blank pages in front of him and said, “Here. Put the Capra Touch on this.”

Directors also have cinematographers to make them look good, special effects guys, second unit directors, Industrial Light & Magic, editors, Judi Densch. But writers just have that blank screen.

Writing is lonely, directing is social. Writing is wishing, directing is making. Writing is losing your credit in arbitration, directing is taking credit for everything.

And yet, in my heart of hearts, I know I’m a writer. It’s my first love, it’s who I am. And if I ever needed further proof, Cedar-Sinai screwed up and billed the DGA health fund as my primary instead of the WGA and I’ve been on the phone trying to straighten this fucking thing out for two months.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gr-gr-gr-groin injury

With the current flap over the Shaq rap, thought you might enjoy the rap we wrote for Sam Malone in the CHEERS episode "I on Sports". Sam becomes a local Boston sportscaster and has to give editorials. Here they are, including the one he raps. Thanks to longish for putting it together.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Friday Question of the Week

From Gareth:

When writing a spec pilot, how big should the budget be? I realize spec pilots are almost never filmed, so strictly speaking they don't have budgets. But presumably a spec that would be insanely expensive to film would be frowned upon - it would show you didn't understand the TV business. On the other hand, real pilots are getting pricey these days. So, how expensive can your pilot look, and how does that influence how it's written?

In general, it’s a good idea to not make your pilot too ambitious. If special state-of-the-art special effects are required to sell your ending chances are you’re dead. If the reader opens your script and the first page describes the final battle scene from BRAVEHEART he won’t get to page two. If Julia Roberts is required to have a heart-to-heart with your lead don’t be disappointed if your pilot doesn’t go.

Keep your perspective budgets within reason. It does show a greater understanding of the business. And will be easier to film should you get lucky.

Obviously the arena of your pilot will somewhat determine your budget parameters. If you write a sci-fi pilot set in space it’s going to be more expensive than a comedy about a guy in a studio apartment who has agoraphobia.

It’s generally a good idea not to have too large a cast list – both for the expense and the confusion factor. Readers prefer not having to keep seventeen characters straight in their heads. I helped out on a pilot once about two large families brought together by marriage (think BRADY BUNCH times three). Sitting around the table trying to fix this script I had no fucking idea who anybody was, what family they were with, how old they were, and then to make matters worse Alex and Sam were girls and Jamey and Dana were boys.

When David and I wrote our first script it was a spec pilot set in college (I know – how very original). We were clueless. We didn’t even know from outlines so we just started writing. I had bought an old ODD COUPLE script from a used Hollywood bookstore and we used that as our guide. At one point I asked David what page we were on. He said 35 and I noted that “they start wrapping it up here pretty quick.” So we stopped, took ten minutes to think of an ending. The university’s computer system would blow up causing mass confusion and a blizzard of IBM punch cards. We wrote it and fifteen minutes later we were done and in the car heading to El Torito’s to get margaritas and celebrate. I think it would have cost $20,000,000 to stage that scene in 1973. And we’d want to be reimbursed for the margaritas. Needless to say, our script didn’t sell.

The best pilots feature the best characters and most interesting situations. Million dollar ideas sell, not million dollar budgets.

Our exploding computer scene was pretty funny though.

Thanks for the questions. Keep 'em coming.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Love Guru

Warning: this is me at my crankiest, and snarkiest. But this has been bugging me and I just need to rant. I’ll be nicer tomorrow, I promise.Okay, now that the LOVE GURU is officially the first unmitigated disaster of the summer, will Hollywood finally...


The votes are in. Mike Myers is not funny. Certainly not anymore. If anything, he’s sad, bordering on pathetic. Did anyone see the trailer for the LOVE GURU and not cringe? Not since Pat Boone recorded an album of heavy metal has a celebrity humiliated himself more.

Not that Myers was ever original but at least with AUSTIN POWERS he found a successful schtick, proving conclusively that dumb luck does exist. And in true Mike Myers form he beat the schtick to a bloody death. Just as he had done with his WAYNE’S WORLD character.

Back to the trailer – it was horrifying. There he was again, mugging, claiming a 60’s theme persona for what, the fifth time now? Crotch jokes. Bodily fluid jokes. Juvenile. Reeking with desperation. And he even has the gall to bring back Mini-Me for a new round of tasteless midget jokes.

This was worse than 70 year old Bob Hope in a Beatles wig chasing after Brooke Shields.


The guy gets exposure on the AMERICAN IDOL finale and STILL no one wants to see his crapburger.

The LOVE GURU was trounced at the boxoffice by GET SMART. So what’s the message, Mike? I think it’s this:

America still loves comedies. America still loves spy spoofs. America just doesn’t love YOU!!

So please, just step aside. And take Dane Cook with you.

Thank you. I feel much better now.

Meanwhile, if (like me) you're into the 60s, there's a SPECTACULAR internet radio station you should check out and bookmark. 24/7, no commercials, free, and unlike oldies stations that spin the same damn twelve songs plays EVERYTHING. All those great records you loved but haven't heard in years. They're all there. Click on and feel groovy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer in the (Windy) City

Back from Chicago for my daughter Annie’s graduation from Northwestern. It’s been a busy final week for her – a prom, rehearsals, changing her major one last time. And a hectic one for us. Usually when my wife and I travel we don’t also include my son, father, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and seven-year-old niece-in-law.

The eight of us arrived on four different flights at four different times. Each flight was late, rides were missed, and thus began five days of what I like to call “the Chinese Ringtone Torture Test”. My wife’s cellphone died so all calls went through me. I was Heidi Fleiss during Superbowl weekend.

Our hotel in Evanston, normally at $115 a night charged $335 a night for graduation weekend. I heard some disgruntled guests saying they’d never stay there again but I’m sure the hotel’s position was “So what? It’s graduation. You’re never coming back anyway. So shut up. Check out time is eleven.” Actually the staff was quite lovely (as is everyone in Chicago – it gets a little creepy) and they did provide Q-tips in the room, which they usually don’t, so I for one did not feel remotely ripped off.

Evanston was packed for the festivities. The panhandler in front of CVS pharmacy snarled, “I can’t wait til you people get out of here! No one from out of town gives me a dime!”

Restaurants loved it though. Even Ruby Tuesday’s was taking reservations.

The good weather season in Chicago is June 21st so we timed it pretty well. When the sun is out and people aren’t collapsing from the heat and humidity a favorite activity is street fairs, coating every building with a smoky layer of grease. Wasn’t able to get to any this go-round but the one I really wanted to see was the Caribbean Jerkfest. In LA we have the Hollywood Jerkfest, but it’s normally just called “the entertainment industry”.

Of course it did rain during the outdoor graduation ceremony. I think it was God’s way of punishing Northwestern for no longer calling themselves “the Fighting Methodists” (they really once did).

They should go back to it. Maybe they’d get to a bowl better than Alamo or Citrus. And instead of Willie the Wildcat their mascot could be someone in a Tallulah Bankhead costume with ninja sticks.

Not to get too wrapped up in tradition but this was the 150th time Northwestern graduate candidates filed in, all in cap and purple gown, all on cellphones. A few with iPods. Only one or two with a Wii.

Annie looked gorgeous. I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come. I never really believed I’d see my daughter spend two hours in a football stadium.

I always go through the program and look for interesting names I might be able to use in future scripts. Expect the heroine of my next film to be called Aunyaporn Amornpongchai and her leading man to be Sergiy Sergiyovych Komirenko.

According to the Fur Information Council of America (the real FICA), Chicagoland fur coat owners should store them in vaults set between 40-50 degrees to protect their precious pelts in the summer. If you ask me, they should toss those owners into the vaults. Get Petagonia jackets! Leave the animals alone!

The L-Series was played this weekend. Thanks to interleague play, the crosstown Cubs and White Sox met for a grudge match. Other bitter rivalries this weekend included Florida at Oakland, Arizona at Minnesota, and the war of all wars – Texas at Washington.

Of the two local managers, the Cubs’ Lou Pinella has Tasmanian Devil-like tantrums, rips up bases, hurls them across the field and he’s the sane one. With White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillan you get the meltdowns, profane rants on live television, and recently he refused to apologize for the display of inflatable female dolls that were in the team’s clubhouse in Toronto. You have to love and admire this man.

The Cubs swept the Sox. Those lovable bleacher bums poured out of Wrigley cheering, and reveling, and pissing on every homeowner’s lawn.

We helped pack up Annie’s apartment. She shared it with two other classmates so there was a lot of sorting. “Annie, which of these empty gin bottles is yours?” It’s amazing how many pirate decorations you can accumulate in only four years. I’m not sure whether new students are moving in next year or they’re just condemning the building.

Al Capone is still more popular in Chicago than Sammy Sosa.

There were actually two convocations – the main one on Friday where we all had to suffer through Mayor Daley’s rehashed campaign speech. (Did he really think kids would be inspired by how much Chicago will profit if they get the Olympics in 2016? Come on Northwestern. Richard Daley is the best you could do? Jesus! Even Ali G. gets better guests.)

And then on Saturday the actual diplomas were handed out. To save money and avoid getting a second speaker I hear the university is considering just text messaging them in the future.

Sunday was a delightful mix of sunshine and hail.

I’ve loved going to Chicago these last four years. There are a lot of things I’m going to miss including ribs, the people, Wrigley, Rush Street on warm nights, the Jack Brickhouse statue, Gino’s, the view from Sears (the tower not the Auto Center on Cicero Ave.), Bob Hartley’s apartment building, Ed Farmer, the National Asian-American Sports Hall of Fame, Frank Lloyd Wright, egg salad recalls, Le Peep’s, whatever Marshall Field’s is called these days, Gene & Georgetti’s, Lyle Dean, Lakeshore Drive, the Pat & Ron show, Dixie Kitchen, Bill Kurtis, everyone talking like Joan Cusack, cab driver Robert who learned to speak English by watching MAJOR DAD, Flat Top, the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, Roger Ebert in the Sun-Times, the panhandler in front of CVS, the Purple Line to the Red Line, John Records Landecker, and finally -- just hangin’ with my BFF Oprah.

Go Fighting Meths!

Monday, June 23, 2008

My commencement speech to the Class of '08

June is the graduation time of year. I guess a hundred years ago those commencement speakers were inspiring and offered thoughts and insights that were new and fresh. But now, Jesus! Be your own person. Never give up. You have a responsibility to society. Success comes from within. Show courage. You can make a difference. Set aside time to smell the roses. Let faith be your guide. Blablablablabla.

I’ve never been asked to be a commencement speaker and that’s probably a good thing because here’s some of the advice I might give:

Live at home with your parents as long as you can. Otherwise you’ll have to find a job. Rents are high. And then there’s laundry, food, and the family big screen.

Know that the music you think is so cool now will be laughed at by future generations.

Same with clothes.

And don’t follow your current favorite group around the country for the next thirty years. That becomes sad year one.

If you are going to honor your dear departed kitty Fluffy with a tattoo make sure all your subsequent pets are also named Fluffy.

Eat bad foods. You’re at an age when you can get away with it. And eat them at midnight. There’s plenty of time in the future for watching your carbs, eating your vegetables, avoiding red meat, and laying off the Yodels and Ring Dings. Soon enough you won’t be able to eat a bite after 8:00 without spending the night in the porcelain canyon . Do you want fries with that? Damn right you do!

Don’t buy SUV’s.

Practice safe and frequent sex. Have many romances and then fall in love when you’re 30.

Go back and study the history of your chosen field. Things actually happened before 1990.

Don’t blame your parents for everything. Your peers screwed you up just as much.

Sleep. It’s better for you than Red Bull.

You can no longer take an "incomplete".

Prepare yourselves. There will come a day – in your lifetime – that they will stop making original episodes of THE SIMPSONS. I know you don't believe me but it's true.

There’s a special bond having shared the school experience together. Stay in touch with your classmates. Even the ones you’ve slept with.

Don’t invest money in video stores.

Read novels that aren’t graphic.

Join communities that aren't virtual.

Save your journal or private diary. In twenty years you’re going to get such laughs.

Dream big but always have contingency plans. And then have contingency plans for your contingency plans.

Keep your student ID card. Use it to get into movies cheaper.

Guys, don’t wear hats. You’ll have plenty of time for that later once you’ve lost your hair.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t know what you’re going to do with your life. There’s a good chance the job you'll eventually want hasn’t been invented yet.

Never take comedy traffic school.

Buy your alcoholic beverages by the glass or bottle, not the keg.

And finally -- Be careful when you say you want your generation to change the world. My generation said that and did – we made it worse.

Congratulations to the class of '08. Now get out there and don’t fuck up my Social Security.

George Carlin

George Carlin was the most original, out-of-the-box, courageous comedian of our era. And yet the one time I met him it was when he was doing a sitcom. He was soft-spoken, friendly, and quite unassuming...until he opened his mouth and you realized immediately that this was a brilliant very special man.

The gift of humor is being able to see things in a different, slightly askew way. Carlin's view of life, society, politics, and the human condition was unique and yet so recognizable as true.

We have lost a genius -- comic and otherwise. We have also lost our greatest Bullshit Detector.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What to hear in Chicago

Hello from the Hog Butcher to the World. Annie's graduation from Northwestern was lovely. She plans on returning to Los Angeles to seek her fortune writing snarky award show reviews. It’s a wide-open burgeoning field.

But as I enjoy the sights of Chicago, I’m reminded of the first time I ever came here.

I was 21 on a weekend pass from the army (I was stationed at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana). I was quite excited. I has read about Chicago, seen it countless times in movies and on television. So much history. So many sights. Wrigley Field, the museums, Sears Tower, etc. But there was one attraction I had to see first. It’s the thing I’d be waiting to see for ten years.

A Karell’s Red Hanger store!

Karell’s Red Hanger was a men’s clothier. And they sponsored Art Roberts’ Sunday night show on Chicago’s WLS radio. I used to listen to that show every week.

In Los Angeles.

At night the ionosphere rises and AM signals reach farther. That’s why you can sometimes pull in an out-of-town ballgame or station from a nearby town. But in the 60s there were a few powerful clear channel stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel, the evil empire) with no other stations sharing their frequencies. So at night they could be heard from great distances. WLS’s nighttime signal practically blanketed the country. The original idea for this was so farmers and people living in outlying areas could always get at least one radio station at night and be able to receive instructions in case there was a national emergency (y’know, like a nuclear attack or Karell’s Red Hanger Father’s Day Sale ends midnight Friday.)

Today we can stream any station we want from around the globe on our computers but back then it was sheer magic. Some guy could talk into an inverted tomato soup can 2,000 miles away and I could hear him in my little room in Los Angeles. Whoaa! How do they do that?

Karell’s Red Hanger’s prices weren’t that great the day I finally saw one so I didn’t buy anything. But I was able to strike it off my list of the “1000 things to see before I die”. I still had 999 left but I was making a dent.

The lure of radio, being introduced to different worlds through the crackle and hum of the atmosphere still has a hold on me to this day.

So when I arrived in Chicago the first thing I did was turn on WLS. Unfortunately, instead of hearing Art Roberts, the latest Buckinghams’ smash, and Carol’s Red Hanger spots I got some right wing wacko talk show host and turned it right off.

Oh well. At least Wrigley is still here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How to REALLY write a romantic comedy

You want to write a romantic comedy screenplay and sell it for a million dollars. So you take classes, read books, study story structure, analyze classic screen comedies, even put yourself through a couple of Nora Ephron films, and you think you’re ready.

You’re not.

Because even though those things are important they’re not what’s going to sell your movie. THESE will.

You need a high concept. A BIG hook. To where “the girl is a mermaid” just barely makes the grade. Your characters can be real as long as there’s time travel.

The studio needs to visualize the one-sheet. In other words, the poster. And if you can provide a tag line that would be good too. “What if the girl of your dreams was your grandmother?”

There must be five good “trailer moments”. Studios don’t think in terms of 90 minutes, they think in terms of 90 seconds. There better be pratfalls. Someone in an avocado mask. Hugs and crashes.

Be sure to include five block comedy scenes. Zany sequences that generally involve destruction, humiliation, emasculation, dogs, and toilets. If they were making SOME LIKE IT HOT today Joe E. Brown would be giving Jack Lemmon a bikini wax. THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH would be Ben-Gay in Marilyn Monroe's panties.

Just as you see it every day in real life, have a group of strangers sing an infectious song from the 60’s and do a perfectly choreographed spontaneous dance number.

New York, Chicago, and Paris -- better than Detroit, Cleveland, and Warsaw.

And finally, it’s not enough anymore to have a happy ending, you need a sappy happy ending. A memorable line of dialogue wouldn't hurt either. "Without you I'm only me." "Before I met you, love was a noun. Now it's a verb."

Follow these guidelines, keep your script under 110 pages and there could be an Ashton Kutcher/Kate Hudson in your future. Good luck!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Now THAT'S an acceptance speech!

Hello from Chicago. I've yet to see a man dance with his wife.

Since it's a good bet only three of you at the most saw the Tonys last Sunday you probably missed this acceptance speech by Mark Rylance. It's one of the best ever. I will be voting for this guy for everything from now on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday question of the week

From Chicago: It’s Friday question time. Keep ‘em coming in.

From Eve J:

I have two questions for you, Ken. This is in reaction to the news that Jon Harmon Feldman has become the new showrunner for Dirty Sexy Money, despite the debacle that was Big Shots. Since Big Shots had a talented cast yet some silly storylines and tone issues, I've assumed the problems were related to the writing.

So for my first question: How can you tell when a problem with a lousy show is the writing vs other factors?

My second question: how does a showrunner who managed to waste such a talented cast (and a decent concept) manage to get hired onto another struggling show as the showrunner?

Here’s what you don’t know – how much interference was there on BIG SHOTS? From the network? Studio? Research? Actors? Craft Services Guy? How many battles did he have and how many did he win? How many of those actors were his choice and how many were foisted upon him by the network? How many were monsters? Were there other producers submarining him behind his back? Whatever his original vision, was it remotely realized when the pilot was finally done? Did he have to make any compromises after the pilot to get the series on the air? I never saw the show nor I do know Jon Harmon Feldman. I just imdb’ed him (imdb is now a verb) and he seems to have decent credits. But I have no idea how good he is as a showrunner. That position requires special management and social skills, and those are two traits not normally used to describe writers.

It’s easier to tell whether the problem is acting or writing in television where the writer has (in theory) more of a say as opposed to features where the Craft Services Guy is higher up on the food chain. Normally you can tell if the dialogue is crisp and just being trampled but not always. Are the actors changing the dialogue?

If the story is bad you can usually blame the writing. But bad editing could also be the culprit. If the show is miscast then William Shakespeare, Paddy Chayevsky, and Larry Gelbart locked together in a room couldn’t make it work.

And this topic harkens back to my post of yesterday. Baseball managers get fired and go on to other teams and lead them to the World Series. And then get fired again. I’d venture to say that most successful showrunners have one or two clams in their past. Thank God the industry didn’t hold AfterMASH against me. I'd be that guy outside the hotel here yelling at people if they don't give him a dollar.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"You're fired. Get a good night's sleep."

Heading off to Chicago for my daughter’s graduation. Posts will continue. I’ll have plenty of time to write while all those other kids get their diplomas.The week’s classless award goes to the New York Mets. Here’s how they fired their manager, Willie Randolph this week: They let him take the red eye from New York to Anaheim and less than 24 hours later, after winning a game, they canned him in his hotel room in the middle of the night. Smoooooth. I think the only thing worse would be to let him fly to Anaheim and during the game just post it on the Jumbotron Board.

"Willie, you are hereby relieved of your duties as manager of the New York Mets effective immediately. And a reminder to Mets fans: Friday is Squeeze bottle night when the Mets return home to face the pesky Marlins."

This incident just makes me recall those excruciating times when I had to fire someone (fortunately those times were few) or someone had to fire me (an almost monthly ritual when I was a disc jockey). As a showrunner, letting someone go is usually the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. I say “usually” because there are some cases when – depending on the individual – it’s the only real perk of the job. But for the most part, especially in the case of firing actors, it’s just a matter of them not being right for that specific role, you’re forced to by higher-ups, or no one has died in three weeks on LOST and someone has to go.

We had a situation once where the night of our last filming before the two-week Christmas hiatus we were informed we had to fire two series regulars. At least that’s how I interpreted “When I walk off this stage tonight that’s the last time I ever want to see them.

So when during the Christmas holidays do you drop the axe? NFL teams are notorious for firing head coaches on Christmas Eve. That seemed a little cruel... even for television. I was once fired the week before Xmas (here’s that twisted tale) and that was no fun. We decided to wait until after Christmas. The trouble was, they were both now out of town. We had hoped to do it in person. But instead we had to do it over the phone.

One of the actors was so furious she didn’t speak to me for ten years. The other was so relieved I still get Christmas cards from him.

When CBS demanded we fire Kevin Kilner from ALMOST PERFECT he too was out of town and we had to do it via the phone. (College football coach John Robinson claims USC fired him by leaving a voice message.) What made that call especially agonizing is that we vehemently disagreed with the decision, we loved Kevin personally, and after firing him we also had to ask if he’d do us a favor and come back for one episode so we could write him out of the show. Kevin could not have been more gracious and understanding. More than I probably would have been. We’ve remained good friends and every time I see him I still apologize for ten minutes.

There was an actor we decided to replace after a table reading once, and before we could tell him, he had a big muffin basket delivered to us as thanks for hiring him. Oy. And no, we didn’t eat the muffins.

There have been times when we had to fire a day player because he just wasn’t right for that part but we hired him later to play something else and he invariably was great.

You would think that your cast would freak out if you fired somebody. But generally that’s not the case. If you can see that someone is clearly not working out the cast can see it too. And a bad actor can pull down everyone else’s performance. So in a sense your cast is relieved and made to feel more secure because they know you have their backs.

Getting fired can be traumatic no matter who you are or what the job. In the case of Willie Randolph I feel it was undeserved. He was just a scapegoat. And I hope when Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya did give him the word Monday night he didn’t do it the way I was fired from K100 radio in Los Angeles. I hope he didn’t just say:

“Hey babe, we’re making some changes and you’re one of ‘em.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The 25 worst sitcoms of all-time

TV CRUNCH has tabulated its list of the 25 worst sitcoms. I’m crushed. AfterMASH is not on the list. Come on. It’s worse than three or four of these. Here is the list (from 25 to 1). What other truly horrible sitcoms have they omitted?

CHARLES IN CHARGE (Even with Scott Baio)
WEBSTER (one of their writers said Alex Karras couldn't say the same line once)
IT’S A LIVING (I disagree with this one)
GEORGE (Foreman not Lopez although Lopez could qualify too)
DOUBLE TROUBLE (One of the identical twins was great but not the other)

Monday, June 16, 2008


The pilot of SWINGTOWN begins with the CBS station ID from 1976. It’s a nice touch but my first thought was – back then CBS would never air this shit. CBS was then the “Tiffany Network”. Their primetime schedule that season included ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, MASH, MAUDE, RHODA, THE WALTONS, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and CAROL BURNETT. Now they show live street fighting on the weekends and a drama about wife swapping.

SWINGTOWN wants to be a cross between BOOGIE NIGHTS and ICE STORM. Instead, it’s really CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC meets I WILL, I WILL…FOR NOW.
It’s set in 1976 and comes with all the requisite nostalgic touches. Eight track tapes, clunky phones, leather jackets, vinyl, disco balls, the fifteen most overplayed oldies from the 70s. Guys all looked like Tony Orlando, girls all looked like Charlie’s Angels. It was the sexual revolution. Anything goes. Drugs, open marriages, Plymouth Dusters.

SWINGTOWN would have you believe their little Cheeveresque bedroom community in suburban Chicago was typical of the times. Everyone swung, took Quaaludes, partied every night, had money, wore nine pounds of jewelry, and got into everyone’s pants but Marie Osmond’s.

The 70s I remember featured gas shortages, energy shortages, Richard Nixon, 13% interest rates on homes, a recession, the Ayatollah, Abba, and Captain & Tennille.

I must’ve lived in the wrong neighborhood.

SWINGTOWN is supposed to be provocative, shocking, an HBO type show. But it’s not. It’s on network television. So there’s no nudity, no sex – everything is off screen and implied. Wow! Not exactly the kind of show you guys are going to Tivo then sneak downstairs to watch at 4 a.m when the wife’s sleeping.

And then there are the other smaller problems – what the hell are we watching? Why do we give a shit about any of these people? Is there a point to all of this? Is every episode just going to be who slept with who? Is this even a real series? What do they do the third season? Tupperware orgies? Threesomes with Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Not that there will ever be a third season. Despite all the steamy hype, the first two episodes of SWINGTOWN got killed in the ratings by the NBA FINALS – which makes sense. At least the Lakers and Celtics showed some skin.

The 60 second annual TONY AWARDS

Thanks to my Broadway lovin' daughter Annie and her friend Brock for this review of the TONY AWARDS. The Lakers beat the Celtics 103-98 by the way. I'm sure no one was watching the game. All of America was glued to the TONYS.

Well the Tony's have sold out this year (and I do not mean in terms of seats). Here are some ways that the Tonys tried to up their ratings:

1) Having the show hosted by a Tony and Oscar winner…unfortunately it was Whoopi Goldberg. So I think those awards are canceled out by Hollywood Squares.

2) Beginning the evening with the big opening number of the Lion King…for no particular reason.

3) During the “Look Back at the Year of Plays” they kept showing movie stars and identified them. For example, the clip they showed from Cyrano was just a shot of Jennifer Garner. I mean the play is named after the title character, you could have at least showed him. Or his nose.

4) Only the big awards were on CBS. Even categories like choreography and orchestration were done earlier.

5) TEN performances. Including ones from musicals that weren’t even nominated for best musical!


I have to say that I didn’t think there were any real surprises this year. In the Heights, South Pacific and August: Osage County were the big winners, and they were all well deserved.

Brock pointed out that every time they went to commercial break and said “The 62nd Tony Awards” it sounded like “The 60 second Tony Awards” (as in one minute long). This was probably just another ploy to get more viewers.

Patti Lupone was really wonderful, and that is saying something coming from me as I already have a bias against anyone who earns a career by starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.

Passing Strange was…strange. I will leave it at that.

The commercials were all for Cadillacs, Dog Shows, and Medications. Hmmm I wonder what their target audience is? Not a lot of Chevy truck spots.

In the Heights seemed like a lot of fun. I love how the writer rapped his speech. Do you think the Tony committee paid him to do that so they could have yet another performance?

Now I am a huge fan of Harvey Fierstein. But after seeing the clip from A Catered Affair, I think that he needs to stick to playwriting.

The most ridiculous part of the night was when Whoopi went through the sets of plays that were nominated for Best New Play. Why didn’t they just have the cast members perform clips instead of teasing us with the furniture?

Also during that section Whoopi said something like, “Remember that Hitchcock movie with the spies?” Oh yeah, THAT one.

Yay Anna Shapiro! The second American Female to win for direction of a straight play. AND they’re both Northwestern professors. The other one just gave me a C on a paper.

I like how Mandy Patinkin grew out his beard so he could look like Stephen Sondheim while speaking on his behalf.

I love Sondheim. Even when he’s not there, he gave the best speech of the night.

The projections for Sunday in the Park with George were amazing. They deserved an award of their own.

Great to see the Grand Dame of Broadway -- Julie Chen present a Tony. When is she going to get her lifetime award in the theatre? Who else on the American stage can sing, dance, act, and host Big Brother?

Wow. I loved when Glenn Close gave that oh-so-heartfelt speech about how musicals can change the world, and then the first nominee she introduced was Grease. I know I personally have never been the same since I first heard “shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom

I would like to end by saying how great it was to see the incredible Adam Kantor (A soon-to-be former Northwestern student) starring as Mark in Rent. He certainly puts the rest of us “Seniors to Watch” to shame.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Tonys review is coming...

... but not from me. I'm doing my sportstalk show on KABC radio (up against the Lakers game so my audience should be HUGE). But my lovely daughter Annie is on the case and will file her snarky review shortly.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Especially to my own father, Cliff, who is both my hero and role model.

Note to those wives and kids planning to celebrate: no brunches. That’s Mother’s Day stuff. Let the old man sit in front of the TV and watch the World Cup or Arena football amateur draft in peace.

And now, as a public service, here are some movies NOT to watch on Father’s Day:


Some TV shows and telefilms NOT to watch:

Any CBS family comedy

Some unfriendly father plays:

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (any Arthur Miller, actually)

Some books to avoid:

Any Bing Crosby biography
Any Frank Sinatra biography
LOVE STORY (for so many reasons)

Records to skip:

PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE by the Temptations
BOY NAMED SUE by Johnny Cash
MY DAD by Paul Peterson

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Again, happy Father’s Day – the most sacred of the bullshit Hallmark holidays.

Friday, June 13, 2008

More on Katherine Heigl

Legend has it Steven Bochco uttered this famous phrase. He supposedly once advised a showrunner on the relationship between him and his stars:

“The first year they work for you, the second year you work together, the third year you work for them.”

Unless the star’s name is in the show title that is a pretty accurate assessment of the dynamic between producer and actor.

Actors are initially beholden to the creator/show runners. Usually when they come in to read they’ll ask if the creator wants it a certain way. They’re there to please. They’re there to impress. I’ve yet to have an auditioning actor tell me, “I really can’t say this line.” Creators often times really champion the actor, fight for him or her to the studio and network.

At the beginning there’s a lovefest. Then the series gets picked up and somewhere along the line things go awry.

I should emphatically mention that this is the exception, not the rule. Most writers and actors are open and collaborative. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of these shows and when the creative process works it can really be a joy. Not to mention the end product is better.

But from time to time you hear of friction. And people not speaking to each other. And Coke cans being hurled at a writer’s head. Stars become monsters.

The argument is always made that struggling actors have it tough. And they do. Until they make it (IF they make it), their job description is “Get rejected”. “How’d it go today, honey?” “Eh, a little slow, I was only rejected twice. But I’m thinking of auditioning for students films so I can get rejected by kids half my age for projects that pay no money.” It’s humbling and demoralizing and you can understand why resentment builds up. But why take it out on the person who DID hire you?

Plus, it’s no picnic for struggling writers either. They can’t find agents, they can’t get their scripts to the right people. They have to keep churning out material with no guarantee that anyone will read it including their spouses.

So “dues” is no justification for disrespectful behavior.

Actors sometimes have no idea how long and hard their writers work – to make THEM look good. A script is in trouble. They go home, have a lovely evening, get a good night’s sleep, and magically in the morning a new script is on their doorstep. The script elves must’ve been up all night. On a multi-camera comedy the schedule is usually three weeks on and one week of hiatus. For the actors. The writers never have a hiatus. Dave Hackel, one of the best and most organized showrunners I know used to jokingly fine any actor who asked him where he went on the hiatus. He went to the office for fourteen hours every day! That’s where he went!

Writers work tirelessly trying to make the best possible shows they can. They don’t always succeed. Some are just not that great. But the effort is always there. Without the recognition, without the glory, without the vacation once a month.

Was Katherine Heigl within her rights to complain about the material she was given? Absolutely. It’s hell for an actor to have to play something they don’t believe in. And do it in front of twenty million people. But it was not okay for her to call out her writers publicly, to embarrass them in front of the world.

If she wanted to pull out of Emmy consideration, fine. Just say she felt there were other more deserving performances this season. That’s all. Simple. Gracious. Easy.

Is that so much to ask?

Even after the third year?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Friday question of the week: Katherine Heigl

It’s Friday question time. Here’s a rather timely one.

J Gillespie wonders what I think about Katherine Heigl pulling out of Emmy consideration because "Grey's Anatomy" failed to deliver the goods for an award-worthy performance.”

I think it’s an unconscionable slap in the face to the writers of her show. It seems to me there are three possible explanations for her taking this position.

1) She thinks this will motivate the writers to better service her character. It’s hard to believe anyone could be that stupid. If I were producing that show her part would be reduced to giving enemas. And there would be messy equipment failures.

2) She’s looking to get her release so she can pursue her feature career. Making a fortune on a hit television show is keeping her from starring in such breakout films as 27 DRESSES.

3) Her integrity as an artist prevents her from performing anything she feels is below her very high standards. After all, this is a thespian who has appeared in BRIDE OF CHUCKY, VEGAS DICK, BUG BUSTERS, and of course UNDER SIEGE 2.

If Katherine Heigl wants to pull out of Emmy consideration, fine. Let her. There are much better, more deserving dramatic actresses anyway.

But how would she feel if the producers of Grey’s Anatomy were allowed to disqualify her from consideration because they thought she did a horseshit job performing their scripts?

There’s such a thing as professional courtesy. And gratitude.

Katherine Heigl, YOU have failed to deliver the goods.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


My wife and I went to Disneyland. Since becoming an adult this was the first time I was ever there without kids or a joint. No strollers, no giant diaper bags, no getting home and realizing we had left somebody. Also, we had never seen the adjacent California Adventure so we wanted to go before it eventually shuts down or is completely rethought.

We figured: go before the summer begins and kids are out of school. I guess that now means February. Disneyland was packed. There were lines for everything. The biggest: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Waiting, Space Mountain, and churros. The Small World attraction is closed for renovation (thank God). A big fence surrounds it. So the line was only a half an hour.

I wore a golf shirts and long pants. I was waaaay overdressed. Come on, people! At least the ratty t-shirts and torn plaid shorts should fit! You’re going to be taking pictures in those rags.

As always, the park was immaculate… although I could swear one of the 60-year-old maintenance men in an elf suit was a former producer of TAXI. And the teenagers who work there remain the nicest, perkiest, helpfulliest David Arhuleta and Carrie Underwood clones you could find this side of Stepford.

I’m guessing the teens with major imperfections like acne or no dimples are assigned to wear those bulky heavy character costumes. It was 90 degrees and Winnie the Pooh was staggering around, tripping over strollers, kicking little tykes, occasionally sticking his head in an ice cream pushcart for relief.

Happy to say that the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride wasn’t ruined by the improvements. There were a few Jack Sparrows added and a nifty Davy Jones hologram but otherwise it’s pretty much the same. Oh maybe a little less raping but the spirit of fun is still there.

To avoid standing in endless lines Disneyland now offers “Fast Passes” for most major rides. It allows you to return for wait-free boarding. We got our Fast Passes for Space Mountain at 1 PM. Our reservations were for 9:30, thus saving us fifteen minutes had we stood in the normal line.

I was a good boy this trip. I did not stand up and ask Mr. Lincoln a question nor did I buy a Mouseketeer hat, have them scroll “Vincent” then rip off one of the ears.

With all the spectacular photo-ops Disneyland provides, all day long I saw people taking pictures of each other while standing in lines. We are truly a country of idiots.

Then there are the women trying to walk all day and night in ankle strap wedges. And they wonder why they’re crippled by Fantasyland.

Gas prices are so high that for the Autopia, the cars are now just being pushed by Disney employees.

In a nod to health conscious California, Disneyland eateries now serve healthy food along with the usual fast food junk. My wife ordered a salad. It was the third one sold this year!

The irony of the Indiana Jones ride is that Harrison Ford probably can’t ride it. It’s way too violent and rugged for a 66 year-old man.

We moved over to California Adventure, which is like going from Times Square on New Year’s Eve to downtown Flint, Michigan a year after they closed the GM plant.

The only thing worth seeing is “Soarin’ Over California”. It’s a simulated hang glide tour over the state. If only I could simulate flying on American Airlines instead of actually having to fly on American Airlines.

Wandered around the park. Don’t know the names of the “lands” per se but there’s one that’s kind of rustic that my wife just called “Wilderness Shit”. They pipe in this real stirring John Williams type music and I must say, coming out of the restroom I thought there’ve been times when I could have really used this.

Next we encountered a beach boardwalk themed land. The John Williams music gave way to Beach Boys tunes on a calliope. All these years I never knew that “Surfer Girl” was a circus song.

Disney – the company that brought you “Song of the South” and tar babies now presents “Pizza Oom Mow Mow” on the pier at California Adventure.

There’s a big classic Coney Island style rollercoaster and something called the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror”. Not wanting my first major stroke to be in a place where the paramedics all wear Peter Pan costumes I passed on both.

We returned to Disneyland, nostalgic for the days when California Adventure used to be a parking lot.

Night fell on the Magic Kingdom and it got a little chilly. No worries. There’s a clothing store every hundred feet. Me: “Excuse me, Tracy/Stacey/Kaysee/Lacy, do you have a men’s sweatshirt that doesn’t have Tinkerbell on it? Or Mickey in a wizard’s cap? Or Mulan? Or a fucking fairy castle!?” I bought a Davy Crockett coonskin cap so at least my head was warm.

Even in the evening when the crowd thinned out there was still a 45 minute wait for the aptly named Dumb-o ride.

No trip to Disneyland would be complete without a harrowing bobsled ride down the Matterhorn. It always takes me back to my idyllic childhood, going on it once with my dear sweet grandmother and hearing her drop the f-bomb.

The Haunted Mansion is now inhabited by a bi-lingual ghost. He gives spooky instructions in both English and Spanish.

Never got to Toontown. There were enough over-stimulated, sugar revved, screaming, out-of-control little hellions in all the other lands.

And I always wonder – how many of these children were conceived on Tom Sawyer’s Island during Grad Night?

Following the fireworks and “Disney Dwarfs on Parade” or whatever the hell that noisy thing was, we dutifully reported to Space Mountain to take advantage of our Fast Pass. Wow! Space Mountain was always great but this new revamped version is awesome. You know they mean business when they tell you to take your glasses off. As I was crawling off the rocket sled on my hands and knees I said to my wife, “Now THAT’S a thrill ride!”

Finally, it was time to leave. Where did twelve hours and hundreds of dollars go? A half hour to catch the tram and another half hour to find our car in the parking structure the size of Liechtenstein, and we were merrily on our way (to hit massive traffic on the Santa Ana freeway at midnight).

I have always loved Disneyland. I’m not ashamed to say it. I am ashamed to wear any of those sweatshirts but even as a five year-old curmudgeon I marveled at the imagination, scope, and vision of this wondrous (albeit highly profitable) world. So I will be back. Soon. My Fast Pass reservation for the Little Nemo Submarine Voyage is November 21st at 6:30 AM.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No one dresses better than comedy writers

I once related the story of my partner and I attending an awards ceremony looking like idiots in matching brown tuxedos and peach ruffled shirts. But that is not to suggest that I don't normally dress extremely well. In fact, I was in GQ.

No. Really.


I’m serious.

Somehow GQ magazine got wind of my going off to Syracuse in 1988 to announce minor league baseball. They decided to do an article about me. My wife is still laughing. “You in GQ?”

I did the phone interview with Ron Powers who wrote the piece. Then I got a call from their photographer. They wanted to take pictures of me that Friday at a local baseball stadium. I said fine. The photographer then wanted to know what I’d be wearing. I said I didn’t know. This was only Monday and my mom usually doesn’t pick out my clothes until the night before. He asked my measurements and said he would bring something. Now I was a little pissed off. Just because I was a writer did he automatically assume I was a schlump? I can't believe he saw me on DON KIRSCHNER'S ROCK AWARDS. I told him I would bring my own wardrobe. Obviously his concern was not assuaged. He asked if I’d bring a selection.

I’m the same height and size as Ted Danson. The next day I went to the CHEERS wardrobe guy and asked if I could borrow some Sam Malone shirts and slacks.

Friday afternoon I hooked up with the photographer. I think I was wearing a torn t-shirt. There was already a lump in his throat. I opened my trunk and let him examine my selection. The accompanying picture is a approximation. His eyes almost popped out. “Jesus, this is great stuff!” he said, astonished. “Any one of these would be perfect.” “Well YEAH,” I said as if it couldn't be more obvious. “It might surprise you to learn that most television writers are total fashion hounds. Much of the time in writers rooms is spent discussing men’s haberdashery.”

I accepted his apology and hoped that he had a new respect for how writers really felt about wardrobe.

He went off to set up his camera while I put one of the shirts on, glad that he didn’t see the “Property of Paramount Pictures” tag that was still on the sleeve.

The article came out August 1988. I see my shirt all the time in reruns.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The National Anthem

I spend every night at Dodger Stadium hosting Dodger Talk on KABC radio. That means that every night I’m treated to a different version of the National Anthem. I think I speak for the hundreds of millions of Americans who attend sporting events each year when I say to the performers…

The National Anthem is not a five-minute blues number.

It is not a Mariah Carey overwrought teen power ballad complete with runs and riffs and “yeahs” inserted in the middle. Whitney did it. You will never top it. Don’t try.

The National Anthem is not a song that needs a “hook”. Or your own “personal signature”.

It is not a sultry torch song. Do not use it to impress the chicks. The Star Spangled Banner is not catnip for horny women.

It is not opera. If you need to wear a Viking helmet to get in the mood, rethink.

Nor is it the Grand Ole Opry. Does Yankee Stadium look like a barn dance to you?

Yo! The National Anthem is also not a hip-hop jam. Do not sample “Happy Together” in the middle of it. Do not shout out “Clap your hands, y’all!” when you’re near the end.

It is not meant to be whistled, beat boxed, played on spoons, washboards, ukuleles, kazoos, or sung in Klingon.

The Rat Pack is dead. So should be all versions of the Star Spangled Banner that swing. Francis Scott Key did not envision finger popping and nowhere is the word “kookoo” in the lyrics.

And speaking of the lyrics – LEARN THEM. It’s “perilous fight” not “perilous night”, not “perilous flight”, not “perilous twilights bursting in air”.

The song has an actual melody. Just come close to it…even occasionally. That’s all I ask.

And finally, stop Stop STOP STOP trying to hold the last few notes forever. You’re not stirring. You’re a car alarm that won’t turn off.

The National Anthem is arguably one of the hardest songs to perform. But done well it’s also one of the most powerful. Just sing the friggin’ song.

And let us get on to “play ball!”.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Extras! Extras! Read all about them!

I should probably save this for Friday but a reader wanted to know if extras talked softly and if so is it distracting to the main cast?

The extras don’t talk. They just mouth conversations. The background hub bub is added later in post production. If they did talk it would be (a) distracting, (b) hard to match takes when we edit back and forth between takes, (c) they would have to be paid, and (d) God knows what bullshit they’d say.

On multi-camera shows extras are generally brought in the last day or two. The Second Assistant Director is in charge of placing them, telling them where to walk and when. Invariably when I was directing there would be a woman placed at a table with Marge Simpson hair that completely blocked out the stars. Or someone would be told to cross in front of a star just as he was delivering his punch line. Occasionally you find an extra looking at the camera.

I always picture an union meeting (they do have a union – SEG, Screen Extras Guild) where everyone is incensed, waving arms, pumping fists, and mouthing their passionate views.

Even though extras are not allowed to talk they are allowed – even encouraged to act. Or should I say, “react”? Cheer when someone makes a big announcement. Silently gasp in horror when someone spontaneously bursts into flames.

I remember an episode of the old SUPERMAN series. The bad guys wore full lead helmets (Superman can’t see through lead). There was a scene where two of them were walking down the hall in the Daily Planet building en route to a meeting with Perry White. Two extras entered from the other direction and didn’t even notice that there were two guys in suits and hats with LEAD HELMETS!!

I was directing an episode of ALMOST PERFECT that featured a giant pie fight scene (actually 800 custard tarts). We had our cast and sixty extras. For three days I choreographed and rehearsed the scene with rice cakes. Once cameras were rolling I knew I only had one take. (My inspiration was the great Laurel & Hardy pie fights.)

I was trying to work out a thousand things at once when this extra comes up and announces she would not like to be hit with any pies. Please place her accordingly. I said, if you don’t want to be in the pie fight then we’ll just replace you. No, no, she said in a very prim voice, she’d do it, but I was to instruct all the other extras to spare her specifically from any incoming pies? I said, I would see what I could do.

Okay, I know I’ll roast in hell for this but I did instruct the other extras. And when cameras rolled this girl got pelted with hundreds of pies. From all directions. Just bombarded. (It seems that she had managed to annoy all of them too.) I look back at that episode and the sight of her just getting blasted with pies makes me fall on the floor laughing every time. Like I said, I know there are not going to be any harps where I’m going.

Being an extra looks like an easy job but it’s not. There’s a lot of down time that can get real boring. The pay isn’t great. Job security is nil. There’s pie in your hair for weeks. In general it’s a very thankless job. The common name for extras in Hollywood is “background”. How many people in their college yearbook list “background” as their dream job of choice?

But they perform a very useful and important function. And I’m happy to speak on their behalf… since they themselves can’t without being paid day player rates.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Writer's tragedy

From comes this story that is the screenwriter’s version of the Darwin Awards. Apparently some guy wrote three screenplays (with the delightful titles of COLOR OF TULIP, BLOOD ON ICE, and – keeping with the theme – BLOOD ON SEVEN HILLS). He claims that at one point he was in negotiations to sell the screenplays for $2.7 million. But the talks went nowhere. So he ended up with nothing. Ohh??? There’s no middle ground between $2.7 and nothing?? But that’s not the point.

He later signed up for DSL and the technician installing it “cleaned up some unused items on his desktop” which included -- oh no! - the screenplays.


Data recovery was only partially successful in retrieving them. So the guy sued, claiming the screenplays were worth MILLIONS. He lost. And the jury felt he was also at fault FOR NOT MAKING A BACK UP OF SUCH “VALUABLE” FILES!


I also question why the skeesix didn’t have a single printed copy. How did he submit them to these potential million dollar buyers? PDF files? And would perhaps one of the eager recipients bother to make a printed copy? These producers who had millions of dollars to just throw around couldn't afford a Xerox machine? Or send a guy down to Kinkos?

Always back up your scripts!!!

I do it every time I finish a writing session. I load it onto a thumb drive. I also have the nifty new Mac Time Capsule that backs up my hard drive constantly, and sometimes I email the working draft to myself just to be triple sure.

Nothing’s going to stop me from breaking the bank when I sell my latest screenplay -- BLOOD ON MAPQUEST DIRECTIONS TO PISMO BEACH.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Weekend leftovers

Thanks to everyone for your get well wishes to Kelsey Grammer. I have emailed them all directly to him.

It’s my brother’s birthday Sunday. My gift is coming. It just takes four to six weeks before your subscription to AARP magazine begins. Happy birthday, Corey.

Speaking of magazines, nifty profile on my daughter Annie in the current Northwestern alumni monthly. She’s featured as the “Funny Gal” in their “2008 Graduates to Watch” article. The humor she gets from her mother, the bad eyesight she gets from me.

They go in threes – Sydney Pollack, Bo Diddly, and Mel Ferrer.

The HuffingtonPost recently ran my SEX AND THE CITY piece and under related articles listed “date rape”. WTF?! I can’t even imagine Gloria Allred reading the article and thinking that.

Congratulations to the Detroit Red Wings for winning the NHL Stanley Cup last Wednesday. They begin defending their title tonight as the NHL 2008-2009 season begins.

Nice to have the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals but it’s just not the same without broadcasters Chick Hearn and Johnny Most. Chick once said a player was so thin he could “shower in a rifle barrel”. And for Most, what Celtics fan will ever forget “Havilicek stole the ball!”?

It’s not just Hillary Clinton. Bill Belichick still refuses to concede the Superbowl.

When should a network cast only gorgeous-looking people? When they’ve got a show like SWINGTOWN.

Does anybody read blogs when they’re not at work?

One more question...

Hey, I love you guys! Thanks for so many GREAT questions. Will try to get to all of them. But thought I'd sneak in one more.

From John:

Since you had the "get well Kelsey" thread below, I was wondering if Grammer's Frasier Crane character was meant to be ongoing past a single season when he was first conceived, or was the writers ability to find new angles to Kelsey's character -- and his ability to play more than just the clueless yuppie boyfriend he started off as in Season 3 -- the reason why he became a regular on "Cheers"?

Kelsey was originally only supposed to be in the first few episodes of season three. He was conceived as a "Ralph Bellamy" and by that I mean, Ralph Bellamy was always the "other" guy, the poor schmuck eventually getting dumped. See HIS GIRL FRIDAY or just about any other romcom that Ralph Bellamy is in.

The storyline to begin season three had Diane briefly admitted to a sanitarium and Dr. Frasier Crane was her shrink. Then it's learned that they are lovers. Please skip over the horrible breach of ethics. In short, he was just a device to make Sam jealous.

But in the parlance of comedy writing, Kelsey really scored. He proved to be so funny and interesting that the Charles Brothers kept finding new reasons to bring him back. And then when Shelley became pregnant they came up with the ingenious idea to have Diane and Frasier go off to Europe (so they could pre-shoot all those scenes and have something to show once Shelley had something to show).

Shelley Long story short, he became a series regular. And my favorite character in CHEERS to write for.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Friday questions of the week: MASH related

From reader “Bee” comes:

Did it ever bother any of the MASH production staff that seemingly no attempt was made to make the women's hair and makeup seem to be of the 50's era? (Margaret had a Farrah Fawcett hairdo later on in the series fer cryin' out loud - and Klinger's getups were about the only reliable shout-outs to actual female dress of that time).

I LOVE the show, but this one thing always bugged me.

Bee, it bugged me more. To the point of driving me crazy. Nurses in Korea also didn’t have long nails, sport bright red lipstick, or wear tailored green sweatshirts with the MASH logo. Dog tags were for identification not accessories. Fashion experts were not consulted when designing wartime army fatigues.

But these are arguments producers rarely win. It’s the TV equivalent of trying to give a cat a bath.

From Just a Guy:

I’m curious what you think the fresh shelf life of a TV show really is--be it sit com or drama...

For example on MASH, if you watch real closely, after a couple of years (and this is especially true when new characters replaced the original), you can see where scripts are basically re-cycled, e.g. a situation occurs with KTrapper and a few years later the same exact situation occurs with BJ and so on with Burns and Charles and other characters. Sometimes the role/words Hawkeye spoke to Trapper end up being the same (or virtually the same) or virtually identical are switched and BJ says them to Hawkeye, etc. etc. etc.

So my question is this: what's the shelf life of a TV show, how long do you think it lasts before it actually becomes redundant?

After five or six seasons every show starts showing its age. Sometimes recasting can add a freshness that keeps the show going for a few more years. And some shows that rely on a successful formula (like LAW & ORDER) seem to defy time and can go on forever.

But I’d say seven years is the magic number. Let’s see William Shakespeare come up with the 150th episode of Hamlet (and getting notes on the outlines from a network executive who just graduated from Sarah Lawrence).

And from JenniferG:

Will you be holding another one of your sitcom room seminars?

Well, I can't before baseball season is over, and depending on how the Dodgers do that could be the end or beginning of October. But if there's enough interest I probably will sometime this fall. Otherwise, I'll just be knitting.

Thanks for the questions. Keep 'em comin'.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Total Drama Island

TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND premieres on the Cartoon Network today. Originating in Canada it is an animated reality show.

Okay, stop and think about that a moment. An ANIMATED reality show?? Talk about an oxymoron. What’s its companion piece, a scripted improv show?

TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND is essentially SURVIVOR with teens. Wasn’t there like a Hanna-Barbera All-Star show where Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw and all the other characters from their various shows got together and had their own Olympics or spent a night in a haunted house or some such thing?

What’s next? An animated version of HOUSE? “Patient Wile E. Coyote has numbness in his joints due to Fibromyalgia.” “No, it’s because he fell 12,000 feet from a cliff.”

It’s bad enough reality shows are staged. The contestants are selected by focus groups. Emotional performances are so heightened that there are catfights over dental floss and complete breakdowns because they didn't write the best Flomax jingle.

In TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND a different member is voted off each week. Why not let the viewers decide? I’ll bet you could get 10,000,000 people easily every week to vote. And not one of them would realize “Hey, this is a cartoon. It takes a year to make one of these episodes. Our votes mean nothing. And shit, it cost me fifty-cents to make the call.”

Uh-ba-dee, uh-ba-dee. uh-ba-dee, that’s all folks!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Get well Kel

That’s so Kelsey.

Having a mild heart attack while paddle boarding.

If ever there was a guy who lives life to the fullest it’s Kelsey Grammer. I couldn’t keep up with him. Few could. Iron Man maybe. But the energy he exudes – all positive – lifts everyone around him. And the example he sets on sets – always striving to be the best – inspires us to do the same.

It’s no coincidence that some of the best episodes I’ve ever written or directed involved Kelsey. I’ve even recently posted a few examples. Room Service from FRASIER and Rat Girl from CHEERS.

Most of us have our little ups and downs. Not Kelsey. His life swings from soaring highs and crushing lows. But no matter how low, whatever the crisis, he rises above it. And I’m sure that’s what he’ll do now.

If you’d like to leave a get well note in the comments section I’ll forward them to him.

Kelsey will be back. And we’ll all be saying – Jesus! The guy’s had a heart attack and we still can’t keep up with him.

The (sorry) state of the movie industry

I've mentioned Earl Pomerantz before. He is a terrific writer. Wrote some of your favorite CHEERS, TAXI, MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, COBSY SHOW episodes. He now has a blog you should check out.

Today he features a lengthy but great article about the current state of the movie industry and why he'll prefer to stay in television, thank you.

You can find it here.

A new post follows soon -- my thoughts on Kelsey Grammer's recent minor heart attack.

Monday, June 02, 2008

America's newest and greatest reality show

Kids love Head Cheese
It’s the bee’s knees

Oscar Meyer Head Cheese

Serve it fresh or freeze

Oscar Meyer Head Cheese

I could be the next reality show STAR!!! That little ditty could be my ticket to fame and fortune. Fuck AMERICAN IDOL and SURVIVOR. I’m going for the big prize! I’m applying to be on JINGLES.

CBS has ordered eight episodes of JINGLES – a Mark Burnett brainchild where aspiring singer/composers write and perform commercial jingles.

We’re American Airlines
Charging what we can get away with

Okay, maybe that one still needs work.

But the idea of this show is genius. Name me one true musician/artist who didn’t aspire to write the next Tidy Bowl jingle. Name me one singer who didn’t dream of having “Clap on/Clap off” as their signature song.

Talk to anyone in the business and they’ll tell you that next to songs about love, car rental is the next most popular subject.

And I bet you yourself have said on numerous occasions, “Songs today are way too long. Jesus, some of ‘em are even three minutes. I just want music. I don’t want a whole concert. Give me a good fifteen second song and let me go on about my life.” And the other good news with jingles is that instead of getting 200 songs on your iPod you can now get 1400.

You’ve met the man of your dreams
He’s all that he seems

He’s taking you out tonight
Everything has to be right
So before you leave
Use your Summer’s Eve

I don’t know who the judges will be but I just picture Barry Manilow, Ronald McDonald, and Heidi Fleiss.

I’m also guessing that each week the competition gets tougher until the final showdown where the last two standing have to find a rhyme for Preparation H.

Again, I think this concept is brilliant. After all, Americans can’t get enough of advertising as it is. I understand the main reason people get Tivo is so they can fast forward through the programs just to get to the commercials. And now that won’t be necessary. The commercials ARE the show. To paraphrase a jingle that would have won years ago: Television – You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”.

We’re American Airlines
Now charging for your life vest

Where do I apply?