Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My mentors

Great expression in Hollywood: Mentors get eaten by their young.

While there is certainly no shortage of that “All About Eve” type behavior, I must say that for myself, I would never be where I am today were it not for some exceptional mentors. It’s like I learned pitching from a staff of Sandy Koufaxes. (And by the way, happy New Year, Sandy) One reason I started this blog was to be able to give something back. I’m a big believer in “Pay it Forward”. So if any tips I share you find valuable you can thank these people.

Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, Allan Burns, the Charles Brothers, Gene Reynolds, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Treva Silverman, and one name you’ve never heard – Bruce Anson. Don’t race to imdb to look him up. He’s not there. Even Googling him will yield no results. (There are others with that name but they’re not him.)

But Bruce Anson taught me more about the craft of writing than all my high school and college teachers combined.

I was a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Bruce was one of their newscasters. He was in his 60s, smoked and drank too much (which I think was a prerequisite for getting hired in that department back then). He had been a booth announcer in the early days of TV and prior to that, network radio. And now he was pulling part-time Sunday night shifts, writing and delivering news twice an hour in between public service programs the station was obligated to run. When he finished at midnight the station went off the air for maintenance. So not exactly prime time.

He’d show up in shorts, loud Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops. Other newsmen reported for work in suits and ties.

My job was to write the sports portion of the newscast. Essentially a rundown of the day’s scores. Northwestern beat Ohio State 23-10, Notre Dame edged Army 21-20, etc. The most creative thing I did was once write: LSU puffed Rice 34-14.

During baseball season all the scores would be final by 6:00. There was no Sunday night baseball. Not even in Texas. The shift was until midnight but most sports interns would write up three sportscasts that could be rotated and went home six hours early. I went to Bruce and asked if I could help write his newscasts. He said, sure, but it’s not as easy as I think.

He was right.

I’d take a story from the United Press International wire, rewrite it, and hand it to Bruce. I assumed he’d say, “Great job. Thank you.”


He said, “This sentence could be cut in half”, “There’s a better way of saying this”, “Use more descriptive words”, “This point should go ahead of that point”, “this phrase is a little confusing.” He’d then take a pen and start rewriting -- slashing words, replacing phrases, making it shorter, punchier, clearer, BETTER.

And so began a weekly pattern that lasted until football season. I would doggedly write story after story determined to just once please that son-of-a-bitch. Finally it happened. A house fire story. I don’t remember the details but I do remember I used the word “blaze”. It aired right before the vasectomy PSA. I was so proud.

Be ruthless. Always look to make it better. Have a little Bruce Anson sitting on your shoulder when you write. Ask him to put out the cigarette though.

I owe Bruce Anson a lot. I thank him for his time, his toughness, his talent. And if he were here today I'm sure he'd say "Isn't all the alliteration a little precious?"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wackos we have hired

Today’s topic is nutty secretaries that my partner and I have had. Yes, the more politically correct term is “writers’ assistant” but the less p.c. and more accurate description of them is fucking loons.

Back in the day, studio secretaries were hired by the head of the steno pool. And those people were usually the craziest. So it only stood to reason that they would hire other fruitcakes. Producers then had their pick of the damaged litter.

Note: the names have been changed to protect the insane, er… innocent.

We had Carol who was into the occult. She would play new age music and stand on her head in our outer office. Perfect for greeting guests. The way my partner and I work, we dictate our scripts to our secretary so obviously she has to be in the room. Frequently we’d be silent, trying to come up with a line, and Carol would just start randomly chuckling. We asked what was so funny and she’d say, “I’m just imagining the great joke you’re going to come up with.”

Alas, one day she was having lunch outside the commissary during a gale force windstorm and a tree branch hit her in the head. She went on sick leave and was never heard from again.

Liz used to put her head down on the table during those lulls when David and I were thinking of a line, and she’d fall asleep.

Perky Bonnie, on her first day, asked if she could have a longer lunch break because she had an abortion scheduled for noon.

Poor Gina had her Porsche impounded by the FBI. Seems she had purchased a stolen car. This, after they were about to arrest her.

There’s sometimes “good” crazy and that was Ellen. She was 30, very attractive, and came in one day to ask what we thought of the nude pictures of herself she had a photographer take. Ellen was a keeper!

Carrie and some other secretaries had a little competition going. Who could sleep with the studio president first? Carrie came in third.

One day we asked Marianne to let us proofread the script we were writing one more time before she distributed it. She said, “Y’know, up until now I’ve been very patient with you guys.”

Donny regaled us with stories of being tied up in a famous celebrity’s basement dungeon. (No, I won’t tell you who… or the address… or how long he was tied up.)

And then there’s Sarah. Sarah lived in an apartment in Brentwood. Her parakeet got out of its cage and perched on a nearby tree. So Sarah did the sensible thing, what anyone would do. She called the studio and asked for a stunt man to be dispatched immediately. I get a call at home asking if I’d approve the $20,000 that would be charged to me. The stunt man was put on hold. So was Sarah.

Fortunately, we also had some great secretaries along the way and we will forever be in their debt. Ruth Horne (these are their real names), the incomparable Lana Lewis, and the late Sue Herring, who I still miss each and every day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What makes you think I'm drunk, officer?

It’s a good thing I wasn’t stopped by a cop on the way home.

I was drenched in alcohol. A walking frat house. I would have failed a breathalyzer test from a block away. Just imagine that drunk uncle you always avoid at Thanksgiving.

The explanation I would give the officer, as I dripped on his shoes, was that I was in the Dodgers’ clubhouse celebration at Dodger Stadium. They had just clinched the National League West championship and as is the custom, celebrated by pouring champagne over each other’s head. It’s a wild scene and certainly a unique experience to be a part of.

My job was to interview crazed players for the Dodgers radio network. Try telling a guy putting ice down your back that you need them for a couple of minutes to talk coherently. I was doing okay avoiding the suds until pitcher Chad Billingsley blasted me with a full bottle. Thanks, Chad. From what I could taste, wearing was better than drinking that champagne. Winos would send back this swill.

I felt like I was back in Jr. High, asking girls to dance, except instead of adorable coeds in party dresses these were sodden behemoths in their underwear.

What made the celebration a little bizarre was that it came ten hours after they had clinched, thus cutting down the spontaneity factor by just a tad. The team that was chasing them was eliminated earlier in the day. And the Dodgers still had a game that night. I suggested to manager Joe Torre that they celebrate before the game. I would love to have seen nine guys just staggering out to their positions. The crowd cheers. They all hold their ears. Someone tries to stretch a double to a triple and throws up on the shortstop. They could still beat the Padres, by the way.

I managed to snare a few players and ask them the usual questions. Isn’t it exciting? You never gave up, did you? You get the idea. The question I wanted to ask but just didn’t have the time was:

“How much money did you lose in the stock market this week?”

Thanks to Andre Ethier (pictured above), Jeff Kent, Casey Blake (pictured right), Mark Sweeney, and Joe Beimel for agreeing to go on with me. And Howard Hoffman for the pictures. And Chan Ho Park for spraying that Fox Sports chick and missing me. Howard, I wish you had a shot of her.

I’ve been covering the Dodgers since way back in February and have gotten to know many of the players. I’m happy for the fans but thrilled for them. They’re terrific guys all. The playoffs begin this week. Good luck to your favorite team. Unless they’re playing my favorite team.

Meanwhile, I’m buying a poncho. And lining up a designated driver.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

In 1969 I was a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. This was a big full-service station at the time. News, personalities, sports. Gary Owens from LAUGH-IN, the Rams, Angels, and UCLA Bruins. For people in the Midwest, think WGN. I worked in the newsroom, wrote sportscasts and changed teletype ribbon. The station could not run without me.

One day the general manager (Mr. Carlson of WKRP) approached me and said there was somebody who was going to be making a movie about radio and wanted to do a little research. Could I show him around for two days? I said sure, and he brought in Paul Newman. (He was about to make WUSA). And this was the Butch Cassidy-era Paul Newman, girls. So I picked myself off the floor and for a few days hung with my new BFF, Paul Newman. He even took me out to lunch. And I can happily report he was as nice, as gracious, as down to earth as you could possibly imagine.

I celebrate his life. And I celebrate his work. Here are some of my favorite Paul Newman movies.

ABSENCE OF MALICE (coincidentally, my latest Netflix pick of the month)




THE STING (Shame on you if you haven't already seen this movie)

COOL HAND LUKE (the girl washing the car is maybe the sexiest scene ever)

HUD (the ultimate bad boy flick)

THE HUSTLER (Jackie Gleason is his bitch)

NOBODY’S FOOL (a small but underrated movie)

SLAP SHOT (I was saving this for a future Netflix pick)

TORN CURTAIN (Considered one of the lesser Hictchcock films but shouldn’t be)

Oh, who am I kidding? Just about any Paul Newman movie really. Except maybe WUSA.

What are your favorites?

The Newman family suggests donations in his name to the Assn. of Hole in the Wall Camps. You can get information here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm all a Twitter

If you notice on the right I am now on TWITTER. You can also sign up for my WIDGET. At the bottom of my posts now are icons where you can log on to DIGG and FURL and DELICIOUS and twenty others.

There's just one thing....

I have no fucking clue what any of them mean!

Many thanks to my computer wizard for setting them up. And I'm told they're supposed to increase traffic, introduce my blog to more eyeballs, etc. That's great!

But how???

I'm told people can now get alerted to my blog updates on their cellphones. Really? Cool! Will anybody actually do it?

If someone reads my blog on TWITTER are they reading it here or is the post re-routed somewhere? And if so, where is that somewhere? Rochester, New York?

I'm providing RSS feeds for your convenience. Don't thank me. I don't know what that is.

But if any of these features makes it easier and more fun for you to read my blog then I'm thrilled. And if you've recently found this blog because of one of these jimjix, welcome, glad to have you.

It's just weird to think that I myself would probably never find it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why actors get fired

Here’s this week’s fabulous Friday question. Use the comments section to ask yours.

From Dana Gabbard:

Lisa Kudrow was originally cast as Roz, but after a day or so of rehearsal was replaced with Peri Gilpin. Series as varied as MASH, Rockford Files and Private Practice had key roles recast between pilot and series. The second Star Trek pilot had a different doctor than Dr. McCoy. What are the factors that go into making a major cast change that early in the production of a series?

In the case of Lisa Kudrow, she’s obviously a gifted comedienne, but she just wasn’t right for that part. She didn’t have the edge the character required. That happens on occasion. And sometimes it takes an actor a few days to lock in. That’s why it’s so important to get a great director like Jimmy Burrows to do your pilot. If he can’t help the actor find his character than it’s the wrong actor for the role.

There have been a few actors who were close to being replaced but somehow got it together and went on to carrying their shows. One that comes to mind is Tea Leoni. When she was rehearsing the pilot of the brilliant FLYING BLIND (a show that deserved a much better fate) there was so much concern that new casting sessions were planned. Jimmy and series creator Richard Rosenstock recognized her potential and stuck with her. Very smart move.

On the other hand, a friend of mine hated a certain actress and replaced her. I thought he was nuts. She was the only good thing in the stupid show. Fortunately, Annette Bening has found other work.

Often actors are replaced because the network arbitrarily just doesn’t like them. The initial table read and network runthrough is supposed to be just part of the rehearsal process. It’s not. Not anymore. Actors get fired all the time after these performances. On another friend’s pilot, they made him replace Tim Robbins.

And then sometimes, after you’re in rehearsal, another actor or bigger star that the network covets suddenly becomes available so they make you dump your choice to make room for theirs. It doesn’t sound fair, does it?

Decisions are also made on appearance. She’s not cute enough. Looks kind of fat on film. Tina Fey had to fire her close friend Rachel Dratch from 30 ROCK because the network wanted the more attractive Jane Krakowski. I must say I was against that move at first, and still feel Rachel would have been good, but Jane has pleasantly surprised me with how funny and talented she is.

If an actor survives the filming of the pilot he’s still not out of the woods. Because now comes testing. The BIG hurdle. Focus groups of the great unwashed. Lamebrains watching shows, twisting dials, passing uninformed judgment on everything they see. Tons of actors are booted as a result and many pilots are reshot. And I’ve sat through some of those sessions. It’s HOSTEL for the show’s creator. “I hate her.” “Why?” “I don’t like her shoes.” That’s an actual exchange from one of my pilot’s focus group.

For an actor to win a part on a pilot he must beat out 200 other candidates, get approved by the studio and the network (no mean feat), make it through production unscathed, and escape testing. Then there are the long odds of the show even being picked up and if it is, not being one of the 90% of new shows that fail. Winning two lotteries is easier.

So when I see actors kissing their Emmys and saying, “I’m proud to be an actor” I believe them. I sure wouldn’t want to make a living based on their odds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The story behind the pies

“It’s a Wrap” was the season finale from year one of ALMOST PERFECT. (If you haven’t seen it yet, kids, it’s the previous post. At least check out the pie fight) But at the time we didn’t know if there would be a year two. So we tried to fashion an episode that could offer both promise and closure.

Figuring this might be our swan song, we started thinking about the wrap party and came upon the idea of all the characters thinking their fictional show had been cancelled and they could finally say the things about each other they had been holding in. And it seemed funny that after they burned every bridge, the show gets a reprieve and they now have to work together again. Talk about “awkward”. But how do you buy everything back? Had we painted ourselves into a corner?

We decided if something major could happen it might relieve the pressure. After people have a great time and laugh themselves silly they tend to be more forgiving. But what is that major event?

We pride ourselves on delivering literate /sophisticated comedy and that is why we immediately thought of a pie fight. What better way to let down your guard than when you’re covered in custard?

From there it was a matter of finding the specific issues between people. They had to be character oriented. What very relatable traits would piss off someone else and why? Once we determined all of those the writing went very quickly.

And then it came time to direct it. Gulp.

Staging crowd scenes are always difficult, but now there was this added little wrinkle – 700 tarts of chaos. I didn’t want the fight to just be a free-for-all so I went back and studied old Laurel & Hardy shorts and the finale of THE GREAT RACE. How do these fights escalate? Are there funny bits within the fight? How long should it go?

After studying Pie Fight 101 I choreographed the whole sequence using rice cakes for rehearsal. Lisa getting pelted all at once and Neil not participating were two of the bits I added.

The plan was to shoot this in front of the live audience. But just to cover my ass, I also shot it once the night before. It was pretty amazing to actually see it in action. And it gave me a chance to fine tune the sequence for the audience. When I finally yelled “cut!” the set was an utter gooey dripping mess, as were the fifty people in the scene. The actors were led off to separate holding pens and blasted with hoses. The set department needed all night to clean up the mess.

Incredibly, on show day the set was completely restored and everyone was back in costume. I shot the whole show and did all my pick ups right up to the fight. And then, with five cameras rolling, I yelled “Action!” and held my breath. The tarts went a’flyin’.

One of the many problems we had not anticipated was how slippery the floor became. And Kevin Kilner had to lift Nancy and carry her out. It’s a good thing he’s an athlete. Somehow he managed to do it and stay on his feet.

What you ultimately see is the combination of those two takes. Go back and look at it again. The first time did you notice that on several occasions things don’t match? Matthew Letscher is talking to Nancy Travis after the fight and from cut to cut the goop on his face is different. But in the confusion your eye doesn’t pick it up the first time.

A couple of final notes:

Chip Zien (Gary) is a seasoned Broadway performer. Not only can he sing but he can sing Sondheim. And not only can he sing Sondheim, he can sing Sondheim to Sondheim’s satisfaction. Chip was the Baker in the original cast of INTO THE WOODS.

Lisa in real life is a great dancer. She’s an even better physical comedienne. All of her klutziness was by design. Same with the bad singing.

The guy who tells the actor he’s been giving him tap water? That was our P.A., Brian Gewirtz. He went on to become the chief writer of WWF wrestling. The Rock owes his career to him.

The handsome, distinguished maitre’ d – that’s my dad, Cliff.

And I don’t want to tell you the girl who got the brunt of the pie fight because I don’t want to embarrass her… and she’s suffered enough.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Flying pies and Lisa Edelstein

Here's that pie fight episode from ALMOST PERFECT that I co-wrote and directed. It's pretty funny and if you're a Lisa Edelstein fan this show is for YOU. She is HILARIOUS in it. Tomorrow I'll fill you in on some backstory. Enjoy. I'm still washing custard out of my hair.

And here's the pie fight. From this point I let all cameras roll and just held my breath.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The day after the Emmys. What really goes on.

Monday morning.

No work gets done in the writing rooms of winning shows. Everyone basks in the afterglow. People are calling all day with congratulations. Muffin baskets and bottles of wine are being delivered faster than Lucy can wrap chocolates on the conveyor belt. Full-page ads in the trades already appear and will continue for the week. My favorites are the agency ads. They’ll salute their clients but their agency logo will take up a third of the page. The cast will stop complaining for 24 hours. On stage, the “greatest crews in history” will still take too long to set up a shot or forget to get the star’s coffee.

If one star from an ensemble show wins while the others lose, everyone – staff, crew, interns, I mean everyone – RUN!!!!

As for the shows that lost, or worse, were not even nominated. There’s not a writing staff in Hollywood (comedy or drama) that isn’t devoting the first two hours of the day to savagely ripping the Emmys. The only break is when they call their friends who’ve won and tell them how thrilled they are for them.

Here’s what I’m sure went down this year. At least a half-hour trashing the reality show hosts and that opening. Heidi will get the brunt of it. But the always reliable “Ryan is gay” jokes will also be flying.

You could play the drinking game for the number of times “talentless” gets uttered when referring to the hosts.

My Emmy review was a five-star rave compared to what’s said in these rooms.

A half hour minimum will be devoted to mercilessly savaging Mary Tyler Moore.

Steve Martin will take some aging/Botox/plastic surgery/no-longer-relevant shots.

Oprah fat jokes are a must.

As always, the room will be evenly divided on Kathy Griffin. But the ones that hate her will be louder.

Of course fashion will take a solid beating. And the women writers will be the most brutal.

The overwhelming consensus will be that no one who won deserved it. MAD MEN is slow and a piece of shit. 30 ROCK is not funny for a second. Tina Fey is over-rated. Jeff Probst is a joke. Glenn Close is a man. Alec Baldwin is insane. Everything is rigged. JOHN ADAMS only won because they wanted to get Tom Hanks to show up for the telecast. Everyone is a hack. The awards don’t mean anything anyway.

Then they’ll finally go back to work, silently praying that next year they’re Matthew Weiner or Tina Fey, or even Jeff Probst.

The Emmys

Don Rickles should have hosted the Emmys. Or Ricky Gervais. Or any random seat filler.

In sixty years there’s never been worse co-hosts than Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Howie Mandel, Ryan Seacrest, and Tom Bergeron. (Snow White and the four dwarfs) Suffering through that excruciating opening where they vamped about nothing was like reliving my Uncle Lou’s 75th birthday party at Sr. George’s Smorgasbord.

And letting Heidi Klum do comedy is like giving a squirrel a grenade.

But Josh Groban’s medley of TV themes was fantastic. He’s talented, he’s funny, he’s versatile. Why not have him host the damn show?

The academy got it right this year. MAD MEN and 30 ROCK both deserved to win. Probably JOHN ADAMS too. The six minutes I saw of it before falling dead asleep were riveting.

I loved how the Best Reality Host category was saved for the end to build up suspense, as if anyone in the 57 countries watching this show could give a shit.

Note to Mary Tyler Moore – SLEEVES! SLEEVES!!!! For the love of God and all that’s holy. SLEEVES!!!!

Without the Emmys, movie actors would have to wait all the way till January to start winning awards.

The only real upset was Bryan Cranston winning over the other deserving nominees and James Spader.

Half the fun of the Emmys is the Pre-Emmys red carpet show. Local station, KTLA always has the best coverage. This year’s co-hosts, lap dog to the stars, Sam Rubin and empty vessel, Jessica Holmes conducted the interviews with their usual stupefying flair. I was on the radio at the time and unable to watch but my daughter Annie, and her writing partner Brock did. They provide some of the highlights.

Sam & Jess interviewed five DEXTER cast members, of which two died last season. They asked those two specifically what will be happening in the coming season.

Marcia Cross was asked by Sam what kind of sunscreen she was wearing. She said nothing and walked away. Sam announced: "No SPF for Marcia Cross. There's your headline!"

They couldn’t pronounce Zeljko Ivanek's name, nor did they appear to know what show he's from. He helped them out (DAMAGES, for which he won) and then Jessica, who apparently had no questions, told him how much she likes ICE ROAD TRUCKERS.

Bill Mahr plugged his new movie by saying "it covers a topic that's never been covered before." It's a documentary about religion. Yeah, it’s amazing how that topic has somehow slipped between the cracks for the last 10,000 years.

Eva Longoria had a fun outfit, complete with a giant bow. The KTLA “fashion expert”, Lori Somebody From Hell liked it, but Jessica asked if she'd heard the rumor that Eva is pregnant. Lori responded: "Well, bows like that are a great way to cover up being knocked up". Classy.

Thanks to Brock & Annie. And my agent, and the crew, and the beautiful escort I got from Craig’s List.

Nice touch showing past winners before each acting award. Tina Fey now joins an exclusive club that includes Jackee.

Every year I receive a handsome DVD from TIL’ DEATH for “my consideration”. And every year I think “in what universe???” Better to spend the $50,000 and hire another writer.

SLEEVES! Mary. Really.

When Ms. Moore clonked into the mic stand, Brock said "she just bumped into her twin."

When you watch the “In Memorial” feature don’t you always wonder who’s going to be last? Whose death was greater than the other deaths? And aren’t you glad they didn’t put Jim McKay next to Bozo the Clown?

The director of the Emmys missed a bet when he was giving his acceptance speech. He could have cued his own get-off music.

Most beautiful women of the night: Hayden Panettiere, Christina Applegate (pictured: right), Kate Walsh, and the girl in the Olay ad.

Funniest bit of the night: Ricky Gervais demanding his Emmy back from Steve Carell. And Tom Bergeron is trying to do comedy when these two guys are in the same room.

For all the hyperbole no one came close to Diane English the year she declared that MURPHY BROWN was the greatest sitcom of all time. Now she’s written and directed THE WOMEN, arguably the greatest movie of all-time.

The LAUGH IN sketch was painful. Like watching home movies of my Uncle Lou’s 75th birthday party.

The academy missed a few TV catch phrases in their salute:

“Gggggggggggggggggg!” (Gale Storm as Margie, MY LITTLE MARGIE). “Fuck!” (everyone from DEADWOOD). “Woof” …which means “Timmy, Grandpa is caught in a bear trap by the stream near that old oak tree – no, not that old oak tree, the other one – and you have to come quick and bring the first aid kit, but put on some pants first.” (Lassie in LASSIE), and finally: “ “ (Kathy Lee Gifford on REGIS & KATHY).

Jennifer Love Hewitt looked like the lead singer of the Cars.

I don’t think the academy will be giving Tommy Smothers too many more commemorative Emmys. Whether you agreed or disagreed with what he said, you had to admit it meant two less minutes of Howie Mandel.

How come Amy Poehler was nominated in the sitcom category for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE?

For anyone in Azerbaijan saying, “What’s MAD MEN?” don’t feel bad. They’re saying that in Iowa too.

Cynthia Nixon has the world’s longest neck. She could be the spokesperson for Toys R’ Us.

I never understand all these variety-special-series categories. But as long as THE DAILY SHOW and the COLBERT REPORT win them I’m happy, whatever they are.

If you’re going to have a tribute to MASH, why not have the MASH cast come out of the tent instead of Kathy Griffin?

It’s always strange seeing Tom Hanks on stage with Sally Field. She played his mother in FORREST GUMP and his girlfriend in PUNCHLINE.

Barry Sonnenfeld’s directing Emmy still doesn’t make up for RV.

Anyone who says Jewish girls don’t know how to dress didn’t see Sarah Silverman tonight in her Catholic Girl’s uniform.

Winner Glenn Close said, “"I think we're proving that complicated, powerful, mature women are sexy and can carry a show." But she forgot to add, “On cable.”

How come that winning director for HOUSE thanked Hugh Laurie but not Cutthroat Bitch?

And finally, what does it say about the American public’s taste when this year’s Best Drama lost every week in the ratings to SCOTT BAIO IS 45 AND SINGLE?

See you next year when your Emmy hosts will be O.J. Simpson, Barry Bonds, and Phil from THE AMAZING RACE.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What it's like to win an Emmy

Tonight are the Emmys. My review will go up early Monday morning. You probably wonder what it's like to actually win an Emmy. Here's what it was like for me:

You give your speech, aware that there a million people like me out there ready to make ass fun of you. Best to make it short, especially if you're not a celebrity. No one out there gives a shit. You don't blame them. When you're out there you don't give a shit. You're also aware of all the people in the audience glaring at you. They could not be less happy for you.

Then you are escorted backstage, sign a big board of Emmy winners (by rote I signed it “Mazol tov on your bar mitzvah”), get your picture taken with your presenters (which in our case was Arthur & Kathryn Murray (pictured)…who had died two years before the presentation), and are then led around from interview room to interview room.

National TV, local TV, national print, national radio (if there is such a thing anymore), local radio (if there is such a thing at the moment), etc. You’re only in each room a few minutes because the next winners are right behind you. The question you are asked the most is: "So who are you again?"

Finally, after seven or eight of these you are told to go through “that door”. We did and found ourselves literally outside in the alley by the trash cans with the flies buzzing around. The door locked and we couldn’t get back in. We had to walk along the building and back into the main entrance.

It was almost poetic.

I am seriously thrilled to have won an Emmy. I'm only sorry I didn't pose for a picture with it in front of that dumpster -- the perfect reminder that I'm never as great as I think I am.

Friday, September 19, 2008

President Michael Jordan

A technicality in Brazilian elections allows candidates to register under whatever name they choose. And so to take advantage of Obama-mania – which is sweeping the country – at least five candidates in local elections are using the name “Barack Obama”. One is a woman.

This is actually true.

So it got me thinking – what if they allowed candidates to use whatever name they wanted in American elections? If I were running for office, what name would I use?

Abraham Lincoln? Michael Jordan? Oprah? Ronald McDonald? Elvis Presley? John Wooden? Walter Cronkite? Walt Disney? Vin Scully? Any Beatle but Ringo? Johnny Carson? Don Draper? Tiger Woods? Jed Bartlett? Christine Amanpour? Clint Eastwood?

But if I had to pick one I think it would be Meryl Streep. She never loses.

What name would you choose?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Questions about FRASIER

Some FRASIER related Friday questions this week. Ask your questions in the comments section. I'll try to get to them all. Thanks.
From te:

Some -- well, many -- of the references on Frasier are pretty arcane. Was the writing staff really all that familiar with the hoity-toity world; did you just grab from The New Yorker, or was one of the grips on call for the more obscure wine & cheese jokes?

Some on the staff were more cultured than others. They knew wine, art, and I think two of them were so sophisticated they even spoke French. I knew that wine sold in bottles rather than cans was better. So when faced with hoity-toity references I would consult with upscale magazines or liquor stores. On the other hand, my degree from UCLA is in Psychology. So I was able to compose most of the psycho-babble without any consultation, which is why it’s probably all wrong.

Duffy asks:

Who was the funniest actor you worked with?

David Hyde Pierce. The man is a comic God.

Daws wants to know:

Do you think there's a chance that there will ever be a "Frasier" reunion show?


I'm sure a lot of fans would like to see "where" the characters are five, six, ten years down the line.

No they wouldn’t. Not really. Those things are always so depressing. All you see is how much older everyone has gotten. Or how much weight they’ve gained. Better they should live on in reruns, young and vital, and with hair.

And finally, from Bitter Animator:

Moose (the original Eddie) was clearly a top-notch actor but I couldn't help noticing on reruns that, when Moose retired and his replacement stepped in, Eddie's role diminished greatly. I was really surprised he played such a little part (if he was even in it) in the finale. This had me wondering - was it because Moose's replacement didn't have the range? Or simply that the Eddie character had run his course?

I love the notion that fetching on command could be considered “range”. All of the dogs on FRASIER had a fabulous and loving trainer, Mathilde DeCagny. We tried not to do anything too ambitious, and we always checked with Mathilde first to see if the stunt we had in mind was something Moose could easily learn. And perform in front of a live audience. Moose was pretty remarkable.

And again, Mithilde used nothing but treats and positive reinforcement to train her animals.

Were you guys writing for specific dogs?

Yes, but not on FRASIER.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Me & Marvin Gaye

Here's another installment of my 60s memoirs, soon to be at the Borders near you... if I finish it, get an agent, sell it, and get distribution.

1964, Woodland Hills

Must viewing: THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW. Each afternoon from 5-6 Lloyd Thaxton hosted a live dance party show on the cheapest cheesiest independent station in LA – KCOP. If his budget was more than $4.95 a show I’d be shocked.

His set consisted of four panels (probably cardboard) with musical notes drawn on them. Kids from local high schools were invited to dance on a soundstage the size of an elevator. This was appointment television for every teenager in Los Angeles.

What made the show special was Lloyd Thaxton. Most shows like this were hosted by disc jockeys. They were content to just introduce the records and step aside while the kids did the Twist, Jerk, Fly, Popeye, Monkey, Frug, Mash Potato, Locomotion, and whatever other inane dance was the rage that minute. Lloyd was the first to realize “this was TELEVISION”, you had to do something VISUAL. So he would find ways to comically present the songs. This elf-looking redhead would lip sync, mime playing instruments, use finger puppets, don wigs, do duets with rubber masks, cut out the lips on an album cover and substitute his own – anything to make the songs fun. In many ways, Lloyd Thaxton was a local version of Ernie Kovacs, finding innovative new ways to use the new medium. Music videos these days are all ambitious elaborate productions. Back then we were quite content to watch a guy sing into his hand.

I always wanted to be on his show but of course didn’t qualify because I was still in Junior High. The indignities continue! However, I did get to appear on NINTH STREET WEST.

With the success of THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW every local channel had their own dance party show. Over the next few years there would be SHEBANG on Channel 5 with Casey Kasem, SHIVAREE on Channel 7 with KFWB D.J. Gene Weed, and NINTH STREET WEST on Channel 9 hosted by KFWB D.J. Sam Riddle. Stations hired the D.J.’s with the best and most teeth.

I sent in requests to all of them but only NINTH STREET WEST bit. Talk about a great date. Taking a girl to a TV show and dinner at nearby Carolina Pine’s coffee shop in Hollywood. Thanks again for driving, mom!

I asked my friend Marcia. You always want to be seen on TV with someone hotter than you, but not so hot that it screams “pity date”. Marcia was very cute yet believable as my escort.

The show originated from the Channel 9 studios on Melrose Ave. The soundstage was nothing more than a one-car garage (for a Kia maybe). About forty of us were jammed into this tiny space. It’s hard to rock out with reckless abandon when at any moment you could get an elbow in your eye.

There were three guests scheduled to lip sync their songs. It was impossible to do them live. One amplifier and ten dancers would be pinned against the wall. The guests were the Beau Brummels (a group out of San Francisco), a very young Marvin Gaye, and British imports Peter & Gordon.

Kids were so crazed over the Beatles that they started buying records from any group that came out of England. It’s the same principle where girls who can’t sleep with rock stars wind up in bed with their roadies. First it was the Dave Clark 5, and then the floodgates opened. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who sang one of the creepiest songs EVER – “Little Children”. The story of a guy threatening little children because they caught him diddling their sister. Ugh!), Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, the inane Freddy & the Dreamers (whose entire act was to wear suits that didn’t fit and do jumping jacks), and Peter & Gordon. The harder edged Rolling Stones, Animals, Who, and Lulu would come a bit later.

During a commercial break they set up for Marvin Gaye’s number. Surprisingly, he seemed incredibly nervous. His hands were practically shaking. Hardly the super cool image we’d come to expect. I assured him he was great and had nothing to worry about. It must have meant a lot coming from a white kid in his bar mitzvah suit. He gave me a quick smile, the red light went on and he did his song. Afterwards when he was off camera he thanked me. Not necessary but a lovely gesture.

The next day in school Marcia was quite the celebrity. Everyone had seen her on NINTH STREET WEST. Maybe two or three had seen me. I wanted to say, “Hey, screw you, people. I’m the one who saved Marvin Gaye’s career!”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

If GPS systems could really talk

My GPS guide is so nice. She’s incredibly patient with me. Whenever I disobey her instructions she just assumes I have a good reason and recalibrates. What a gal! And she’s always cheerful. Never any PMS from my GPS. But sometimes I wonder, what is she really thinking? What would she be saying if she had a few tequila shooters first? And now I can’t help it. Whenever she gently speaks this is what I’m hearing in my head:

“Left turn ahead. What the fuck?! You missed the street. LEFT! How hard a fucking concept is that to you? LEFT!"

“Left turn ahead. SHIT! You missed it again! Are you a fucking moron? Jesus! Those fucking test monkeys can do it. At the next street, TURN LEFT ASSHOLE!”

“Left turn ahead. What? You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me! Okay. Pull over. Stop the Goddamn car. Right now. Stop it! Hold out your left arm. Don’t give me shit, just do it! Well, halle-friggin-luiah ! Brain-dead boy knows his left from his right. So why can’t you do that when I tell you? Okay, new rules: The next time I tell you to turn left and you don’t I’m taking you right off the Santa Monica Pier. “

“At the next intersection make a legal U-turn. Oh hell, there’s no cops here. Whip it around now!”

“At the next – Jesus, how would you describe it? Wide right? Almost straight but curves a little? Whatever. You’ll fuck it up anyway.”

“Do you ever plan on washing this car?”

“Why did you pick the freeway route? This is going to take forever. What, are you afraid someone is going to car jack you if you take a city street? You are such a pussy!”

“Hey, turn down the fucking radio! I’m talking to you. And what the hell are you listening to Michael Buble for anyway?”

“I know it’s not the direct route but I like to look at the pretty stores. Suck it up.”

“Don’t answer that call. You can’t do one thing at a time much less two.”

“In one half mile, stick your finger in the lighter socket. Just kidding.”

“No. I refuse to take anybody to Applebees.”

“The Washington Monument? You need directions to the Washington Monument? You can’t fucking see it? Are you retarded?”

“You have arrived at your destination. Leave the car unlocked and the key in the ignition. Maybe someone with a sense of direction will steal the car.”

I think from now on I’ll just print up Mapquest directions.

Registration is closed

Thanks to everyone who signed up for the SITCOM ROOM. See you in November.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Final reminder

THE SITCOM ROOM registration ends on Tuesday at 8:59 PDT. I've forgotten more about writing than most people have learned and that's what I'll be teaching. Wait a minute. That didn't come out right.

How to sell a show to America or "Why I need a passport"

Apparently writers in America have no good ideas. I mean, you’d think we would. There are a whole lot of us. And we’ve dreamed up hit shows for fifty years. Also, we live here so you’d think we’d maybe have some sense of what would work in our country. Apparently we don’t. Not according to the new TV Fall line-up. But you know who does have great ideas for American shows?

Colombian writers.

British writers.

Australian writers.

Japanese chiropractors.

From UGLY BETTY to THE OFFICE to premiering shows like LIFE ON MARS, KATHY & KIM, THE WORST WEEK, LITTLE BRITAIN U.S.A., and HOLE IN THE WALL (a game show where people have to squeeze through weird shaped openings – yes, of course it’s on FOX), networks are falling all over themselves to adapt imports.

They’ve discovered that the way to attract viewers in Kansas City is to see what works in the Barrier Reef. If it’s a hit in Eje cafetero then housewives in Pittsburgh will surely flock.

And if the shows fail, hey, the networks can always blame France.

So are the ideas really that groundbreaking? Australia’s KATH & KIM is a series about a dysfunctional mother and daughter. Okay, I’ll give them that one. No one in America could possibly have come up with that premise.

The argument can be made -- well it’s the execution that makes the show so fresh and distinctive. Fine, except producers are quoted in Sunday’s LA Times as saying this ‘cuckoo’ series is toned down for the U.S. There’s less snark, more mother-daughter drama. Huh???

I haven’t seen KATHY & KIM. The new version might be great. THE OFFICE managed to jump the pond where many others jumped the shark. But the two women who created the original also starred in it. There was clearly a distinctive voice. The new version has a new cast, new location, new writers, new tone. I’m surprised NBC didn’t go out and just get Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel.

So the message is clear, if you want to sell a show to the U.S., sell it overseas first. I still feel BIG WAVE DAVE’S would be a hit. That was our 1993 short-lived series about three guys who quit the rat race to open a surf shop in Hawaii. You can watch the pilot here.

Well, congratulate us. We’ve just sold it to the Marshall Islands. Of course we’ve had to revise it to adapt to the lucrative Marshall Islands audience. Instead of opening a surf shop our lovable goofballs open a missile testing facility. New title: BIG BOOM DAVE’S. We’ll own Tuesday nights in Majuro!

So next fall look for our show. I can’t tell you which network it’ll be on. I’m expecting a bidding war.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The pre-pre-pre-Emmy show

This Sunday night is the primetime Emmys. I know it’s not a high priority so circle your calendar so you don’t forget. That goes for you nominees too. I will be reviewing them as usual.

To help whip you into an Emmy froth, let’s go back and relive some unforgettable moments that you forgot from past bitchy reviews:

First Emmy article in the LA TIMES Sunday CALENDAR section: Page six. Page one story: “Gidget gone global”.

I hope Doris Roberts bringing her grandchildren on stage doesn’t start a trend. Next year James Spader might bring up a hundred cats.

Where but the Emmys could Paul Newman and Brad Garrett actually be up for the same award? Or could Wayne Brady beat out Robin Williams for his work in improv?

And it’s the only competition where James Brolin will ever be nominated with Al Pacino.

Excellence in television was put into perspective when a YES, DEAR promo appeared on the Awards show.

This year the ceremony was held at the cavernous Shrine Auditorium. Capacity: everyone who ever watched HUFF.

Doesn’t Jane Alexander play a Roosevelt every year? Next year she’ll win for the Roosevelt Grier story.

I hope Larry David's loss doesn't derail his dream of becoming a serious actor.

I'm sorry Victor Garber lost. Without him ALIAS is just an exquisite girl running around in sheer clothing saving the world. Who would want to watch that?

Ali G. should be handling the celebrity interviews.

There was a tie for best Children’s Program: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and I HAVE TOURETTE’S. How do you choose? It’s the same show.

I love Mary Louise-Parker. For Billy Craddup to dump her for Claire Dames only proves what an idiot he is. Hope he was watching. How many awards have you won, Billy?

Every time I hear Mike Nichols speak I wonder where Elaine May is.

This isn’t the first time Alan Alda beat out a more deserving nominee. But I’ve gotten over it.

Nice tribute to Danny Thomas. Bet 90% of the audience had no idea who he was. But Marlo Thomas looked great. Even in the extreme close up -- a potentially very scary moment.

What was Warren Beatty doing there? Did he think he was getting a lifetime award for his groundbreaking work on DOBIE GILLIS?

This may be the last year of HBO’s dominance at the Emmys but more recognition is in their future. They should be scoring quite a few AVN porn awards next January with TELL ME YOU LOVE ME. Michelle Borth should beat out Connie Lingis for “Best Actress in an Oral Sex Scene” and the pilot script should triumph over “Lawrence of Her Labia”.

Evangeline Lily looks spectacular even when she’s not soaking wet or trapped behind bars.

Why was Charlie Sheen up for Best Actor and Jon Cryer up for Best Supporting Actor? In TWO AND A HALF MEN, is Jon the half?

Had to replay several times Barry Manilow’s final comment to Dick Clark. He said, “all right, Dick” not “I love Dick” as I first suspected (and hoped).

How LA is this? A winner at last week’s non-televised-so-who-cares ceremony brought his Emmy to the gym yesterday. The other Emmy winners who now can’t get jobs weren’t impressed.

Why do they still give an award for best main title design when no shows are allowed to have main titles anymore?

Can ANYONE remember last year's Movie of Week winner? And that includes the winners themselves?

Why I love Jenna Fischer

Aside from the obvious reasons.

I never see her “acting”. She is the most natural of all the gifted cast members on THE OFFICE. And you can’t imagine how hard it is to play natural when there’s a camera trained on you. Look how awkward and self conscious those people who rob 7/11’s get when they realize there’s a surveillance camera. It’s just human nature.

And you don’t need a camera to feel uncomfortable. Just sense that someone is watching you. For added heebie-jeebies, imagine that someone can also come over and give you notes.

Stage actors find this particularly difficult. It’s hard to be natural when you have to project to the back row. And many talented stage actors can’t make the adjustment. Can you picture Nathan Lane guesting on THE OFFICE? His idea of “natural” is only eating the scenery and furniture and props but leaving the backdrop untouched.

But Jenna is a master. And for my money she has the hardest job. Try making “bored” funny or even interesting. Yet somehow she does. And in many ways I think she anchors the series. The others can push a little bit to be quirky and funny because they know Jenna is there, a rock, planted right in the middle, grounding the show.

Next Sunday night is the Emmys. I will be reviewing them as always. Wish I could applaud the Academy for selecting Jenna Fischer as the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, but she's not even nominated this year. Vanessa Williams, yeah she's hilarious. Holland Taylor, we haven't seen that act a gazillion times.

Jenna deserves that statue. My love is not much of a consolation.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Getting a lot of email questions on THE SITCOM ROOM. Registration continues to go well. Only a few spots remain. In the interest of saving myself having to write the answers a whole bunch of times:

Do I need any particular type of experience to register to be a part of this?

No, just the strong desire to take part in the exercise. With the SITCOM ROOM you'll gain the experience, which will give you a big head in breaking in start since there are no other programs like this. The concept has been so successful that I'm expanding. My next venture: PRESIDENTIAL WAR ROOM.

I really want to do this, but that is too much money. Is there a way I could come and just watch, for half of the price or something?

I'm afraid not. A real sitcom writing room doesn't allow visitors. "What happens in the room stays in the room", which is good because otherwise every writer in there would be sued on any number of charges. The most exciting part of this entire weekend will be working as part of a team. Everyone contributes, and they need to be able to pitch jokes and ideas freely, without worrying about how it might look to some "outsider."

Your site will not allow me to register. There is nowhere to 'click' and input my registration information. How do I register?

Oops, you jumped the gun. You tried to register before we began accepting registrations. If you go there now, you'll see exactly where to click.

When does the actual course start? Where? Or is it an online course?

It's a live, 2-day event, in Los Angeles, November 15 - 16, 2008. 9 AM Saturday until 5 PM Sunday, with maybe a couple of hours to sleep (you think I'm kidding).

Thanks to everyone for their questions. Please pick up your lovely parting gift before you leave.

Hope to see you in November....


P.S. Remember, registration closes either when 20 people have registered OR on Tuesday, September 16, at 8:59 PM (PDT)...whichever comes first.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tom Tuttle from Tacoma

So I understand VOLUNTEERS is still a cult classic at Washington State. Written by me and my partner, David Isaacs, here is one of my favorite scenes. John Candy, hilarious as Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, has just been kidnapped in Thailand by the Communists. Damn, I miss John Candy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What do those goofy credits mean?

First off, WOW! 11 people signed up for the SITCOM ROOM in the first hour alone. Many thanks! Just a few spots left, so if you're interested, go here for info and here to sign up.

Now my Friday question. As always, if I can't find an appropriate picture I put up one of Natalie Wood.
sonderangerbot asks:

Ken, I'd be interested to know what the difference is between the different writing credits you see on a show; you have your staff writers, story editors, creative consultants (which I think you described once in a post as authorities doing basically nothing) etc etc , could they all be that useful?

Here's the short answer: they're all bullshit. At least in half-hour comedy. There's actually only one meaningful title and that is "Show runner" and it's also the only title you’ll never see.

Originally if you created and ran a show you got a coveted Producer credit. Everybody else had to settle for Story Editor or (for the newbies) Staff Writer.

Only producers were entitled to Emmys if their show won Best Comedy. And along with the prestige (chicks dig dem producers), the titles helped establish pay grades.

So everyone wanted in on that action. (And by everyone I mean ME.)

The show runners were promoted to the made-up title of Executive Producer and Story Editors became Producers.

Then writing staffs grew. More bogus titles were needed. That led to Co-Executive Producer, Supervising Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Story Editor, Executive Script Consultant.

And then there were the punch-up guys, writers who helped out once or twice a week, usually on re-write nights. The spiffy title of Creative Consultant was dreamed up for them. But even they started getting into the act. There are now Consulting Producers. Soon there will be Consulting Executive Producers, Consulting Supervising Producers, Consulting Co-Supervising Co-Executive Story Producers.

And now you also have the non-writing producers and managers who take ersatz producer credits. Their titles should be “Leaching Producer”, “Do Nothing Producer”, “Another Level of Interference Producer”, or “Co-Parasite Producer”.

In general, the Executive Producer is the show runner and his second in command is the Co-Executive Producer. Everyone else is just on staff. They do the same job they did when they were Script Captains or Executive Story Wage Slaves.

The only exception to this producer alphabet soup is the “Produced by” credit. That always goes to the person who is in charge of the production, hiring crews, supervising post production, and overseeing budgets. In other words, unlike everyone else who has the credit, this person actually PRODUCES the show.

Registration is now open!

You can now register for this year's SITCOM ROOM weekend seminar.

We are limiting the number of participants to 20. Registration closes when we reach that number OR on Tuesday, September 16th, at 8:59 (PDT)... whichever comes first. This might not be a once in a lifetime opportunity but it's certainly a once in a year opportunity. Hope you can make it. It really is fun.

I want to register.

I want more information

I could care less and am now going to scroll down to the real post.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

America's last resort community

Went down to San Diego to cover the Dodgers for my KABC radio show. Really caught a break. The weather happened to be good the three days I was there. Talk about living right.

The city that once billed itself as “America’s last resort community” (without realizing there were two ways to interpret that) has really been built up over the last few years. More Radio Shacks and Targets in the ‘burbs and a huge renovation project downtown where the Gaslamp District has become a late night restaurant and bar Mecca. This is not the sleepy provincial San Diego I used to know. Last call is now 11:15!

A big reason for the Gaslamp renaissance: Petco Park, the new downtown home of the San Diego Padres. Folks now have something else to see in the district besides drunken sailors urinating.

Stayed at the team hotel conveniently located right next door to the park. Even the rookies were able to find it. I was assigned a smoking room. I realized this when I opened the door and it was like I had entered Fidel Castro’s mouth. There was not a non-smoking room available, the desk clerk told me moments later. I was desperate. Utility infielder Pablo Ozuna passed by and I almost asked if I could room with him. Handy travel tip: Threaten to sue the hotel for the cost of the iron lung you will need. A non-smoking room was found.

Petco Park is one of those “new with a nod to the old” ballparks. The four-story brick Western Metal Supply Company warehouse remains wedged down the left field line. Also in tact from the original 1909 design are the twelve party suites that were a big part of the Western Metal Supply Company. The outfield dimensions are wacky. There’s like a little jury box that juts out in right field. On one hand you could say it gives the ballpark character. On the other you could say, “Why???”

One concession to the modern era is the signage that is everywhere. I’m surprised the first and third base coaches aren’t obligated to wear sandwich boards. The facades of every level are covered with neon ads. In left field there is one for “Bimbo Bimbo”. I suspect that section is reserved for the players’ first wives.

The Padres still have Hall-of-Famer Jerry Coleman behind the mic. The Colonel is now 84, God bless him. Jerry is famous for classic malaprops. When I broadcast Padres games with him in the mid 90s he had my favorite. “There’s a fly ball to center… foul!”

There’s a statue across the street of former Padre, Tony Gwynn, one of the two greatest citizens to ever come out of San Diego (the mascot Chicken is the other).

For reasons I do not understand there are tanning salons in San Diego.

Went to the nearby Hard Rock Hotel for breakfast. I recommend their signature “hash & eggs” imported directly from Columbia.

The Chargers are the only NFL team that did not sell out their home opener. Make no mistake, San Diego is a big league sports town. But the sport is Boogie Boarding.

A Fischer-Price “Loving Family Dollhouse” in La Jolla now goes for a million-five.

They tout all these great family attractions in San Diego but I was not allowed to tour the guided missile frigate USS Gary at the San Diego Naval Base. Zoos and Sea Worlds I can see anywhere.

You turn on the radio and everything is in Spanish. The only English speaking station I could find was from Tijuana.

Had the ballplayers known there was a nude beach in La Jolla (Black’s ) a group of them might have gone there rather than Legoland. I skipped it as well. Once you reach 30, Black’s Beach is the Gentleman’s Club of the Truly Pathetic.

I did make it out to Pacific Beach however, where old hippies go to die or surf. It’s hard to tell what did more damage, the drugs or the sun. Stores in P.B. include: Big Ass Wheels and Tires, House of Flys, Magic Market, Pink Zone, Atomic Trading Company, Sauce Goddess, Spirit Halloween Superstore, and of course Toxik Shock. But it’s nice that there’s at least one San Diego beach that isn’t gentrified, yuppified, or hotelified. And you can still score some righteous hemp!

My stay was short but as always, I love San Diego. And weather-wise I got out just in the nick of time. Pulling onto I-5 to drive back to Los Angeles I thought I saw a cloud.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My NETFLIX pick of the month

This is one of those movies nominated for a bunch of Oscars that you probably have never heard of or have forgotten, which isn’t easy considering it stars Paul Newman. And yet it’s one of his best.

ABSENCE OF MALICE was a 1981 gem. Warning: It’s not a comedy (despite Paul Newman AND Sally Field). Nor is it action-packed, gory, or features a hero (or nun) that can fly. What it is is a very involving textured drama that just holds your interest throughout. You won’t be folding laundry an hour in. And with the exception of Paul Newman sleeping with Sally Field, it all seems very logical and plausible. Actually, that’s not fair. Sally looks very cute in this movie. The Farrah-hair works for me. And their age difference was more of a problem for me when I was younger.

This is the world-weary Paul Newman (ala VERDICT) giving a masterclass in acting – showing how by underplaying you can create a character with tremendous power and presence. Sean Penn, see this movie!

And Sally Field holds her own with him – and that ain’t easy to do. If you’re up against a great actor and you’re not great yourself you have the tendency to just disappear. But Sally is right in there, scene for scene. She plays a reporter who doesn’t check her sources, is unethical, inexperienced, and irresponsible. And unlike today, those were considered bad things for journalists. Still, you don’t loathe her. Not an easy trick. If Liza Minelli played the part audiences would rush the screen.

But with all of that, it’s another actor who steals the movie – Wilford Brimley, in his very first role. His scene as Assistant U.S. Attorney General laying down the law and touting Quaker Oats is one of the greatest. Ever.

Supporting thesps Melinda Dillon (the mom in CHRISTMAS STORY) is terrific, and when you need a sleazeball your first call is always to Bob Balaban.

ABSENCE OF MALICE was written by Kurt Luedtke and directed by Sydney Pollack. It lost its three Oscar nominations but Melinda Dillon did win the Kansas City Film Critics Circle award.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sitcom Room 2008

Okay, it's official: I'll be conducting one Sitcom Room in 2008 -- November 15 & 16 in Los Angeles. Registration will open soon, but only for a few days. When 20 people have signed up, we close the registration. Everyone on my Sitcom Room Alert List will receive an email at least 24 hours before we "open our doors," to make sure they don't miss out.

If you’re not yet on my Sitcom Room Alert List then by God, what the hell are you waiting for???

Today's real new post follows below:

Another thing about CHEERS you didn't know


You hear that at the top of every show. But most people don’t know that after six or seven episodes that almost changed. That disclaimer almost became:


As has been chronicled almost to death, CHEERS got off to a slow start (if you believe “dead last” is considered slow). And it was an expensive show to produce. All those lemons that Teddy cut each week alone! But one of the big ticket items was that the show was filmed rather than videotaped (like ALL IN THE FAMILY or the more highly regarded SILVER SPOONS). Tape is cheaper than film, it requires one operator per camera not three, is edited primarily during the show not after, easier to light, post production is less complicated, and the turnaround time is less.

Paramount and NBC were losing tons of money on CHEERS and it was on the brink of cancellation. So the studio felt if it could be produced cheaper NBC might have more incentive to pick CHEERS up for a back nine.

They went to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows and asked if they’d consider flipping from film to tape. They agreed to at least make a test scene.

A first rate tape crew was enlisted to light the set. Video cameras were wheeled in, and Jimmy directed a scene. It featured everyone from the cast, and there was a lot of movement so we could view every angle of the set. It went through post-production, was color-corrected, and made broadcast-ready.

The Charles Brothers, Jimmy, my partner and I, and our line producer Tim Berry sat down and watched the test.


It was horrifying. All the warmth and depth of the set was completely obliterated. The rich colors became day-glo. And this dark, rich bar setting suddenly looked like a police station.

It was like those photos of Britney Spears without make up.

To Charles-Burrows-Charles’ credit the experiment ended right there. I don’t know if a copy of that test still exists. My guess is Glen Charles backed over the tape with his car in much the same way Tony Soprano had Phil Leotardo whacked in the SOPRANOS finale.

Ironically, if they had agreed to switch to the tape format I think it would have caused the show’s cancellation, not prevented it.

Ah, the little decisions producers have to make every day.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

My life as a sitcom

How’s this for a “Lucy” moment?

On Saturday I had a busy day planned. The Dodgers were playing a day game and I had to hustle down to the ballpark to prepare for my postgame radio show.

I began grabbing my daily vitamins and gulped them down hurriedly. That’s when I realized – Oh shit! I also took two Advil PM’s – mild sleeping pills.

I barrel down to Dodger Stadium. I figured I had at least a half hour before they would take effect. But just to be safe I kept the windows wide open and played “the Best of Otis Redding” at ghetto blaster levels.

Arrive at the park and head down to the field for the daily Joe Torre managers’ Q & A with the media. A scrum of reporters surround Joe as he sits in the dugout and answers questions. He goes into a lengthy monologue on his philosophy of managing. Really great stuff. Everyone is paying rapt attention – except the guy standing right in front of him. I’m yawning. This does not go unnoticed.

I spot the Dodger trainer and ask him what I should do. First he said, “Read the labels” then suggested I should eat something immediately to help absorb the drug.

Great advice. I hadn’t eaten since last evening. I’ll go up to the press box dining room and wolf down breakfast. Some fruit, and I think those are eggs – I’ll be good as new.

As I step off the field, my broadcast partner Josh stops me. There’s an affiliate luncheon going on. Representatives from all the radio stations that carry Dodger games are assembled in the conference room. We’ve been asked to make an appearance.

Couldn’t we do it next year? Apparently not.

So we trudge up there. It shouldn’t be too bad I tell myself. A brief hello and a beeline to the chow line. Five minutes tops. We arrive and wait while others are still being introduced. I take a chair and the chair feels reeeeeal comfy. Too comfy.

Finally, we’re introduced and asked to say a few words. I get up first – primarily just to keep moving. I forget what I said but it got a big laugh. I hope I didn’t ask if any of them had some spare Benzedrine. Almost home free. A few words from Josh and we were outta there. But then, someone new entered the room.

Tommy Lasorda.

Tommy is a great speaker and he dazzles his audience…for the next HALF HOUR! I feel myself start to momentarily doze off. The only thing that kept me awake was the fear of loudly snoring during his World Series stories.

Eventually, he wraps it up. Josh gives his speech in twelve seconds, and we finally split.

I power down breakfast, drink glass after glass of ice tea. I ask the food service people if they happen to have any Jolt Cola in the back. Alas, they don’t. Nor do they have Red Bull, Mountain Dew, or schnapps.

I go to my seat on press row, starting to feel a little more awake. Then the game begins. The Arizona Diamondback pitcher can’t get the Goddamn ball over the plate. Ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four, ball one, ball two, fouled away, ball three, fouled away, fouled away, ball four, visit from the pitching coach, ball one, ball two, ball three…

Not that baseball is a slam-bam action game anyway but this contest was molasses. I look around and now I see other media members starting to nod off, some from the game, others experiencing the normal food coma after six sausages and seven strips of bacon. I start thinking, what am I going to talk about on my radio show if I nap from innings two through eight?

I decide to gut it out, guzzle ice tea, and wonder if there’s any way to just suck out the caffeine?

Manny Ramirez hits a big three run homer. The crowd goes nuts. That wakes me up a little. Enough.

I’m able to stay awake during my broadcast – something I hope the listeners can do too. Then it’s back home, with Otis Redding blasting so loud you’d think I was a gang member. Since I had dinner plans there was no time for a nap. So I down a Coke, keep my dinner engagement, and practically trip a waiter to get his attention. “Hey, where’s the bread?!”

I make it through dinner. I’m now exhausted. It’s been a long day. I go to bed early. Lay my head on the pillow. Ahhhhhh. And now, finally….

I can’t sleep.

Tomorrow: Something about CHEERS I bet you didn’t know.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Don't buy a mattress without checking with Shelley Long first

When Shelley Long was a struggling actress in Chicago she got a job being the spokesperson for Homemaker's Furniture. And here's the neat thing. Even when she became a big star on CHEERS she still went back and did their local spots. That loyalty and kindness is who Shelley is... along with being amazingly talented.

Here are a couple of those commercials.

This one I think was a few years later.

Oh, she's also a wonderful friend.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thank God! It's BACK!!!

The new season of INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT premiered last week! This for me is like a new season of THE SOPRANOS or MAD MEN. In case you're not familiar with the reason to own a TV, here is my account of last year's IBP.

In my relentless and noble quest to discover absurd television shows for you, I have found INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT on the Style Network. It’s a reality show where the hosts invade big indoor malls, corral hot looking women, and in three hours they have to compete in a beauty contest for the grand prize of a trip to Mexico. There are three competitions – bathing suits, talent, and evening wear. The contestants are given $300 and three hours to buy everything, including hair and make up. So they become the first five women ever to buy glamorous evening gowns at J. C. Penney’s.
instant beauty pageant
The hosts are Debbie Matenopoulos (pictured, who ten years ago was a 20-something host fired from THE VIEW and today is a 30-something size zero blonde Jillian Barberie wannabe) and Cameron Mathison (best known for performing heartthrob heavy lifting on ALL MY CHILDREN). They’re very high energy and bubbly and should be hosting kids’ birthday parties.

The show begins with them accosting young shoppers at the mall and asking if they’d like to participate. At one point Cameron went up to two equally cute girls and invited one to take part while just dismissing the other. Nice.

One woman’s boyfriend said, “Mexico? I want the damn cash money!”

The five contestants are selected and they each have a “coach” to assist them. It can be a buddy, a boyfriend, mom. The five groups for the Houston competition were:

Sarah (a squat rocker chick with a nose the size of her off-kilter pony tail) and her coach, Jovaney (a flamboyant gay boy sporting an Elvis pompadour and a self proclaimed expert on fashion). Good thing there was no charm competition because Sarah might’ve lost points had the judges overheard: “All I can say to the other girls is get the fuck out of my way!” A real debutante.

Caitlin (a 37 year old mom) and her impossible to remember friend.

Diamond (African-American, pretty) and her coach, an Anthony Anderson lookalike in a bright red shirt you could see from Houston to Galveston.

Shanna (cute Texas girl) and her non-selected friend Rebekka, who was even more attractive than Shanna.

Tiffany (sassy) and her hot looking young mom (who must’ve had Tiff when she was eleven).

For the next three hours these groups race around the mall like idiots. Sarah modeled a bathing suit for Jovaney who said, “I told you to go on that Hollywood Diet.”

Tiffany said, “I’d buy what my mom wanted but I don’t want to look like no whore.”

Diamond was seen shopping for jewelry next to the flip flops display.

Shanna revealed to host Cameron that she was getting over a tragic death in her family. Obviously flustered, he comforted her by saying, “Well, you look beautiful.” Looking for the perfect exit line, he chose: “Thanks for being so honest. That was obviously touching.”

Tears for Diamond as well as she told hostess Debbie that she was named by her grandma who has since passed away. She finally composed herself and said, “I’m crying because grandma is dead… and I only get $300.”

Jovaney (who obviously can’t spell Giovanni) to a store clerk: “Do we get a discount for being beautiful?”

Shanna’s coach thought she should buy some stick on boobs.

Nerves were frayed. Tiffany refused to wear the “booty shorts” her sainted mom suggested. Jovaney said to Sarah, “Did you just get accepted to the hottest fashion school in New York? No. That’s what I thought. I did. So listen to me and win.” Charm girl Sarah retorted with: “Bitch!”

Finally it was showtime. For a crowd of bewildered mall shoppers the five women showed off their bathing suits, gliding down the catwalk with the grace of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Then it was the talent competition. Diamond did a rap number and was quite good. Shanna performed improv comedy, asking the audience for items to use as props. She put a purse over her head and said, “Hey, where did everybody go?” That was her funniest moment. Sarah belly danced. The highlight was not chewing gum. Tiffany sang “If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands” (horribly off key), but the best was Caitlin who gave a German lesson (I kid you not).

Then came the evening gown competition, more clomp-clomp-clomping.

37 year old mom, Caitlin (who was absolutely gorgeous, by the way) was worried. Earlier in the show she said, “I’ve always been insecure about my outer beauty. I’m hoping that today will help with some of my confidence. And I’ll be able to accept myself for who I am.”

Caitlin was the first one voted off.

Diamond, the only one with talent was eliminated shortly thereafter.

The winner: Sarah, the stumpy punk girl with the bump on her very ethnic nose.

Tiffany came in second and won a prize too. Two nights in Las Vegas and tickets to see MAMA MIA. Tiffany also learned a Big Life Lesson. In a really heartfelt way she said, “I should listen to my mother more.” (I guess mama knows best when it comes to the whore look.)

INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT airs… God knows when on the Style Channel. Just set your tivo. It’s Americana and kitsch at its best. And you’ll learn German.