Friday, October 31, 2008

I also draw cartoons...

It's picture day. I've also dabbled in cartooning. Here is a pen & ink drawing of the movie AMERICAN GRAFFITI I made several years ago. I used real sophisticated equipment to capture this photo -- my iPhone, which I'm still learning how to use. Hope it looks okay. Or that you can see it at all. If you can't recognize any of the caricatures it's the iPhone's fault.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My idea for a really cool slasher movie

The Friday question will return next week but this is Halloween!
I must admit I never got into those slasher movies. Seems to me they’re all the same story. The popular kids who were too good to ever go out with you in high school all frolic off to a cabin for some holiday and some disfigured skeesix in a goalie’s mask terrorizes and one-by-one graphically slices them up. Yes, it’s grizzly and horrible but isn’t that sorta what they deserve? Would it kill them to agree to dance with us just once??

Then there’s a sequel where the ones that survived go BACK to the cabin. You’d think maybe they’d hit the MTV beach house the next winter break instead?

And there’s always the backstory explaining how the psychopath became a killer…such as he was a bed wetter or flunked out of Benhinana Chef school.

I have what I believe is a great idea for a slasher movie. I’m sharing it because I’ve had it registered (in other words, you can’t steal it!!!). But it seems to me the key to this genre is creating a truly terrifying slasher. My idea is to hire Gordon from SESAME STREET as the psychopath. Can you imagine how disturbing THAT would be to anyone who grew up with that show?

“You didn’t eat your vegetables!” “AAAAAAAA!!!” Slice! Hack!

“Can you spell ‘help’?” “H-E-L-AAAAAAAAAAA!!” Stab! Slit!

“One of these limbs is not like the others!” Chop!

“Today I’m brought to you by the letters D.O.A.!!”

I can hear the screams now. Freddie and Jason and Chucky, eat (or cut) your hearts out. Plus, I’ve got the sequel all storyboarded. Only this time it’s Maria.

Happy Halloween, kids.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The perfect gift!

Sure Halloween is coming. But it’s never too early to start your holiday shopping. However, finding that perfect gift for that special someone -- that can be a chore. It must be personal, impressive, and something that conveys your true feelings of love for them.

Might I make a suggestion?

Here in Los Angeles, where good taste and subtlety reigns supreme, the L.A. County Coroner’s office has a gift shop. It’s a natural! Who ever visits the L.A. County Coroner’s office and doesn’t want a souvenir? So you can stop by Skeletons in the Closet and browse through their amazing selection.

And the news gets even better. They have a website. You can order on line!

You thought I was just making this up, didn’t ya?

Some gifts you might want to consider (all from their “Earthly Remains" Collection):

Toe Tag Keychains

Chalk Outline Welcome Mats

Body Bags

Foot Keychains

Coroner BBQ Aprons

Body Shaped Post Its

Miniature Skulls

“Stay Cool” Magnets (get it?)

Coroner Briefcases

Parts Cutting Mats (not sure what that is but I want one)

And of course: DEATH IN PARADISE: An illustrated history of the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. Now in paperback!

Nothing says you care like Foot Keychains. There is no greater expression of love than Coroner BBQ Aprons. So make this a Christmas she’ll remember. Trust me, every time she sees a dead body she’ll think of you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Misc-takes

I haven’t done this in awhile. Just a bunch of random thoughts worth maybe a sentence at best.
For those of you still “undecided”, what the hell else do you need to know? Paula Abdul in a $150,000 wardrobe is running for Vice-President.

The height of insanity: Lionsgate is calling agencies around town seeking a showrunner for MAD MEN if they can't make a deal with creator Matt Weiner. Uh, guys... without Matt Weiner there IS no show.

Big night of television on Wednesday! Barack Obama then 3 1/2 innings of the World Series.

People not familiar with the Tampa Bay Rays until this last week didn’t know that Drew Carey is their manager.

Will Bono’s humanitarian efforts ever cease? Here he is selflessly giving of his time on St. Tropez counseling teenagers. No wonder he's respected the world over.

PAGE SIX had a huge exclusive recently! Citing someone who went through Mary-Louise Parker’s trash they report that she takes thyroid medicine. There’s no Christy Brinkley trial to cover?

Guy Richie reports his marriage with Madonna fell apart once she started going to the gym. She would schedule sex around workouts. But it wasn’t clear if it was her workouts or Alex Rodriguez’s.

This is why Tim McCarver is the best TV analyst in the business:

"Blanton is the type of pitcher that Pena and Longoria can break out of their streaks of because he's standardized. He's not left handed and he doesn't have the stuff that Brett Myers has.”


And who can sum up the World Series situation better than McCarver?

"If the Rays lose tonight, they will not, I mean they will, they will face elimination tomorrow night". Again, it’s why he’s the best.

Why do we even need movie critics when HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 is a boxoffice smash?

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best radio broadcast team in MLB. Andy Freed and Dave Wills are so good I used to listen to them last year, when their club was the worst in baseball.

The Ex-List has been X'd from CBS. The premise: Elizabeth Reaser as a 30-something woman who's told by a psychic that she must wed within a year or never and her Mr. Right is among her former boyfriends. Audiences didn't take to the idea of someone stupid enough to base their entire life on what some psychic says.

Patrick Goldstein in the LA Times (I think he's still there. They fire people left and right) argues that there should be an Oscar for Best Comedy since comedies never earn any respect. Academy President, Sid Ganis (producer of the classic DUECE BIGELOW series) said that's not necessary. A good comedy can easily be considered. The last comedy to win Best Picture: ANNIE HALL. 30 years ago. He's right. It happens all the time.

Network viewing during the 10 PM hour is way down. They blame DVR’s. People catch up on shows they’ve recorded earlier in the evening so they’re watching those and not the 10 PM fare. But if the 10 PM shows were worth watching wouldn’t DVR users record them as well and just catch up later?

The 82 game NBA pre-season has begun. They play four months to eliminate the Clippers and one other team then start seven rounds of playoffs.

Headline of the week: from the BBC – Man's arm trapped in train toilet

Monday, October 27, 2008

Netflix pick of the month: DINER

Yes, I see the irony. Yesterday I’m ranting about movie critics and here I am reviewing a movie. But part of the fun of this blog is (a) being a hypocrite, and (b) having the forum to recommend offbeat things you guys might enjoy. DINER is my Neflix Pick of the Month.
It’s Barry Levinson’s first and best film. He’s certainly done others that are good (e.g. the NATURAL), but none that are as heartfelt, hilarious, or real as DINER. His subsequent work is marked with a real Hollywood slickness that is refreshingly absent in this debut effort.

Every moment rings true.

DINER (released in 1982), is set in Baltimore in 1959 – a longtime favorite place and time of moviegoers everywhere. It’s also semi-autobiographical. Levinson had the good fortune to grow up with some wonderfully colorful characters. If I tried to do the same movie based on my friends you’d be watching five geeks bitching about how they can’t get their SANFORD & SON specs read.

Storywise, it’s a series of subplots that wrap around each other like a helix. Imagine AMERICAN GRAFFITI with Jews. But the focus is the diner where these guys just hang out. And the improvised scenes of them bullshitting about absolutely nothing are more riveting and entertaining than all the Michael Bay action sequences combined. Paul Reiser has never been better, possibly because his character was supposed to never shut up.

The ensemble cast was pitch perfect, even Steve Guttenberg. For those not familiar with Mr. Guttenberg, he was the Seth Rogen of his day (but not nearly as funny). For about a ten-year period he was in every movie ever produced save for Merchant-Ivory epics. He plays a guy about to get married but won’t finalize the engagement until his fiancĂ© passes a written exam on the history of his beloved Baltimore Colts. I loved the movie for that subplot alone.

Newcomer Mickey Rourke, plays “Boogie”, a real life Fonzie. I got to know the actual Boogie (Leonard Weinglass) when I broadcast for the Orioles. In the late 60s he opened a woman’s clothing store chain called Merry-Go-Round and made a fortune. He later combined it with a diner. Name me a better combination than summer tops and chili fries.

There’s also Kevin Bacon but he was in every ensemble cast, which is why you can play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and somehow link him to Cheetah the Chimp in only five moves. Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, and Ellen Barkin also deserve shout-outs.

DINER almost makes you wish you were part of that group; that you too squandered your entire youth eating patty melts and arguing over Sinatra’s discography. I can think of no higher praise for a movie… especially one set in Baltimore.

You can now buy my book... for one cent

IT'S GONE... NO, WAIT A MINUTE... is now available on Amazon for one cent!!! Don't wait for the price to be reduced even more. You can order here. I wonder if they'll allow installment payments.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Roger Ebert reviews a movie after watching only 8 minutes of it

There was a movie released in 1975 called AT LONG LAST LOVE. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich (who was allowed to make movies back then) it was a musical with Cole Porter songs inexplicably sung by the astonishingly tone-deaf Cybil Shepherd. My partner David and I were in a full theatre watching this jaw-dropping spectacle. After about an hour and fifteen minutes of this David shouted out, “Wait! It gets better!” The entire audience exploded in laughter.

We walked out of the theatre (okay – ran) and commiserated over the poor movie critics who had to sit through this and every film all the way through. I couldn’t do it. I even once walked out of a movie I had worked on. But reviewers need to stick it out.

You would think.

Roger Ebert (a critic I admire) recently admitted to writing his review on the indie feature TRU LOVED after watching only eight minutes of it. Thumbs down, Roger! If that had been AT LONG LAST LOVE you wouldn’t have even seen the first duet between Cybil and her virtuoso singing co-star, Burt Reynolds.

It seems to me Roger has now committed both cardinal sins of film criticism – hosting an Oscar red carpet show and reviewing a movie without seeing it (granted the first sin is worse). What does this do for his credibility and the credibility of his judgement-passing brethren? People often mistrust reviewers anyway. Does Jeffrey Lyons love every single movie he’s ever seen just so he can get his name and blurb in every ad?

For a night of Levine & Isaacs one-act plays a number of years ago, the critic for Variety knitted during the entire performance. But at least he was there. And he stayed till the end. And he finished his muffler.

Gone are the days of Pauline Kael and film criticism as art itself. You may have disagreed with her but you had to admire the thought and effort she poured into each review, even MOONRAKER.

By the way, Ms. Kael had this to say about AT LONG LAST LOVE:

“Peter Bogdanovich's stillborn musical comedy-a relentlessly vapid pastiche of 30s Art Deco romantic-mixup movies.”

So unlike David and I, she liked it.

I wonder, are the standards of reviewing so much lower these days because the movies are too? THE LOVE GURU got a few raves. I’m not saying that all critics are bad. There are a few still like to read. Elvis Mitchell in the NY Times, Carina Chocano in the LA Times, and the guy from Screw magazine (he doesn’t list his name).

But for me there is only one standout. Thank goodness for Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. Incisive, detailed, sometimes scholarly, and devastatingly funny, Anthony Lane is my only must-read critic. And from what I understand, he not only sits through every movie he reviews, he sits through it twice.

Two thumbs up.

My show tonight on KABC radio

Our guests on the Sunday Night Sports Final on KABC and the internet will be...

Oh, crap. I forgot to book guests.

You're welcome to listen anyway. 7 -10 PM PDT. Talkradio 790 in LA. and here on that web thing the kids are all talking about.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I loved lloyd Thaxton

I mentioned the passing of Lloyd Thaxton a few weeks ago. Here is a sample of his work.

Friday, October 24, 2008

FREE TACOS!!!


That’s right! Because someone stole a base in game one of the World Series (you’d know this if you watched) Taco Bell will give a free taco to anyone who shows up at one of their stands this Tuesday afternoon from 2 – 6. (Thanks to media writer Tom Holfarth for the heads-up. This offer must’ve occurred just after I fell asleep listening to Tim McCarver explain something he had explained 50,000 times already… that night.)

You notice that Taco Bell’s promotion doesn’t reward you for coming through in the clutch, or a double-play (that requires teamwork and cooperation). No, it celebrates STEALING. Nice. Muy bueno.

So how many free tacos do you think they’re going to give away? One report says as high as 2.75 million (roughly twice the number of people who watched MAD MEN each week – another sad commentary on America).

But the big question is: what is to prevent someone from eating a free taco and then going to another Taco Bell location and getting a second freebie? Why that would be STEALING, wouldn’t it? But TB has that covered. According to the fine print in the contract:

Participating Taco Bell restaurant manager reserves the right to deny Free Taco to any person he/she reasonably believes has already received a Free Taco or has engaged in any other fraudulent activity.

Oh really?

Just how does a Taco Bell manager determine who has already had a savory free taco? I suppose if the customer enters doubled-over that would be a clue. Or his breath stinks. Or he is anyone they recognize from THE CELEBRITY FIT CLUB. But if Republicans can find ways for people to vote more than once, I’m sure mooching an extra gratis taco shouldn’t be that hard.

And what do they consider to be other fraudulent activity? Not eating the taco yourself but using it to trap mice? Re-selling it on eBay?

I’ll be interested to see how this Free Taco promotion plays out. Hey, it might help us really determine the extent of the financial crisis. If you see Sumner Redstone in line you know we are all in deep deep shit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When actors go berserk at the table reading

Just a Guy just asked a Friday question (what's yours??):

We have all heard about table reads going incredibly bad and childish stars and guest stars berating the writing staff. How did the average writer or writing staff view these tantrums by actors? Did they absorb all of the complaints or did they dig in their heels and say something to the effect as "We don't tell you how to interpret a scene, you don't tell us how to write it."?

That’s a tough one. It depends on how much clout the actor has. If the show’s title is her name or she happens to own the production company and the lot you’re shooting on, then it’s harder to call them a no-talent bitch and throw over the table in front of the rest of the cast, studio, network, and craft services guy.

Without naming names there was a big star actor/asshole who hated every script after the table reading. He would insist they throw it out completely. A new script appeared the next day and he was happy and would go to work. Some of their best work, scripts they slaved over for weeks, would get tossed. So the staff finally got smart. They just started banging out dummy scripts for the table reading and saved their real scripts for day two.

If you do confront a star at the table you run the risk of getting fired. But often times that’s the reward.

Sometimes stars are insensitive but don’t really realize it. I loved working with Tony Randall but our first table reading with him was not a joy. We had written a freelance script that was good enough to get us on staff. It’s our first day. It’s also our script. The show was coming off a two-week hiatus. Tony stands up before the reading to announce he had just returned from London and went on about how brilliant British comedies were. He concluded by saying, “Compared to British sitcoms ours were absolute shit! Now let’s see what we have today.” Then he sat down and began the reading of ours.

If the offending actor is not a major star the best course of action is to just nod, keep your composure, go back to the writers room and kill him off.

And then of course, what we did on MASH. That story is here.

By and large most actors aren’t monsters. And the smart ones learn that if they have problems with the script, by presenting their objections with respect and kindness the staff usually will break its back trying to address his concerns.

But I will leave you with this. A well known comedian called a couple of his writers and asked if they could write some material for a dinner he was going to emcee the next night in San Diego. They did, drove down to San Diego to give him their monologue and were met for breakfast by the comedian and some bimbo that was on his arm. They read the jokes , the comedian liked them, but the bimbo seemed to have problems with them. Finally, one of the writers reached across the table, patted her hand, and said, “Dear, do we tell you how to give blowjobs?”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Anyone who hates me, I'll be at Jiffy Lube!

I was walking through a mall recently and there was a radio station doing a remote. The disc jockey was in the corner of this store, sitting in front of a microphone, the station’s call letters on a big sign above his head. All of the music, commercials, everything else was back at the station. So it was just this poor schmoe, pleading for listeners to stop on by. Of course, that’s when he was on the air. Most of the time he was not. A song or spot or promo was playing so it was just a poor schmoe sitting alone under a sign. It’s like when you give your kid a “time out”. A few shoppers crossed back and forth but no one paid attention. I passed by and a arctic breeze went right up my sphincter.

In an ideal world remotes would lure more people into the store (for which the station receives a healthy fee up front). It’s kinda like when Jiffy Lube has a grand opening and schedules Greasy the Clown to make a guest appearance so bring all the kids.

Also, the broadcast is supposed to sound more fun to the listeners because it’s unpredictable, the D.J. can interview folks who are there, it’s a big party.

Yeah. Right.

Most of the time no one shows up and the ones who do don’t give a shit. The disc-jockey (thinking it’s a rare chance to be a big celebrity) is pretty much reduced to that crazy guy with a pinwheel hat who talks to himself on the subway.

I’ve gotten roped into a number of these remotes during my checkered radio career. Frequently (i.e. 90% of the time) the equipment doesn’t work, it sounds awful, there’s loud feedback, headphones that don’t work, I never know when my mic is actually on so over songs you hear me saying, “Hello? Is this crap working?” “When I get back to the station I’m going to kill Lenny for setting this damn thing up.” Weather is occasionally an issue. I’ve done outdoor remotes in the rain (“If you’re coming folks would one of you please bring an umbrella?”), the heat, and mostly the wind. All of my commercial copy gets blown onto a freeway.

Usually I’ll have prizes to give away. But they’re always weenie, and I sound so pathetic begging people to drive twenty miles to get free station bumper stickers and kitchen magnets.

The few stragglers that do stop by usually say, “Who are you again?” or tell me how much they hate me or my station. And then they still ask for one of the prizes. “You want this fucking kitchen magnet? Bend over. How about a station ballpoint pen? Let me give you one of those, too.”

I’ve done them in hardware stores, tuxedo rental shops, record stores, a Denny’s, and an exclusive country club. That was fun, telling the thirty-five people in Los Angeles who were even eligible to come on by.

One time when the Dodgers were on XTRA 1150 I co-hosted a pre-game show from a tire store in Torrance. But since it was a day game from the east and we were on west coast time, the show started at 8:00. The store wasn’t even open until 10:00. We sat there alone in the parking lot.

And later that same year we did our broadcast from a car dealership in Anaheim, again set up in the parking lot. The dealer also happened to have his gardener there that day. All the listeners heard for a half an hour was a deafeningly loud leaf blower.

On the other hand -- at least they're LIVE.

They're local. They're unpredictable. All the things that radio used to be before networks, syndicated shows, voice tracking, satellites, simulcasting, and automation took over. Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day... although that has nothing to do with my views on remotes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The World Series

Paul McCartney has just announced his new tour! He’ll be playing at the Gil Hodges Bowling Alley lounge in Brooklyn – capacity: 30.

Watch the AMERICAN IDOL two hour finale! This year aired exclusively on San Jose Comcast Public Access Channel 438.

The Mona Lisa is coming to the United States for a limited time only! Available for viewing in Myra Finklestein’s five-floor-walk-up studio apartment in the East Village. She'll be home from work after 6.

SPIDERMAN 4 will screen for one day only. Exclusive engagement on Norbert Pimskotch’s iPod.

Sound ridiculous? No more so than the World Series beginning at 8:22 PM on the east coast.

There have been some spectacular playoff games this year. Tampa Bay won a spine tingling extra inning game over the Red Sox Friday night. Were you up at 1:37 AM? In game five Boston overcame an insurmountable seven run deficit in the 7th inning to beat the Rays 8-7. The game would become an instant classic if anyone saw it.

This year’s All-Star Game was a thriller. The American League won in a five hour, 15 innings affair. The dramatic ending was seen in the east by eight 7-11 clerks (five. Three were robbed and tied up in the back).

The point is the networks schedule these games so late that no one can watch them. Why bother investing two hours in a story you know you’ll fall asleep through before the climax? (I call this the “English Patient Syndrome”) For the sake of being on in “prime time” networks kill the product. And MLB just looks the other way as they count their money.

Baseball is a sport that is passed down from generation to generation. It needs to attract kids to ensure its future. Name me one kid who fell in love with the grand old game by watching Jeannie Zelasko’s pre-game show with in-studio analysts Kevin Kennedy and Mark Grace. Children have bedtimes and they’re usually not 1:37 AM.

Good luck to the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series that begins tonight. I hope you can stay awake for it. I hope the players can stay awake for it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My favorite sitcoms

Thanks again for listing your favorite sitcoms. Here are my top eleven (okay, I couldn’t narrow it down to ten) – in no particular order. For a series to be truly great in my eyes it has to hold up. The comedy has to be identifiable even if it’s fifty years old. This occurs when the characters and situations they face are timeless.

Not included are any of the series I was associated with. The point here is to single out shows that inspired me, not toot my own horn.

THE HONEYMOONERS – One crummy set, four characters, and sheer magic. A reader mentioned the word “rewatchability” I’ve seen the classic 39 episodes at least 39 times each.. The performances kill me. I marvel every time I see Jackie Gleason & Art Carney. All they have to do is just stand there and I’m laughing. And has there ever been a funnier TV wife than the sublime Audrey Meadows? Especially considering the sensibilities of 1955. TV wives were either ditz brains, or thunderously boring. Audrey was smart, acerbic, and clearly in charge. I fawn over THE HONEYMOONERS in more detail in this former post.

THE PHIL SILVER SHOW – Also from the 50s. Also known as the BILKO SHOW. This was the perfect marriage of the consummate comedian and greatest sitcom writer of his era. Phil Silvers as the lovable larcenous Sgt. Bilko was a comic classic and no one could write inspired dialogue and devise ingenious plotlines like Nat Hiken. Other writers included Neil Simon.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW – Created by Allan Burns & James L. Brooks. The gold standard for multi-camera ensemble shows. The reason I became a TV writer. And the forerunner for other greats like TAXI, CHEERS, and FRASIER.

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW – You’ll see I have favorite comedy writers and their work pops up in several places. Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses bring a refreshing irreverence and subtle lunacy (if there is such a thing) to everything they write. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW under their hand was sillier than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW but often funnier.

BUFFALO BILL – Patchett & Tarses again. This short-lived 80s series starring Dabney Coleman was truly original. The lead character was a raging asshole. Not “irascible but with a heart of gold”, no, Bill Bittinger was a first class prick. And so much fun to watch. I’m sure he tested through the floor but lying, conniving, cowardly, cheap, lascivious, vain characters are comic gold.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW -- A smart, urban, funny ensemble multi-camera comedy in the day of BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, F TROOP, GOMER PYLE, and THE MUNSTERS. It was the sitcom oasis of the 60s. Created by Carl Reiner, originally for himself. He had the good sense to check his ego at the door and recast Dick Van Dyke. And he had the further good sense to surround himself with the elite of the writing community – Jerry Belson, Garry Marshall, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. This is another show with great “rewatchability”. And what kid in the 60s didn’t fall in love with Laura Petrie?

TAXI – James Brooks and staff sharpened, deepened, and further perfected the genre they launched with THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Certainly darker in tone than MTM but more scathingly funny. And for my money the best storytelling ever. It’s the one series I always recommend to sitcom writer wannabes interested in learning the form. Chekhov in a garage.

TOPPER – No one mentioned this one. Of course it’s from a million years ago (the 50s). But Anne Jeffries and Robert Sterling as the insouciant young ghosts haunting doddering old Leo G. Carroll are a stitch. And the real star of the show is Neil, their ghost St. Bernard dog who’s a raging alcoholic. One of TOPPER’S writers was Stephen Sondheim. He might have had a bright future if he had stuck to comedy writing.

THE PRACTICE – No, not the David Kelley lawyer show. This was a mid 70s comedy starring Danny Thomas as a cranky family doctor in New York. BECKER with a big nose. What distinguished this show was the writing. It was created by Steve Gordon who went on to write and direct ARTHUR. Here’s more background on Steve. Anyone who has seen ARTHUR knows that Gordon was an absolute master in comic dialogue. THE PRACTICE crackled. It only lasted one season and has disappeared into the ether. I would give anything to see those episodes again. Or even get my hands on those scripts. Confession: I did work on this show but only to write one freelance episode.

FAWLTY TOWERS – brilliant farce. As someone who has had to construct and write farces myself, I’m in complete awe of every single episode. And what can you say about John Cleese other than genius? American versions of this have been terrible. You can't replace John Cleese with Bea Arthur.

COUPLING (UK version) -- FRIENDS for grown ups. Steven Moffat has created vivid colorful characters and devilishly has found ways to connect them in any number of combination's. The storytelling is superb, the cast is perfect (and unlike the misguided NBC remake where they insisted on casting people even hotter than THE HILLS – the British cast is funny and even goofy looking for the most part), and it’s the one romantic comedy that delivers on both fronts.

So there they are. There are lots of others I admire. Maybe in a future post I'll list my honorable mentions. Hint: None of them have chimps in them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My thoughts on your favorite sitcoms

Thanks to so many of you for sharing your favorite sitcoms. Also, thanks to those who did mention shows I was associated with (even though you didn’t have to). It’s a great feeling to know something I did years ago is still being enjoyed today. And now if I ever write something that’s really a piece of shit I can always say, “Hey, at least once I wrote for CHEERS.”

I agree with most of your choices… although in a few cases I thought, “Are you kidding me??!” I won’t say which shows because I don’t want to embarrass the commenters. But holy shit! I’d put AfterMASH up against some of those clams.

Most of your choices were as I had imagined. But there were some surprises. The big one was THE BOB NEWHART SHOW getting such love. I have always loved that show but at the time it originally aired it was always in the shadow of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Although both were produced by the same company (MTM – duh!), THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW received all the Emmys and attention and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was the amusing lead-out. What I responded to with Newhart was that there was a nuttiness and irreverence that Mary’s show never had. It was a little rougher around the edges, the stories weren’t as cleverly told, and the issues tackled were not as substantial. But I generally laughed harder at THE BOB NEWHART SHOW than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

And interestingly, as time has passed I think Newhart’s show holds up better than Ms. Hat-in-the-air’s. Its subversive quality feels more in tune with today’s comic sensibilities. Although those 70s fashions – what the hell we were all thinking? Clowns don’t even wear ties that wide these days.

I was heartened to see so many people list BARNEY MILLER. There was a subtlety to that show you sure don’t see in today’s sitcoms. The comedy came strictly out of character and behavior. Imagine a show like that on Fox? It would star Pamela Anderson and be renamed BARNEY MELLONS. I wish one of those bizarre cable networks at like 600 on the dial with names like AMERICAN LOGO LIFE TRIO would rerun BARNEY MILLER. How many times can we watch Susan Lucci peddle her damn Malibu Pilates?

WKRP IN CINCINNATI is getting a lot more respect now than when it was on. ROSEANNE is getting less.

A number of you listed SEINFELD but not as many as I would have thought. Same with ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. On the other hand, more voted for FRIENDS than I anticipated.

Some of you were very specific, breaking down series into seasons. I agree with all those who said the best years of MASH were the Larry Gelbart years. They were the best by light years. And there's a decided preference to the Diane years of CHEERS over Rebecca's. Each era had it's pluses, but I do think the first season of CHEERS was extraordinary.

The big surprise was the huge outpouring for NEWSRADIO. At the time it aired it received very little buzz. I always liked it because it had a radio theme and Phil Hartman was a comic genius. But it always fell in that WINGS/BECKER/ODD COUPLE/NEWHART category of good shows that never got the recognition they deserved. And if they were ever nominated for an Emmy it was just to fill out the category.

The first vote for I LOVE LUCY came around comment 60. That threw me a bit.

Among the vintage shows, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW rated the highest but I think that’s also a function of them being rerun so often. THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW and THE HONEYMOONERS deserved more votes but you can’t see them. Although I did love the guy who said his two favorite sitcoms were THE HONEYMOONERS and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. It makes perfect sense. In so many ways they’re the exact same show.

A few regarded NORTHERN EXPOSURE as a comedy even though it was an hour, yet no one mentioned ALLY MCBEAL.

And a few of you reached way back for the JACK BENNY SHOW and the BURNS & ALLEN SHOW. (Does it seem like every great retro comedy was named for the star? Too bad that didn’t work for the KEN BERRY “WOW” SHOW. )

Some of your choices were from out in left field. DOCTOR DOCTOR, FRANK’S PLACE, HERMAN’S HEAD, DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD. One person added GOODTIME HARRY – a lost gem created by the great Steve Gordon (who wrote the movie ARTHUR).

And other big shows sort of fell between the cracks. COSBY, TAXI, FAMILY TIES, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND got a few mentions but not many.

It’s amazing how many truly exceptional sitcoms come from the UK. THE OFFICE certainly, but also FAWLTY TOWERS, BLACK ADDER, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, COUPLING and at least five others. A few you mentioned I will be trying to track down. CORNER GAS, RED DWARF, and SPACED top the list.

Thanks again to everyone for participating. Tomorrow I list my top ten, which includes one that only a couple people mentioned and another that none of you brought up, and still a third that you probably never heard of. See ya manana.

I'm still on the radio

For those of you wondering if I'm going to disappear from the airwaves now that the Dodgers season is over and there's really no need for Dodger Talk ("Everyone is still on hiatus. Get on the phones. Let's talk about it.") good news. I'll still be hosting the Sunday Night Sports Final every week on Talkradio 790 KABC (also available for your listening pleasure here on the net). 7-10 Pacific Time. Please tune in. Love to have ya.

I hope no one asks me anything about hockey. I know shit about hockey.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I got kicked off THE DATING GAME

It was in the late 60’s, I was in high school, and someone recommended I try out for THE DATING GAME. This was a popular game show on ABC at the time. Three bachelors would be asked inane questions by a girl who couldn't see them and based on the answers she'd select one for her "date".

I was a wise-ass even then (as opposed to say... now). So I called the show, was given an appointment to audition. The first thing I said when I got there was that my father worked for ABC radio and if that was a conflict let me know now and save us all a lot of time and trouble. They assured me that was no problem. In fact, they said members of their own staff have had to go on in emergency cases.

So I went through the audition process. They put 40 of us in a room and asked us random DATING GAME-type questions.

A week later they called and invited me to be on the show. Everyone wonders if bachelors are given a preview of the questions or get to see the girl in advance. The answer is no. They filmed three episodes at a time so nine of us reported to an assigned room. We were briefed, then ushered to the stage for a rehearsal. They walked us through it, where we sat, what to do after the girl made her selection, etc. Then it was back to this waiting room until we were called for the show.

I didn’t give a shit about winning the date. I just wanted to get big laughs. And I was lucky. Got some good questions, had some funny answers, called one of the other bachelors a blimp, just wreaked as much comic havoc as I could. Big surprise, I wasn’t selected. As a result I missed getting to go on a little cruise boat around the Newport Beach harbor with the Turtles. (I’ve since become friends with Howard Kaylan and he can’t even remember that event).

Two days after the show aired I got invited to go on again for their alumni show. Again I was apparently funny. I just remember doing an Elvis impression and trashing the institution of marriage. This girl didn’t pick me either. Instead I went home with 50 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses or something useless like that. I think the date I missed was to the Lancaster Date Festival. I’ve since gotten over my disappointment.

After that show aired they invited me to be on the night-time version. Now that was big stuff. Winners got trips to Europe and Hawaii, not Orange County. Oh yeah, and you’d be on national primetime television… but it was really the prizes.

Unfortunately, there was an engineers’ strike at ABC at the time and management had to man the cameras. During the rehearsal, one of the cameramen recognized me and mentioned casually that my father worked for ABC radio. Chuck Barris went ballistic. I was immediately thrown off the show. I said, “But what about when your own staff has to sub…?” Their answer was, “Get out!” So that was that. I was bumped from the show, they grabbed a guy in the audience who was wearing a suit, and he went on in my place. The selected bachelor got a trip to Paris. I got a roast beef sandwich at Arby’s.

A few years later when I was working as an intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Jim Lange was hired as a disc jockey. He spotted me down the hall and amazingly, remembered me. Even rattled off my blimp quip. Two days later at the station I get a call from THE DATING GAME. All was forgiven. They’d love to have me on again. I said, “Is this the night-time version?” They said no, I’d have to go back to daytime. So I told them to stick it. And thus ended my storied DATING GAME career.

Do I have regrets? Yes. I wish I had some of those sunglasses today. I could get a FORTUNE for that crap on ebay.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Live news bloopers

Hey, it happens. They're on live. Doesn't mean they're not funny as hell.

Warning: Bad words.

Kyra Phillips, who is one of my favorites on CNN, pulled a GREAT one just this week.



And then there's Shepherd Smith's classic from Fox News.



For this one, is the graphics department trying to tell us something?



And finally, sometimes it's not an anchor just slipping up, it's one who is a complete idiot.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The barbershop where everyone knows your name

Friday questions day. You can’t start a weekend without them.

Eric L has two things he wants to know:

Weird question I've always wondered- where exactly did those paintings from the opening credits of CHEERS come from?

The opening credits were created by Castle-Bryant. They found old pictures of folks in bars and built that montage. I understand though one or two photos are actually people in a barbershop.

And secondly…

After CHEERS ended was there ever any thought given to spinning off another character besides Frasier? In retrospect Frasier was obviously the perfect choice and besides Rebecca was probably the only character who could have had a life outside of the bar environment, but when the time came to discuss a spin off of CHEERS were there any other options?

Yes. NBC wanted to spin-off Norm & Cliff. They must have approached us five times about writing it. We always passed. One AfterMASH a career is enough. There was also some discussion of spinning-off Carla but that went nowhere. Remember, there was another spin-off of CHEERS (besides FRASIER) – THE TORTELLIS. Carla’s creepy ex-husband Nick (played to slimeball perfection by Dan Hedeya) and his new wife Loretta (the delightfully daft Jean Kasem) move to Las Vegas with one or two of her kids. It lasted maybe thirteen weeks. The Charles Brothers (who were just consulting it) asked David and I to write one as a favor. We met with them all day trying to come up with a story and couldn’t do it. Finally, I said, “What episode is this we’re trying to break?” The answer was five. I said, “Five? Jesus. If stories are that hard to break by episode five you are in shit shape with this show!” They were.

Remember kids when creating a pilot: It’s not just about the funny characters and setting. Make your show ABOUT SOMETHING.

Allen Burns (not to be confused with Allan Burns who co-created THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) asks:

Some older shows (I think Cheers was one) feature a voiceover of a lead actor saying "[Name of show] was filmed before a live studio audience." All in the Family had a kind of pretentious one with Carroll O’Conner saying something to the effect it was "played before a studio audience for live responses". Was this just to say "Hey, we aren't using a laugh track!" (Pretty obvious in shows with teen stars where actors have to wait for entrance applause and squealing to die down. And the ever annoyng "Awwww!" and "Ooohhhhhh" that greeted any emotional dialogue.

Yes, CHEERS employed that disclaimer after the first few episodes because we were getting complaints about the laugh track when in fact the laughs were real.

I agree there is nothing more insipid than audiences “Awwwwing” at those awful treacley moments in bad sitcoms. First of all, the moments are rarely earned and the audiences sounds like the biggest simps on the planet. Webster cleaned his room like his mommy asked. Awwwwwwwwwwwww.

On CHEERS and any other show I worked on, those cringeworthy reactions were lifted from the soundtrack.

Same with applauding when actors entered scenes. It obliterates any reality and is there anything more artificial and unbelievable than people wildly cheering Fran Drescher?

The other audience we would lose from the soundtrack is any talking back to the actors during the scene. One night on CHEERS we had a particularly rowdy and vociferous bunch. Diane headed for Sam’s office and they yelled, “DON’T GO THROUGH THAT DOOR, GIRL!!” And my favorite: Diane standing up to Sam and someone screaming, “YOU TELL HIM, BITCH!!!!” Needless to say, that threw off Shelley Long’s timing just a wee bit.

Leave your questions in the comments section. Thanks.

Your favorite sitcoms

Here are a few folks you guys sure seem to like.
Keep weighing in with your favorite sitcom. Some very interesting answers. And some surprises. Since not everyone reads this blog daily (I know. It's hard to believe), I'll wait a few more days before posting my reaction.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's your favorite sitcom?

Okay, this is one of those fun survey things I like to do from time to time. On our SitcomRoom Twitter we asked the question “What’s your favorite all-time sitcom?” Got a wide range of answers. Some very unexpected. So now I thought I’d open it up and ask all of you guys.

I’ll be interested to see if most of your favorites are recent, vintage, multi or single camera.

One rule: Do not feel compelled (not that you would) to name shows I’ve worked on. You don’t get extra credit for listing JOE & SONS.

I imagine we’ll have some foreign sitcoms listed too. That’s great. Some will be from shows I’ve never heard of and I will make a concerted effort to find and watch them. I did that a couple of years ago when someone recommended the British version of COUPLING and it is now in my top 5.

For us Americans, I’m sure there are some undiscovered gems out there. And for people in Europe, if you’ve never seen MAMA’S FAMILY are you in for a treat!

I might have told you mine already but I will again. THE HONEYMOONERS. In a later post I’ll explain why.

But what’s YOUR favorite sitcom?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exotic women

Here's more of my "growing up in the 60s" life.

The Fall of 1964 was somewhat of a blur. A few girls returned to school with new noses, having cashed in their bat mitzvah Israeli saving bonds.

I reluctantly accepted an invitation to Parkman’s honor society, “the Vanguards” thereby cementing my status as the un-hippest kid in school.

Two American destroyers engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. There was a question about it on our weekly quiz. I got it wrong. It didn’t seem important at the time. All it really was was just the start of the Viet Nam War.

I was marking time. Only one more semester until high school and full adulthood.

My taste in women was beginning to change I noticed. I developed a preference for the more exotic type. My crush du jour was Jackie Sharp – the perfect blend of Marcia Brady and a biker chick. Alas, she had a boyfriend… who was in high school! That was the infuriating trend. All the foxy seniors (foxy was the big word back then so I used it to death) in junior high went out with high schoolers and all the foxy seniors in high school only dated college guys.

It’s like you could never date a girl in your own grade. Women always seemed to go for the older guys. They went out with high school boys because they had cars, and then in later years they went out with guys as old as their fathers because they bought them cars.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More good news for sitcoms...

Hour serialized dramas are tanking this year. ABC’s Wednesday night-line up has plunged 44%. HEROES is now viewers’ Kryptonite. And HEROES has gone all out this year. Mohinder Suresh has been given a new superpower – he looks good with his shirt off.

The networks of course blame the Writers Strike. (They'd blame us for the stock market crash too if they could.)

It can’t be that some of these series have taken bad creative directions. It can’t be that there is now a glut of them. Or that some of their storylines are so confusing and Byzantine that quantum physics professors would be lost.

What the Writers’ Strike did do, however, was make America realize it didn’t miss these shows when they weren’t on. Life can go on without the spin-off of GREY’S ANATOMY.

(One exception: I can't wait for the new season of LOST.)

Meanwhile, sitcoms are gaining in the ratings. The CBS Monday night line-up (despite not having hot looking actors and show titles with words like SEXY and DIRTY) is doing just fine thank you. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is up 14%. Tina Fey should ride the Sarah Palin horse to the winner’s circle when 30 ROCK premieres later this month.

If you went into ABC today with THE SOPRANOS they wouldn’t buy it. And that comedy you pitched them two years ago – bring it back in.

Sitcoms are only a half hour investment. You can miss a couple of weeks without getting hopelessly lost. You don’t need to buy the first three seasons on DVD and watch seventy hours in one sitting to get up to speed. And laughter is the only commodity Wall Street can’t devalue.

So that’s the good news. Now the hard part. The new sitcoms have to be good. Fresh. Original. About something. Featuring characters you care about. And actually funny.

But hurry! There's probably another blogger out there somewhere with a post entitled: "More good news for reality shows..."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

why multi-camera shows are no longer in favor

One reason I contend multi-camera shows are out of fashion is because the joke rhythms are tired and stale. For a long time they worked, and the jokes themselves may be funny but audiences have grown weary of their predictable form. Here are some examples.

The “No…(blank)” joke.

COACH: They call me Red.

CUSTOMER: Oh, cause you used to have red hair?

COACH: No, cause I once read a book.

The problem is you’re asking the customer to set up the joke by saying something she probably wouldn’t say. Straight man seeks clarification by asking the seemingly obvious only to learn it’s something else. Plus, it usually makes the set up person seem incredibly dumb.

The “Lenny & Squiggy”:

Named for those two characters because of how they entered every scene.

LAVERNE: Who would be stupid enough to drink sewer water?

LENNY & SQUIGGY ENTER.

LENNY/SQUIGGY: Hello!!

An alternate version of this is the “Flip scene”.

MOLLY: I wouldn’t sleep with you Fred if you were the last man on earth!

CUT TO: MOLLY IN BED WITH FRED.

The trouble here is you can see the joke coming from nine miles away. A third version of this is the “Stan Daniels Turn”, named after one of the funniest comedy writers ever, who used this form to perfection. Character rattles off a list and does a 180.

LOU: She’s brash, she’s obnoxious, she’s rude… I’m in love.

Again, thirty years ago this was a fresh form. But now you’re waiting for that turn.

Stock comic characters are also tiresome. The wise-ass precocious teenager you just want to smack into next Tuesday, the “sassy” housekeeper, the befuddled foreigner (complete with fractured English), the wacky neighbor, and the oversexed oldster (“Once you’ve had an octogenarian, honey, you can never go back. Hoooo hooo!)

Punch line catch phrases can send you scrambling for the remote as well. “I’m too stupid to live!” “Oh, did I say that out loud?” I’m sure you can find ten others – just by watching TVLand tonight.

And my main pet peeve: characters not acting the way real people act. The “No…(blank)” is one offender. Here are more:

Ever notice how in traditional sitcoms no one ever leaves a room without a joke? And if people insulted each other right to their faces like they do in sitcoms half the population would be walking around with black eyes.

Which brings me to my final point – one character saying something completely inappropriate and the other character conveniently ignoring it. Here’s an example. I like BIG BANG THEORY. There are always some good laughs. But they did something in the pilot that drives me crazy.

The show opens with the two genius nerds at a sperm bank. They return home to find a smoking hot girl has just moved in across the hall. Smitten, they clumsily engage her in conversation. So far so good. Lots of funny lines. They invite her to lunch. She accepts (why, I don’t know but that’s another story). As they’re crossing the hall she mentions that she’s had a rough day unpacking, then asks what they did that day, and one says, “We masturbated into a cup for money”. She just nods and follows them into their apartment. Huh??? What??? She wouldn’t be horrified? Or shocked? Or completely puzzled? She just accepts this as if he had said, “Oh, we went to Starbucks for coffee”? And she still enters these weird guys’ apartment? Ten minutes later she uses their shower and enters the room wearing only a towel. I’m guessing most women on the planet would not do that if placed in the same situation.

BIG BANG THEORY can get away with it (sorta) because the jokes are generally very sharp. But heap unreality with bad, forced humor and you have a comic form best put on display at the Museum of Natural History.

And here’s the thing: multi-camera shows don’t have to be formulaic. SEINFELD wasn’t. RAYMOND wasn’t. COSBY (in its early years) wasn’t. All it takes is good writing, fresh ideas, and a desire to take the art form further. Otherwise the form may die, it may indeed be too stupid to live.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Subliminal messages

Subliminal messages in ads are illegal. Flashing images so fast that only your subconscious can detect them. It's an insidious process. Here are a couple of examples.

This is an ad for KFC.



And from those "fair and balanced" news guardians at Fox:



I shall leave you with this -- from the actual LITTLE MERMAID poster. If you have the DVD check it out yourself. Or just click on the picture to enlarge it. Oh Ariel!

Friday, October 10, 2008

In defense of multi-camera shows


Practically every great sitcom for the last 60 years has used some version of the multi-camera format. Yes, there are exceptions like MASH and WESTWARD HA! But for the most part, series that we all (younger, desirable viewers included) watch and relish are all multi-camera.

Networks claim we’re tired of the form. We’re tired of bad lazy writing. We’re tired of old predictable rhythms. But we’re sure not tired of…

I LOVE LUCY
THE HONEYMOONERS
THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
ALL IN THE FAMILY
MAUDE
THE ODD COUPLE
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
NEWHART
COSBY
CHEERS
TAXI
FRASIER
FRIENDS
SEINFELD
EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND
GOLDEN GIRLS
MURPHY BROWN
BARNEY MILLER
HAPPY DAYS
LAVERNE & SHIRLEY
SANFORD & SON

And three or four of your favorites I forgot to mention.

Don’t blame the four messengers.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I didn't write that but thank you

It’s Friday question time!

rob! went to the comment section and asked:

How do you handle it when someone compliments you on a line from a particular episode from a particular show that you didn't happen to write? Has that ever happened to you?

It’s happened quite often. I always thank them and say a lot of people contributed to the writing of that script. Which is usually accurate.

I’ve written with a partner for my entire career. Often someone will say to me, “I saw your show last night and that joke about (whatever), that was yours, wasn’t it? It was so you. It had to be your joke.” Invariably they’re wrong. It was David’s joke.

Or they’ll say, “Y’know that joke about not being able to get it up? That had to be your joke. It had you written all over it.” What? You think I’m impotent?

Most of the time I will tell people that I don’t remember who wrote what joke. And that’s not being coy, it’s the truth. David and I volley jokes back and forth. One of us will pitch something, the other will say, “Okay, but what if we changed this word?” Before you know it the line changes five times until we arrive at the final version. And both of our fingerprints are on it.

When you’re on staff you learn to check your ego at the door. The best joke you write all year might be for someone else’s script. And likewise, one or two gems may come your way.

On year three of CHEERS to hide Shelley Long’s pregnancy they created a story arc whereby she and Frasier go to Europe. All of the scenes were filmed at once and shown the end of the season when Shelley was showing. So I’m watching an episode on the air one night and this scene appears. Diane and Frasier are shown into a hotel room and Frasier overtips the bellboy. I thought, wow, this sounds so familiar. Is this a re-run? No, because I haven’t seen the rest of the show. And then it hits me – David and I wrote that scene. It got lifted from our episode for time and was inserted into someone else’s show.

Lots of sitcoms today are room written (“gang banged” as the delightful expression goes) and writing credits are just arbitrarily assigned. So you may be complimented on a script you didn’t even know you supposedly wrote.

So the bottom line is to be gracious, just thank the person for the compliment, and in my case remind them I’m not impotent.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How to win the presidential debate

CNN’s live coverage of Tuesday’s presidential debate featured a graph at the bottom of the screen showing the continuous reaction of focus group respondents. The candidates would speak and two lines (one for men and the other women) would inch up or down depending on whether these dial twirling lab rats liked or didn’t like what was being said (assuming they understood what was being said, not an automatic assumption).

Obama and McCain were being subjected to the same scrutiny given to the pilot of TIL DEATH.

As the creator and producer of a number of TV pilots I am all-too familiar with this highly accurate method of determining something’s worth. I have been on the other side of the one-way glass while forty nimrods who looked like they just fell out of a Coen Brothers movie twisted their little spinners while judging my creative baby. On the monitor above my head was the show with the running graphs. That joke suffered a 3% dip and women appreciated that line 7.3% more than men. Art reduced to a spreadsheet.

Producers learn to manipulate the system of course and construct their pilots specifically to win focus groups’ favor. Writing a sharper joke is not nearly as important as getting that waitress to wear a Wonder Bra.

So for the next and last debate I offer the candidates a couple of suggestions for improving your test scores.

Cartwheels are huge. Focus groups love ‘em! You could be proposing a 50% tax hike and if it’s in the midst of a nifty acrobatic move your graph will shoot through the roof. Governor Palin, in a dress, especially missed a bet here.

Crossing your eyes is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Saying the word “hooters” will elevate any statement on Iran’s disturbing threat to world peace.

Take a moment in laying out your solution to the Social Security crisis to introduce the audience to your new puppy.

Get choked up. Doesn’t matter of over what. But personal triumph over adversity tends to score higher than Urkel not being honored by the Kennedy Center. And if you don’t have a personal triumph just lift something from PROFILES IN COURAGE. It’s been almost fifty years. No one remembers that book. Look for at least one “Awwwwwwwww” moment.

Shoes matter. The road to the White House goes through Leffot in Manhattan.

Try singing one of your answers. Bad news always goes down easier when delivered by a karaoke Sinatra.

Your opponent says something you take great issue with? Just do a spit-take. You think anyone is going to listen to a “rebuttal”?

Finally and most important, in your closing remarks, make sure you say that this great nation was built by good strong Americans like you; concerned hard-working people who love this country and rate things.

Thank me at the Inaugural.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Hills

Heidi is such an idiot! I mean, can’t she see that Spencer is a giant asshole? I really feel bad for her… even though she reminds me of a beautiful girl who looked just like her and wouldn’t give me the time of day because I wasn’t a Calvin Klein model, the bitch! But I’m sure Heidi’s not like that. Were she ever to accidentally come in contact with someone who wasn’t smoking hot I bet she’d say “Excuse me” as she blew by them as fast as possible.

As for her sister, Holly (and I know Holly is her sister because every time they show her they flash the graphic: Heidi’s sister. Do the producers think we viewers are so stupid we can’t remember that from shot to shot? Or we confuse the characters with the restaurant and club names? Nahhh, can’t be.) Holly obviously lives with the incredible burden that her sister is a 10 and she’s only a 9 1/2. But she still cares about Heidi. It was evident last week when she called their mom (graphic: Heidi & Holly’s mom although MILF would have sufficed) to tell her that Heidi was now living with Spencer. That’s when the fireworks really began. Heidi’s MILF had separate lunch dates with Spencer and Heidi in chic outdoor cafes to share her concerns. And let me tell you, Edward Albee only DREAMED of writing crackling dialogue like this: MILF: “Why do you think you need to live with her so soon in your relationship?” Spencer: “Because… why not?” Look out! Sparks flying!

But my heart truly goes out to Lauren these days. I put aside the fact that she looks just like the girl who laughed in my face when I had the audacity to ask her out – and I feel her pain. Her “friend” Stephanie went out with her former boyfriend, the gorgeous and reprehensible Doug. And she learned it wasn’t just dinner. It was coffee too! How Lauren has the strength to get up in the morning and shop at overpriced Melrose Ave. botiques with that hanging over her head is beyond me.

It all came to a head at Doug & Brody’s BBQ for Tommy Hilfinger models. Like all twentysomethings in LA trying to launch careers, they live in a house in the hills with a view of the entire city. You want to hate them but then you realize, hey, there’s no room to build a tennis court. And just because these guys would burn this house down to the ground before inviting me to a pool party like this, I still really care about their plight. How can you not? They can’t fuck all these girls at once. There are logistics, lies to keep straight – heavy is the dickhead that wears the crown.

I want to say to Lauren, Audrina, Holly, Heidi, Romy, Michele, Whitney, Stephanie, and Lo – these guys will break your hearts and mail them to your MILFs. At least this week when Doug said to Lauren, “You’re like my ex-fling” she had the good sense to leave. You want to loathe him but then he says, “I don’t feel like I said anything wrong here” and you realize, “Oh my God, he’s not just hateful, the poor thing is also retarded.”

Friendships are severely tested on THE HILLS. The evil Spencer (who’s Jay Mohr if he were better looking) has broken up Heidi and Lauren and now he’s threatening Heidi and Holly’s (graphic: Heidi’s sister) relationship. But out of such turmoil comes revelations. Lauren and Audrina are sitting out at the pool (as do all struggling young people in the middle of the afternoon) and Audrina is musing on how Lauren and Heidi (graphic: Holly’s sister) were such good friends before Spencer came along and then Lauren delivers this bombshell: “One person can like change everything.” Audrina was rocked by this epiphany and I don’t mind sayin', I was too. Who knew??

In this recent episode Doug successfully drove a wedge between Lauren and Stephanie. Lauren says to a tearful Steph – and I bet these words haunt me for a good long time. “You’re no longer my friend. Let me get you a tissue.”

Now you may say, “Oh Levine’s just a cynical old guy. He doesn’t get it. He calls girls by their names and not ‘dude’.” But I really am entertained by THE HILLS. It’s also the first show I’ve ever seen sponsored by Tampex and Victoria Secrets.

Lloyd Thaxton

Lloyd Thaxton just passed away. He was 81. He was a dear friend. I know some of this is taken from a recent post but I wanted to expand on it and give you a better picture of this extraordinary man and creative visionary.

For every teenager growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s, THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW was appointment television. Each afternoon from 5-6 Lloyd Thaxton hosted a live dance party show on KCOP, channel 13. 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. He won his time slot daily, trouncing the competing news broadcasts.

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, even with his paltry budget. 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. For the most part he invented music videos. The only difference is music videos these days are all ambitious elaborate productions. Back then we were quite content to watch a guy sing into his hand.

Lloyd began syndicating his show and (with an inflated budget of $5.25) became a national sensation.

He also broke the color barrier. When he had James Brown as his guest a number of affiliates refused to air the segment. Lloyd promptly dropped them from his roster. Motown and R&B acts were guests frequently. Only then did other shows follow.

In later years Lloyd went behind the camera, producing such long running series as FIGHT BACK WITH DAVID HOROWITZ and segments for THE TODAY SHOW.

There is a “Best of the Lloyd Thaxton Show” DVD. It’s 90 minutes of inspired television. But it hasn’t been released because they’ve yet to secure clearances from all the artists, many of whom owe their careers to Lloyd and the exposure his show gave them. The last several years Lloyd also kept a blog where he shared many memories and photos.

His signature sign off was “My name is Lloyd Thaxton” followed by the kids shouting “So what?!” But we knew better. Lloyd Thaxton was a big part of our lives. We thank him and will fondly remember him always. That’s what.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sitcoms are not dead

Wow! Yesterday’s post elicited quite a reaction. Even more than my big announcement that I’m on Twitter (you can still sign up, by the way). Some found it overly depressing (I like to think I can depress you but not “overly”), a number of working writers found it hilarious (but not “overly” damn it), and others it made angry.

There’s the big question that’s been floating in the air. The one no one wants to ask because they’re afraid of the answer. Yesterday’s post prompted that question.

IS THE SITCOM DEAD?

If you can’t make shows like CHEERS today then what’s the point?

The point is sitcoms are still on the air and attracting sizable audiences and yes, CHEERS might not be in vogue today but that doesn’t mean in five years that form won’t be the rage. It’s a pendulum. Always has been. A few years ago you could never have sold FRIENDS. Networks insisted you have at least one older authority figure. Once FRIENDS became a huge hit the networks proclaimed, “Send in the clones!”

Oh, and I should mention -- they’re wrong. A CHEERS-type show should be on today. When the young people the networks are desperately chasing are watching CHEERS reruns and not DO NOT DISTURB I think that’s sending a message.

Sitcoms will survive. In success they make the most money. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER just landed a big syndication deal. Reality shows may get the better ratings but they have no shelf life. Don’t expect to see reruns of AMERICAN IDOL on WGN, even with Sanjaya.

And I think we’re just one big hit away from a renaissance.

The good news is there are more places to sell your sitcoms. ENTOURAGE is a show that the networks would never buy. Way too inside show business. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – the lead is too old, too ugly, too unlikable. WEED – mom sells marijuana? Not if you had Reba MacInytre.

I also think the sitcom form will splinter and evolve, shaking off some of its standard conventions. Laugh tracks are no longer required. The line between single and multiple camera shows have blurred. There are hybrids of film and tape. Short order series. Relaxed length restrictions. Is MONK a comedy or a drama? What about PSYCH? Or BEVERLY HILLS 90210 (Oh wait, that’s not supposed to be a comedy)? A lot of FRASIER writers are now producing DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

And with all of that, I guarantee networks will also return to the traditional form. They’re already starting to. The ones that are currently on are doing well. And visions of the next FRIENDS is always in their heads.

More important than whether ensemble or star driven, one or four cameras, thirty or sixty minutes, network or cable or internet or direct-to-phones is the quality of the writing. If you’re a good writer there will be room for you. It might not be CHEERS. But who knows? In a couple of years it might be. Or it might be better.

One last note: In the early 60s the Beatles were rejected by Decca Records with the explanation: “Guitar groups are on the way out.”