As we continue to recover from the big Thanksgiving weekend, here are a few of my thoughts on this traditional American ordeal.
My favorite newspaper ad: From Universal selling DVDs. The ad features a full page Norman Rockwell painting of a wholesome American family at the dinner table. The headline is: HOLIDAYS BRING FAMILIES TOGETHER. Inserted into the picture are DVDs of HELLBOY, THE MUMMY, WANTED, and BURN AFTER READING.
How sleazy is this? Several companies that are going out of business in January are selling gift cards?
The best moment of the Macy’s Parade wasn’t shown. One of the balloons slammed into Matt, Meredith, and Al. This is why we all have to watch ourselves. There’s a balloon out there with our name on it too.
I’d like to see Lewis Black host the parade?
Billy Ray Cyrus’ one true talent was producing Miley. She performed on a float.
James Taylor singing “America the Beautiful” at the parade was very moving. Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” on a float with puppets was not.
When I saw the Citibank commercial on the parade I thought, “As a taxpayer, am I the one paying for that ad?” It’s bad enough I have to watch the damn thing. “Citibank never sleeps” – yeah, right. How about this for their slogan: "Safe since whenever the government bail out kicks in."
Wow! Was CBS lucky! Their big Thanksgiving Day NFL match up was 10-1 Tennessee vs. 0-11 Detroit. Guess who won.
More competitive was the NBC National Dog Show (which I actually love).
I’d be a terrible judge. I would automatically give Best in Show to any Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.
How’s this for a new reality show? FETCHING WITH THE STARS.
Washington Wizards' head coach Eddie Jordan got word he was fired at 7:30 AM Thanksgiving morning outside the arena as he and his wife were handing out turkeys as part of a Wizards outreach program. Nice. I wonder how they did it. "Tell you what Eddie, we can handle things here. Why don't you stand in the other line with the people who are out of work and need a turkey?"
Great seeing the CHEERS Thanksgiving episode again. You can’t believe the shit we got for that show. All the “stop the hunger” groups were outraged over the food fight. Protests, articles, everything short of hanging the NBC peacock in effigy. I see their point and share their concern but Jesus, guys! It’s one comedy scene. We weren’t advocating world food riots.
Thanks to you all for the lovely comments on Bill Drake.
I love Thanksgiving Day marathons. I miss THE HONEYMOONERS but SMOKING GUN PRESENTS is pretty cool.
Notice how the big Thanksgiving weekend releases were all one-word titles? BOLT, AUSTRALIA, TWILIGHT, and family favorite MILK.
There’s always at least one Thanksgiving dish that some relative proudly makes every year that even the dog wouldn’t eat.
A show of hands. Who was at Kohl’s at 4 A.M. Friday to take advantage of that amazing “ten dollars off everything!!!!” offer?
Meanwhile, a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in Long Island by crazed shoppers breaking down the doors and bursting into the store. Fisher-Price Elmo Live, only $58.95. That’s worth killing a person to get.
And then two customers pulled guns and shot each other to death at the Palm Desert, Ca. TOYS R’ US. Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said the fight was not over a toy. That’s a relief. I’d hate to think three people died over Fisher-Price Elmo Live.
By Saturday I didn’t know what I was sick of more – leftover turkey or football. Nevada at Louisiana Tech for Chrissakes! Can’t some cable network run a GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW marathon?
New York Giant Paxico Burress did not play in Sunday's game after accidentally shooting himself in the leg Friday night in a Manhattan club. Oops. That pesky concealed weapon of his went off. What was doing with a loaded gun in a nightclub in the first place? There are NFL handgun policies forbidding this and what does it say about the NFL when they even have to HAVE handgun policies?
ROSIE LIVE! is dead! Just because the premiere of Rosie O’Donnell’s NBC variety show was the most jaw-dropping cringeworthy show of maybe all-time she’s decided to pull the plug. Coward! Rosie, you could have saved it. Rip Taylor, Richard Simmons, Rene Taylor, Joanne Worley, Gallagher, Vanilla Ice, Andrew Dice Clay, Sanjaya, Ant – all these great guests were available and could have saved it.
I posted every day during the four-day weekend... despite the fact that very few people read them. So if you're just logging on, scroll down for more. I put a lot of effort into the "How I Censored Your Mother" post.
Hope you had a great weekend, got home safely, and are still talking to your family.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
As we continue to recover from the big Thanksgiving weekend, here are a few of my thoughts on this traditional American ordeal.
The radio industry lost a giant on Saturday when Bill Drake died.
For any kid who grew up in the 60s, radio was a huge part of their life. It’s not like today. Back then if you were a teenager, radio was your constant companion. You had a favorite station, knew all the disc jockeys, could sing their jingles. It was a shared experience.
And one station revolutionized top 40. KHJ Los Angeles became “Boss Radio” in April of 1965. Its streamlined approach and exciting presentation captured the imagination of an entire generation. Within several years there were “Boss Radio” clones in every market in the country.
Bill Drake, along with Ron Jacobs (both pictured right), created that format.
Bill Drake became not only the most influential man in broadcasting but the music industry as well. Getting a record on KHJ could make a career. There by the grace of Bill Drake go the Doors, Byrds, Mamas & Papas, Sonny & Cher, and a hundred other 60s rock icons who might otherwise be making Blizzards at Dairy Queen today.
He was also a literal giant. Probably 6’8” with a deep commanding voice. If God did station liners that’s who He’d sound like. And Bill was rarely seen (also like God). In those heydays when he was the czar of the industry he’d camp out high in the hills in his Bel Air mansion and communicate via hotlines. It was the Zeus management style.
He later created automated music formats that ruled the nation’s FM dial for most of the 70s.
I worked for him in 1974. By then he had left KHJ and was trying to duplicate its success on FM. His star disc jockeys from Boss Radio, Robert W. Morgan and the Real Don Steele were brought over to start K100. And amazingly I was hired as well. Okay, so I was fired shortly thereafter… by Bill Drake. But my admiration for the man is so great I never held it against him.
A few years ago when my partner and I were doing research for a radio themed screenplay I called Bill and asked if we could have lunch with him and pick his brain. Generally a very private man, he graciously sat with us at Monty’s in Woodland Hills. It was a six-hour audience with the king whereby he gave us an absolute master class in the art of mass communication.
I am devastated by the loss and very blessed that I got to know him. Bill Drake was one of the most important influences of my life. And maybe yours too, even though this may be the first time you’ve ever heard the name.
To paraphrase one of his classic intros:
Bill Drake is… “number one then…and number one forever.”
Saturday, November 29, 2008
On most cross-country flights, American Airlines shows "Eye on America", a collection of CBS shows. And they edit out anything horribly objectionable. My son Matt took note of this recently.
On my American flight, they were showing the "Sandcastles in the Sand" episode of How I Met Your Mother. However, this was no ordinary episode. Thanks to American Airlines we got the version that was so heavily censored that Sesame Street probably uses more foul language. Here are the words I noticed were missing from the episode:
Going all the way
And, for the finale, not only was the audio missing from part of the "Sandcastles in the Sand" music video, but the video of Robin's mouth was blurred out so you couldn't see her say the words "let's do it." I'm sure that the 80 year olds who would be offended by these words are exactly the target demographic for HIMYM. Thanks American Airlines!
And thanks to you, Matt. Here's that mock music video (which is hilarious, by the way). 2:33 in is when Robin utters those words so offensive I can't even print them again without my blog being classified again as pornographic.
And speaking of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, I'll be reviewing that show along with the other CBS Monday comedies later in the week.
Friday, November 28, 2008
VOLUNTEERS (the movie David Isaacs and I wrote) did so poorly it not only closed a movie theater but also the bowling alley next door.
The Pickwood Theater and Bowling Alley were longtime fixtures in West Los Angeles on Pico Blvd. Many major pictures had their exclusive first runs at the Pickwood. There were star studded premieres and klieg lights. And the bowling alley was so popular it was open almost 24 hours a day.
Then VOLUNTEERS opened.
Three weeks later the wrecking ball tore the entire complex to smithereens.
The official word was that both structures were torn down to make way for the Westside Pavilion shopping mall. But we know better.
And the irony is the Pavilion itself has been renovated and what’s in that spot now? The Landmark theatres.
So moviegoers have forgiven us. But bowlers still hate our guts.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
It’s Black Friday question day. Take a break in between trips to Costco and your bank (if it hasn’t gone under).
QUESTION: I think CHEERS got better when Lillith became a regular character. Bebe Neuwirth is great. When a character who has been in the show sporadically is finally made a regular, are writers glad or is it just more challenging?
Writers are thrilled. The reason a sporadic character becomes a regular is because they’re terrific. It’s usually the writers who campaign to get that character on the show permanently. Both Frasier and Lilith were happy surprises. Frasier was originally supposed to be in a three-part arc to begin season three. And Lilith had four lines in a teaser and that’s it. But the actors scored so well that we just kept bringing them back. Another example is Chris Lloyd as Reverend Jim in TAXI.
On ALMOST PERFECT we were going to make Lisa Edelstein a regular. But alas, we were canceled first. It’s too bad. I wonder whatever happened to her.
ElwynBrooksWhite wants to know:
What happens to the writer(s) that come in after the first bloom is off a show? For example, how do you write the episode that follows the "Happy Days" Jump the Shark three-parter? Or, when a character previously played for laughs ("Hot Lips" etc.) then takes a more serious turn? Is it possible for a show to recover from a stunt episode? Or does that tend to linger?
Most of the time when a second regime takes over the show is not as good. I’m very proud of the work David and I did on MASH in those middle years of the series but our seasons don’t hold a candle to Larry Gelbart’s.
Sometimes however, new teams of writers can energize or even improve a show. For my money, NEWHART got much better when Dan Wilcox took over and even better still when Mark Egan & Mark Solomon ran the show.
Generally, when a show jumps the shark it’s very hard to come back. It’ll be interesting to see if 24 can rebound from it’s sub-par sixth season. And HEROES is still trying to recover from its disastrous second season (although usually a hit show doesn’t lose its way in season two… that takes real futility).
What’s your question… besides what was in that stuffing?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
General Thanksgiving musings:
The Macy’s Day parade is fun to watch only when it’s raining, snowing, windy, or five degrees. Otherwise, what’s entertaining about Al Roker interviewing second bananas from the NBC “hit” comedy, KATH AND KIM, a production number from HAIRSPRAY (probably now starring Shaquille O’Neill), guys on unicycles, marching bands performing Sondheim, Wal-Mart 5 A.M Sale commercials, the Hello Kitty balloon, and the phrase “for children of all ages”? And now, even when there IS a balloon accident they make no mention of it.
Meanwhile, the Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade, once a proud LA tradition, is now pathetic. And it’s not even because it’s no longer safe to go to Hollywood at night. It'll be this Sunday night, unless it's canceled. Gone are the days when TV stars like Lucy and Jack Benny would be in the parade. Now they don’t even get Gypsy Boots, lasso expert Monty Montana, and Iron Eyes Cody hawking his new line of jewelry. Today it’s the disc jockeys from KTNQ and maybe Santa Claus if they can pour him out of the Frolic Room.
Oh God, holiday music begins. The only Christmas songs I like are “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Linda Eder and the Chipmunk Song.
And then there are the Christmas themed episodes on sitcoms. These stories all ran out in 1957. What to buy? I forgot to get a present for X. Oh no, I have to work, etc. All episodes end in a living room in front of a roaring fire or at the homeless shelter. And everyone learns a lesson they should have already known since they were five.
Since they always SAY the day after Thanksgiving is the worst shopping day of the year, with the biggest lines, why do people go????
Worst Thanksgiving songs: "The Turkey Trot" by Little Eva and "Turkey Lurky" from PROMISES PROMISES (the absolute nadir of the Bacharach-David songbook).
This is the one week a year when those idiots who never take down their Christmas lights are the smart ones.
Drive, fly, and eat carefully.
MANY THANKS to all of you who contacted that website. Hopefully this will be resolved soon.
It pisses me off for two reasons.
1) All someone had to do over there is take two seconds to click on my blog and see it wasn't objectionable. All of this could have been avoided.
2) Who the fuck are they anyway to judge someone's blog? Who named them the guardian of taste and decency? If schools and corporations can monitor their employees internet use, it is pretty easy to tell which websites are pornographic. They usually don't have names like Jewishguy.blogspot.com.
Thanks again. A new non-pornographic post on the Macy's Parade follows soon.
There's some company called Sonicwall which has classified my blog as "pornography". I guess the photo of Tina Fey below is too suggestive. Anyway, there's a site you can go to and request a re-classification. Perhaps arts/entertainment? Maybe fitness? If you've got nothing to do you're welcome to let them know that I give writing advice not show hot girl-on-girl action. Thanks. Now back to the holiday mood.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Besides my family, here are some of the things I’m thankful for this year.
Lobster at The Lobster
Cutthroat Bitch (Ann Dudek not Sarah Palin)
My daughter is not dating a vampire
The iPhone (when it works)
A one cent residual when MASH plays on the internet a thousand times.
Bob’s Big Boy
XM (before Sirius took over and will destroy it)
Talkradio 790 KABC
Peter Luger's steak sauce
Dick Cheney’s indictment
The Bilko box set
Coffee Bean Ice Blendeds
3 1/2 inning World Series games
The Crab Cooker
What’s My Line?
Amy Winehouse (when she’s out of jail/rehab/the hospital)
Red carpet shows
Care to add your own?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Couldn’t happen to a nicer genre.
Audiences are starting to prove they are SMARTER THAN A FIFTH GRADER (which has lost half of it’s coveted 18-49 demographic) and the verdict is NO DEAL (down 29%). SURVIVOR EDITION 382: CATALINA is off 10% and even DANCING WITH THE FRINGE OR GERIATRIC STARS is down 9% (but at least Cloris Leachman didn’t break a hip). Across the board, reality shows are slumping. Maybe if the craze hadn’t gotten so far out of hand that there’s now an Emmy category for best Reality Show Host that wouldn’t be the case, but still – America has voted… and they want the genre off the island.
So what shows are doing well instead. Scripted shows. And more to the point –
Hold off reading sitcoms their rites. TWO AND A HALF MEN kicks ass, 30 ROCK is up 23% (even though this is far from their best year so far), HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and BIG BANG THEORY are making dramatic gains as well. There’d be even more success stories if there were more than six comedies.
And you can sell those shows into syndication and make a handsome profit long into the future. What is NBC going to do with four seasons of THE APPRENTICE now that we all know the outcomes, the challenges are dated and musty, and half the contestants are currently serving time for insider trading?
Media analysts are quick to explain this phenomenon. There’s a glut of reality shows, people need escape from the collapsed economy, and Misty May-Treanor is not a great dancer.
But the bottom line is this: SITUATION COMEDIES are back even though they never went away.
Get going on that spec OFFICE and original pilot about USC film students trying to break into Hollywood.
Sitcoms (in some form) will still be around long after all the Bachelors and Bachelorettes have been divorced and Ryan Seacrest has come out.
We all have a lot to be thankful for this year.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It's become a cult classic! Rarely does a decade go by without someone asking me about MANNEQUIN 2. So for all you MAN2 fans (that's what it's known as in film schools -- many graduate programs have courses devoted to it) here's how me and David Isaacs came to have our names on this cinematic classic.
We did an extensive rewrite on MANNEQUIN 1, working for a couple of swell guys – Bruce McNall (former owner of the LA KINGS who later was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison) and David Begelman (who as President of Columbia Pictures was caught forging bogus expense checks as Cliff Robertson).
They wanted to pay us in TV’s but our agent insisted on money. (What’s 10% of a television, the speakers?) We did the rewrite in two weeks, actually had fun with it, and did receive our payment in US currency. (It was on this rewrite that we instituted the “24 second logic clock”. We were not going to get bogged down discussing whether a mannequin would do this or that. 24 seconds of debate, we picked a course of action and just went with it.)
MANNEQUIN was a huge hit, enough to warrant MANNEQUIN 2. Again we got the call to rewrite it. “For luck” as Begelman said. We said fine but we’d like more “lucky bucks”. This time they were willing to throw in a VCR and camcorder but again we insisted on money.
This script was even worse than the first but did our best. We turned it in, ran immediately to the bank to cash our checks, and then forgot about it. Months later we received the shooting script (further revised from ours) and the proposed credits. To our horror the script was worse and the studio was giving us shared credit.
We called our agent. Did we even WANT credit on this stinkburger? Yes, he said, because we would then be entitled to royalties. Okay then.
Anytime there is more than the original writer listed on the proposed credits the matter automatically goes to a WGA arbitration. I’ve been involved on both sides of this aisle – petitioning and arbitrating. Each writer drafts a statement pleading his case. These are always long, impassioned, pleas – how the idea came from their own lives and suffering and if they lost it would be a miscarriage of justice on the scale of OJ. We certainly in good conscience couldn’t write something like that. So what we wrote instead was:
To Whom It May Concern:
According to the bylaws set forth by the WGA credits manual we believe the credit should stand as proposed. Thank you.
When the movie finally was released (escaped) I was announcing for the Orioles. We were in Detroit. I went to see it on opening night. Big multiplex theatre. There were six people in the audience…counting me.
The movie went on to make nothing. McNall went to the federal pen. Begelman eventually killed himself. The film aired on a major network and has been showing for years on cable channels. Our agent was right. There were royalties we were entitled to.
We never saw a penny.
We should’ve taken the TV. At least we could sell it on ebay.
Friday, November 21, 2008
It’s college basketball season! See the best young athletes play for one year until they split for the NBA! Hear Dick Vitale suffer a hernia screaming so loud over some meaningless rebound!
Compliments of LA Times writer Chris Dufresne, here are the best names in this year’s crop of collegiate hoopsters.
Olek Czyz (Duke -- pictured above although I'm sure you recognize him)
Dogus Balbay (Texas)
Idong Ibok (Michigan State)
Tweety Carter (Baylor)
Scoop Jardine (Syracuse)
Derwin Kitchen (Florida State)
Orion Outerbridge (Rhode Island)
Papa Dia (Southern Methodist)
Chop Tang (Wisconsin-Green Bay)
Takayo Siddle (Gardner-Webb)
"Noopy" Crater (Ohio State)
Trian Illiadis (Old Dominion; hometown Gwelp, Australia)
These names will definitely show up in future scripts of mine, unless you get to them first.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Let’s get to some Friday questions. Ask yours in the comments section.
From Eric Curtis:
One of the things I remember the most about Cheers is the scene where Kirstie Alley hid a lit cigarette in her mouth. How did you find out she could do that? I can't believe it was in the script beforehand.
It’s what we make all actresses do during auditions. Seriously, she had mentioned to us at some point (probably towards the end of a drunken wrap party) that she had that rather unique and impressive skill. And we figured, this is the kind of thing that could win her an Emmy over Julia Louis-Dreyfus. So we worked it into a script.
Mary Stella wonders:
Which current show would you like most to write for and/or direct?
I think I’d like to write a MAD MEN or FAMILY GUY and I imagine I could find a story that would work with either. In terms of directing, I gravitate more towards actors I admire and would like to work with. So OLD CHRISTINE because of Julia L-D, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (I directed Neil Patrick Harris before and he is a joy), 30 ROCK (Alec and Tina), and LOST if it’s an Elizabeth Mitchell episode.
Paul in Kirkland weighs in:
Here's a bit of an offbeat question: How much credence should you give to *other* people encouraging you to write? Pretty much everyone at some point tells me (unprompted) "you should be a writer". I enjoy writing, but I'm a little hesitant to give it a shot - fear of failure and all. Should I take their comments as an indication that I have potential, or should I just figure that people have pretty low standards and they think you can be a writer if you don't end sentences in a proposition?
Paul, people don’t tell everybody they think they should be writers. (No one said it to me now that I think about it.) You should be encouraged. One of the great things about writing is that you don’t have to show it to anyone. It’s not like wanting to be a director, borrowing $20,000 from friends to make a movie. Those friends are damn well going to want to see the final product. You can bury your script in a drawer.
But this is key: never let a fear of failure prevent you from trying – writing or any other creative endeavor. Why? Because we ALL fail. No matter how successful we are we all have our AfterMASH’s and COP ROCKS and STUDIO 60’s. Writing isn’t about winning awards, it’s the need to express yourself. If you have something to say, say it.
Like anyone, I'm sure you have a political point of view. Do you think that shows up in your writing and do you have a thought or rule about that?
I think my political view colors my worldview and so is present in much of what I write. But it’s more about the situation and characters. You need to be able to write opposing points of view for dramatic tension. And you must be as true to them and their position you are to the one you favor. That makes you a better writer and broadens your scope, not necessarily a bad thing.
On MASH however, I must admit we did have a political agenda. Were we too subtle or do you think it maybe came through?
And finally, from The Anonymous Production Assistant:
What question do you wish you would've asked when you were a young, aspiring writer, but were just too dumb to ask?
How long should it take to break in? But I'm glad I was too dumb to ask that question because maybe the answer would have dissuaded me from trying. And no matter what I ended up doing instead (probably playing oldies on a radio station in Bakersfield) I would have been haunted by never having given it a shot.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
It’s usually not a good idea to build a whole show leading up to one big joke. Why? Because if the big joke doesn’t work you are pretty much left with nothing but a big hot steaming turd. On the other hand, if the payoff does work, the episode can be a home run.
Who (over 40) will ever forget the classic HONEYMOONERS episode where Ralph is on a quiz show and has a week to become an expert in popular music.
HONEYMOONERS SPOILER ALERT!
He enlists Norton to play songs on the piano. But before every one Norton plays the intro to Swanee River. It drives Ralph bat shit of course. By the end of the week he knows every song ever written, can tell you the composer, the year, everything. So he gets on the show and the first song he has to identify is Swanee River. His eyes open wide. He has no idea. Trust me, the first time you see this you laugh for ten minutes.
But it’s usually not worth the risk.
That didn’t stop us from pitching the following idea to CHEERS: Frasier and Lilith are worried that their baby, Frederick hasn’t spoken yet. They fear the worst: that he might be average. They blame themselves of course, and then each other. Frasier suggests he might be better suited for caring for their son during the day. (at the act break he says, “I’ve done a horrible thing. I’ve left our child alone with its mother!”)
The next day Frasier has Frederick and brings him to the bar. At the same time, they put parking meters on the surrounding streets so Norm has to leave every two hours to feed the meter. Every time he returns we do a “Norm entrance”. Finally, Lilith enters and is outraged that Frasier has brought the baby to this worst possible environment. Frederick’s growth will be stunted. Now he’ll never begin talking. Just then Norm enters, says, “Afternoon, everybody” and the baby says “Norm!”
Everyone in the room laughed and we went off to write the script. Then it hit us. What the fuck were we thinking? This was already the 9th season. It was hard enough to come up with one Norm entrance. Now we had to dream up with like five. We had to establish this pattern so that Frederick would have heard the name a lot. The other CHEERS writers would walk by our office, peek in and say, “Hey, how those Norm entrances coming?”
The night of the filming the payoff received a huge explosive laugh. We were heroes. The audience applauded wildly when we were introduced. It was now time to get our just desserts. We sauntered up to the other writers and asked with a swagger, “Well, now what do you think?” Almost to a person they answered, “You’re still schmucks”.
The episode is called “Breaking In Is Hard to Do”. You decide.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Recently I received an email from Tom Tuttle from Tacoma. Fans of VOLUNTTERS recognize that as the name of the character John Candy played in the movie. My partner David Isaacs and I wrote the screenplay and are responsible for the name. Who knew there would be a real person, or that anyone would remember VOLUNTEERS? I feel like the father in the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”.
So if you ever wondered how we came up with the name or what life has been like for someone saddled with the name, here is my correspondence with Tom (which he graciously allowed me to share).
As the real Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, WA….I have been asked all my life (well since 8th grade or 84’ish) why the name Tom Tuttle for the movie Volunteers? Was I consulted? Did I get royalties? To this day, 24 years later, people still laugh when I introduce myself …Tom Tuttle. They say, from Tacoma, WA? Yes. I was born and raised in Tacoma and still reside here. My question for you is…..how did you come up with Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, WA ?
Tom Tuttle (from Tacoma)
Great to hear from you.
Believe it or not, my partner David and I wrote the very first draft of VOLUNTEERS in 1980. It took five years to get made and released. We honestly pulled the name out of the air. We wanted the character to be real gung ho and for contrast, hail from as far away from the east coast as possible. First we came up with WSU as the college. We wanted the school to be well known (they're in the Pac 10) but still a little offbeat. We checked out a few fight songs, liked WSU's the best and settled on that. Then we figured the character should hail from the state of Washington. Tacoma was sort of a funny sounding name and again, a city that was recognizable. We always pictured that the character was a little wired and whenever he introduced himself would say his name and where he's from. So alliteration was employed to help the name roll off his tongue. Somehow we came up with Tom Tuttle from Tacoma. We just liked the rhythm of it. If we had gone with Spokane it might have been Stan Stodell from Spokane.
So have people been recognizing your name your whole life? I hope ultimately it's been a positive thing.
Again, thanks for writing. Say hi to Lawrence Bourne and Beth for me.
First of all, I just want to thank you for taking the time out to write back; very interesting. Never imagined that I would get the real story from the writer himself. In fact, I (well my mother…because in 8th grade I wanted nothing to do with the attention) mailed off a letter to Hollywood. My Mother has been sticking up for me all along. Shortly after the movie came out, Tom Tuttle (from Sumner) wrote to the Tacoma News Tribune stating that he was the real Tom Tuttle from Tacoma. Well, my Mother would have none of that. So, she wrote back and the next week it was published….that I was the real Tom Tuttle from Tacoma. I will be sure to share this with her! She will get a kick out of it.
Anyway, after college (not WSU….though I visited…my father is an alumnus) I student taught in Puyallup. The day I arrived, I met Tom Tuttle (from Sumner). He was a Math teacher at the school. What are the odds. We had t-shirts made up….”Will the real Tom Tuttle please stand up”. After that, I was a teacher in the Tacoma School District for 10 years and now sell real estate with my brothers. You know, name recognition is everything in this business. I’ve been trying to find a way to use it to my advantage…I might as well. People still recognize the name. In fact, so many movies have character names, but few have had the impact that Tom Tuttle has had. Any ideas?
Tom Tuttle (from Tacoma)
I think we should start at Tom Tuttle from Tacoma International Fan Club. Interested in joining?
…check out Earl Pomerantz’s blog. Lately he’s been doing a series of posts on MAJOR DAD, a show he created. Even pilots that come out great and get on the air go through hell. Earl has that rare gift of being able to describe a nightmare through the use of whimsy. I’m really enjoying it. Thought you might too.
Monday, November 17, 2008
SITCOM ROOM 3 was held this weekend at that shrine of comedy, the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. For two days twenty attendees experienced what it’s like to be on staff of a sitcom. And none left saying they’d rather sell appliances at Sears than ever do that shit again, so I considered it a big success!
Among the things they learned were:
The two “Reds” that all writers require are Red Vines and Red Bull.
There’s always a way to solve story structure. There is no way out of the parking structure.
Danielle Sanchez, Co-Exec of MY NAME IS EARL explained what they’re looking for in a spec.
Air conditioning is a good thing.
The pros and cons of gangbanging.
Servicing actors (not to be confused with gangbanging).
If you don’t have a white board to write down your story beats, you can always use full-length mirrors. Sure anyone who enters the room will think it’s Hannibal Lector’s shopping list but still it gets the job done.
Jokes are easy. Stories are hard.
Norm stories on CHEERS were particularly hard.
Lloyd Garber shared tales of working with the great Bob Newhart.
When you’re finished eating the take-out Chinese food throw everything out. Immediately!
What shows to write for your spec. What shows not to write for your spec. (hint: I hope you’re not too far along on that DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.)
Not all Hitler jokes work.
The Volkswagen test.
The magazine trick.
Why a comedy writer should never wear a toupee or Hawaiian shirt (not that anyone should).
Ways to fix troubled scenes.
How to run a room.
How to get a laugh without a joke.
David Isaacs gave an inside look at how MAD MEN works.
Don’t trust a certain scumbag talent agency.
You don’t have to be the funniest person in the writing room to be the most valuable.
Phoef Sutton of CHEERS and BOSTON LEGAL explained how the worst idea ever can become the best idea.
Nothing goes better with Oreo Double-stuffs than beer.
The rule of threes.
The best book for learning how to be funny is Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg.
… and finally -- 5-Hour Energy works!!! (Oh wait, it’s me who learned that.)
Thanks to Dan O’Day, David Isaacs, Phoef Sutton, Danielle Sanchez, Lloyd Garver, Andy Goldberg, Mark Chaet, Barbara Howard, Mehera Blum, the German guy from the hotel, and especially the attendees for making Sitcom Room 3 such a great experience.
A few of those attendees may comment. Not sure how many because of course I’ll delete the negative ones.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Thanks to everyone involved in Sitcom Room 2008. It was a total blast. Details later in the week.
Here's another installment of my memoirs growing up in the 60s. This one deals with my early comedy influences and first mentor, since there were no seminars (or even hotels) in my day.1964
My birthday is February 14th. For everyone else it’s a day associated with love and an execution-like slaying in Chicago. For me it was sharing my birthday with a holiday that no one really celebrated in earnest. I said it was a day associated with love. Actually it’s more like the obligation of declaring your love. Forced gifts, forced flowers, forced romantic dinners. I always felt guilty that my birthday was just one more of those obligations.
My 14th birthday fell on a Friday so any restaurant that didn’t have a drive-through window was booked. But my mom suggested we have a party. It’s always borderline pathetic to hold a party for yourself at that age but I begrudgingly agreed as long as the guest list didn’t include both my friends and my grandparents.
Parties back then were incredibly lame. Everyone’s parents had to drive you and pick you up. We were too young to drink. Too young to smoke. Too shy to really fool around. What was left was ten awkward early teens listening to music, eating snacks, drinking Cokes, and not dancing. The Amish throw better bashes.
Gifts were traditionally 45 rpm records. I got all the new Beatles singles even though I already had all the new Beatles singles. (I wish I still had them today. I could retire.)
Quick side trip (I’ll be taking these from time to time): Not all of these Beatles singles were on the same label. Curiously, they were on five – Capitol, Vee-Jay, Atco, Swan, and Tollie. There must’ve been some complicated rights snafu but it also explains why so many songs were coming out at once. It’s not like Swam records had anything better to release.
A more eventful party a few years earlier was the one at Bonnie Burns’ house. For some reason there was a photo in her living room of Steve Allen. I loved Steve Allen. Once the host of THE TONIGHT SHOW, Allen then hosted variety programs on NBC and ABC that was far better and more cutting edge than THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW (as was LASSIE). I was first introduced to Lenny Bruce on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW. And Bob Dylan. Even Kyu Sakamoto. Steve also surrounded himself with a hilarious cast of brilliant comedians – Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Bill Dana, Dayton Allen, Tim Conway, and one of my all-time faves – Louie Nye (pictured right).
There was a real sense of anarchy on his show. Allen frequently did inspired outrageous stunts. I remember one time he began his program by having a camera shoot from underneath a clear glass stage. He looked down at the camera and said, “What if a drunk suddenly staggered into your living room and saw this shot?” Wacky stuff you see on David Letterman – that all began with TV pioneers like Steve Allen (and also Ernie Kovacs).
I asked Bonnie why the picture of Allen and she said, “Because my dad is his head writer.” WHAT?! HOLY SHIT!! I was in the tract house of a GOD!
Most boys grow up and want to be baseball stars. Those boys had coordination. The first time I saw THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW I thought, “Wow, bitchin’ babes like Laura Petrie marry comedy writers? I’m a riot for 12. I could do that!”
It seemed like a great life. Hang out with other funny people. Make each other laugh. Get paid for it. And attract long legged brunettes without having to master the harmonica.
Stan Burns became my first mentor. When the guy who wrote for Steve Allen and GET SMART says you’re funny it means a lot. He would go on to create, write, and produce the series LANCELOT LINK: SECRET CHIMP. Picture a James Bond movie but with chimpanzees that could talk. It takes a special mind to come up with that, and a special courage to actually pitch it. Stan did and it ran for two successful years on ABC.
To this day people think I grew up in New York. They can’t believe a Jewish comedy writer could come from the West San Fernando Valley. Hey, some of the funniest shows in the history of television were written right there. Not by me but still.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Hello from the Sitcom Room. Great students. Great scenes. The All-Star writing panel follows at 3. Reports later in the week from those who survived the experience.
The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here again -- and with a few additions -- are some travel tips:
Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the last week .
Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.
Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else. Even in the last row.
If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an ear ache and make everyone come to YOU.
Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.
If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.
When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.
Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.
Three words of advice if you’re driving a long distance: XM satellite radio. Especially if you’re crossing Texas and want to listen to Air America.
Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.
If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.
Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.
There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.
There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.
When you’re stuck in St. Louis and all flights are grounded (and trust me, you WILL be), grab lunch at Mike Shannon’s.
If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone whose already eating or reading Ann Coulter.
Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same friggin' balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, JOURNEYMEN, won’t be there (thank God).
Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.
Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.
If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.
In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.
And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.
Happy trails to you all.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Sitcom Room 3 is in full swing. Two full days of hell-arity. Reports next week from me and the attendees who survived it. In the meantime, here's something of grave international importance:
There is a city in Southeastern Turkey named Batman. The mayor of that little town is suing Warner Brothers and director Christopher Nolan for royalties on THE DARK KNIGHT.
Mayor Huseyin Kalkan claims the producers of DARK KNIGHT used the name of his city “without informing us”.
Don’t anybody tell Mr. Mayor that there’s been a comic book since 1939, a popular mid 60s TV series, and several other Batman movies. He’ll be dragging Adam West’s ass right into court.
Now some may say this is a nuisance suit but listen to these compelling charges:
Hizzoner claims the movie’s success has so damaged the town’s psyche that it has resulted in a number of unsolved murders and a high female suicide rate.
I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP!!!
We will follow this case closely.
It comes at just the right time for me. I’m developing a superhero and was going to call him Persepolis. Now I’ll just change it to Jump Real High Man.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Busy weekend ahead. Sitcom Room 3 begins Saturday at the LAX Hilton. Looking forward to meeting the attendees and putting them through two days of Hell-arity.
It's Friday question day. Dana Franks has asked me a number of them for an industry site called Media Scribbler. Thought I’d kill two birds…
Some of the most famous shows you've written for came years before the Internet. Do you ever wonder how things might be different these days? Would Radar become a huge MySpace hottie, and would Sam be picking up women on AdultFriendFinder? Heh.
Well, I don’t think MASH would change appreciably since it was set in 1951. Although the outgoing administration believes THE FLINTSTONES were an accurate representation of the Prehistoric Era so I’m sure if we did say the internet existed in the 50s there would be a sizable portion of the audience that would believe it.
CHEERS would obviously change considerably. But the big technical advancement that we wish we had back then was the cellphone, not the internet. The bar phone always got in the way. You’ll notice that at times it's at one end of the bar and other times it's on the opposite side. Otherwise, anytime there was a call it seemed characters had to walk across the set to answer it. Thank God for the age we now live in. Any character can get and receive calls anywhere they are. Except AT&T subscribers.
People are often asking you for stories from the stars associated with your shows, like a recent post you did about Jane Leeves from "Frasier". Do you find yourself skipping over unflattering stories you could share, and what kind of feedback do you get from the actors themselves?
For the most part, yes, I avoid sharing those unflattering stories. I’m not really interested in using this forum for celebrity gossip. But catch me after a few Border Grill margaritas.
A few actors have responded to me about something I wrote about them. Kelsey Grammer, in particular, was quite touched by all of the get well wishes you guys sent that I forwarded to him.
Your blog has now evolved into the Sitcom Room seminars you've conducted in LA. Has it shocked you that there are so many people not in the biz who are interested in learning about the process of writing for a sitcom?
A little bit. I’m not surprised that there are people in LA looking to break in to the industry. Just go to any Starbucks or call any Escort Service. But when I started my blog three years ago I figured no one outside the 310 area code would be remotely interested. The surprise is how many readers nationwide and even worldwide I have. But it makes sense. Writing is something you can do anywhere. And it doesn’t take sitting in Los Angeles for someone to watch a show and say, “Hey, I could do better than that.” One of the things I like best about the Sitcom Room is that it gives these out-of-towners a chance to really experience what it’s like to be on a show. And that preview can be very helpful should the person be thinking of chucking his great job at Lehman Brothers and moving out here.
Got a question? Leave it in the comments section. Or sign up for my next seminar. Whatever is easier.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Thanks SO much to everyone for your lovely comments re yesterday’s post. I’m proud to know me. If you haven’t checked in, I’d still love to know where you are, how you got here, what you want to see, what’s your hat size, that sort of thing?
One way people find this blog is by Googling something that appears here. Some of those search items are…uh, interesting. Here are a few from just this week alone. And you sickos know who you are.
picture of sheep genitals
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"i fell in love with you three times"
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How to buy a mattress
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Tom Tuttle This will not look good on a resume."
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I don’t have sex
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jenna fischer +written off
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Sabrina Teen Witch love scenes
Kim Raver sex scene
Several Drunk Girls, as actors of some Christmas movies.
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Hey hey Paula
Missing airport luggage
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look at us we're walking telethon song
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Nipples were bigger
Total Drama Island porn
I need a sign from God that I can make a living on line.
Used autopsy table
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
This month marks the third anniversary of this blog. 1205 posts and counting. I read an article recently that said the average number of readers for a blog is 1. So by that yardstick I’m a hit!
This little experiment in free-form writing and raging narcissism has worked out far better than I ever expected. I’ve been asked numerous times “Why do I keep doing it?” and my answer’s always the same –
I’m a writer and a writer writes.
Plus, there have been side benefits. Starting my SITCOM ROOM seminars (the latest takes place this weekend), getting invites to important industry functions (John Edwards for President cocktail party), spreading the word on what the WGA was really after in the recent strike, and being able to share a writing tip or two to help you on your way and (selfishly) giving me something to watch.
I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the interactive features I’ve done from time to time. I’ll be doing more Komedy Kontests. I just hope I can ever find another grand prize as coveted as an autographed script of AfterMASH.
Best of all has been meeting so many great new people. (Well, in truth the very best thing was receiving that Astroglide coffee mug but making new friends is a close second).
So on anniversaries like this I invite YOU to do the writing. Especially you new readers and lurkers. Please tell me where you’re from, how you found this blog, how long ago, and any feedback you might offer. What do you like? What don’t you like (besides my politics)? The last time I did this enough readers said they came for writing advice that I instituted the Friday Question of the Week. What else would you like to see more of?
All I ask is that you leave your name.
Thanks so much for your support, encouragement, and indulgence.
ON TO YEAR FOUR (something I wish I could have said about even one of the damn the series I created)!!
Monday, November 10, 2008
Concluding my two day preview. Amazingly, a few of these are not about Nazis.THE READER – One of the six Kate Winslet movies out this season. This one is about the Holocaust.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – After THE READER Kate decided to do something frothy. So she took this trifle about a crumbling doomed marriage. With Leo DeCaprio. What would have happened if he hadn’t drowned in THE TITANIC.
CADILLAC RECORDS -- Story of Chess Records, famous R&B and Blues label of the 50s. Beyonce as Etta James. Younger audiences won’t know who Etta James is. Older audiences won’t know who Beyonce is. Age groups in the middle will be watching QUANTUM OF SOLACE for the third time.
THE WRESTLER – Mickey Rourke is supposed to be amazing in this drama. There goes Will Smith’s Oscar again.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a couple but as she grows older he gets younger. It’s the love affair every “cougar” has longed for.
DEFIANCE – Three Jewish brothers evading Nazis while protecting other Jews. Certainly a Christmas Day alternative.
BEDTIME STORIES – Adam Sandler in a feel-good CGI effects-loaded holiday movie for the whole family! Filled with wonder and magic and that shit.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX – CGI mice are the new CGI penguins. Matthew Broderick voices the lead mouse. Written by Gary Ross who scripted SEABISCUIT and was always frustrated that he couldn’t make the horse talk.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH – NY Times reporter Judith Miller’s story. If you're saying "Who?" that could be a problem for the film's prospects.
GOOD – Viggo Mortensen struggles with whether to become a Nazi. Gee, I didn’t realize folks back then had a choice.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL – Remake of that 50s B-movie classic. To recreate the cheesy acting of the period they cast Keanu Reeves in the title role.
FROST/NIXON -- Film version of the play of the television show. Back in the 70s David Frost had a sit-down with former President Richard Nixon. Today’s equivalent would be Nicole Richie interviewing George Bush.
GRAN TORINO – Clint Eastwood continues to direct a movie a month. He has an open slot in March if you want to submit your screenplays. But he also stars in this one so I’ll see you there the first day.
MARLEY & ME – Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and a cute dog. I’m sure critic Jeffrey Lyons will be wagging his tail at this one.
YES MAN – LIAR LIAR but this time Jim Carrey only says yes instead of lying. But it’s Jim Carrey so it makes no difference really.
LAST CHANCE HARVEY – Dustin Hoffman & Emma Thompson as two lonely souls who fall in love. Date movie for the Motion Picture Country Home.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR – Cartoon about the Lebanon War of the early 80s. I wonder if the weapons were all Acme Rocket Launchers.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Standard themes dominate this holiday season: World War II and retro R&B acts.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE – Bond is back! And it’s Daniel Craig, the good Bond! Resumes the story an hour after CASINO ROYALE ended. Even 007 needs some alone time for “002”.
FOUR CHRISTMASES – Every Xmas Hollywood trots out at least five ghastly formula high concept hijinks holiday movies. This is four of them.
AUSTRALIA – World War II era romantic western. Similar to “The Man Who Shot Heinrich Himmler”.
BOY IN STRIPED PAJAMAS – Children's story set in a concentration camp. Suddenly a WWII romantic western doesn’t seem so weird, does it?
ROLE MODELS – Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott. “Hey Dude, Where’s my Big Brother?” Receiving good buzz. Enjoy before this Apatow fad completely wears out its welcome... in about another five weeks.
MILK – Sean Penn as gay SF politician Harvey Milk who was assassinated. Brokeback Metro.
TWILIGHT – Stephanie Meyer’s wildly popular vampire novel comes to the silver screen. Over-critical average girl has issues with her super hot boyfriend just because he happens to drink blood. Yeah, like she's perfect.
SOUL MEN – When director Malcolm Lee set out to do this R&B buddy comedy he didn’t figure on two of his stars (Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes) dying shortly after principle photography. That sort of takes a little of the fun out. But I want to see it anyway.
NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS – starring America’s next great screen couple – Freddy Rodriguez and Debra Messing.
BOLT – Disney/Pixar animated tale of dog who thinks he’s a superhero. Lots of creative upheaval during production. Big fights over pigeon design. That can’t be a good sign.
REPOI THE GENETIC OPERA – Two words: Paris Hilton. One word: RUN!!!
THE DUKES – two washed-up Doo Wop singers. SOUL MEN but the cast survives.
VALKERIE – The Tom Cruise World War II saga that no one will go to see. He tries to kill Hitler. Ever if he had succeeded in real life, that still wouldn’t be enough to salvage his reputation.
JCVD – Bank robbery. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself. But can he be convincing?
SEVEN POUNDS – Will Smith helps seven people and the audience is not supposed to know why until the end. But everyone knows why – to win an Oscar.
WENDY AND LUCY – Michelle Williams takes on the acting challenge of her career – playing a character wearing no make-up!
CHE – Steven Soderbergh’s four hour biopic of Che Guevara. And if that doesn’t get you racing into the theater, it’s all in Spanish!
The conclusion tomorrow.