Wednesday, December 31, 2008

May 2009 be for YOU...

...what 2008 was for Barack Obama, the Philadelphia Phillies, Mad Men, Batman, Ironman, the Boston Celtics, Tina Fey, David Cook, Michael Phelps, Amy Winehouse (when not hospitalized), the iTunes store, the LSU Tigers, Tiger Woods, Kerry Wood, the Slumdog Millionaire, C.C. Sabathia, The Big Bang Theory, Kanye West, Kansas Jayhawks hoops, Oprah, Patricia Cornwell, No Country For Old Men,, Clint Eastwood, the Mentalist, Kirsten Haglund (Miss America), the Detroit Red Wings, Wall-E, Hulu, House, Daniel Day-Lewis, The Amazing Race, Rafael Nadal, Bryan Cranston, Cole Hamels, the Coen Brothers, the Shield, Vince Gil, Twilight, Tilda Swinton, Rachel Maddow, Paul Rudd, the Hills,, Mama Mia, Dr. Drew, 007, Zeljko Ivanek, Diablo Cody, Albert Pujols, the New York Giants, Bill Self, Herbie Hancock, Ratatouille, Evan Longoria, Eva Longoria, Maxwell Smart, Jean Smart, Stephen Colbert, Guitar Hero, Alicia Keyes, Malcolm Gladwell, NCIS, Hellboy, Glenn Close, the Prius, Marion Cotillard, Project Runway, Dustin Pedroia, Alec Baldwin, the Daily Show, President John Adams, Greg Yaitanes, quite possibly Al Franken, Matthew Weiner, Juno, Simon Cowell, David Gregory, Democracy, and me for having readers like you.

Have a great year everyone!

LA may lose 20 channels tonight

I never thought this day would come. But it has. I’m siding with my cable company on a dispute with a supplier.

Time-Warner cable and Viacom are playing a game of chicken with SpongeBob SquarePants hanging in the balance.

After midnight tonight in Southern California Viacom may pull all twenty of its channels, which include MTV (Oh no! Not the HILLS!), VH-1, Comedy Central (that means Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert folks), Spike, TV Land, and BET.

Viacom is demanding more subscriber fees to offset their poor advertising revenue. 136 year old Sumner Redstone has hefty divorce lawyer fees and Depends are not getting any cheaper. Time-Warner is trying to hold the line on increasing subscribers’ fees. Especially now with this pesky Depression thing going on.

Viacom claims it’s only a twenty-five cent increase per month or $3.00 a year. But Time-Warner counters that if all the Media Giant groups do the same customers will be paying an additional $30 a year. Time-Warner also contends that Viacom provides these channels on the internet for free. So someone could hook up their PC to their TV and SpongeBob SquarePants is back. T-W doesn’t even get exclusivity.

Viacom pulled the same strong-arm tactic five years ago with satellite broadcaster EchoStar Communications.

No one wins if Viacom pulls its programs. Subscribers feel cheated. And the Viacom channels are struggling in the ratings anyway. It’s not like there aren’t other networks and shows and Netflix to fill the void. Besides, what’s the point of providing programming if you deny people from seeing it?

Hopefully this can be resolved. But if not, to paraphrase a rather famous slogan, “Keep your fucking MTV”.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The End of the holiday season

Wow, this holiday season went by fast. Tomorrow is New Year's Day with all the traditional great sporting events -- outdoor NHL hockey at Wrigley Field, and the Don Larson perfect game on the debuting MLB.TV network. Sunshine is predicted for Pasadena's Rose Parade & Bowl so more snowed-in people will pack up and move to Southern California. Only difference is this year those people will be from Seattle.

Drive carefully tonight.

And I leave you with my favorite picture of the holiday season.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Paul Rudd

Okay, I’ll admit it. I have not been a huge Paul Rudd fan. I didn’t dislike him, just didn’t get what all the shouting was about. He always seemed like this generation’s Steve Guttenberg – nice looking, sorta funny but sorta boring.

But now that he’s one of the Judd Apatow players and every comedy made today is either by Judd Apatow or tries to be by Judd Apatow, I’ve seen Rudd a lot more lately. I warmed to him in KNOCKED UP, thought he was hilarious as John Lennon in WALK HARD, but was really impressed with his work in ROLE MODELS.

ROLE MODELS was the funniest movie I saw this year (sorry LOVE GURU fans). Paul Rudd is also credited as one of the writers (along with fifty other people and probably another thirty uncredited), but his comic performance is what really stood out for me.

And here’s the thing – he had the least showy part.

Jane Lynch (pictured right) steals the movie (as she does every movie), and Bobb’e J. Thompson, the little African-American kid who plays the little African-American kid is a riot. Seann William Scott has one act but does it well. Christopher Mintz-Plasse playing a young “me” was pitch-perfect, and Elizabeth Banks can do no wrong ever in my book. But it was Rudd who made the movie work.


Because he REACTED.

His reactions to the world around him not only allowed everyone else to shine but also grounded the movie. And while he aced that he also managed to play a disgruntled unlikable character in such a way that you not only liked him, you loved him. Hey, that’s comic acting! A lot harder to do than just to mug so big an IMAX screen can’t contain you and yell “Smo-kinnnnn’!!!”

So for his timing, generosity, and whatever he contributed to the screenplay, Paul Rudd has officially won me over. Not that he knows who I am or gives a shit. But I’m sure he thinks it’s better that anyone elevates him above Steve Guttenberg.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This year in this blog

It's fun to sit back and reflect and gently prompt readers to hit the archives once in awhile.

The year started off with me surveying other writers on how they overcome writers block.

The WGA strike was in full-force. I was an outspoken supporter and posted frequent updates.

I again reviewed AMERICAN IDOL and as always enjoyed the earlier competition more. The Swinging 70s were great fodder.

Another blog tradition: I reviewed the Oscars.

March meant spring training and as the host of Dodger Talk on KABC I ventured east to Florida with my son, Matt. A travelogue followed.

The Spring Movies were previewed. How many did you actually see?

In April there was a Komedy Kontest.

My May post on stage mothers elicited an angry comment from Diana DiGaramo's mother, which touched off a very heated debate.

Thanks to friend of the blog, Great Big Radio I was able to post the ALMOST PERFECT pilot.

The summer began by going to Disneyland.

From time to time you got excerpts from my memoir, growing up in the 60s.

The big hit movie of the summer was Batman: The Dark Knight.

September brought the Emmy Awards inexplicably starring Reality Show hosts.

The Presidential Debates occupied October and I shared tips on how to win them.

I finally got around to watching and reviewing THE HILLS.

In November I held another Sitcom Room weekend seminar.

A watchdog website reclassified my blog as pornography.

And this month I turned to Montgomery Burns to explain NBC's decision to put Jay Leno in primetime.

Thanks again to YOU for reading this blog this year.

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Elaine and derchaci, which won the second Daffy Definition Kontest. Elaine, please email me so I can send you your coveted prize. Congrats also to the other finalists: James, Simon H. Mike Bell, and Kirk Jusko. And thanks to YOU for participating. Great new stuff next year if I can come up with it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ohmygod, is that a parking space???

The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year.

The town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

And for industry guild folks there are free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. Forget MARLEY & ME on Christmas. I get to see THE READER for free!!

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.

The Rose Bowl traditionally pits the champion of the Pac 10 with the champion of the Big 10. It’s always a big deal, “the Granddaddy of Bowl Games”. And this year the "Granddaddy of Coaches", 100 year old Joe Paterno brings his Penn State Nittnay Lions out to face perennial USC, who wins every year so who gives a shit? I bet I get maybe two calls about the game on my 790 KABC show Sunday night.

Every year fans from the Big 10 representative flood into Southern California. They’re easy to spot. They’re always the nicest people you’ve ever met and they’re always wearing school shirts and hats. I’m beginning to think they come to LA for a week with only that one outfit. Since Nittnay Lions are blue and white those are Penn State's colors.

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.

The New Year's Eve tradition is to watch Dick Clark and experience the year change in tape delay. Unless you have satellite. Then you can watch the East Coast feed in which case you're in 2009 for three hours while the rest of us are still in 2008. This year I think they're calling it Ryan Seacrest Allows Dick Clark to still make an appearance on New Years Rockin' Eve.

The Rose Parade is Thursday morning. Today some idiots will start staking out spots along the parade route. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA gets a 50 share, everyone else gets a 2. Why these other stations still bother is beyond me. KTLA coverage begins at like 3:00 a.m. Five hours of watching people paste flowers on floats and the idiots from today freezing. KTLA will begin replaying the parade immediately upon its conclusion. Then they replay it again. And again. Sometime around January 15th they return to regular programming.

Bob Eubanks has been hosting the parade since the floats were powered by horses. And this year Stephanie Edwards returns! Stephanie is a popular local personality who was mostly known for being the carnie for Lucky Markets. She was replaced in the booth by local KTLA morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira. This caused quite a stir. Most people felt that Michaela was horrible and resented her in that Deborah Norville way for squeezing out our beloved Stephanie. (Fans would show their support for Steph by shopping at Lucky but Lucky no longer exists.) But now sanity returns and Stephanie is back. Stephanie Edwards and Obama, two very good signs for 2009.

Then on New Year’s evening all the locals will go out to dinner, have to wait 45 minutes for a table since the Penn State rooters got there first, and things will return to normal.

So for my fellow Angelinos – enjoy it while you can!

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Celebrity Divorces

It’s that year-end time of the year. Lists, lists, and more lists. Top movies, top records, top video games, etc. You can find those on a gazillion blogs. But what about the celebrity divorces of 2008? Precious few. Thanks to Jill Brooke and here they are.

Compare them with your predictions from last year. But Chris Kattan and Sunshine Tutt -- that was a real crusher.

• Chris Kattan and Sunshine Tutt - 4 months (divorced)
• Jodie Sweetin and Cody Herpin - 1.3 years (separated)
• Kate Walsh and Alex Young - 1.5 years (separated)
• Pink and Corey Hunt - 2 years (separated)
• Tate Donovan and Corinne Kingsbury - 2 years (divorced)
• Star Jones and Al Reynolds - .3.5 years (divorced)
• Anna Faris and Benjamin Indra - 4 years (divorced)
• Donnie Wahlberg and Kim Fey - 4 year (divorced)
• Heather Mills and Paul McCartney - 4 years (divorced)
• Swizz Beatz and Mashonda - 4 years (separated)
• Travis Barker and Shanna Moakler - 4 years (divorced)
• Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez - 5 years (divorced)
• Debbie Matenopoulos and Jay Faires - 5 years (separated)
• Liv Tyler and Royston Langdon - 5 years (separated)
• Anne Heche and Coley Lafoon - 6 years (divorced)
• Terence Stamp and Elizabeth O'Rourke - 6 years (divorced)
• Madonna and Guy Ritchie - 8 years (divorced)
• Emily and Charlie Robison - 9 years (divorced)
• Phil Collins and Orianne Cevey - 9 years (divorced)
• Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe - 9 years (divorced)
• Wayne Brady and Mandie Taketa - 9 years (divorced)
• Brendan and Afton Fraser - 10 years (divorced)
• Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook -- 10 years (divorced)
• Dwayne and Dany Johnson - 10 years (divorced)
• Kimora Lee and Russell Simmons - 10 years (separated)
• Bill and Jennifer Murray - 11 years (divorced)
• Téa Leoni and David Duchovny - 11 years (separated)
• Kiefer and Elizabeth Sutherland - 12 years (divorced)
• Dylan McDermott and Shiva Rose - 13 years (separated)
• Johnny Knoxville and Melanie Lynn Cates - 13 years (divorced)
• Shania Twain and Robert Lange - 15 years (separated)
• John Cleese and Alyce Faye Eichelberger - 15 years (divorced)
• Danny and Gretchen Bonaduce - 16 years (divorced)
• George Lazenby and Pam Shriver - 16 years (divorced)
• Robin and Masha Williams - 19 years (divorced)
• Marg Helgenberger and Alan Rosenberg - 19 years (separated)
• Tracy and Sabina Morgan - 22 years (divorced)
• Ronnie and Jo Wood - 23 years (separated)
• Hulk and Linda Hogan - 24 years (divorced)
• Morgan Freeman and Myrna Colley-Lee - 24 years (separated)

Saturday midnight is when the polls close. Last chance to vote. It'll help take your mind off Chris Kattan. Thanks.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hello Larry, Goodbye MacLean

Have you voted yet? What are you waiting for?? Go here.
Here’s some Friday questions to read before going to the mall and exchanging all the crap you got yesterday.

Two MASH related questions come from Kurt Helf:

Who decides what bits to cut from a show, so we can view MORE of corporate America’s beloved commercials, after it goes to syndication? I’ve been watching early seasons of M*A*S*H and I see scenes, gems and some insightful moments really, that aren’t in the syndicated episodes.

This has always been a huge bone of contention because rarely does a show’s producer get a say in how his series is butchered for syndication. Suits in marketing departments or hired editors often are the ones assigned this task. In the case of MASH, some of the episodes are so badly chopped up they no longer make sense. It’s a travesty. I’m not saying it’s easy to take three minutes out of an episode of MASH, we crammed an awful lot of stuff into those original 24 minutes, but Jesus, O.J. could cut them up better. Buy or rent the DVD's. You'll be happy.

While I’ll never really quite understand why actors leave hit TV shows in which they’re BRILLIANT, Mclean Stevenson being the obvious archetype (he was SO GOOD in M*A*S*H), how/why is it that they tend to be so lousy in the vehicles that lured them away? What was the show Stevenson ended up in? “Hello Larry”?

Yes, that was the stinkburger. You’ll see AfterMASH reruns before HELLO LARRY returns to the airwaves.

The reason actors leave hit shows is usually because they’re dumb. They don’t realize that to be on a hit series, surrounded by gifted actors, and top flight writers is like winning the lottery. How many people win two lotteries? For every Clint Eastwood and Goldie Hawn who left hit shows and became major movie stars, there are a hundred MacLean Stevensons who wound up in THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE.

Yes, they may thank the writers and their fellow cast members when accepting awards but many of them are really thinking, “It’s ME! All ME.” It’s that kind of thinking that leads to a life of dinner theater.

And from Dave Shoff:

I just read an article about vanity cards being placed in the ending of a show. Chuck Lorre seemed to take great pride in them. Have you ever done such a thing, and if so, have any examples?

My partner and I have had a vanity card on two of our series but haven't done anything real creative. We just call our production company Levine & Isaacs Productions. Catchy, huh? I know a lot of producers like to take cute names. We don’t, although we did once flirt with “Six and Cancelled Production”.

As for the vanity card itself, we just have our names large enough that people can read them. And we did the card in black and white to stand out even more.

Chuck Lorre's vanity cards are great. He writes little essays. I don't have the heart to tell him he could do the same thing in a blog.

What’s your question?

I am NOT a douchbag!!

LAS VEGAS (CN) - A man claims Simon & Schuster defamed him in the book "Hot Chicks with Douchebags." Michael Minelli says two pages of the book are dedicated to him illustrated with a photo, but the douchebag label is "false as it pertains to plaintiff."

The author Jay Louis took the photo without his knowledge or consent, says the complaint. "The publication refers to (Minelli) as a douchebag," Minelli claims. "The publication is false as it pertains to the plaintiff."

The book, which started out as the Web site, hit stores in August.
Minelli says he "has been, is now and continues to be called a douchebag by friends, acquaintances, coworkers, employers and strangers alike."

Minelli seeks damages and attorney's fees. He is represented in Clark County Court by Preston Rezaee.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Back in the 60s a holiday tradition was the Andy Williams family Christmas show featuring his lovely wife Claudine Longet. They later divorced and she shot and killed her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich. So if you can put aside the fact that she's a murderer, enjoy her singing this Christmas classic.

Another way to celebrate Christmas and honor Claudine's message of peace to all mankind (except one) is to vote for your favorite Daffy Definition? Here's where you go.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dear Santa: All I want is a Fizz-Nik

What’s the dumbest holiday gift you’ve ever received? Mine was a Fizz-nik. And understand, I really WANTED this thing. In my dumb kid-ness I thought this was the coolest invention EVER.

It was a plastic straw with a big bubble in the middle. This was actually two half spheres that twisted together with straws on either end. You put a scoop of ice cream in the bubble and twisted it shut. Then you jammed one end into a bottle of root beer. That was it. Voila! Instant root beer float!

You would take a swig and (in theory) the root beer would mix with the ice cream and by the time it reached your mouth you were in soda fountain heaven. And the best part – no muss nor fuss.

Except for one thing…

It never worked. To mix the two elements you had to hold the bottle at almost a 90 degree angle and crane your neck way back. Not exactly ideal.

And then there was this tiny flaw – there was no way to stop the rushing ice cream float as it hurtled its way to your mouth. What a mess. Within a week my mother had confiscated my beloved Fizz-Nik.

Let’s just say that as a result of the Fizz-nik I have more empathy for hookers.

Hope you get what YOU want this holiday season.

Still time to vote for your favorite Daffy Definition. Santa will be pissed if you don't. Here's where you go. Thanks.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Daffy Definition Kontest Part 2 VOTE NOW!!!!

Congratulations to Dave C. and Veyhoo, winner of the first heat of the Daffy Definitions Kontest!!

Dave C., please email me with your address to receive your grand prize of a signed copy of MIDNIGHT, one of our better failed pilot scripts. Thanks to our runners up – Mike Bell, jbryant, Doug J., and Simon H.

Here’s the second heat. For the same spectacular prize so please vote because a lot is riding on this. The poll closes Saturday night at midnight P.S.T.

The five nominees are:

Mencries – What happens after every airing of “Brian’s Song”.

Bioner – A bionically engineered erection.

Derchaci – The German translation of Scott Baio’s autobiography.

Ophelly – Hamlet’s hillbilly girlfriend

Vivisms – The wit and wisdom of Vivian Vance.

You can vote below and keep checking the results. Thanks so much for participating and happy holidays from all your friends at BY KEN LEVINE (which is just me).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I know everyone else loves it BUT...

Don’t you hate to be out of step? To be in a theater where everyone is laughing uproariously at the screen and you’re just sitting there. Or an artist wins twelve Grammys one night and you think he’s a worse singer than William Shatner. You wonder what is wrong with YOU? Everybody else gets it, what’s your friggin’ problem?

This used to trouble me. As a writer, how could I be out of step with the public? And then I realized – who gives a shit? I’m not programming MTV. I’m not running Warner Brothers. If there are songs or actors or shows I can’t stand even though everyone else loves them, so what? We all have them. Here are some of mine, presented without apology. You’re welcome to weigh-in with yours… although I suspect most of the comments will be defending these selections and calling me a dirtwad.

HEY JUDE – I love the Beatles. I must have 95% of everything they’ve recorded. I even have Pete Best stuff and songs in German. And HEY JUDE is one of their most popular. But I can’t stand it. And to make matters worse for me, it’s seven minutes long. Droning and droning. Make it stop.

JIM CARREY – Not remotely funny to me. I know I’m in the minority. But I see that big maniacal grin and I strap myself in for “Overacting Theatre”. I prefer my comedians to be a little more subtle than the Tasmanian Devil. And when he tries to play a serious role (since all comics want to be taken seriously and win an Oscar) he just becomes Angst Ventura.

ER -- In its heyday it got more ratings in one airing than Jay Leno will get in that timeslot in a year. It launched major stars like George Clooney. But to me it is just frenetic speeding gurneys and constant code blues. Every time I’ve had the misfortune to go to an ER it’s a waiting room with a guy bleeding out of his eye for four hours while he waits for a UCLA med student who looks like he’s 9.

PINKBERRY – There are lines out the door for this frozen yogurt. It’s sour. What am I missing? They offer toppings like carob chips and Cocoa Pebbles. Since it’s so sour why not just offer anchovies?

JOHN UPDIKE NOVELS – He’s won every award but the Heisman but I can’t slog through his books. Hell, there is so much detailed description that I can’t get through the first five pages. It’s a den! Got it! What’s the friggin’ story?

CARSON DALY – Why does this guy have a national television show instead of making smoothies at Hardee’s?

…and since we’re in the season…

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – Yes, it’s a holiday classic, maybe THE holiday classic, but I find it so cloying and sickeningly maudlin that I’m sorry, I find myself rooting for Mr. Potter.

… and finally….

COSTCO – There’s a reason it’s packed. People love it. But I can’t tolerate the crowds. And waiting in check-out lines is waterboarding with a shopping cart. You’re standing for fifteen minutes while they check on the price for the case of Lemon Pledge. How dirty does your coffee table, get? Do you really need 144 cans of aerosol furniture polish? You wait forever. There’s always a guy buying $300 worth of Bic pens and paying in pennies. Fifteen kids running around unsupervised while the moms reads tabloids waiting to buy their gross of unfiltered cigarettes. I always have this fear that I go through this two-hour ordeal and end up saving maybe three dollars. And that I use up in gas driving around looking for a parking space.

The Daffy Definition Kontest’s first winner will be announced tomorrow along with the second round. Thanks again everyone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum

Voting ends at midnight tonight, West Coast time. Go here to cast your ballot. Thanks to everyone who participated.

I bet some of your favorite episodes of MASH and the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW were written by writers you don’t know. Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum. You’ve seen the names I’m sure. But just who were these guys?? From time to time I like to introduce you guys to writers who should never be forgotten.

First off, Jim & Ev were two of the funniest comedy writers in television. And expert craftsmen. Their scripts always had a flow, the sentences were short, sharp, with never a wasted word. The jokes were on target, fresh, and at least five were from the “where the hell did they come up with that?” category. They had a great ear for dialogue, a love of Americana, and there was always the signature Jim & Ev scatological joke in every script. Klinger would pull out a rectal thermometer and say “It’s 103 in Pittsburgh.” A visiting general would be delighted the latrines were in pairs – “Good. The men can encourage each other.” That same general made the pronouncement: “Prunes – greatest invention since the gatling gun.” Hawkeye once observed that the medical profession has come a long way. "It used to be that proctologists used candles."

They started way back in live television. For two years they produced and wrote every MR. PEEPERS episode. 39 a year, aired LIVE. That fried them and they fled to California.

Over the next thirty years they wrote for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, GOMER PYLE, REAL MCCOYS, THE ODD COUPLE, and 24 episodes of MASH. They also penned the Jack Lemmon movie, GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and many of the Don Knotts flicks.

Everett flew planes, wrote jazz, built bizarre sculptures out of pipes and everyday items. (they’re featured in GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and also an episode of MASH), and after Jim passed away Everett launched a very successful second career as an actor and voice over talent. He appeared on SEINFELD, THIRD ROCK, MATLOCK and numerous other shows and commercials. One of his best friends was Marlon Brando, who he roomed with briefly in New York.

Jim preferred to spend his time at the Tail O’ the Cock restaurant in the Valley.

Ev also went to MIT, and was a Navy fighter pilot. You know – just your typical comedy writer resume. He wrote an autobiography called “The Goldenberg Who Couldn’t Dance”.

Of their many MASH episodes the one that’s best remembered is “Abyssinia Henry”, the one where Henry Blake gets killed.

I’ll leave you with a typical Jim & Ev line. From Klinger in the episode “Bug Out”: “A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores. “

They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. I sure wish they did.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The funniest AMERICAN IDOL moment EVER

Still time to vote in the Daffy Definition Kontest. Just go here.

AMERICAN IDOL begins next month. Yes, I will be donning my snarkskin coat again and offering my always-impartial observations. But to get you in the mood, I found this video. It's the funniest thing I've seen in awhile. I bet Sarah Palin acted like this too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can PUBLIC MORALS kill your career?

While you continue to vote here, it’s time for some of your Friday questions.
Longtime Reader, First Time Poster wants to know:

What were the main differences between writing comedy for live action vs cartoons? Did you prefer one to the other?

You certainly have more freedom in animation. You can let your imagination run wild. And you don’t have to worry about budgets. It’s just as easy to have Homer at the Million Man March as it is his kitchen. But there’s nothing like watching great actors bringing your words to life. And hearing the laughter. For a comedy writer that’s the crack of choice. So I’d have to say live action for me. Ask Seth MacFarlane. I bet you get a different answer.

From Eric Curtis:

How forgiving is Hollywood toward second chances? Say your first big break was on a show that absolutely tanked, would that be held against a writer even if they wrote a great spec for another show looking for a job?

Especially if you were just on staff of a stiff it won’t be held against you. Matt Tarses (currently the creator of the US version of THE WORST WEEK and longtime contributor to SCRUBS) started out on a show so bad it was canceled after one airing – PUBLIC MORALS (the above photo is maybe the only record of that show even existing) .

If the first show you create turns into a turd you probably will be able to walk away from the wreckage. You had to have a good track record to get the chance in the first place. But if, during production of that show, you managed to piss off everyone within a five mile radius that could hurt you.

Follow up question from Eric:

Is it worth taking a first time job as a writer if you know the show won't get picked up the next season?

Absolutely. Work is work. You could establish relationships with people who will ultimately hire you in the future. Plus, there’s the “you never know” factor. How many years did YES, DEAR run?

And finally, Andy Ihnatko asks:

Everybody leaves the house in the morning thinking they look pretty good. Even the 70 year old actor who has worn the same deep brown rayon wig since 1981, or the actress who's always seen in heavy, cakey makeup.

Does this affect those actors' ability to get work? You can always take off the toupee or wash off the makeup, but even if he doesn't angrily reply "WHAT wig?" the actor is still associated with that look.

I've wondered the same thing about actors with tattoos. You can cover them up, but would a producer think "If I cast this other person, we'll have one fewer makeup hassle per episode"?

If an individual has such a distinctive look it would take the audience out of the show, then yes, it would probably cost him jobs. I wouldn’t have the loan officer at a bank be played by Don King.

As for tattoos, that’s certainly not a problem if I’m casting Popeye. But seriously, if you don’t hire people with tattoos today you eliminate half the applicants. I always hire the best actor. If they require more make-up so be it. Unless of course the tattoo is a swastika or “Bush/Cheney in 2004”.

The next time someone says "It'll be a cold day in hell..."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Netflix pick of the month: My favorite Xmas movie

DIE HARD. A 1988 holiday classic.

Bruce Willis arrives at his estranged wife’s company Christmas party in a high rise to find that a group of terrorists are holding everyone hostage. Yes, it’s a familiar holiday theme but handled in a fresh fun way.

Who needs chestnuts roasting when you have C4 explosives? Why bother with carolers when you can have a SWAT team? And Santa and his reindeer give way to the more preferable snipers in a helicopter.

No need for old St. Nick to come down the chimney. Bruce Willis comes down the elevator shaft.

It’s a story filled with dreams, detonators, family reconciliations, Germans, a character named Holly, hostages, armored vehicles, and stunts that can only be justified as magic.

Bruce Willis proves to be a breakout action star and newcomer Alan Rickman is such a delicious diabolical villain you’d vote for him today if he were running for president against Bush.

You’ve probably seen DIE HARD. Or the 42 knockoffs that the film inspired (true story: some years later a writer pitched a studio “DIE HARD in an office building”). But you saw it as a summer action blockbuster. See it again as a holiday family drama with people gunned down by machine guns.

Every time a siren blares an angel gets his wings.

You can still vote for your favorite Daffy Definition. Exercise your civic duty and go here to have your voice heard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Daffy Definition finalists. VOTE NOW!!!

Here’s what I did. I enlisted five judges. They each selected their top ten. Based on entries that got multiple votes I tried to put together the top five. But there were just too many. So here’s the good news. I will have two winners – each receives the same stupendous prize (a signed copy of MIDNIGHT, one of my better failed pilot scripts!!). But that means more work for you guys. You’ll have to vote twice. The first five compete for a grand prize today. The next five next week.

Good luck and out of 800+ entries, here is today’s heat.

1. Veyhoo -- A Yiddish web search site.

2. Meway -- Popeye’s closing number in his Vegas show.

3. Prock – totally useless hybrid of two words that already mean the same thing.

4. Bimeca – The border area between California and Mexico. Noted for its loft apartments, trendy eateries, film festival and raging drug war.

5. Hutdo – What Jabba got at the barbershop.

The poll is open. And closes midnight Sunday PST. In case of a tie Al Franken will determine the winner. Just click on your choice below. One vote per person. But you're welcome to keep checking the results. I must admit, I do every five minutes.

Thanks again to everyone who did and/or will now participate. I love you people.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why Jennifer Aniston is a real MOVIE STAR

Boy, can Jennifer Aniston promote a film!
Have you opened a paper or magazine in the last two weeks and not seen Jennifer Aniston? Did she finance MARLEY & ME herself? Granted, when your comedy co-stars are a guy who once tried to kill himself and a dog it’s understandable that you’ll be doing most of the interviews but still. Does anyone have her publicist’s number? I bet I can get her to come on Dodger Talk with me on KABC. If you have an internet podcast give her a call.

Recently she posed nude for GQ magazine. Makes sense. That’s how I would promote a family dog movie opening Christmas day.

I can’t think of a single box office smash she has starred in. And yet, she receives this much attention. What it says to me is this : Jennifer Aniston is an official MOVIE STAR.

She’s got everything it takes. She’s beautiful. She shows her tits. She’s been dumped by a movie star for another movie star (that’s worth almost as much Hollywood heat as an Oscar), she dates other movie stars or rock stars, she’s not a Scientologist, and she gives really pithy quotes like, “What Angelina did was very uncool.”

So what if her filmography contains BRUCE ALMIGHTY, ALONG CAME POLLY, DERAILED, RUMOR HAS IT, and LEPRECHAUN? She gets on the cover of GQ. She shows up at premiers with John Mayer. The paparazzi count the number of times they hear her toilet flush.

About ten years ago I was in a movie theater on a Sunday night. Half empty house. Jennifer and Brad came in and sat down right in front of me. He looked scruffy, she needed a shampoo and was wearing glasses. No one bothered them. No one really gave a shit actually.

Here’s why at the end of the day I like Jennifer Aniston:

There’s no way she could do that today. There’d be photographers on my lap shooting the back of her head. There’d be guys on their hands and knees picking up her discarded popcorn kernels after she had left. And for all the attention and hype and fans who wear “Team Aniston” T-shirts, I bet she misses those days when she could just sit in the dark and be a schlump. That’s what I think the public senses too. She's a glamorous movie star but she's still one of us... occasionally... sometimes... on that odd Sunday. But that's enough. And that’s why ultimately her fans love her. And I do too – just not enough to spend eleven bucks to see her in a movie about a dog though.

Stay tuned for the finals of the Daffy Definition Kontest. They're almost here. Three judges have been hospitalized but the ones who are left have almost narrowed the 800 entries down to five.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The real story behind Jay Leno moving to primetime


BURNS: Smithers, get in here!

SMITHERS (entering): Yes sir, Mr. Burns.

BURNS: Which network do I own again?

SMITHERS: That would be NBC, sir.

BURNS: Damn it! That’s what I was afraid of. Have you seen our 4th quarter earnings?

SMITHERS: Shocklingly low profit margin, yes.

BURNS: I won’t have it! What’s the point of being in business if you can’t gouge the public?

SMITHERS: Well, the entire nation is in a depression.

BURNS: And whose fault is that?

SMITHERS: Nor yours, sir. The New York Yankees.

BURNS: That’s right. It’s always someone else's fault. The New York Yankees! Good thinking, Smithers. $161 million for that C.C. Sabathia and he’s built like Homer Simpson.

SMITHERS: But on the bright side for us, the National Dog Show got big numbers. Of course that’s only once a year and during the afternoon…

BURNS: Smithers, we’re making big changes at NBC!


BURNS: I’ve decided to put Jay Leno on every night at 10.

SMITHERS: Monday through Friday?

BURNS: For now. Seven nights if they keep showing Baltimore Ravens games on Sunday Night Football. And do we really need seventeen people on the halftime show? Fire Keith Olbermann and any twelve.

SMITHERS: But sir, putting Leno on five nights a week. That’s like cutting our primetime by a third.

BURNS: I’ll save millions!!!

SMITHERS: Yes, but isn’t that like saying NBC is giving up?

BURNS: We already gave up! Don’t you remember FEAR FACTOR?

SMITHERS: But still. Why would people watch Jay Leno in primetime?

BURNS: I don’t know why they watch him now.

SMITHERS: Have you seen his demographics? In the coveted 18-34 category – which is all any of us give a shit about anymore -- twelve Amish kids in Pennsylvania.

BURNS: Have him bring Frank Sinatra on. That’ll get the kids. Those little bobbysoxers go crazy for that crooner.

SMITHERS: What if we just aired another LAW & ORDER? The whole parade-crowd-control side of police work has been virtually untouched.

BURNS: LAW & ORDER is expensive! All dramas are expensive. All of television is expensive. If Dr. Gene Scott weren't dead I’d put him and his big chair on 19 hours a day and just forget about it.

SMITHERS: You’d go to Christian programming?

BURNS: Better 19 hours of Christian programming than one hour of Christian Slater. Whose bright idea was that?

SMITHERS: Don’t worry, sir. The person responsible for that debacle fired three of his underlings and blamed them so it’s been taken care of.

BURNS: Good! Good! I love decisive action!

SMITHERS: So your decision is final?

BURNS: Yes it is. We save money, we cost actors and writers and directors jobs – that’ll teach those so-called “creative types” for wanting fair wages – and we stay in business just long enough to carry the Golden Globes.

SMITHERS: Your table is already reserved.

BURNS: Frances McDormand is nominated this year! She wants me, Smithers. I can tell.

SMITHERS: You do ooze charisma, sir. From every leaky pore.

BURNS: Maybe we could give her a show every night at 9. Yes! Yes! Who cares if I’m destroying broadcast television as we know it? I might get a little action!

MUSIC UP: NBC chimes.


Jay Leno

Numerous readers have asked what my take is on NBC's announcement that Jay Leno would be moving into primetime five nights a week at 10 pm next year. Will it work? What does it mean to the industry?

My answer, in the form of a skit, gets posted later tonight.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Humahumanukunukuappua everybody

Several readers have wondered why I haven't posted one of my travelogues in a while. Uh, it's cause I haven't gone anywhere. But as the holiday season approaches I thought I'd dust off one of our family Christmas in Hawaii essays from non-recession years gone by. Meanwhile, judges continue to pour through your Daffy Definition Kontest entries. So far they've narrowed them down to under 500. Those sorry bastards. The finals are coming soon... hopefully.
Aloha and howzit?

After a year's interruption (to rid ourselves of mold and my life savings) the Levines returned again to Hawaii. This year to the Grand Wailea on Maui. Picture Heart's Castle with water slides and a grotto bar. As usual it was glorious. NFL games start at 8 in the morning over there!!!

Paris and Nicky Hilton were staying at our hotel. I guess among the many amenities the Grand Wailea offers is a meth lab. (Sure an improvement over Fiona Apple at the Kahala. We got the better anoerexics.) The Four Seasons next door usually has the big Hollywood crowd. Maybe they didn't want Paris. After all, she did make that infamous sex tape...and worse, she has a show on Fox.

Their signature restaurant is Humahumanukunukuapua's (actual name). But people call is Humahumanhukunu's for short. Lobster was $59 a pound (again, this is true). They should change the name to Hubrishubrishubrishubrischutzpah.

I forgot to ask Paris how much Maui Wowie was these days.

Cabanas were $125 a day and there was a waiting list. But for that money they brought around free fruit and water so it was a bargain. We opted for cosabellas which are lounge chairs with a hood. $40 and a half hour wait in line to sign up. There's a rumor that at the Four Seasons the lines start forming at 4:30 a.m. All the nannies and assistants have to really get up early over there.

Nothing more relaxing than turning on the TV and seeing there's a heightened Terror Alert. Yeah, like who would ever want to attack Hawaii?

Monday morning Santa Claus arrived on a long canoe bearing candy canes for the kids. He was clad only in a traditional cap and red skirt. The children were confused. Not like any Santa they had ever seen. What I didn't realize until that day was how many tattoos Santa had. Or how scary his heavily-tattooed Samoan elf was. You shouldn't be thinking about the Terror Alert when Santa arrives on shore.

One of the many great things about this paradise -- you never hear Paul McCartney's inane "Having a Wonderful Christmas" on the radio. Instead they play Paul Anka's "Christmas in Japan".

Although McCartney was represented. At the art gallery in the next door high end fashion mall a big sign boasts an exhibition of paintings from Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett...and then in much smaller letters, Picasso.

Paris Hilton's bodyguard was spotted at the pool Wednesday getting a pedicure. Even during this high Terror Alert.

It amazes me how many women put on make up to go to the beach. And Botox is very "in" this year. But it is keeping with the Hawaiian spirit since they all look like Jack Lord.

The pace on the islands remains blissfully slow. There's a little church on the grounds of the hotel and every morning its chapel bells would ring promptly at 8:10ish.

Yes, I went down a water slide. Matt took a picture. You will never see it.

This being the busiest season of the year there were lines everywhere...except at the health club. Had no problem getting a treadmaster, no problem finding empty weight machines. The guy selling ice cream dots was mobbed.

Why is it the fatter the person the louder the Hawaiian shirt? Or the bigger the implants the louder the hair dye?

Book of choice at the Grand Wailea was "the Da Vinci Code". At the Four Seasons it was the biography of Lew Wasserman.

They sell jewelry down at the pool. Women with their guts hanging over their bikini bottoms trying on pearls. I have no idea whether they like the stuff or not. Because of the Botox they can't make an expression.

Went twice to Roy's restaurant. Best food on the island and never disappoints. And the view? Spectacular. Roy's is in the parking lot of a shopping center. You know you're in Hawaii when you see the crimson sun set behind the Safeway and the Crazy Shirt Emporium.

Commercial seen during Hawaiian newscast: a new retirement village featuring golf, recreation, pools, and year round Florida.

A Levine Christmas day tradition is to go to a movie. So we ventured into Kihae. First was dinner at Tony Romas where we were the only table to not order a five-pound onion loaf. Then to the cineplex to see "Paycheck". It's McGyver meets Memento. The Hawaiians who sat behind Annie and Matt were completely baffled. Bad enough there was the concept of time travel, they were just thrown because everyone in the movie was wearing long pants.

How Hollywood is Maui these days? There are academy screenings at the Castle Theatre. (No joke) Just show your DGA, WGA, or academy cards at the door.

Matt just turned 21 and loves being carded since he's now legal. There's a swim-up Grotto Bar and he wondered if he'd be carded there (and if so just where do they think he'd keep ID). So as an experiment he and Annie swam up to it, he ordered a White Russian and was served no problem. Annie ordered an Oreo smoothie and the bartender asked "You want any booze in that?" Annie is 17.

Debby had a hot rock massage. That's where the masseuse puts hot relaxing rocks on your back then sits off to the side silently chuckling and reading magazines.

Happy holidays and I leave you with this:

A' ohe 'ai pani 'ia o ka 'amo.
(no particular food blocks the anus).

Friday, December 12, 2008

What to get a writer this Christmas??

Here’s a holdover question that is apropos for the holiday season. From Susan:

I have a good friend who writes for a tv show. What's a good gift to get for a tv writer, especially one who's out of work right now (between seasons, hoping to get picked up for next season) and is working on her own projects for a while? I got her a book on writing once that I love ("Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott) but it didn't go over well - she said she doesn't really like to read writing books, since she already has her own process that works well for her. Any hints or help?

Yeah, writers generally don’t take well to writing/motivation books. PAY THEM! That’s all the damn motivation they need.

You can’t get them clothes because most of their wardrobe comes from show jackets and shirts. I still get compliments on my IT’S ALL RELATIVE fleece.

I polled a number of writers and this seemed to be the general consensus.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 20 years old bourbon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Here are some Friday questions.

Ed wants to know:

If a TV show is written in a writer's room, why not simply credit all the writers who worked on that episode? For example, I think Tina Fey is as brilliant as everyone says she is, but I wouldn't mind a complete list of the writers who work on my favorite sitcom.

You've told us before that everyone else is credited with being a "producer." Why can't those who worked on the script be credited as writers?

The WGA has guidelines. Only two writers can share credit on one half hour episode. A team can count as one “writer” but let’s say a script was written by Writer A and Writer B (a team). Then payment would be 50% to Writer A and the team would split the other 50%.

When I was writing on ALMOST PERFECT there were three showrunners. When David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I wrote a script we had to petition the guild for permission and be paid 150% of guild minimum. So if the studio agrees to give all three writers 50% then it’s alright.

If you gave ten writers all 50% you’re paying five times the going rate for one script. That ain’t gonna happen here on planet Earth.

So to get around this staffs that room-write scripts just rotate credit. It is bullshit and makes the writing credit a joke.

All those producer credits you see – those are the writers. So they do all get credits on the show, just not for the actual work they do.

From rob!:

When working on a show like Cheers or MASH, when the show is a monstrous, rolling success, critically and financially, how much network interference was there?

did NBC and CBS think they still could give copious "notes" on each episode, or did they leave the shows alone?

Once a show becomes a huge hit the notes generally cease (although I hear AMC still managed to offer “suggestions” to Matt Weiner on MAD MEN). Showrunners will often have to meet with the network before each season to lay out their game plan for that year but after that the net tends to back off.

And it’s amazing, when a comedy is doing well in the ratings, the network suddenly LOVES everything they do. Runthroughs are laugh fests. Would the same jokes be as screamingly funny if they were losing their time slot to Telemundo shows?

The truth is once networks trust you they’re happy to leave you alone because they’ve got way too many other fires to put out.

On MASH we received zero interference from anybody. All CBS asked for was log lines for the episodes. NBC had notes the first year of CHEERS but those too disappeared as the numbers rose.

Of course network standards & practices were always ever present but that’s true with any show on any network. God knows how many “fucks” would slip into GHOST WHISPERER if S&P wasn’t around and vigilant?

Anonymous (please leave your name, guys) has a…

Follow up to the "Suite Life..." reputation question:

What if the opposite happens? Say you've already written for a network sitcom, and then Nick or Disney Channel offers you a chance to write the next "Cory In The House," is it seen as a step backward that will hurt your reputation or prospects of continuing to work in the network/cable sitcom worlds?

In this economy and marketplace? Work is work. You can class yourself right out of the business. And guess what, depending on the staff and situation, you might have ten times more fun working on a Disney show than a prestigious network vehicle. And if you have kids who watch those shows you’re a bigger hero than if you wrote THE WIRE.

Thanks for the questions. Keep ‘em coming.

The Kontest is Klosed

No more entries for the Daffy Defition Konest. I'm actually recruiting a couple of judges because narrowing down this field will be a bitch. Thanks for so many hilarious entries. Watch this space for the final five coming soon. And then you'll have the final vote.

Thanks again. You guys are great... and frankly, a little disturbing.

A new post follows in minutes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

He's bleeding. Nurse, quick! Get me the Super Glue!!

The deadline for entering the Daffy Definition Kontest in 9:00 PST Thursday. Here's where you go. An unproduced pilot can be yours!!!
New York Giants moron Paxico Burress (above) shot himself in the leg accidentally when the concealed weapon he was carrying went off during a nightclub visit. Don’t you hate it when that happens to you? But it brings to mind some of my other favorite stupid professional sports injuries.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Zoel Zumaya, sustained inflammation in his arm, causing him to miss three games of the 2008 American League Championship Series because he played too much of the video game “Guitar Hero”.

Ken Griffey Jr. once missed a game for the Seattle Mariners when he pinched himself with his protective cup.

Wade Boggs, former Red Sox (Red Sock?), injured his back while trying to put on cowboy boots. He also sustained minor injuries after his wife tried to run him over with her car. Seek counseling, you two lovebirds.

Atlanta Braves' pitcher/genius John Smoltz once burned himself while ironing a shirt. He was wearing the shirt at the time. I wish I making that up.

Brett Barbarie (once married to Jillian, the Fox sports dingbat), then a second baseman for the Florida Marlins, wa making nachos before a game. After cutting chili peppers, Barbarie washed his hands, but they apparently still had some chili oil on them. When he put in his contacts his eyes started burning and he couldn't play. Maybe Jillian was the smart one in that relationship.

San Diego pitcher Adam Eaton missed a start when he stabbed himself in the stomach while trying to cut the shrink-wrap off a DVD. This is why we need itunes.

Hall of Famer George Brett broke his toe when he tripped running from the kitchen to the living room to watch a baseball game replay of himself on TV. This is why we have YouTube.

Fellow teammate, Brent Mayne, missed a month of the 2002 season. He wrenched his back turning his head to check for traffic while crossing a street.

Sammy Sosa had to go on the Disabled List after hurting his back sneezing.

Jose Cardenal missed a game because of crickets in his hotel room. He was too exhausted to play.

Kevin Mitchell (when I was broadcasting for the Mariners) threw up so violently after eating a chili dog during a game in Anaheim that he strained his ribs and missed the next month.

Latrell Sprewell broke his hand when he tripped and fell of his yacht. Hard to really feel sorry for him, isn’t it?

Former NHL goaltender Glenn Healy missed time between the pipes after he cut his finger while attempting to repair bagpipes. I always send mine out.

Nolan Ryan once was bitten by a coyote. Tell me you haven’t used that excuse.

Toronto Blue Jay, Glenallen Hill, had a bad dream about spiders, leaped out of bed and crashed into something.

Denver Bronco's quarterback, Brian Griese nearly missed a game after he sprained his ankle when he was run over by his dog.

Little Muggsy Bogues missed the second half of an NBA game after unintentionally inhaling ointment fumes during a halftime treatment. Far out man!

Boston's Craig Grebeck had to leave a game after rubbing his eye with a finger that had stick-em on it.

Golfer John Daly hurt his hand but to stop the bleeding he put Super Glue on it. Why didn’t we think of that on MASH?

Washington QB Gus Ferotte was taken to the hospital with a jammed neck after he head-butted the end zone concrete wall while celebrating a touchdown.

And don’t think it’s just American athletes. I saved the best for last.

Australian rugby league player Jamie Ainscough complained of an infection in his arm so doctors gave him X-rays which revealed Jamie had another player's tooth embedded into his arm. The tooth found its way into Jamie's arm in a game nearly a month earlier but he's not sure how it happened. Maybe it’s when he bit him, but I wasn’t there. Anyway, this story has a happy ending. Jamie mailed the tooth back to the other player.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How to sell a screenplay by drinking in a bar

Only a few more days for entering the Daffy Definition Kontest. Here's where you go. And even if you don't enter, treat yourself. There are some inspired entries.
Aspiring screenwriters always ask what’s the best way to break into the Hollywood? I say move to Minnesota.

It sure worked for Diablo Cody. A couple of years ago she sat in the frozen tundra and wrote JUNO. And now Nick Schenk.

Nick was a construction worker and fruit truck driver who dabbled in writing on the side. He contributed some of the better comedy sketches for the prestigious DVD, FACTORY ACCIDENT SEX.

A couple of years ago Nick spent his nights in a local bar banging out a screenplay. He scribbled everything down on a pad. With Hamm’s on tap as his muse, Nick wrote 25 pages in one night. Helping him develop this project was a guy who sold furnaces to the gas company and the bartender. So you know he was in good hands.

His main character: a sympathetic racist old codger. What Hollywood studio isn’t looking for six of those vehicles? Nick was clearly tapped into the zeitgeist.

He got the script to a pair of young producers. From there it followed the usual path. Submitted to Clint Eastwood who agreed to direct it and come out of acting retirement to star in it. Nick’s screenplay was filmed as is, with no studio interference and no other writers brought in to rewrite. In fact, there were no rewrites period.

GRAN TORINO opens in selected theaters this month and goes wide in January.

The point of this story is that IT CAN HAPPEN! Granted, not often. But still, without the benefit of living in LA, or having taken Robert McKee’s seminar, or spending six years at NYU, or being married to Brian Grazer you can become a highly successful screenwriter. Just make sure you dress warm and can drive with chains on your tires.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Still time to check out the Daffy Definitions Kontest. Click here.
NIXON/FROST is the movie based on the stage play based on the television show. It features a brilliant script by Peter Morgan (who also wrote THE QUEEN – he’s your go-to-guy for names-in-the-news biopics), and was slickly directed by Ron Howard.

People who saw the play said it was even better but they could just be showing off because they saw the play. The movie was damn good and moved along at a brisk pace. I was curious to see just what perspective the movie added to the subject matter ‘cause face it, if it’s just two talking heads on camera you can go to YouTube and see the original. What Morgan and Opie did was very smart. They showed you another side of Nixon. (And he had many faces to choose from.) Who knew that he was really savvy and intelligent in addition to being corrupt, paranoid, cheap, and in most ways despicable?

I’m sure the filmmakers’ big question was whether the audience would remotely give a shit whether British gabmeister, David Frost pulled this off? I must say I didn’t care like I did in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE when I wanted to jump through the screen and help the hero myself, but I did find myself vested in Frost’s predicament. And he had some tougher challenges than Jamal in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Sure Jamal had to flee the evil orphanage that wanted to blind him but he never had to pitch a show to ABC.

The thing that shines more than anything else in this movie is the acting. Michael Sheen has made a nice career for himself playing famous English characters in Peter Morgan plays. First he was Tony Blair in THE QUEEN and now David Frost. I look forward to his portrayal someday of boxer Lennox Lewis. In the interest of accuracy Sheen could have played Frost taller but I’m just quibbling.

And Frank Langella as Tricky Dick was nothing short of extraordinary. He took a two-dimensional caricature in real life and made him three-dimensional on the flat screen. He captured Nixon’s goofy physical mannerisms, the voice inflections, and facial expressions. Watching Nixon walk -- all hunched over with his arms at his sides – he always reminded me of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. That’s the way Yogi Bear and Boo Boo used to walk. Much of the film is in close up and the subtlety and nuance that Langella displayed was remarkable.

Just how crucial was Langella’s contribution. Picture the same movie with Dan Ackyrod playing Nixon.

I had only one problem with this movie. If it had been released ten years ago it would have had a thousand times the impact it does today. What seemed so shocking, so unthinkable back then – a United States president lying to the American people and covering up a botched break-in – is nothing in comparison to what Bush, Cheney, Rove, & Co. have done. Nixon shoplifted a Snickers bar compared to these Visigoths. And at least Nixon was tortured by his actions for the rest of his life. When George Bush has his comparable interview in a few years with Tyra Banks I’m sure there will be no such remorse. He may have destroyed the country and the world but at least he spared Vegas.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Executives say the stupidest things

In case you missed my Saturday post, I've started a new Kontest. Click here for the details. Some excellent entries already.
Industry executives are famous for jaw dropping statements. Who will ever forget the CBS suit who gave this script note to the producer of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN: “A Martian wouldn’t say that”?

Several years ago a feature producer rejected a spec screenplay I had written. He told my agent, “The writing was so good that it almost fooled me into liking this movie.” Damn! I almost pulled it off!

So every year tales of these idiotic statements get passed around delis and “Promenades” and “Groves” and wherever else writers hang out. Of the doozies I’ve heard this year this is by my far my favorite.

Jim Troesh is one of the funniest people I know. We’re in an improv workshop together and I’m forever amazed at the inspired stuff he comes up with. Oh, by the way, Jim Troesh is also a quadriplegic.

Recently he wrote, financed, and stars in a pilot called THE HOLLYWOOD QUAD. It’s about his adventures trying to make it in show business with his somewhat significant handicap and is much funnier than most of the sitcoms currently on the air. Emmy winner, Bryan Cranston is also featured.

Jim’s agent recently submitted it to one of the cable networks. It was rejected. The agent said to the executive, “I guess you couldn’t get past the quadriplegic aspect, huh?” to which the executive said, “No, no. We were fine with that. It’s just that shows about Hollywood don’t really do well.”

How do
you top that? I'm sure someone will. And soon.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Product Placement before it was cool

Enter the Daffy Definition Kontest. Details here.
A lot of people ask me about the Coke scene in the movie David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS. We took a lot of heat for it because the studio that produced it also owned the Coca Cola company. It was viewed as a shameless plug. The truth is it was a complete coincidence.

Here’s the notorious scene but first an earlier scene setting up the animosity between Lawrence (Tom Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson). They are flying to Thailand to begin service in the Peace Corps in 1962. Lawrence is a rich preppy who is only there because he switched places with his roommate Kent to skip a huge gambling debt. Beth is an idealistic coed. They’re about to land.



Bangkok already? I can’t believe it.

Yes, we’ve been talking now for … (checks his watch) … Ooh, ten hours.

Kent, I’m really lucky to be assigned with you.

You know, Beth, we’re going to have so much to do when we get to…

A beat.

Loong Ta.

Of course. What do you think about taking tonight for ourselves? A bit of dinner, a few drinks, see a little of the city. And then, who knows? (taking her hand) There’s only one thing we haven’t shared together yet.

Beth smiles, not taking him seriously.

Very funny.

Lawrence smiles back at her. He’s serious. She looks at him, takes her hand back.

(cool) Thank you just the same.

Oh, come on, Beth. We’ve been moony-eyed since Istanbul. Why fight it?

(flustered) Kent, why are you doing this? I thought we were becoming friends.

This is what I do with my friends.

You’ve just been trying to go to bed with me?

(checking his watch) Well, I think I’ve put in the hours, don’t you?

Okay. And a few months later they’re in Loong Ta, a dirt poor village of thatched huts and nothing else. We needed a way to break the ice, to start getting them together. In interviewing former Peace Corps volunteers we learned that Coca Cola was one of the things they missed most, especially if stationed in a hot jungle. So taking that info, we wrote this scene:


Beth enters to find that Lawrence has transformed the hut into an exotic, albeit small, nightclub. There are bamboo chairs and tables, plants, and a makeshift bar, fully stocked with liquor. Lawrence, wearing his dinner jacket, sits at the corner table smoking a cigarette. An old villager sits off to the side, trying his best to play, “As Time Goes By” on his primitive Thai sitar.

Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.

I don’t believe it… even from you.

It was easier than you think.

How did you…?

Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.

A little elbow grease, a few connections and voila: Loong Ta’s first public service. Are you as proud of me as I am? Can I get you a drink?

What’s this for?

For a job well done. I’ve got Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam… the whole gang.

You’ve got liquor?

And wine. The house special is a delightfully articulate Chablis.

I haven’t seen a tube of toothpaste in two weeks and you have a bar?

Don’t fight it, Beth.

Goodnight, Lawrence.

You’re taking the narrow view again.

She starts for the door, then stops and turns back.

Do you have a Coke?

Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?

Plain. A plain Coke.

Lawrence reaches beneath the bar, grabs a bottle of Coke, and with much panache, removes the cap.

(handing it to her) You more than earned it.

Beth takes the Coke, looks at it, then takes a long swig.

Oh, that is fantastic… I miss these so much. Lawrence, damn you, you’re a life saver.

(toasting her with another Coke) To friends. Would you care to dance?

Beth thinks it over, takes one more good chug of Coke, and steps into Lawrence’s arms.

(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.

The sitar player strikes up “As Time Goes By” in the same monotonous way. Lawrence snaps his fingers, ordering him to pick up the pace. THE CAMERA SLOWLY PULLS BACK, and THROUGH THE WINDOW we watch Lawrence and Beth dancing slowly around the room, Beth shyly looking into Lawrence’s eyes. Electricity flickers.


We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.

I look back and think, all of this could so easily been avoided if he just offered her a joint.