Saturday, January 31, 2009

The "Lost" CHEERS

This is my Superbowl tradition (even in Hawaii where the pre game shows began at midnight) -- to present the "Lost scene of CHEERS". It's especially apropos this year since NBC is carrying the game.

My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote it, it was seen by EIGHTY MILLION people, (alm
ost double the audience of the final episode of CHEERS)… then never shown again.. I’m not even sure if a copy of the film still exists. And after being buried for over twenty years, here’s the lost script of that scene.

Backstory: People forget but Cheers wasn’t always an enormous hit. The first season’s ratings (1982-83) were terrible…as in “dead last”. In today’s world both the CW and Univision would kick our ass. In an effort to get better exposure NBC asked if we’d do a special scene to be aired sometime during the Superbowl pre game show. Pete Axthelm (pictured), the distinguished sports columnist for Newsweek and gambling tout for the Peacock agreed to appear. David and I banged out the scene. NBC aired it…right before kick-off. Talk about a good time slot.

Enjoy, trivia buffs:




Morning everyone.


You boys are here early today.

Superbowl Sunday, Diane. The only reason for living…not found in a mug.

We’re early because we gotta catch all twelve hours of the Superbowl pre-game show.

Started off this morning with the Superbowl Mass. Moved right into NFL ’82.

The next hour they’re going to trace the family tree of every player on both sides.

Ah, the big game. An American tradition. These athletes will test themselves for all they’re worth. They’ll spit farther than they’ve ever spat before. They’ll scratch in places no man has ever dared to scratch. That is entertainment.

Yeah. Superbowl Seventeen. Or as the French would say it, (IN JOHN’S UNIQUE FRENCH ACCENT) “Superbowl Seventeen”.


(TO SAM) Excuse me. Do you have a phone here? I’ve got the only bookmaker on the planet that I can’t get in touch with on Superbowl Sunday.

Yeah, it’s down the hall.

Hey, you’re Pete Axthelm.

That depends on whether you want to thank me or hit me for my selections this year.

Welcome to Cheers.


Hey, how come you’re not out there in Pasadena?

I should be. It’s the last time I book a flight through Jimmy the Greek’s travel agency.

Excuse me my ignorance, but I don’t know this gentleman. Will you introduce us?

This is Pete Axthelm. Pete’s the NBC house tout. Picks all the big games. He’s even right every now and then.

Actually I’m always right. It’s the players and referees that screw it up.

Oh, I see. You predict football games.

That’s right.

Oh what a worthy profession. I hope they pay you more than scientists and judges.


Pardon me, but it just seems ridiculous how you people place so much importance on the outcome of one silly little football game.


So Pete, forget about her, tell us who you like.

Well, I’m still feeding it all into my delicate computer – it’s a tough one, but I gotta start with that great Miami defense…

Miami?! Are you crazy?! That Thiesman person will pick them apart. You call him a prophet?


What’s going on?


Hey, what’s the name of this place?



(INTO CAMERA) Lots of abuse. I love it. My kind of place. You only find true peace at racetracks and saloons.


Friday, January 30, 2009

If you've never seen VOLUNTEERS...

I talk a lot about VOLUNTEERS (just this week). I actually saw it again recently for the first time in probably ten years. I was prepared to hit "stop" at any time but surprisingly I liked it more than I did when it first came out. For the most part it seems to hold up. It's no LOVE GURU but it does have its moments.

Here's the trailer. I know what you're thinking -- not enough pratfalls.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wanna find a writing partner?

Aloha. I’m going to use this Friday question day to do a little experiment.

Someone who didn’t leave his name asks:

Where is the best place to find a comedy writing partner if you don't know anyone personally or have contacts? Are there online forums for aspiring comedy writers?

So if you do find a partner will the credit read “Written by Joe Blow & Anonymous”?

Writing classes is the best source to meet potential collaborators. I think a couple of people from one of my Sitcom Room seminars have hooked up. I’m proud or take no responsibility depending on how it turns out.

Ask the instructors. Sometimes they can be good matchmakers.

Hang out anywhere you can network with other writers. Westside Starbucks are always popular (if you live in Los Angeles. I doubt many Starbucks patrons in Kalamazoo are working on their spec WORST WEEKS.) Sometimes show runners speak on panels at colleges, conferences, or the Guild. Attend and schmooze (and possibly learn something from the panel). However, if you go to the Comic-Con convention hoping to snare a partner, don’t dress in any costume.

I’ve heard that the WGA has held speed dating type events for finding writing partners. I did a post on that last year.

I’m sure Facebook and MySpace have tons of writing groups. Your favorite sitcom must have a website with forums. You might snare someone through that.

Gravitate towards funny people. Frequent comedy clubs. Take improv classes.

I met my partner in the army. But until you see comedy writing as a recruiting campaign look for other avenues.

So here’s the experiment, which might be fun or a huge bust): I’m inviting anyone who is interested in finding a partner to post your info in today’s comments section. A little about who you are, where you are, what genre you want to write, and contact info.

Good luck. Maybe the next Blow-Anonymous team will be discovered right here.

How to get to Hollywood on AMERICAN IDOL

It’s EASY!! All you have to do is just....

Be an attractive girl between the ages of 17 and 22.

Wear your hair like the Flock of Seagulls.

Have one of your arms completely tattooed.

Dress kooky. Homeless/rocker/chic/Hillary Duff

Reveal that one parent is in prison and the other is dead (killed in a particularly gruesome way. Be creative.)

Have two kids already.

Be raising them alone.

One is very sick. A mystery disease worthy of HOUSE.

Whichever grandmother raised you died recently… on your birthday. Her last words were “win AMERICAN IDOL so my life will not have been in vain.”

Music is the only thing that saved you from becoming a prostitute or working at Applebee’s.

You live in a dirt poor small town and have to walk everywhere.

You don't have shoes.

Kara has always been your idol. (Learn how to pronounce her name)

You can cry on demand.

You can sing (although this last one is just optional).

Good luck. See ya in Hollywood!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to memorize scripts Pt 2

Here’s another installment in how actors memorize scripts. These come from actors you know. As you’ll see, no two methods are even remotely similar.

Actor 1:

The repetition from rehearsals is very helpful. But, of course, on "Cheers" we had lots of changes. That's why starting in the middle of the week was so constructive.

I could study during the weekend. I would mark the common consonants, like the "t"s or the "s"s or whatever. Sometimes the letters were near alphabetical, but even if they weren't the consonants gave me a landmark in my long paragraphs.


Actor 2:

When memorizing lines, I make it a rule to lay off xanax or klonopin.

Most shows aren't that good, so it's difficult to stay awake anyway. Usually, I read the whole script first so I understand the story. Then, I sit in a chair in the corner of my bedroom and literally memorize page by page, reading each line and the cues, and then by putting my hand over my lines (i.e. covering up my lines) and trying to say them. It helps me to say them out loud.

I stay with each page until I can do the whole page and then move on. In a long play, I aim at only five pages a day. For plays, I also like to know my lines as soon as possible, even before we start, even though a lot of directors don't approve of that (because, they believe, you get locked in to line readings. I disagree- particularly in a really wordy play. I think if you know the lines really well you can say them in any way that occurs to you during rehearsal.

I also like to go over my lines in my head wandering around the street - if I can do them with all the distractions of the city - then I really know them, even though you look pretty stupid to all the people passing you by .

It has to be a little faster for film and tv - although I do the same things. It helps me to imagine the blocking, even if what I imagine doesn't always turn out to be correct.

Honestly, I'm not particularly good at memorizing. I know people who are dazzlingly fast - they can read down a page and they've pretty much got it. They almost never sit in a corner somewhere and work on it... just by rehearsing and osmosis they get it. Alec Baldwin's ability to memorize fast is astounding. Somehow, they see the page in their head.

A bunch of people hire assistants to constantly grill the lines - I don't usually do that but it's really common.


Actor 3:

Hi Ken,

It is fairly easy for me to memorize lines at this point.

Normally, there is an objective to whatever I am saying in a scene (ie: I know what I want to say) so the lines are obvious to learn.

Sometimes it is harder when there is a long speech. That is harder to learn - I have to make sense of it for me then just say it over and over until I know it in my sleep.

I have little clues for memorizing too: if I have to remember a list of things in a speech I remember the first letter of each word.

The hardest lines to remember are those in another language.

More next week. I hope it’s not just me, but I find this stuff fascinating.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hey, what happened to the other post???

Okay, at least I was honest. This is not my original post for the day. It was a review of Tuesday night's AMERICAN IDOL, which I confessed up front that I did not see. But since the show has become so formula I took a stab at it anyway. Only problem is, I thought it was Hollywood Week and it's not. So I'll save that for when it's more appropriate and instead offer this.
I rarely get to Blockbuster rentals but since I’m on vacation and the alternative is local Hawaiian news delivered by hard-hitting anchors in aloha shirts I thought I’d swing by and pick up a movie or two. Wow. For every release I had heard of there had to be at least three direct-to-video DVD’s I hadn’t. Here these gems never got major distribution I will never know. But here are a few of my favorites. Note: these are actual titles and tag lines. I’m not making any of this up.

FATHER OF THE KAMIKA – “Official Selection 1974 Geijyutsusa Arts Festival”.

HAROLD – about a teen with a receding hairline. Starring Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Nikki Blonsky.

INTERCEPTION – “A Clay Brothers Film”. Who????

IN THE GUTTER – with cover art featuring a guy coming out of a toilet.

I REALLY HATE MY JOB – starring Neve Campbell. So that’s what happened to her.

THE LAST KLEZMER -- most of the direct-to-video movies are action-thrillers so I have to assume this one is too.

LOWER LEARNING – starring Eva Longoria before she got famous. Heaven help any TV star who once had to pay the bills.

NINJA CHEERLEADERS – “Fight to Cheer Another Day

PIRATES OF THE SALT LAKES – “Pirate Talk so Salty, You Won’t Believe Your Buccaneers”


RIM SHOT – starring Mr. Magic

SHUT UP AND SHOOT – Featuring Gary Busey and Tom Sizemore. Their probation officers must now also be their agents.


STRIPPER ACADEMY – “Higher Learning Just Got Hotter”

SUPERBADAZZ – “Gotta Dollar Bill Ya’ll?”

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS – featuring Jenna Jamison. “They’ll Dance for a Fee, But Devour You for Free”.

WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? -- “The Movie that Santa Doesn’t Want You to See.”

And finally…

KENNY – From what I understand a popular Australian comedy. But the movie that is my namesake is about a guy who cleans toilets. The tagline is – “He’s Number One with Your Number Two”. Class-eee. Oh well. At least one reviewer called it “the Citizen Kane of Romantic Comedies About Sewage”.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What did he say?

Is it just me or is it sometimes hard to hear what characters are saying on one hour dramas? In an effort to have the dialogue sound more real and natural actors are now starting to mumble. Kiefer Sutherland is either screaming, “Get on your knees! NOW! … or whispering. It’s one thing to whisper during a tender moment or when you don’t want others to overhear but “I’ll drive” can be said in a normal tone.

And I’m not just singling out 24. MAD MEN drove me crazy last season. I could make out maybe 40% of what Peggy said. It’s less bothersome on HOUSE because with all the medical jargon I don’t understand what they’re saying half the time even when they do enunciate.

WEST WING’s signature rapid walk and talk dialogue was fine when Josh was whining about his love life but when the topic was foreign policy in Rwanda I was lost. Take a breath people! Just once.

When I’m watching one of these shows I usually have to pause and go back once or twice to decipher a line. And it really bugs me to rewind three or four times just to learn the actor was saying, “I hear it’s going to rain tonight”.

I blame David Janssen. He played THE FUGITIVE back in the 60s and you never understood what the hell he was saying. He whispered and mumbled and when the scene called for him to really act he stammered. When he saw the one-armed man about to kill his wife he probably could have saved her if the one-armed man could make out that he was yelling, “Stop!” No intruder is going to be scared away by “Shgmmetip!”

And since single-camera shows usually do five to ten takes of every scene, you wonder just how incomprehensible the takes they didn’t use were.

In comedy it is CRUCIAL that the audience hear the lines, both the set up and the punch line. The minute the listener strains to hear dialogue, you’re dead. The Indian guy on BIG BANG THEORY swallows half of his jokes because he says them too fast and has an accent.

My general rule of thumb is: Brando is dead. Say the lines! God knows how many of the laughs I’ve missed on 24.

I'd like to thank...

... the Southern California Sportscasters Association for naming me best sports talk show host of 2008. Actually, I co-won with Lee Hamilton but still. My thanks to the Dodgers, KABC, the SCSA, and especially my broadcast partner, Josh Suchon. It really is a two-person show, as much Ginger as it is Fred. So half of this is yours, buddy.

This is also the first award in a year that MAD MEN didn't win.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just 'cause they don't change your words...

...doesn't mean they still can't screw up your scene. Here’s an example: It’s from VOLUNTEERS written by me and David Isaacs.

The setting is Thailand 1962. Lawrence (Tom Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson) are in the Peace Corps. They’ve helped build a big wooden bridge over the river for this tiny village. But now they learn that communists and a war lord will be using it to invade them in a few hours. So along with Lawrence’s sidekick, At, they hastily start packing. The fun of the scene is that Beth misunderstands something Lawrence says and it leads her to the idea of blowing up the bridge. And later Lawrence blurts out that he loves her. And even he’s surprised. But it all has to happen fast, otherwise his admission is pre-mediated. The director shot our words exactly as written but instead of shooting it as a frenetic scene he made it slow and rueful. So to me it made no sense.

Here’s the scene. Imagine it both ways. Which do you think works best?


Our three heroes have returned soaked. Ai Po (the town elder) sits solemnly at the bar.

CAMERA STARTS on the bridge and pulls back to reveal the back of Beth’s head, facing it.

Our bridge. Our beloved Goddamn bridge.

She turns to face the interior where Lawrence and At are on the floor, catching their breath.

At, my pathetic little friend, are you all right?

I’m fine. So I die before I ever have a woman. I helped build a bridge and some fat guys touched me. I had a full life.

If you want any more of it we’d better get going. At seven a.m. this morning all Hell’s gonna break loose.

You didn’t tell me it was seven o’clock. Jesus, there’s no time to lift a finger –

Just one of those days, I guess. At, up and at ‘em. I’ve gotta get my dope, my booze – you know, the essentials.

They rise and start collecting booze, etc.

Oh, my God, how did this happen? All the speeches… all the promises…

I’m taking my grandfather.

All right. Just jam some hooch into his jumper.

What about our genuine Persian carpet?

Tear it down. We’ll roll it up around your grandfather.

Beth whirls around.

Tear it down – of course! We have the dynamite. We’ll just blow the bridge to bits.

Beth, we’re in kind of a hurry here –

Blow it to bits – Lawrence, that’s a brilliant idea. We’ll show those war-mongers that the people won’t stand for their tyranny.

At, tell he it can’t be done.

Should have been done in the first place. I’ll help you, Beth.

(picks up Beth)
Thank you, At.

Put me down!

Beth, don’t be crazy.

Leave me alone, I’ll do it myself.

I won’t let you.


Because I love you… Who said that?

If you love me, you’ll help me.

Now I know I didn’t say that.

Lawrence, you can’t have me unless you blow up the bridge.

That’s blackmail. Okay, fine. If that’s what it’ll take, I’ll blow up your silly bridge. I’ve done crazier things.

Lawrence and At start to move off.

No, wait. I’m sorry. I know you think the right thing can be done for the wrong reason, but for me motives are important. Lawrence, you can’t be part of this if you’re doing it for yourself.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

Alright, fine. I’m blowing up the bridge for me, I’m blowing up the bridge for you, for At, for the people, for America! Please, just let me blow up the goddamn bridge!

A beat, then:

You really do love me.

Yes, I do. Can we go now?

Right away.

Thank you! Thank you very much!

Beth and At run out. Lawrence follows, figuring out what just happened.

(muttering to himself)
I think I’ve just changed my mind about grad school.

Lawrence exits.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Give John Candy his star

While I'm in a VOLUNTEERS mood...

I ran this before a couple of years ago and it still hasn't happened. There should be a star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame for John Candy. Local LA disc jockeys have stars. If you don’t live in the 310 area code do you have any idea who Johnny Hayes is? He has a star.

From what I understand you offer to pay the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce a certain amount of money. It used to be $20,000, I’m sure it’s gone up. The committee then votes. But again, Johnny Hayes has one.

To nominate John Candy here's where you go. If ever a star deserved recognition it's John. Especially now since his body of work is fading into DVD and VHS remainder bins and the TBS late night movie package.

I was privileged to work with John on VOLUNTEERS. He was a true comic genius. "Tom Tuttle from Tacoma" was a two-dimensional character until John got ahold of him. He had that rare ability to play silly and real at the same time.

Doug suggested we get up a grassroots campaign to get John Candy a star. Finally, a cause this election season I can get behind.

Here's an example of John's work from VOLUNTEERS.

Late in the movie. Lawrence Bourne (Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson) are rallying the villagers to blow up the bridge they built for the Peace Corps. Tom Tuttle (Candy) has been away, brainwashed by the Communists. He enters the hut with a stick of lit dynamite.

Fools! Yankee imperialist swine, running dog, lackey, capitalist vermin, foul-breathed counter-revolutionary terrorists. You didn't really think I was gonna let you get away with this? The word of the people will continue to march over that bridge long after we have become specks of useless matter carried on the wind.

Tom, guess what? It's my birthday. Can I blow out the candle?

I'm not afraid to die. Not for a cause. Sure, there'll be stuff I'll miss. Tuna casserole with little potato chips on top. I love those. And Sandra Dee. I've never told anyone, but I like Sandra Dee. And some day I would have gotten her. And she would have left Bobby Darin for me. But now that can never be. Happy birthday, Larry.

(They grab the dynamite stick and put it out.)

Bring him over here. I'm gonna light this and shove it down his pants.

Beth leans over Tom and slaps him lightly in the face.

Tom... Tom, what's wrong? Why did you try to kill us?

We must unite with the masses. The more of the masses we unite with the better.

Here, let me try.

He slaps him hard.

(singing) America, America, God shed His grace on thee...

Lawrence slaps him again.

The people's army must become one with the people so that they see it as their own army. Such an army will become invincible.

Lawrence slaps him again.

(singing)... And crown Thy good with brotherhood...

Those days he spent in the jungle ... something must have happened out there.

Lawrence slaps Tom.

Stop! Stop it! I'll read the book, I'll see the film, I'll wash the people's truck. I'll do whatever you say... It's the commies. The commies made me do it. They want the bridge. They used me. Y'see, they wouldn't let me get any snooze time in, they kept talking... they never shut up ... I challenged myself to resist, but who was I kidding...?

Tom, what are you talking about?

Let me hit him again.

The commies... They're gonna come. They're gonna take over the bridge and the village... And I did it for them. (sobbing) How's that gonna look on my resume? "Peace Corps 1962, turned village over to Communists" ... Who's gonna hire me?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Who is the sexiest sportscaster?

Forget the damn Oscars! PLAYBOY has announced it’s top five nominees for the “Sexiest Sportscaster of 2008”! And it’s a hot competition this year, gang.

ESPN’s Erin Andrews (the Meryl Streep of this category) is looking to repeat. If the other contestants have to wear clothes then Erin is going to be hard to beat.

Also from ESPN – Bonnie Bernstein. I love the nose. She also knows her sports but when has that ever counted for anything with PLAYBOY readers?

Lauren Shehadi, from made the cut. She’s got that girl-next-door thing working for her.

Fox Network’s rising star Charissa Thompson stands a good chance. You see her on THE BEST DAMN SPORTS SHOW (well, you would if you ever watched that show). Proving her range she does football sidelines reporting for the Big Ten Network. Based on that assignment, she’s already been crowned Miss Wyoming even if she was only in the state for one Saturday afternoon.

And finally, there’s Molly Sullivan of the MountainWest Sports Network. She’s a former swimmer and next to girls in Catholic school uniforms, PLAYBOY readers really love that.

The winner will be announced February 12th. Next to the Peabody, this has to be journalism’s most prestigious award.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How I really feel about testing

Aloha. Winging to Hawaii. But assuming they have the internet over there my blog posts will continue uninterrupted. I just won’t hate everything as much.
Friday questions comin’ at ya:

Richard Y asks:

A 3 Episode ARC. Is 'arc' an abbreviation or an acronym? If either, what does it spell out to be?

Writers use it describe a storyline that stretches over two or more episodes. One season on CHEERS our yearlong story arc was that Sam was trying to get into Rebecca’s pants. Throughout the course of the episodes he tried every sleazy, lying, despicable tactic he (us) could think of. NBC did research testing on that season and Sam tested way higher than anyone else. Why? Because he “cared” about everybody in the bar and was the father figure everyone could trust. Huh???? What shows were THEY watching???

From Damian in California:

I have a question regarding those preview shows such as “CBS Television City” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Do they help you at all?

We saw about 3 of them.
1 was great – Big Bang Theory
1 was terrible – never made it to TV
1 was so bad we left half way through (they claimed it was kid appropriate, so our kids were watching it with us, but actually they had changed the TV show that day from a Discovery family friendly show to some trashy adult show)

CBS decided that they get a much better cross-section of Americans in Vegas than LA. And they’re probably right. Just walk through the MGM Grand casino, check out the clientele, and you’ll know why THE WIRE is not a big hit.

Here’s the bottom line with research testing: If it is used as a tool, another source of input then yes, it is valuable. All feedback is valuable. But if it becomes the final determination on whether your show is picked up or not, or if it dictates the direction your show must go, then it is very destructive. How do you measure creativity and ideas? Executives rely on research because they’re covering their asses. But when ALL the shows that get picked up test well and 90% of them fail anyway then doesn’t it stand to reason that this is a faulty system?

And finally, from Erich Eilenberger:

I remember that you and your partner wrote one of my favorite episodes of CHEERS, "Rat Girl," which had a really great argument scene between Frasier and Lilith. Then I noticed that you also wrote "Room Service," which was one of my favorite episodes of FRASIER and also featured Lilith. Looking at IMDb, it seems like you wrote a lot of the episodes of FRASIER featuring Lilith. I have to assume that this was intentional, but it seems unusual, especially given how collaborative writing for a half-hour comedy is. Were you considered to be the Lilith writers? And did that happen for a particular reason?

For whatever reason, David and I seemed to have a flair for that character. I always worry what it says about us. I was a Psych major at UCLA and pretty good at slinging around that psycho-babble so that helped too. In fact, the only use I ever got out of my four years of studying psychology was the ability to better write Lilith’s bullshit.

Got a question? I'm here to help (unless I'm snorkeling)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to memorize scripts Pt 1

Announcing a new feature! Based on a reader’s question I surveyed a number of very successful actors and actresses to learn how they memorize scripts. Their answers were all fascinating and wildly different. There were too many to squeeze into one post so over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing the rest. I’m sure a few of you have methods of your own. My thanks to these actors for their generous participation. Memorization is just one of the many skills I don't have to be an actor.

Actor 1

Read the scene a few times. Try not to read it out loud a lot. Then get a pad and scribble your dialogue as quickly as possible without worrying about being able to read it back punctuation. Write as fast as your brain goes. Keep doing that until the lines come fast.

Then have someone read the scene with you a few times, or do it yourself covering the dialogue with something until you get to it.

If they're good lines it'll go quickly. If they're crap lines, do the same thing but curse a lot while you're doing it.


Actor 2

I have a lousy memory. And it isn't - for me at least, though I expect this may be generally true - something that gets easier with time, since, with time, one's memory declines.

I HATE memorizing.

Then, there are 2 categories of memorizing: 1) Theater - must be word perfect. Them's the rules, since the script is "rented" from the owner, not purchased. 2) tv/film: depending on who the producers are, who the director is, how much clout the writer has (lots if he's a producer - as you know), one may be able to get away with a bit of paraphrasing...or "improving". More in drama than comedy, I think.

Here's how I memorize, and it's totally obsessive/compulsive.

I number all my lines. If there is more than one scene, and the scenes do not immediately follow each other, than I treat each scene separately. After numbering, I go through the scene, making sure I can do each line by memory. Then I make sure I can do each pair of lines by memory. 1&2. 3&4. 5&6, etc. Then I do 2&3, 4&5, 6&7, through to the end. Then by 3's. 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, etc. Then 2-4, 5-7, 8-10, etc. Then 3-5.... Then by 4's, 5's, 6's, until I'm doing the entire scene's lines from memory. If there are lengthy speeches, I also treat them as separate entities with this method. This is a method of my own devising, and probably a rotten way to go about it. Some people simply look at dialogue and remember it. Some people should not ever step in front of my car.

And that's how I do it. If working creatively is heaven, then my process is hell.

Oh, and one also has to memorize cues...or just wait until there's a lengthy silence and then begin speaking. Cues, sometimes, are actually more difficult, unless they actually "cue" the next speech.

Friendly cue: What time is it?
Unfriendly cue: I'm feeling kind of...mushy.


Actor 3

Hmmmm.... Good question. It just comes from a combo of looking it over and the repetition of saying the lines. I think I'm a visual learner because if I can visualize the type and where it was on the page, the words come. It's probably second nature at this point. It's also really great for me to have at least one night of looking at it just before bed. Then, somehow, the next day if by's there. ( I go into a terrible panic when handed pages on the set!)

Overall, I would say that the more often someone practices the skill the better they become at it. I'd advise a new actor to work on various monologues regularly .....just to become easy with the skill (I'd recommend Shakespeare.)

I do have to say that good writing is easier to memorize. Bad writing can be a real struggle. CSI is a nightmare!


Actor 4

The truth is that the only time I actively memorize is when the lines are awkward or poorly written. Then it is sometimes necessary to go over the words again and again until you find a way to make them 'fall trippingly off the tongue'.

When doing a play, where everything must be learned at once, I usually find that by the time I have studied my way through the script several times I have already picked most of them up. The thing that seals it is the blocking process; suddenly you just know that when you cross down stage left and pick up that glass you say "X".

The same is true when you are shooting movies and long form TV. You just do it scene by scene, and working with the other actors makes it all come alive and be much easier.

Now sitcoms - that can be a real challenge since those darn writers just keep fussing and adjusting up until the moment they are thrown off of the sound stage by the janitor after the final taping. I made the mistake of telling the Charles Brothers that I was a very quick study. It got to be a sort of game with them to give me brand new lengthy orations just as the stage manager was counting down. Certainly kept me on my toes!

Stay tuned for more memorization methods. Hope you find this topic as fascinating as I do.

American Inaugural Idol Balls

Switching back and forth between the inaugural balls and AMERICAN IDOL’S open auditions it was really hard to keep the two straight. I mean, the level of talent was sooo similar.

AMERICAN IDOL (which hailed from San Francisco and assembled its multitude of hopefuls in the aptly named Cow Palace), kicked off Tuesday night’s edition with a Puerto Rican floozy in a prom dress best described as “attack victim” shrieking Aretha Franklin and boasting that no one’s a better singer.

Beyonce sang “At Last” as the new president and his wife danced. No one, not even Etta James, ever sang it better.

The judges were split on prom girl. Her voice wasn’t terrible but she had this laugh that was so bone-chilling annoying you could understand why anyone, even Gandhi, would want to beat her. Could become the most insufferable IDOL candidate ever.

Next was a goofball in a multi-checkered coat, the kind Lindsey Nelson used to wear. The official name for that style is “Who shot the couch?” He massacred Simply Red.

Stevie Wonder performed at the Neighborhood Ball. He was better dressed and can't see.

A deer-in-the-headlights kid who can do Rubik’s Cubes was so sharp and piercing that electric garage doors in San Francisco all opened automatically.

Shakira brought down the house.

A zoftig gospel singer showed up toting a sheaf of notes, lyrics, and throat diagrams. She pointed out where the “larnix” is. Later, in her audition when her song selection was questioned she said, “I know. I gave you the wrong rectum”. She blamed her failure on nerves. Her words: “I shouldn’t let Paula and Randy irractitate me.” And I thought we were through with George Bush.

Mariah Carey, stuffed into her gown like sausage casing, electrified the inaugural partygoers.

In the most shameless A.I. audition to date, a father brought his two young children into the room. It worked. He was sent to Hollywood. Watch. Next season every idiot will have kids, puppies, wounded birds, disabled veterans, Katrina survivors, or Gary Coleman.

Sting had a little help too. He worked with that blind guy. Stevie Wonder did an amazing duet with him.

A willowy blonde mutilated Gershwin’s “Summertime” believing that wrong notes constituted a jazz interpretation.

Another willowy blonde, Faith Hill, hit all the right notes.

The obligatory pretty boy made his appearance. Paula sent him through before he even opened his mouth. Her eyes bugged out like that wolf in Looney Tunes.

Alicia Keyes was wonderful. Her stirring performance at the Writers Guild strike rally was not a fluke.

The best IDOL audition was from a kid named something like High Colonic. He was so good he didn’t need the mother who had seizures. But you can’t leave anything to chance. Not with cute kids in the building.

In watching both the balls and IDOL again, I think on second viewing Beyonce, Stevie, Mariah, Alicia, Faith, Sting, and Shakira might just be safe. The IDOL auditioners seemed a little, I dunno… irractitate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Random thoughts on the Inauguration...

I usually don't post more than once a day but this is a special day.
Was I weeping tears of joy, relief, or awe?

I don’t know about you but I started getting choked up just seeing the opening graphics.

Never has a speech been so blunt and grim and yet so inspiring.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” I can just imagine George Bush hearing that, processing it, and fifteen minutes later saying, “Hey!”

Talk about a moment frozen in time. God, did it look cold. There was not even a heat lamp for Steven Spielberg.

Bright sunshine and bitter cold – could there be a better metaphor?

There were two million people in the mall. Where did they park?

We always knew Dick Cheney was Dr. Strangelove.

When Obama emerged from the Capitol and was introduced to the crowd I wondered, is there a president-elect theme?

Best network coverage: BBC America.

I love how Obama was administered the oath of office by a Chief Justice he voted to keep off the bench.

He actually became the president in the middle of the Yo-Yo Ma number. Classical music is always included in these programs to show the world we’re not just a bunch of yahoos.

Anybody know the point of that poem? I’m relatively sure it was the first time the words “boom box” were uttered at a presidential inauguration.

In a desperate attempt to promote Katie Couric, she appeared on the CBS NFL Halftime report on Sunday with the conceit being she was “friends” with anchor James Brown (pictured left). Oh yeah. James Brown and Katie Couric – BFF’s. I’m sure Katie writes frequently on Brown’s Facebook wall. He sends her fifteen Tweets daily.

Most networks were covering the inauguration but not all. TBS showed the next best thing, an episode of FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR. And E! paid tribute to this historic occasion by airing the “15 Most Shocking Political Scandals.”

Meanwhile, the BIOGRAPHY channel featured half hour profiles of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and William Shatner.

So many highlights but seeing Bush fly away was probably the best.

Where can I get a hat like Aretha Franklin’s?

The festivities were marred by Senators Kennedy and Byrd needing immediate medical assistance at the luncheon. Hopefully they both will be alright. There’s a reason people their age go to Florida rather than standing in 15 degrees (wind chill) weather.

Oh, and next inauguration luncheon – get a new caterer.

I will say this -- Katie Couric did seem in her element – hosting the parade coverage.

Meanwhile, over at NBC, hard hitting journalist Al Roker was on the street screaming like an idiot to get Obama’s attention. And then almost had an orgasm on the air because Obama said to him “it’s warm”. A delirious Al then shouted on camera “THIS IS EXCITING!” Even Jillian Barberie found that embarrassing.

When the actual parade began, with high school marching bands and tumbling acts the networks ended coverage. NBC went to the Martha Stewart Show. CBS bailed for Rachel Ray. And they wonder why people now go to CNN to get their news.

All in all this was a magnificent historic day. I will treasure the memories. And of course buy the commemorative plates.

More thoughts later as the festivities continue.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Day

It’s maybe the oldest joke ever but there’s a guy who works at the circus. His job is to go around with a shovel behind the elephant, and clean up his mess. His friend says, “Why don’t you quit?” and he says, “What? And give up show business?”

Change show business to politics and that’s the glamor job Barack Obama accepts Tuesday at noon when our grateful country hands him the shovel.

Actually, considering the amount, he should be handed a steam shovel.

It is a day of worldwide celebration. A bigger event even than the AMERICAN IDOL finale and almost on a par with William Peterson leaving CSI. For the first time in eight years the United States has a leader.

I was just a kid when John F. Kennedy was sworn in. An entire elementary school huddled around one black and white television. It was thrilling, exciting, and I haven’t felt that way about a presidential inauguration since well… then. The last two I couldn’t watch. I imagine Hillary Clinton couldn’t watch the last three.

My prayers and best wishes to Barack Obama. If nothing else, thank you for instilling hope in these nightmarish times, for being able to string four words together in a cohesive sentence, for actually caring about the people you have pledged to serve, for loving MASH, and most of all, thank you for being the one willing to take charge when you hear…


Sunday, January 18, 2009

THOUSAND CLOWNS -- my movie pick of the month

Several readers have informed me that there is no DVD yet for this film, thus it can't be an official Netflix pick. But there are VHS copies and it shows up on TV so if you can't get it, watch for it. What does it say when GIGLI is out on DVD and THOUSAND CLOWNS is not? It was 1965 in the San Fernando Valley. I had gone to the nearby Baronet theater to see THE LOVED ONE, billed as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!” Who wouldn’t rush to see that?

Art houses were hard to find in LA suburbia because there were so few, they were wedged into shopping centers, and they were all the size of shoe boxes. The vacuum cleaner repair shop next door was always larger. There was not a very big demand for movies that didn’t star Julie Andrews or James Bond.

Art houses like the Baronet always showed double features. It’s not like anyone went to two art houses a month. So when I arrived early I had no choice but to watch the other film on the bill, something called A THOUSAND CLOWNS. Jason Robards Jr. was an eccentric TV writer man/child raising his precocious nephew (Barry Gordon) in Manhattan. Barbara Harris was the young inexperienced social worker sent to investigate. I was enthralled. I had never seen a comedy so funny and yet so real. The laughs came out of the characters and not THAT DARN CAT. The story was about something – nonconformity and its consequences in society. He was in danger of having his kid taken away. Not exactly a MAD MAD WORLDLY premise but funny just the same. There is comedy in truth – something you don’t generally get from HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI.

I became a huge fan of the author, Herb Gardner, bought the play, and almost memorized it. If I was going to write comedy someday, I vowed, this was the kind of stuff I would write. I later vowed that about Neil Simon plays, Woody Allen movies, and Mel Brooks movies, but at the time (and for the most part still) Herb Gardner was the man. Rent A THOUSAND CLOWNS. Then read A THOUSAND CLOWNS. And if you’re going to write a comedy, shoot for A THOUSAND CLOWNS.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tips for winter trips

Traveling is a nightmare anyway, but during the winter it gets even worse. But fear not, blog faithful. Here are some suggestions for winter air travel:

Check the weather forecast. If it’s not 72 degrees and clear EVERYWHERE in the United States, reschedule.

Do not call the airline for a weather update. You’ll learn it’s cool and overcast in New Delhi.

Allow two hours before the flight, ten hours for the tarmac, two hours for the unscheduled fuel stop, and two hours to retrieve your luggage. And if you’re flying from LA to San Francisco, 45 minutes for the flight itself.

If you print your ticket on one of those self-help stations realize that the chances of it working are the same as five cherries coming up on a slot machine.

Best to print your ticket at home the night before along with the flight schedules of every other airline going to your destination, airport shuttle schedules, Amtrak schedules, and the 1-800 numbers for Ramada, Holiday Inn, Hilton, Marriott, Quality Inn, Best Western, and the YMCA.

Never turn in your rental car until it’s the final boarding call on your flight.

Never fly to, from, or around Chicago.

Always use skycaps. And if you choose to ever see your luggage again, tip.

Remember: “the white zones are for assholes in SUV’s only”.

You are allowed several little three-ounce bottles of something but not one three-and-a-half-ounce bottle of the same thing.

You might want to put that Astroglide into a nondescript little bottle.

Don't book connecting flights in the winter, even in Hawaii.

Don't buy furniture off the Sky Mall.

Don’t have children if you plan on flying anytime in the next fifteen years. Even if it’s one trip.

If they announce they’re overbooked and are looking for volunteers to take a later plane for free trips take it. The flight is going to be cancelled anyway. And you’ll have a jump at getting reservations at the airport Hilton.

Have your laptop, ipod, cellphone, iphone, Gameboy, Blackberry, camcorder, transistor radio, electric razor, hand held fan, and pacemaker fully charged. Ten hours on the tarmac is a long time.


Before you get on the flight take Airbourne, water, Xanex, Oscillococcinum, Clariton, Ambien, and tequila.

Fake a limp so you can pre-board and guarantee there will be room in the overhead compartments for your stuff.

Bring your own DVD’s, music selection, food, blankets, pillows, reading light, water, magazines, newspapers, coffee, toilet paper. And just to be on the safe side, your own oxygen masks and floatation devices.

But it’s not a good time to catch up on the first season of LOST.

Play the drinking game. Take a swig every time you hear “we apologize for the inconvenience”. Not recommended for those unwilling to get completely shitfaced.

Drinking game #2: “We thank you for your patience.”

Don’t kid yourself. EVERYONE is flying “stand by”.

The scary part used to be the landing. Now it’s pushing off from the gate.

Beware of free WIFI hotspots in airport terminals. Hackers use these to break into your computer. Not a joke.

It’s quieter and smoother in the front of the plane. And screw what they say, if you’re in Coach and you want to use the bathroom go to the ones in First Class.

And finally, always remember: it’s NEVER the airlines' fault. It’s the weather, air traffic controllers, mechanical problems, baggage handler strike, FAA rules, homeland security, airport restrictions, lawmakers, the billy goat curse, lunar eclipses, and most of all -- the media.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Saturday scraps

Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban died the same day. Was the PRISONER set on FANTASY ISLAND?

McGoohan had an unbelievable career considering he turned down the roles of James Bond, the SAINT, Gandalf in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.

THE PRISONER was one of the greatest TV series ever. AMC has a remake premiering later this year. But they update it. Instead of McGoohan quitting a spy agency, this version has Matt Weiner quitting MAD MEN and he finds himself stuck on this island until he agrees to return.

Now that the election is over why are we still hearing what Sarah Palin has to say? You lost. Shut up. Go away.

Is this a current picture of Steven Tyler or a future picture of Jennifer Love Hewitt?

Less than a month before pitchers and catchers report.

AMERICAN IDOL’s debut was down 10%. Paula, time to do something really wacky in public again. Earn your keep.

CBS held up against IDOL on Tuesday but the CW got absolutely trounced. BEVERLY HILLS 90210 is the number of total viewers it has.

Jim Nantz is underrated as a football announcer.

Visiting teams have won 5 of the 8 NFL playoff games so far. I like the Ravens and the Eagles this Sunday and both are on the road.

FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin has resigned. Please disappear and take Sarah Palin with you.

No one watched Bush's farewell speech. Even Dick Cheney who was caught on camera nodding off. I'm only sorry Bush's speech wasn't up against AMERICAN IDOL and carried only on the CW.

Someone had a great comment on Mickey Rourke’s performance in THE WRESTLER. “He got up, didn’t shampoo, went to the set, and played Mickey Rourke all day.”

Boy George was sentenced to fifteen months in prison. The guys from Cellblock C requested he wear his make up.

30 ROCK and THE OFFICE got renewed. Whew! That was a close one.

I keep waiting for those PROJECT GREENLIGHT movies to be released.

Best of luck to friend-of-the-blog, Diablo Cody's new SHOWTIME show, UNITED STATES OF TARA. I don't get SHOWTIME. Someone will have to tell me how it is.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writers as actors/actors as writers

Some anonymous person (please leave your name) asked how actors memorized their lines. Since I’m not one I asked a bunch of folks who are. Got back some fascinating and very different methods. Starting next week I’ll post them. In the meantime, here are some more of your questions along with my thanks for asking them.

From Brian:

Have you ever considered or were you ever offered the chance to write commercials? Many commercials leave me thinking "What ad genius thought that one up?" and "That's supposed to make we want to buy that?"

There was a period before my writing career when I was pretty much considering anything other than movie stars’ personal assistant. I was always leery of advertising because I had always heard it was a pressure cooker, everyone had ulcers, and you had to come up with campaigns without the benefit of a wife who’s a witch. But desperate times called for desperate applications. I got a meeting at J. Walter Thompson’s and was asked to go home and write up some copy. I did and never heard back from them. I’m guessing they didn’t love it.

Several comedy writers started in advertising. Allan Katz (MASH, Rhoda, All in the Family, Roseanne) came up with the name “Screaming Yellow Zonkers”, and Steve Gordon who wrote and directed ARTHUR started as a Mad Man.

Tyroc asks:

Where do you think the Sam/Diane relationship would have gone had Shelley Long stayed on it? Do you think the show would've run as long as it did?

There were no long range plans for Sam/Diane and the thing about CHEERS is that the Charles Brothers always encouraged as many different ideas and directions as we could think of. The goal was to find the most original story arc possible. So who knows? There was resistance to marrying them but if someone came up with a fresh unexpected take on the institution we might have gone in that direction.

And from Ski:

I have noticed that on some TV shows, some writers play characters on the shows they write. Do any of these writers ever switch jobs and become actors? Or conversely, are there any actors who say "screw it I wanna write"?

A couple of writers for THE OFFICE are part of the ensemble. And of course there’s Tina Fey.

But there have a number of instances when comedy writers go before the camera. I’ll give a few examples but I’m sure there are quite a few more. Conan O’Brien went from the SIMPSONS writing staff to some talk show, I forget the name. Jay Tarses, one of the driving forces behind THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and BUFFALO BILL was in the cast of OPEN ALL NIGHT (a show he co-created) and THE DUCK FACTORY. Everett Greenbaum, who I profiled recently, made a nice living as a character actor the last ten years of his life. And most writers wind up doing little cameos, further proving that it’s the one-or-two line guys who kill you. That wasn’t the case with me, however. I was great in the two shows I acted in.

A number of stand-up comics gravitate towards the writing room. A few do both. Dana Gould on RAYMOND is one. Carol Leifer is another. And don’t forget Larry David.

Several actors also write, like Alan Alda and Jerry Seinfeld but aren’t about to trade the greasepaint for grease boards.

And then there’s Rachel Sweet, a wonderful writer with such credits as SEINFELD, DHARMA & GREG, and SPORTS NIGHT. She was an 80’s punk rock star. That's the way I wanted to break into the writing field.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Difficult actors

So many great questions have come in the last few weeks that I’m taking two days to answer some of them. I may not reach my “snark quotient” for the week but what the hell?

Joanna wonders:

how often do actors approach a script as "I don't read scripts. The script reads me." It's surprising how much leeway I've heard about some getting.

It happens more in features than series. In the crush of production actors on series are lucky if they GET a script, much less one that reads them.

Here’s the thing – if an actor pulls that shit he better be GREAT. Writers and producers have the “Is he worth it?” scale. If it’s Dustin Hoffman in his prime, yeah. If their movies or shows stop getting good numbers they lose out on jobs because of their bad behavior. Jon Voight’s stock plummeted from this type of diva crap.

But I’m reminded of what Billy Wilder said about having to deal with the near-impossible Marilyn Monroe. “My mother would show up on time and know all her lines but who wants to pay to see my mother?”

Richard Y asks:

How often is it that writers attend either tapings or filming of their work? Does it make a difference if it is a 'live audience' project or a drama that involves a lot of location work?

Most writers try to attend the filming of one of their shows. Hey, it’s one of the greatest perks -- to see your stuff performed. Multi-camera is more fun because (a) you have an audience, and (b) you see the whole show done in a couple of hours. It’s not as much fun to watch single camera shows because everything goes so slow. A great line I heard was this: The first day you’re on a movie set it’s the most exciting day of your life. The second is the most boring.

Still, it’s a great experience to see your words come to life and single-camera shoots usually have great craft services tables.

Sometimes (especially on multi-camera shows) if the writer doesn’t attend the producers are pissed off. It’s a real snub. Obviously if there’s some legitimate reason like you’re out of town or working that night on another show that’s different. And when we stopped going to our CHEERS filmings the final year because it drove us crazy that the actors screwed up every three lines, we were very close to the producers and cast and no one was miffed. In fact, they envied us.

But if you’re a freelance writer, and you get an assignment and don’t attend the filming after the staff has rewritten you – you are on the shit list. Good luck getting another assignment. Especially if the staff didn’t take you to arbitration and you still retained solo credit. Not showing up is a big “Fuck you”.

The first pilot David and I ever had produced was rewritten extensively and then cast horribly. The result was a giant stinkburger. We went to the taping anyway and it was painful. After they finished they asked the audience to please stay in their seats. They wanted to tape some inane opening credit sequence with the cast clowning around with the audience. I cringe just thinking about it. So we got the hell out of there. And THAT pissed off the producer so much he tried to take shared credit on the script. A big arbitration resulted and we won but clearly this was out of spite because we left early. I hate that producer to this day.

And no, the pilot didn’t get picked up. Thank God.

And finally, from A_Homer:

I often wondered, during those years when blooper segments were added on after credits (Home Improvement comes to mind) why would the messed up scene, still contain different camera-angles? I mean, obviously they weren't going to use Tim Allen giggling away, so why actually still bother to execute a scene with different camera angles?

Because all four cameras are always filming simultaneously. Editors have the luxury of being able to select the most humiliating angle.

Thanks for your questions. Please keep ‘em coming. More answers tomorrow.

AMERICAN IDOL's 8th season premiere.

For all the hype about this being the new “improved” AMERICAN IDOL, it was the same. Okay, there’s a new judge. More on that later. But speaking of morons, Paula was back. When long running shows in later seasons try to shake things up they REPLACE characters, not add new ones. Charles Winchester for Frank Burns. Rebecca Howe for Diane Chambers. Darren Stevens for Darren Stevens. With the addition of another judge with a brain Paula is now officially as useless as cuff links on pants.

But otherwise, the only thing new for the entire two hours was the Ford commercials. There were the same 100,000 idiots, this time baking for hours in 110 degree temperatures in Phoenix. I suppose someone should have warned them of the possibility of brain damage but really, why? They're sooo far past that.

The show kicks off with a gooey cloying montage, in slow motion, accompanied by the now-cliché song of all time, Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (who wouldn’t make it out of the opening round, by the way).

We’re told by an earnest contestant that AMERICAN IDOL “can make a difference. For one’s family. For one’s future.” Who needs alternative energy when we have AMERICAN IDOL?

We’re introduced to the new judge, Kara DioGuardi. Too early to tell whether she’s a breath of fresh air or Shemp. But she seems smart (or maybe it’s because she sits between Randy and Paula -- Eddie from FRASIER would seem smart), she can sing, and of course she’s attractive (this is FOX, where Chloe on 24 is considered disfigured). AMERICAN IDOL’S in-depth profile on Kara was a three-minute montage of people mispronouncing her name. Thank you. I really feel like I know her now.

Okay, enough stalling. Let the freak show begin! Included in this initial roundup:

A guy with a giant ‘fro. David Archelleta meets Diana Ross.

A tattooed rocker chick with pink/orange hair and tasteful stud in his lip. Drew Barrymore as the Exorcist.

An Axel Rose lookalike who weeps more than Hilary Duff and Ashley Judd combined. There is no crying in head banging heavy metal!

The obligatory “goody-goody” girl-next-door who volunteers at senior centers and vows to stay a virgin until Adam Levine is the guest mentor.

The Hispanic kid who calls himself X-Ray. Everyone else calls him Ex-Straight.

This was a new one – an African American kid with a voice deeper than a fog horn. Poor song selection though: “My First, My Last, My Everything” instead of “Old Man River”. Not that he could sing that either but it would have been more amusing.

Here's an AMERICAN IDOL empirical truth: Anyone who wears a hat sucks.

Simon of course put through the insufferable perky girl with marginal talent. She’s the blind date that’s very pretty and the nanosecond after you have sex you want to kill yourself.

The Kellie Pickler fresh-faced blond country gal who got four yes votes and six invitations to join dinner theater productions of LIL’ ABNER.

The weird Goth boy who looks like the creepy son on NIP/TUCK. Perfect if there’s ever a remake of HAROLD & MAUDE.

The callow rosy cheeked nerd who by April will be dressing like Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER.

And my favorite, a hot girl in a bikini. (Thank God, Moesha didn’t go this route.) We’re just one season away from a hopeful coming into the audition room on her knees.

I was starting to get worried. There were no trailer trash sob stories. No contestants living in Maytag boxes. No daddies serving 20-life. No one put their child up for adoption so they’d have the money to come to the tryout. The "I survived cancer" girl didn't even make it on camera. Was AMERICAN IDOL losing its edge? Ah, but then came the last contestant – a blind guy. Yeah, good luck voting him out.

So far your final two are bikini girl and blind guy. Unless Kansas City has a stripper who sings out of her navel, why even bother?

The show concluded with the standard montage of tone-deaf deluded losers, a segment I like to call “Let’s laugh at the truly pathetic”. Nice touch ending with the Hasidic cowboy.

Overall the talent level was the same as always. Two or three really good ones (oil rig boy in particular), a few who can carry a tune but you know will be eliminated so fast their luggage will not have arrived at the carousel, and the groan-inducing misfits who get interviewed later, boldly claim “You haven’t heard the last of me! I’m going to be a star without AMERICAN IDOL!”, and spend the rest of their lives working the back sink at Shoney’s.

AMERICAN IDOL has a problem. Even for fans like me who at one time really loved it. There is a sameness now. Throwing in Kara (or is it pronounced "Care-a"?) won't solve that. For the show, and pretty soon Ryan, it's really time for a face lift.

Tonight is another two hour special. For my review just re-read this one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Will I be reviewing AMERICAN IDOL?

Some will be delighted, others will groan, but yes I will be reviewing AMERICAN IDOL this year. Not every week, especially during the early rounds, but from time to time. AMERICAN IDOL is still one of the only shared television experiences we all have. If TABATHA'S SALON TAKEOVER ever catches on I'll review that too.

My thoughts on the season premiere coming up.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sitcoms 65

From my look back at growing up in the 60s...

My allowance was $5.00 a week. Out of that largesse I bought records, movie passes, Clearasil, junk food, Stridex Medicated Pads, surf magazines – y’know, the essentials. In the mid 60s my g-g-g-g-generation would spend $11 billion on such items. By 1970 we would spend $70 billion. I guess they figured in drugs.

It was a banner year for television. MY MOTHER THE CAR premiered. (Has there ever been a more terrifying Oedipal concept for a teenage boy than his mother being his car? Short of MY MOTHER THE DICK I can’t think of anything worse.) Truth is the show was not as bad as its title.

More shows were being shown in color. We didn’t have a color TV but I knew more people who did so that was exciting.

Sitcoms for the most part were lame. PETTICOAT JUNCTION (which opens with the three starring girls bathing in the town’s water supply -- but I had a crush on the three girls), THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (she played identical cousins and wasn’t funny as either. But I had a crush on her), THE DONNA REED SHOW (I had a crush on Shelley Fabares), BEWITCHED (I had a crush on Elizabeth Montgomery), CAMP RUNAMUCK (I had a crush on Maureen McCormick), and GIDGET (I had a major crush on Sally Field). Most people watched sitcoms to laugh. I watched them to get off.

Teenage characters in 60s comedies were all written by 50 year old men. We were all portrayed as fun loving kooks who got into “jams” and were usually bailed out by our (coincidentally) 50 year old fathers. Boys were all oversexed, which meant we wanted to “go steady” before the girls were ready. Girls were oversexed too and were willing to “put out” for the right dreamy boy… and by “put out” I mean accept a double-date for miniature golf. It was a fairy world. Just once I wanted to see Gidget pass out not because Moondoggie invited her to the prom but because she had severe menstrual cramps.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vicky Christina Barcelona/Woody Allen Badwriting

Depending on the movie, I’m a big Woody Allen fan. He was one of my early idols. When my partner and I were writing spec scripts we would often play his stand-up routine album to get revved up. I still think ANNIE HALL is hard to beat as the best romantic comedy ever. At his best he is the best.

It’s just that he hasn’t been his best for a really long time. Year after year he cranks out movies faster than Apple rolls out new iPod models. And like iPods usually it’s the exact same product with a different size or color. Even his best received film of late, MATCH POINT. was just recycled CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS. (I was less enthusiastic about that movie than others. Inspector Clouseau is a better detective than those London buffoons.)

But apparently no one has told the Writers Guild that he is no longer the Woody Allen of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, HANNAH & HER SISTERS, CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, and LOVE & DEATH. He is now the Woody Allen of SCOOP, HOLLYWOOD ENDING, and THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. And yet, year after year Allen is honored for his various screenplays. He recently received his 19th WGA nomination for VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. Really? Of all the original screenplays that were produced this year that was one of the best five?

I saw VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. It was nice. My order of preference: Vicky, Barcelona, Christina. Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz gave wonderful performances. And Woody wasn’t in it himself so we weren’t asked to believe that Tea Leoni would ever go to bed with him, so that was a big plus. But the screenplay was incredibly lazy.

He just used the narration device to tell the entire story. To the point where it was almost amateurish. The movie opens with Vicky and Christina in a taxi driving through the city. The narrator tells us not only why they’re there, what they’re looking to achieve but also defines their characters. This one is a free spirit. This one is very clenched and engaged to someone whose biggest attribute is that he’s boring. And then we just see examples of what we’ve been told.

That’s good storytelling? Three minutes of bald exposition? How about finding ways to show us who these people are? I know, that’s the hard part, but if you write one screenplay a year instead of four you can achieve it.

And yet he is rewarded. Another “Best Original Screenplay” nomination.

Early in the movie they go away for a weekend. The narrator tells us when they arrived, that they checked into the hotel, went to lunch and what they talked about at lunch. I’m sorry. This is staggeringly bad writing.

The story itself sort of plods along until Penelope’s character arrives. And I’m not sure whether I loved her because of her performance or just the fact that something actually happened.

Part of my disgust is that Woody Allen is capable of so much more. If he pushes himself. The way he did when he had something to prove. But if Allen keeps getting recognition for working at half speed what's his motivation to do better? Don't encourage him! Challenge him!

If you want to nominate VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA for a writing award, fine. But it should be for “Best Short Story Prose” not "Best Screenplay".

No Golden Globes review


1. I'm doing my radio show on KABC up against it.

2. I can only watch it with the sound off (which I highly recommend, by the way).

3. I'm Tivo'ing 24 and if I watch anything when I get home around midnight it's that.

4. I hated HAPPY-GO-LUCKY and it might win.

5. I'm not nominated.

6. The so-called "Foreign Press" are waiters on visas.

7. Someone other than Rebecca Hall might win for best actress.

8. I've already written my rant on Woody Allen for tomorrow.

9. I don't know if my cable 500 channel cable package includes NBC.

10. I just don't care.

11. They can never top last year's.

Update: For those who do want a hilarious recap, I recommend our own Tallulah Morehead's review. See it tomorrow in the HuffingtonPost.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bizarre but real headlines

Just how bizarre has the entertainment/pop culture world gotten? I am a contributor to the HuffingtonPost and recently checked out their Entertainment section. This is not the National Enquirer. These are the headlines that mainstream publications are printing.

Ione Skye Marries Singer Beau After Their Guru Gives OK

Lisa Bonet's New Baby: Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa

Tom Cruise: Jett Travolta's Death "Horrific"

MTV Star Was Arrested For Offering To Pay For Oral Sex With Oxycontin

Lindsay Lohan Moans: I Work As Hard As Scarlett Johansson

Travis Barker Takes Shirt Off At Concert, Shows

Crash Scars
Lisa Rinna's Filler Regret: "I Look Like A Freak!"

"Lost" Star Wins Custody Of Kid After The Mother Alleges Witchcraft

Michael Jackson Moves To 12-Fireplace Mansion In Bel Air

"Idol"Fantasia Ignores Sheriff's Pleas Over Home Auction

Lisa Marie Presley Defends Travolta Family, Scientology

Anne Hathaway To Obama: Explain Rick Warren

"Dexter" Brother and Sister Now Husband-Wife

Josh Brolin & Jeffrey Wright Arrest Video: Tasers And Pepper Spray

…and finally….

Larry Flynt Sues Nephews For Putting Family Name On "Inferior" Porn

It seems to me these are all the same headline:

The End of the World is Near!