Monday, March 30, 2009

LOST: Juliet explains it all to you

LOST is having another spectacular season. Every episode is a mind blower. In case you’re not up to speed, I was able to secure this letter that castaway Juliet (pictured above) sent to her sister. She recaps the series far better than I.

Dear sis,

Sorry it’s been awhile since my last letter. But you know how crazy things get on the island. Someone suggested I send this “priority” to speed up the process but it still goes out on the same submarine.

The weather has been nice lately. Occasional late day showers but that’s pretty much it. The foliage is gorgeous and the mangos are plentiful. Oh, and it’s 1977 now. Seems the island can go through time. They never tell you these things in the brochure. Yes, it’s an adjustment but Captain & Tennille will be performing on the island on the 8th with special guest stars, the Bay City Rollers.

I’m no longer living in a hastily constructed primitive tent on the beach. I’m now in a suburban housing community. I’ve become a member of the Dharma Initiative. I don’t know what they do exactly but I think it involves science and finding a starring vehicle for Jenna Elfman.

I’ve changed jobs. No more prenatal research and sniper assignments for me. Now I’m an auto mechanic. They must’ve gotten a deal on VW vans here because that’s all you see. But I’ve been impressed. They say Chevy trucks are built tough but these babies can drive through the cloud monster without stalling. I still do deliver babies once in awhile. It’s just that my hands are not as clean. Oh, guess what? Michelle from 24 is here. I just delivered her baby last week. If you see Tony Almeida and he isn’t being tortured by terrorists tell him he’s a daddy.

I have a new boyfriend. His name is either Sawyer or James or LeFleur. I don’t know what to call out in bed. He used to be a bad boy but now he’s settled down and has a really good job as the head of security – protecting us from the pesky hostiles that live out in the jungle and want to kill us all for no apparent reason. It might have something to do with Jenna Elfman being a Scientologist but I dunno.

I can almost see you smirking. Sawyer/James/LaFleur and before that Jack and before that Ben and before that the married guy that Ben killed – I am such a slut. But actually, the last three were in the 21st century so in a sense they don’t count… yet.

To tell you the truth, I’m a little worried about my relationship with Sawyer/James/LaFleur. That bitch Kate is back! Of all the years she could have time traveled to why did it have to be this one? Why she’s back at all I don’t know. Gee, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of shit I don’t know about that’s going on around here. Anyway, if she gets within ten feet of him I’m going to go medieval on her bony ass or at least go back to Jack. He’s also here now. Along with Hurly so there goes half our food supply.

Hey, the good news about being back in 1977 – TAB with cyclamates are back!

More good news – Jin survived that massive freighter explosion. He’s now with us speaking better English that Hurly. And his wife Sun is on the island too but it’s been hard for them to arrange a time to get together since he’s in 1977 and she’s in 2007.

Ben as a child is here as well. I’ve discreetly left diagrams of a vagina in his school notebook. Maybe this time when he grows up he’ll know what the hell a clitoris is.

Okay. Gotta run. The alarms are sounding. The polar bear is loose. Say hi to everyone. And if you can find a valve cover gasket for a 1977 VW van please send it.

Love,

Juliet

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I don't want to say HOUSE stole our POINT OF VIEW episode but...


...tonight's edition of HOUSE is seen through the point of view of a patient. Huh??? David Isaacs and I wrote that in 1978 for MASH. It's kind of a famous episode. I just watched a preview of the HOUSE episode and it looks like the exact same show. Or maybe it’s just an “homage”. You can see the preview here.

I constantly get readers who want to know about POINT OF VIEW so I figured this might be a good time to share the story again.

The problem with constructing “our” version was finding a story to go along with the convention. A soldier is injured, treated and saved by those lovable wacky medicos at the 4077th. But what’s his injury? Where’s the suspense? And more importantly, how does he connect with our central characters?

We heard of a 1947 movie that used this first-person device called LADY IN THE LAKE. It was a Raymond Chandler mystery with Robert Montgomery as detective Philip Marlowe. Or, more accurately, Robert Montgomery’s voice. So we screened the movie. Holy shit! What we found was that when someone talked to Marlowe it was fine, but when Marlowe spoke the other actors had nothing to do but stare uncomfortably into the camera and try to react (this was not Jayne Meadow’s best work). It was sooooo dicey. Not to mention static, boring, and…well, downright creepy.

It seemed to us the key to making this device work was not having the soldier talk. And that sparked our story. What if the patient is hit in the throat? He can’t speak. He must undergo a series of tricky operations (the suspense) until finally he is able to utter only two words –

“Thank…you”.

In the HOUSE version the patient can talk but no one hears him. I haven’t seen the complete episode but even from the preview it seems disconcerting to hear this voice out of nowhere… and that voice is supposed to be you.

Getting back to our story, it now laid itself out pretty easily. We created a B story where Potter forgets his anniversary and the patient informs Hawkeye which leads to the resolution. That way the soldier is directly involved in the story. One of the show’s highlights for me was how masterful Harry Morgan played the scene in which he confided in the young soldier. Not a dry seat in the house!

We wanted to really utilize the visual, give the viewer a different perspective whenever possible. What did it look like actually being in the chopper, gazing down at the camp, being on a stretcher during the insanity of triage, being wheeled into OR?

So much credit for the success of the episode goes to director, Charles Dubin. And remember, he had only three days to film this, not three weeks…or months. And this was 1978, before steady cams. I think D. W. Griffith used this camera to shoot BIRTH OF A NATION. It couldn’t have been heavier or more unwieldy. Judging from the HOUSE preview the camerawork is more fluid but the effect is no more effective.

The MASH cast was marvelous, really rising to the occasion. It’s hard enough to relate to fellow actors, but to play highly emotional scenes looking directly into a camera has to be nearly impossible. Additionally, scenes all had to play out in one take. We couldn’t cut back and forth between characters and angles and takes. To this day I marvel at their skill.

Trivia note: We gave the patient the name Bobby Rich. Bobby is one of my dearest friends, currently hosting a morning radio show in Tucson.

When the show was completed we watched the finished product in a screening room. I was horrified. There was Radar’s giant head filling this huge screen, addressing all of us tiny ants in the theater. AAAAAAGH!!! As I sat in the dark, contemplating my next career, I wondered how I could reconcile the fact that I personally had destroyed MASH. How’s THAT going to look on my resume?

The show aired on a Monday night during November sweeps. I almost didn’t watch it. When it began I cringed. A few moments into it Radar appeared. And a strange thing happened. The show suddenly worked.

Seeing Radar’s head on a TV screen, the comparable size of most human beings (Only Barry Bonds has a head the size of Radar’s on the silver screen.) the audience was able to buy the conceit. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. By the act break I canceled my 11 PM flight to Antarctica.

I look back at that show today with great pride. We were allowed to take risks. Encouraged to take risks. And even if the show had been the “GLEN OR GLENDA of television” that it appeared to be that dark day in the screening room, I would still be proud to be a part of it. To the cast and crew and everyone involved in POINT OF VIEW, all I can say is –

“Thank you”.

And now I can take our script, change Hawkeye to House and I have a spec drama to show around.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Even I can't get an agent

The difficulty in securing an agent is not confined to those writers just starting out. I tried to get a theatrical agent when I wrote my play a few years ago and hit a brick wall, even with my resume. And I didn’t list AfterMASH so I know it’s not that.

The Hollywood literary agency that represented me did not have a theater department so when I wrote my play a few years ago I decided to get a second agent to handle that facet of my career. Unlike these major conglomerates with three letters that handle screenwriters, theatrical agencies are all boutique. Going down the list it seemed every Jewish girl who wouldn’t go out with me now has an agency.

I made a few calls and found no one was interested. The fact that (a) I wasn’t 25, and (b) they couldn’t cash in on movie rights made me persona non representita. And this was before anyone even bothered to read my play.

Through a playwright friend, I was referred to one agent – we’ll call her Beth B. I had a nice conversation with her, she said she really wasn’t looking to take on new clients but wanted to read my play. So I sent it along with a resume. Two weeks later I get a letter from her. The first sentence was “Ohmygod, I had no idea you co-created ALMOST PERFECT!” She went on to say it was her favorite show, the writing was brilliant, she wrote a letter to CBS complaining when they cancelled it, it was like we were in her bedroom, and she was often confused for our star, Nancy Travis. I thought – I am IN!

Next paragraph – pass.

Okay. Whatever.

A few months later I was in New York and decided to call her again. Sometimes when people meet they click and who knows? Maybe she’d have a change of heart. She agreed to meet with me.

It took three trains to get down to her agency. Every other agency was in mid-town, in the theatre district. This one was in the land of discount sneakers and checks cashed while you wait. Once there, after waiting a good half hour, Beth B. finally appeared and ushered me back to her office. My first thought upon seeing her was – Nancy Travis? The only thing she had in common with Nancy Travis was that they both breathed air. Beth B. was large, horn rimmed glasses, and had giant frizzy Carole King hair.

After the pleasantries, she explained that she liked to represent hot young playwrights who lived in New York. The key to her was they’d be able to go to openings and readings and be seen in all the right places.

I said, “what if I produced my play in LA and it got good reviews?” She said that would be disastrous for it ever getting mounted in New York. I suggested that maybe the New York theatre scene was a tad elitist, fully expecting her to back off and say “No, no, not at all.” Instead, she said proclaimed, “Yes, that’s right.” I was a little thrown and wondered if New York had the theatre to support it. “Suessical? Thousand Clowns with Tom Sellick? Annie Get Your Gun with Crystal Bernard? There weren’t exactly new Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams pieces starring Brando or Burton coming in this season.”

It was clear we were not “clicking”. So finally, I asked Beth B. what advice she could give me? She thought for a moment and finally said, “Write”. I said, “Excuse me?” She repeated it. “Write. I find that the first play is an introduction, the second gets a reading, the third gets a workshop, and the fourth maybe gets a production. So just keep writing.”

I nodded and finally said, “Beth, that’s great advice. In fact, it’s the same advice I’ve been giving young writers… for THIRTY YEARS. But since I’ve had more of my work produced on a national level than all your clients combined times ten I think I can SKIP A STEP.”

Beth B. was not on the invite list for my New York reading.

I know it’s discouraging when an agent doesn’t want you, but always remember, there are plenty of agents out there that YOU don’t want. If it takes more time to find a better match it’s worth it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Mary Tyler

Thanks to reader, Benson, here is the rest of that MARY episode. The first part can be found here.



Thursday, March 26, 2009

WTF!?

Back to Phoenix for one last weekend of Spring Training. That Cactus League pennant race is really heating up. The excitement is palpable. Anyway, here are some Friday questions. What's yours??

First up, Joe:

What's it like when a guest star comes in and wants to "help" in the episode he or she will be acting. I'm specifically thinking of John Cleese on Cheers.

That episode was brilliantly written by Peter Casey & David Lee. They just perfectly captured his voice and during the week of production Cleese might have offered some minor suggestions and tweaks but what you see is what Peter & David wrote.

When David Isaacs and I wrote the CHEERS episode with Johnny Carson I went to Mr. Carson before the filming and offered to change anything he didn’t feel was right and he said, “Nope. This is great.” And he did it word for word. I love that man.

Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill guested on CHEERS season one. The original scene had him at a urinal next to Norm. He didn’t think that was appropriate (congressmen actually were worthy of respect back then) so we adjusted the scene.

I do seem to recall directing Mike Ditka once and he suggested a couple of joke fixes. I then gave him some coaching tips.

John wonders:

Ken, with the more permissive (and HBO-inspired) rules the networks have adopted for their show content in the past 10-15 years, are there any episodes you and David did from the 70s and 80s that you look back at now and think it could have been done better if some of the gags allowed today would have been permitted by Standards and Practices back then (or would looser rules resulted in the network folks forcing more shows to gratuitously sexual innuendo-up their dialogue and plot lines because they thought it would add a rating point or two)?

It really depends on the episode and subject matter. Yes, there are a lot of shows we wrote that more license would have been appreciated. But there is also something to be said for being able to be funny and sophisticated without having to resort to profanity. Sometimes that added license leads to easy but cheap laughs. It takes a little skill and elegance to come up with a genuine funny response instead of just having the character say “What the fuck?!” Both will get a laugh. Especially if Johnny Carson says it.

Rogers Motley of Richmond Virginia asks:

With all of the hubbub surrounding the changing of the guard at the NBC late night talk shows, what do you think makes a good late night television talk show host?

Most talk show hosts can be funny and spontaneous (to some degree) but the big question is can they connect with the audience? Is there a likeability? Can viewers really relate to this person? It’s a real X factor that doesn’t depend on age or even nationality. Craig Ferguson has it.

The humor can be biting, gentle, sly, topical, whatever – but the key element is this: The audience has to get the feeling that it’s the host and them against the world, not the host against them. I personally find Letterman much funnier than Leno but at times I feel he crosses that line and the jibes are at the audience’s expense. Leno never does that. And for my money, that’s why he beats Letterman even though David has the far superior show.

And then there’s Tyra Banks. What the fuck?!

It was Motown week on AMERICAN IDOL

And one of the Top 10 contestants was even African-American!

Smokey Robinson served as the guest mentor. Younger people didn’t recognize him. I’m sure older people who know what he used to look like didn’t recognize him either. Do not go to Diana Ross’ plastic surgeon! You didn’t find it strange that his office was in Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum?

The key word this season is “artist”, thus adding a new level of pretension to the cheese. I blame Kara. “It’s not about singing”, she whined last night, “it’s about artistry”. She’s saying this to kids singing “Rockin’ Robin”.

Matt Giraud kicked off the five hour show in high style singing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. The judges were universally knocked out by his choreography – and by that I mean he stepped away from the piano and sang standing next to it. Wow!!!! Somewhere in heaven Bob Fosse is humbled. Matt’s bluesy rendition was undercut somewhat by his wardrobe -- a tie and sweater. Or maybe I just don’t get “Osmond Soul”.

Kris Allen sang Marvin’s “How Sweet It Is” but really should’ve sung Diana’s “I’m Coming Out”.

Who hates Scott McIntyre so much that they let him walk out on stage in pink pants? I mean, that’s the kind of prank you reserve for Hitler. Scott turned the Supreme’s “You Can’t Hurry Love” into a Hall & Oates song.

At this point in the show Paula said she had something for Simon and disappeared under the desk. Tell me every person in America wasn’t thinking blowjob. And wasn’t surprised. When she emerged she had coloring books and crayons. She says it’s because Simon acts like he’s 6, but in truth she was just giving him her memoirs to proof. Later, Simon drew a mustache on her. I suppose there are some nights when that's what Paula looks like when she applies her lipstick.

Megan Joy sported a Connie Stevens hairdo and bludgeoned “For Once In My Life”. I imagine she made the same sounds when they were burning the tattoos into her arm.

Anoop Desai did Smokey’s “Oooh Baby Baby”. Paula said, “You have a new found confidence but I want to see more confidence.” You laugh but it’s the smartest thing she’s said all season.

Michael Sarver sang “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” all the while pickin’ and a-grinnin’. I guess when a boy from Jasper, Texas pleads to a girl to not dump him he smiles because if she doesn’t comply he can just tie her ankles and throw her in a sack.

Lil Rounds belted out “Heat Wave”. She should have chosen, “What Does it Take to Win Your Love?” because she sang great yet the judges were lukewarm. They were disappointed because they felt Motown was her genre and she should have killed. Jesus. I don’t know what more she could have done other than marry Berry Gordy.

Danny Gokey is just so gosh darned likable. He can sing, he can smile, he’s America’s mascot.

Allison Irahets is a 40-year-old divorced mother of Mickey Rourke’s twins living in the body of a 16-year-old. When all her friends are watching High School Musical she must be watching Hud. Her version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was raw and real and would be the best performance of any night…

except…

Adam Lambert’s was even better. Wearing his hair in a pompadour and looking like Elvis before he started gulping whole cakes at a time, Adam performed an absolutely exquisite version of “Tracks of My Tears”. Controlled, heartbreaking, and wholly original. I thought Paula, Kara, and Smokey were all going to rush the stage to kiss him on the mouth. Adam is clearly smarter, more innovative, and talented than all the other contestants, and even when he misfires (“Ring of Fire” is not a vampire anthem) he’s still fascinating.

I think it’s Michael’s turn to get the boot and when he sings “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” to the judges hoping for a reprieve, I bet the meaning of the song will finally dawn on him.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's see what's at the Sky Mall!

When I take my seat in an airplane the first thing I do is seek out the Sky Mall magazine. I am forever amazed by the ungodly prices they charge for bizarre hokey items. Who buys this crap? Here are some of the chotzkes in my most recent Sky Mall.

Vuzix iWear – Glasses that are supposed to simulate the big screen experience. $249. More if you want the iMax experience.

Gravity Defyer Shoes. Somewhat self-explanatory. $200. Or, for $4 you could tape Slinkys to your current footwear.

HairMax LaserComb – it’s a comb, it’s a laser. It’s the miracle answer to hair loss. Only $449! Perfect for that cue ball who spends thousands on a toupee that looks like a toilet seat.

X5 Hair Laser – See LaserComb but substitute metal ice pack. $299.

A Portable Alarm Clock for your iPhone. Uh, doesn’t the iPhone already have an alarm clock? $99.95.

Computer Speakers for your iPhone. Not to be confused with any speakers that are the same size and use the same plugs. $149.99.

Retractable Banner Pens – Okay, this you could really need. A thousand for only $950.

Hand Therapy Bars -- $59.

Water trappers -- $169. And they’re fade resistant!

Exclusive Microfibres Trellis Mat to protect high-traffic areas. Here’s the good news: it’s low profile so it will never obstruct your door. $149.

Ingeniously engineered EZ Bed that features an extra-plush mattress, a highly supportive frame, and new dual comfort zones. $299. Who buys a bed from a catalog? "I dunno, it sure seemed firmer in the picture."

Wolfgang Puck-designed toaster – otherwise known as a “toaster”. $99.50.

Cinema style Popcorn Maker – Who doesn’t crave seven tubs of popcorn while watching the National Geographic Channel? $199.

Electric Vortex Solo Heater – Nothing heats a room better than Vortex power. $169.

All-in-one Recycling System – patent pending. Perfect for the person who has compacted and non-compacted items. The idea Christmas gift! $299.

Personal Breathalyzer -- $199. Because expensive gadgets know when to say when.

Feature-laden solar emergency radio – Ideal for those sunny day emergencies. $80.

A Bill Sorter – for only 199 of them.

The Custom Keeper -- 25 cubic feet of storage -- A far better name than laundry hamper. $199. Pretty much everything is $199.

The world’s largest write-on map mural – Only $149. The house with cathedral ceilings at $2,000,000 is not included. But what a mural!

Voice activated R2-D2 – “makes any home feel like it has been transported to a galaxy far far away”. The ad goes on to say it features “distinctive happy and sad sounds faithfully mimicking the real thing… right down to his occasional bad mood." If you buy this (at only $169.95) you are too nerdy to live.

The Electric Tint Changing Ski Goggles – No changing goggles while hurtling down the diamond course. $249.95.

The Upside-Down Tomato Garden – $79.95.

The Hand Crank Two Way Radio – Think of all the money you’ll save on two dollar batteries! Only $99.95.

The only Digital Camera Swim Mask – And it’s waterproof! $99.95.

The Sleep Regulating Sun Lamp – It produces no harmful UV radiation so that’s a plus. $249.95

Adjustable Sheepskin Slippers – You wake up in the morning, it’s 20 degrees in the house, you want your feet to be comfy as you putter around the kitchen. $49.95.

The Motion Sickness Relief Wrist Band – It keeps time and reduces nausea! $139.95.

The Finger Drum Mousepad -- $39.95.

The Mind Spa – This comes with a Catwoman type mask and a control unit that combines soothing sounds and calming lights. $349. From SuckerBornEveryMinute Industries.

The Carbon Fiber Heated Vest --$149.95

The Continuously Freshening Feline Drinking Fountain – What cat would be caught dead drinking out of a bowl these days? $69.95. For an extra ten dollars they should throw in a cat.

The Million Germ Eliminating Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer – It uses “proven germicidal UV technology ". And it sanitizes a toothbrush in only seven minutes! $29.95.

The Foldaway Lateral Stepper – $99.95. Or you could just step from side to side yourself for free.

And finally…

The Children’s ATM Bank – No more breaking into piggy banks, kids! Get a debit card and go to town! $39.95.

Monday, March 23, 2009

AMERICAN IDOL: "We'll be back with nothing right after the break"

AMERICAN IDOL is pre-empted Tuesday night by the President. Fans might be upset but the show’s producers aren’t. This year more than any other they have made a concentrated effort to draggggggggg outttttttt the season as long as they can. After all, this is FOX’s one big cash cow. TIL DEATH can’t hold the fort the remaining seven months.

We’ve seen it repeatedly this season. It used to be we’d get two or three sob stories during the open auditions. This year was a virtual parade of Octomoms.

A fourth judge was added. And since Kara (pictured above) offers nothing in the way of fresh perspective or personality it can only be concluded that she’s there for padding. Now we have to wade through three inane critiques before we get to Simon and the only opinion that matters.

Hollywood week now lasts longer than the NBA playoffs. To be more accurate they should rename it “Hollywood Winter”.

Results shows used to be a half hour. How long does it take to say, “Sanjaya, go away.”? Now they’re an hour. More “Up With People” production numbers with the candidates massacring the Motown catalog, more career CPR performances by Neil Diamond, endless audience shots of friends and family members who look like the cast of DELIVERANCE, and increased Algonquin Table level badinage between Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson. Thank God there are those 37 minutes of commercials to break up this tedium.

A new rule this season allows the judges to save one castoff one time, thus cleverly adding yet another week of competition. By the way, how incredibly stupid do you have to be to not know they’re going to hold this card until the end of the season to prolong this faux suspense going for as long as possible? Right. Someone needs to explain it to Paula.

And then there is AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK, their big splashy charity show. (Can anything beat the season Simon Cowell visited a local food bank and said he was astounded that there are hungry people in Los Angeles?)

But AMERICAN IDOL is running out of ideas. The seams are showing. So, as a public service, I offer these three suggestions for stretching the show but not having it appear at all obvious. AI producers, are you listening?

Once you reach the top ten, pause for MENTOR IDOL. Take five 60s British Invasion stars at least as famous as Lulu, let them perform and each week the public votes off another. (“Gerry of Gerry and the Pacemakers, I’m sorry buddy, it’s the end of the line.”) In five weeks you’ll have the winner then go back to the real competition. The following week begin another round of MENTOR IDOL, this time with a country theme. By my calculations you could add another YEAR to the show with just this nifty convention alone!

Make one of the weeks “Complete Opera” week.

It’s a shame to waste AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK on only a couple of nights. It should air every night for a month – say the month that Fox has all the baseball playoffs. Kellie Pickler could sing during pitching changes. Tatiana del Toro could replace Tim McCarver in the booth (Or anyone could replace Tim McCarver in the booth). The World Series could be played at the Kodak Theater. It’s a win-win. More weeks for you, and since the World Series probably will stretch into Thanksgiving this year you’ll get all that November Sweeps action.

And finally, add one more judge – Tommy Lasorda. You’ll never have to do another production number or show a contestant’s hometown ever again.

Good luck with the rest of the season. Take my suggestions and that could be indefinitely.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Get a bikini wax, go to jail

Shaping up to be as controversial an issue as Roe vs. Wade or even more, New Jersey (a state so free of crime that it has time to address such issues) is considering banning bikini waxing. Two women have sustained the heartbreak of infections. Why it’s almost an epidemic!

The state Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling (known for their thug-like tactics) are pushing for the ban, hoping to uncover this whole genital waxing outrage. How many New Jersey women will need Neosporin before this life-threatening practice is eradicated?

And then there are the moral implications.

The strong and very vocal lobby group, Mothers United Frontal Front (MUFF) argues that public hair is a living organism. Who are we to take a life?

And the group Righteous Unto God (RUG) claims that “the short and curlies are the Lord’s welcome mat”. There are even biblical passages to that effect but people often mistake references to “the Promised Land” as meaning something else.

Equally vocal and passionate in their defense of Bikini Waxing is the organization Sisters Halting All Vagina Eavesdropping (SHAVE) who vehemently contend that a woman’s body is her own and it’s nobody’s business other than her boyfriend, husband, or subscribers to her webcam.

Technically, genital waxing has never been allowed in the Garden State -- only the face, neck, abdomen, legs and arms are permitted and Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the cosmetology board says (and this is an actual quote), "The genital area is not part of the abdomen or legs as some might assume." If this is true than I have been stroking the wrong areas for nothing.

The state Board of Cosmetology will next meet on April 14 to decide whether to move forward with banning the procedure. There is, I understand, tremendous support from law enforcement agencies, who look forward to examining the female population for suspects.

The law would take effect sometime in May. So predictably, there is a huge rush for New Jersey women to get it done now. As one hirsute Fairlawn woman told me, “I will go to Brazil if I have to to get my bikini wax! Even Pennsylvania!”

I will continue to keep an eye on this story.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Will the real Ken Levine please stand up?

I’m the other Ken Levine.

There’s the Ken Levine who is a big video game designer. He’s a giant in the industry. I probably get twenty people a day logging on here thinking I’m him. Sorry. I’m not. I don’t even own a video game.

Then, according to imdb, I was the location manager on JURASSIC PARK and FLIPPER. I don’t know who that Ken Levine was but I still get Christmas cards from dolphins.

I mention all of this to set the record straight because there is a Ken Levine impostor. I know what you’re thinking – why would anyone in their right mind want to impersonate me?

Because there was a jingle.

In the early 80’s I was pulling a weekend shift as a disc jockey on KFI Los Angeles. (CHEERS had just started and who knew if it was going to last?) The station commissioned a new jingle package and one sang “Ken Levine KFI 6-40”. Next to an Emmy there is no greater honor than having your own jock jingle.

A few years after I left they hired a new guy and since they already had this nifty paid-for jingle they insisted he use the name Ken Levine.

So now I’m getting people saying they heard me on the radio. I listened to him and well, he was me with a lobotomy. I called the station manager to protest. He said, “Tough shit. Call the union” and hung up on me. Nice.

I then did call the union. That station would be sorry they ever messed with me! The AFTRA official told me there was nothing they could do. What?? As a radio performer the only thing you have to identify yourself is your name. He shrugged. I said you can’t register with SAG as Paul Newman. You can’t join the WGA as Neil Simon. Still, they were powerless. Talk about a toothless union.

For the next year I had to endure friends saying, “I heard you on KFI. What happened? You used to be funny.”

And then a few years later the station went to a talk format and I did a couple of fill-in shifts. They wondered if maybe I shouldn’t use another name because they recently had a guy named Ken Levine.

WTF!!?

I managed to keep the name and if anyone else tries to use it I will cause a shock wave. Wait a minute, that’s one of the games created by the other me. Jesus, now even I’m confused.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Scene from a bad marriage

Longtime readers of this blog (otherwise known as gluttons for punishment) know I bring up THE MARY SHOW from time time. This was an ill-fated series my partner, David Isaacs and I did for Mary Tyler Moore and CBS in the mid 80s. This is the only clip on Youtube I could find. But it gives you some idea of the show. Katey Sagal and John Astin were particularly good.

The premise for the series was that Mary manned a helpline column for a sleazy tabloid Chicago newspaper. Here's what I remember about this episode. Mary felt the other characters and those she helped on the helpline didn't appreciate her enough. This was near the end of the run when we were a little fried.

So here's how we handled it. Looking back, we might have been just a tad passive-aggressive. You decide.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MASH vs. CHIPS

I'm not a big fan of CHIPS at the moment. Before I answer your Friday questions would you answer one for me? What's a good on-line Traffic School that's certified in California and doesn't take forever to complete? Thanks. Now yours.

Dene 1971 asks:

Do you consider sitcom to be less artistically valid, for one of a better term, than a 1-hour drama? I recall reading an interview with a (brilliant) English TV/radio comedy writer, responsible for a first class sitcom which had come to an end: he intimated that he wanted to 'move on' from the 30m sitcom form to the 1hr comedy-drama.

Obviously it depends on the show. I would consider THE WIRE more artistically valid than ACCORDING TO JIM. But there are quite a few comedies far richer than one hour dramas. And in many ways it’s much harder to do a quality comedy. To explore emotions, create characters and situations that are real, relatable, compelling, AND funny is much harder to accomplish than straight drama. Plus, in comedy you don’t have the luxury of the Nora Ephron cheat – just play a song under a scene that expresses the emotion you’re trying to convey.

But artistically speaking, I don’t think there are many hour dramas that come close to MASH. Maybe CHIPS.

Someone who wouldn’t leave his name wondered:

Ken, when writers do a script that includes unflattering jokes about a character's appearance, do you ever worry about how the actor or actress will personally react?

I recall episodes of MASH where Hawkeye insulted Hot Lip's weight, and an episode of All In The Family where Gloria came right out and said she was fat. More recently on Will & Grace, there were many jokes about how flat-chested Grace was.

Do actors just accept this as part of the game, or are there ever situations where the actor is too touchy about something and it's off-limits for the writers? And how can you know this until you've already ticked them off?

It really depends on the actor and how good a sport he is. No, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the phone call I’d get from Loretta Swit if we did Hot Lips fat jokes. On the other hand, Danny DeVito was fine with short jokes. And the great Jackie Gleason had no problem with fat jokes at his expense.

It’s best to diplomatically ask the actor how sensitive he might be to jokes about his appearance before he reads the script aloud in a room full of people.

The irony on CHEERS was that every character took shots at Lilith for how cold and severe she was, and off camera and out of costume Bebe Neuwirth was the hottest woman on that set.


And finally, Jrge sent in this question from Spain (where they love this blog).

I've just started to watch the second season of Frasier on DVD (I know i'm late, but I was four when it went on TV).

That’s still no excuse!

I've realized that you appear as "creative consultant". Could you explain what was exactly you function?

Generally that title is assigned to a writer who comes in once a week, usually for rewrite night. Other names are “punch up guys”, “script doctors”, and “clients of agents who make sweet deals”.

They come to the runthrough then help the staff rewrite that night. Sometimes it’s very helpful to have a fresh set of eyes. A writing staff can get too close to a story and it’s great to get an objective opinion from someone you trust…AND can help actually solve the problems he identifies. That last part is the biggie. Anyone can say “this doesn’t work, go fix it”.

Ideally, the best creative consultants can also help you with jokes.

A good creative consultant is like the cavalry riding in to the rescue. A bad one is someone you’re paying a lot of money to eat your food.

I’ve worked with some great ones, notably David Lloyd and Jerry Belson. But bar none the best creative consultant that has ever been is Bob Ellison. I’m going to do an entire post on him soon. At one time he was working on four different shows a week. And not coincidentally, they were the four funniest shows on television.

What’s your question?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who are these guys?

I had great fun last weekend doing the radio play-by-play for the Dodgers. But Spring Training is a whole different animal. At some point all the regulars leave replaced by a flurry of substitutes, most of them minor leaguers no one has ever heard of. It becomes that I LOVE LUCY episode when Lucy and Ethel get a job in the chocolate factory and they have to wrap the chocolates as they come down the conveyer belt. And the candy starts coming faster and faster. That’s Cactus League action. The entering players all have numbers like 86 and 94, a sure sign they’ll be spending the summer in Tulsa.

At one point in my Saturday game I announced that the right fielder was “Unidentified Milwaukee Brewer”.

After five innings the score is usually 3-2 or 2-1. Then the reserves get in the game and the final score is 13-11.

The wildest spring training game I ever announced was back in ’92. I was with the Seattle Mariners. We were playing the Anaheim Angels of California by way of Los Angeles. Their spring training home at that time was Palm Springs – a nice place for Sinatra to bang Marilyn Monroe but not for baseball. The stadium was old and rickety. And there was no booth for the visiting broadcasters in the dilapidated press box. So they set up a table in the stands. Forget that there’s no shade and you’re a mile from the sun, you couldn’t see half the time because people in front of you would stand up.

And then there was this…

I sat on the aisle. To my left was our engineer and to his left was my broadcast partner. It’s the 7th inning. The Mariners are rallying. I’m calling the action. I get a tap on the shoulder. It’s a vendor. Would I pass a couple of malts down the row? I do (all the while describing a run scoring triple). A moment later my engineer hands me money, which I pass on to the vendor. Now we have another hit. All hell is breaking loose . Guys are running around the bases. The ball is being relayed all over the field. And wouldn’t you know, I have to pass the change.

It’s all in a day’s work in the spring. Hope you can get out to a game sometime this year or in the near future. And for you folks in Europe and Africa, you don’t have to go to Arizona. You can go to the much closer Florida.

AMERICAN IDOL -- Country Week: watch where you step

Now that the kids not attractive enough for FOX have been weeded out we can get down to business. This was Country Night and the guest mentor was Randy Travis (or, for you non Country fans: Thomas Hayden Church).

By and large all of the vocals were good. I must admit though that although I enjoy Country music I’m not an aficionado of it so I apologize if I don’t get all the titles exactly right.

Texas redneck Michael Sarver sang “Don’t get my girl confused with my horse”. Kara (as always) pushed for bigger notes. I bet if you looked at her iPod playlist you’d find thirty Celine Dion songs, twenty Shirley Bassey songs, and the complete works of Ethel Merman.

Adam Lambert is the illegitimate love child of Freddy Mercury and Liza Minelli. He sang “Ring of Fire” but in the more traditional pre-Hitler Berlin cabaret style.

Allison Iraheta (the Little Mermaid) did a great rendition of “Take my heart but leave the beer”. Randy Jackson liked it too and gave the ultimate compliment to a Country singer – “It was dope”.

Kris Allen, this season’s tween sensation sang the touching ballad, “If you leave me now I’ll kill your dog”. Randy Jackson was shocked. “Who knew you had tender moments?” he said to the boy who looks like a girl.

Randy was on fire last night. He amazingly surmised that classy R&B belter Lil Rounds wasn’t comfortable singing Hee Haw music. It’s like he’s…psychic! Personally, I thought she did a very nice job with “Harper Valley PMS”.

Scott McIntyre did a lovely interpretation of “There’s not enough whiskey in Kentucky to get me to take you home”. Paula thought he should stop accompanying himself on the piano. She said “Audiences need to see you as a showman”. Great advice to a blind man. Let’s see Scott juggle next week. Thank you, Simon for just calling her advice “stupid”.

The judges again scolded Alexis Grace for not looking and sounding like a whore. She sang, “Picking dingleberries”.

Widower/crooner Danny Gokey did not wow the judges this week with his version of the Carrie Underwood smash, “Jesus, check the oil”.

My favorite performance of the night was by Anoop Desai. He killed with “You were on my mind”. If there’s such a thing as Hindustani Soul, he’s got it.

Why did Megan Joy Corkrey drop her last name? Her graphic just read “Megan Joy”. I thought she looked gorgeous tonight; that gown really went well with her tattoos. And despite having the flu (which should be good for at least 10,000,000 votes right there) she nailed “After Midnight”.

And finally, Matt Giraud served notice to Danny Gokey that he’s not the only frontrunner. He brought down the house with “Give me back my spurs, the wedding is off”.

I think everyone is safe on Country Music night except Michael Sarver, the only actual country boy. It’s not fair. But isn’t that what the Coen Brothers were trying to tell us in “No Country for Old Men” after all?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cheers bartender fired after 35 years, Team USA, and Melissa

Should you be tracking my every whereabouts, I’m back home in L.A. after a great week in Phoenix for spring training. While I was away getting the inside scoop on Manny Ramirez’s hamstring twinge (he’s out for a week) there were two non-writing questions that a number of you emailed to me. So I thought I’d address them today.

I must’ve gotten thirty requests for my reaction to the longtime bartender of the Cheers bar getting fired.

I don’t know the circumstances but it sure appears Eddie Doyle got a raw deal. Laid off after 35 years because of “the economy”? Are they kidding? That bar (originally called the Bull & Finch) is an absolute license to print money. It is the number one tourist attraction in Boston, which is saying something because I understand they have a lot of U.S. history stuff in that town. So the bad economy means their annual profit is now only staggering?

I’ve only met Doyle a couple of times and he seemed like a great guy. I’m sure the notoriety he’s received from this brouhaha will help him land another gig and maybe even an appearance on THE VIEW (where we learn that Elisabeth Hasselbeck hasn’t even heard of CHEERS).

BUT…

Sam Malone was not in any way modeled after him. Unless you want to say “longtime bartender” and great head of hair. Sam was a former ballplayer, Sam owned the bar (at least initially), and considering the amount of women he had was a superhero.

Again, I wish Eddie well. And my heart goes out to the poor poor Cheers bar that won’t sell as many T-shirts and Norm mugs this year.

The other question a number of you asked is what I think of the World Baseball Classic.

Okay, first off, how many of you readers care about the World Baseball Classic or even know there is such a thing? There’s a whole lot more buzz over THE BACHELOR.

The World Baseball Classic is MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s X-Games. I must say I’ve gotten into it more this time than the initial one three years ago. But they’ve got a long ways to go before they can call themselves a “Classic”. Baseball is a game of moments. You remember great comebacks, heroic performances. So far the WBC has only one – Netherlands twice beating the heavily favored Dominican Republic (payroll of professional ballplayers on the DR team: roughly $84,000,000; payroll of Team Netherlands: $450,000.)

The World Cup of Soccer it hopes to be but never will.

But it seems to me the World Baseball Classic has to catch on in the United States. Even though other countries are pretty jacked up about it, if it isn’t a hit here I don’t think it survives. It’s an uphill climb anyway because we’ve got spring training and soon the start of the “real” baseball season (read: the one that pays those guys $84,000,000) and it doesn’t help that Team USA. not only lost last weekend but lost so badly the mercy rule had to be invoked. (By the way, Adam Dunn, learn the rules.)

And it’s kind of a joke that a lot of players for these countries aren’t even from them. Val Pascucci of Team Italia was born in Bellflower, California.

If the US doesn’t advance to at least the semi finals I feel the World Baseball Classic may be in trouble. That said, I hope to be at Dodger Stadium this weekend for the finals. A championship is a championship and should be exciting. But if it’s not Team USA beating the shit out of Team Iraq I think the WBC may be in trouble. On the other hand, can you believe the Bachelor jilting that dear sweet Melissa Rycroft????

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The movie that EVERYONE would be talking about

Movies that really shock people make a lot of noise. They create controversy, stir up arguments and discussions, generate a lot of buzz. The trouble is, in this jaded day and age, what can you possibly do that hasn’t been done and would genuinely be shocking?

I have the answer.

When two actors are on screen making love you just accept that they’re acting. Sure, they probably ARE having an affair but not in all cases. When Woody Allen is in bed with Julia Roberts you know he would rather be with Soon-Yi. In REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Kate Winslet did love scenes with Leo DeCaprio that were directed by her actual husband. (Don’tcha love Hollywood?)

And when a straight guy plays a gay guy audiences understand that he’s just acting. Sean Penn kissing other men in MILK has not only been accepted by audiences, he won an Oscar for it.

They’re actors. They’re just playing roles. Anthony Hopkins doesn’t really eat people. Bill Paxton isn’t married to three women. Robert Downey Jr. can’t really fly (since his latest drug rehab).

I saw that Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter (pictured above) recently got married in real life. They play brother and sister on DEXTER.

So what if…

Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal played lovers in a movie? Yes, they’re actually brother and sister, but again – it’s just a movie. They’re just acting.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see the shit storm that would cause??? It would be worth doing just for that.

I imagine many of you are going “Eeeeeeuuuww! Icky! Yuck!” Others are going, “Yeah! Great idea! I’d see that… as long as it’s not John & Joan Cusack.”

Who knows? Someday some audacious filmmaker may try it. And if it works, if it sells a lot of tickets and becomes a national topic, expect Harvey Weinstein to take it even one step further and remake BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN starring he and his brother Bob.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What car wash do I go to?

Somebody sent me these twenty questions. Now you'll know everything there is to know about me. Enjoy or be horrified.

1. What newspapers do you read?

The LA TIMES, NY TIMES (on Sunday), CHICAGO TRIBUNE TV section, LA WEEKLY when I need a massage.

2. Which ones do you move your lips to while reading? NY POST

3. Which Web sites are on your favorites bookmark? Los Angeles Radio People, Defamer, Hoffmania, Richbroradio, Dirtywatah.

4. Where do you get your car washed?
Who actually knows the name of their car wash? It's on Sepulveda somewhere. They do an okay job and I can buy Steve Hall inspirational piano CD's and pine tree air fresheners in their gift shop.

5. Do you know your dentist's first name? No because he doesn't say his name in the credit dentist ad.

6. Do you believe newspapers are going to die? If so, when?
Sadly, yes. And it's a shame. Some of our best writers are or were working for newspapers.

7. What was the last book you read? The Joe Torre book to see if I was in it. I wasn't.

8. What's the last book you say you read?
Helen Reddy's autobiography. I want to impress people with how hip I am.

9. If you got a unicorn what would you name it? Hat rack. That question was even dumber than the car wash one.

10. What does your TiVo think about you? It's time to get over Natalie Wood already. (She's pictured above. Sigh.)

11. character of fiction you most resemble? Ignatius J. Reilly or Jack Ryan

12. Who plays you in your bio-pic? Sean Connery and then Daniel Craig in the remake.

13. Do you floss? Yes. Wouldn't you love to hear that question asked at a senate subcommittee hearing?

14. Did you ever believe your toys come alive when you leave the room? No. And I almost got a hernia blowing them up. Do you still? I hold out hope for Fifi.

15. How many old cell phones do you own? One. I'm still expecting a callback from my agent.

16. Best show legendary biz/movie star encounter. Natalie Wood

17. Do you get satellite radio? Yes.

18. And as a follow do you "get" satellite radio?
No commercials, 170 music channels, major league baseball--what's not to get?

19. Do you read the Enquirer/InTouch/US/people? Only in supermarket lines.

20. Do you lie about it? Yes. I really don't read them but tell people I do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Download "Dancin' Homer" script

Thanks to a tip from friend of the blog, Jaime Weinman the "Dancin' Homer" shooting script that David Isaacs and I wrote is now available to download. You just go here to get the pdf file. Yes, you've seen the episode but have you read the stage directions??

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The FRASIER episode NBC didn't see until it was on the air

Hello from Spring Training in Arizona. Here is a Friday FRASIER question by anonymous. Again, please leave your name. Honestly, no one will stone you if they don’t like your question. Thanks.
In Season 2 of Frasier, you and David wrote a two-parter where Lillith and Frasier end up taking their new beaus to the same romantic hiding spot. Were those episodes designed to bring Bebe back as a special guest star or was that a moment of inspiration that just happened in the writing?

That story stemmed from a real life incident. One of the writers used to work on a different show. At the end of a long grueling season he and his girlfriend took off for Bora Bora. It required several flights, a boat, and a bus to get to this incredibly remote resort. They arrive in their room, unpack, and this writer goes out to the balcony to enjoy the view. And who is on the very next balcony? The show runner he traveled 10,000 miles to forget. We knew we were going to use Bebe again that season so this seemed like a perfect story. Frasier finally finds a woman he really likes. They go to the end of the earth and there’s Lilith.

And always looking to top ourselves we thought, wouldn’t it be funny if he goes back to Bora Bora at the end of the show and there’s Diane on the next balcony? Obviously, that would have been too coincidental so we did it as a dream. He is back in Bora Bora but this time with Niles. But that twist (that you’d never see coming) was just too delicious to resist.

Shelley Long was contacted and agreed to do it. But we all really wanted to preserve the surprise. So she was brought in during a rehearsal day and that scene was shot in secrecy. On filming night the joke was that Niles was Frasier’s companion instead of a woman.

The producers were concerned that if NBC knew about Diane’s cameo they would promo it and spoil the surprise. So they did something rather amazing.

They didn’t tell the network.

They delivered the episode without the Diane snippet. And then on the day it was scheduled to air they said, “Oh, we needed to fix something, here’s the version we want you to air instead.” No one thought anything of it and so the first time NBC learned of this was when they saw it on the air. I’m not sure a show could get away with that today but it was sure fun at the time.

Of all the FRASIER episodes we wrote that one is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You never forget your first time

Greetings from Glendale, Arizona – springtime home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. This is quite a magnificent complex. It’s like Frank Lloyd Wright designed a baseball stadium. In fact, this might have been what he was working on when he died. His last known sketches are of luxury suite designs.

This weekend I will be calling the radio play-by-play for the Dodgers. You can hear it on KABC Los Angeles, the vast Dodgers’ radio network, Dodgers.com, and MLB.COM.

I hope I get through the first batter. I almost didn’t on my very first spring training broadcast.

It was 1991, I had just been hired by the Baltimore Orioles. We were opening Spring Training in Sarasota, Florida against the Chicago White Sox. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I could have been one of those idiot teens at summer camp in FRIDAY the 13th.

I had broadcast three years of minor league baseball but those were on tiny stations with signals weaker than your home wireless router. Now I was to be on a 30 station network that blanketed the entire east coast. Gulp.

I practiced my opening for three days. When the time came I recited it verbatim and probably sounded like Sheldon in BIG BANG THEORY.

My partner was the great Jon Miller. After several commercials, the starting line ups, national anthem – I don’t know, I was terrified – Jon introduced me and I braced myself to begin the play-by-play.

First batter up was Randy Milligan. On the first pitch he hit a ground ball to third. Easy play for Robin Ventura who threw him out.

BUT…

Randy tripped over the bag at first, did a header, twisted his ankle, and laid on the ground for a good twenty minutes. Now I had to fill. I glance over at Jon and he’s just gazing out at the field, mike turned off, a sly little smile on his face. The message was clear: “Okay, kid, you wanted this job? Let’s see what ya got.”

Usually you could recap the game or just reset the stage (talk about the standings, the pitcher’s past performance, the way the team is playing, what happened yesterday, scores from around the league, etc). but this was the first game. There was nothing to reset. We’re here. That’s it.

I have no idea what I talked about. How you need your ankles, the current weather (and ten day forecast), where to park if you should come down here, how far we were from Disneyworld, how successful was Operation Desert Storm – I dunno, it was all a blur. Somehow I got through it and managed to survive that first game.

So just in case, if you tune in to Dodger baseball this weekend and hear me reviewing this week’s AMERICAN IDOL, you’ll know why.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Teenage Fair

More of my upcoming-if-anyone-publishes-it book on growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 60s. This is spring break, 1965. I'm still too young to drive.
The Hollywood Palladium was a theater built in the 40s in Hollywood to stage big band concerts. From Tommy Dorsey to Doo Doo Brown this art deco palace has hosted ‘em all over the last seven decades. In the 60s it was the spring break home of the Teenage Fair. The Palladium inside and outside was filled with exhibits and booths. Guitars on display, decals, flyers, motorcycles, dance contests, electronic equipment, cosmetics, surfing demonstrations, radio remotes, record racks, and live concerts.

I wanted to bring a date but the two-hour bus ride each way proved to be a deal breaker.

In ten minutes I’m already bored. So I meander past the drug paraphernalia exhibit and adjacent Army recruiting booth to see which superstar was performing in the main room. It was a couple and they were God awful. No wonder they were booked for noon. She was this scrawny Goth chick and he was this middle aged goomba with a huge schnoz, a Beatle haircut, and a fur vest. Luigi Flintstone & Morticia. She at least could sing. He sounded like an ambulance siren. There were maybe eight of us watching this pathetic display, convinced that these were the two biggest losers on the planet. On the other hand, I can say I discovered Sonny & Cher.

Monday, March 09, 2009

What the LA school system said I should be when I grow up


Do they still give high school aptitude tests? These are supposed to help you determine what line of work you are best suited for. Even then I wondered what about spatial relations would indicate a proclivity for comedy?

I did not do well on these tests. Spatial relations for example. They’d show you some flat paper configuration and four choices of what it would look like if folded correctly. So they’d be houses and such. I finished in the 45th percentile. That’s George Bush and Jessica Simpson country. It was a good bet I wasn’t going to be the one designing Disney Hall.

On the English test I did so-so.

On the Math test I did so-so. I was a Math major in high school so that was somewhat disturbing. And I so wanted to invent a new Pythagorean Theorem.

And then there was Mechanical Reasoning. If Gear A turned right and Gear B turned left, what direction what Gear C turn? Should legs of a chair go above or below the seat? Those sort of questions. I placed in the 25th percentile. 25th!! That’s below morons, cretins, drooling idiots, and people in a coma. I may have had the lowest score in the history of California. How do I even tie my shoes?

Ultimately my scores were analyzed, the numbers were crunched, and the result: I should become a secretary.

I want to laugh and say these tests are bullshit. But you know what? I still type faster than any of my assistants.

And I have no idea how to open the hood of my car.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'm all a-Twitter

I use Twitter to alert my followers of new blog posts and occasionally a tidbit or two extra about one of the posts. But I can see I’m not using this social network for its intended purpose – to bore the crap out of my readers by sharing the minutiae of my daily life. So now I’m in the spirit as you will plainly see. Here’s a preview of my Tweets for tomorrow. If you don't follow me already you will be by the time you finish this.

Woke up. Had to pee.

Peed for 41 seconds.

Can’t find my toothbrush. Is it in the medicine cabinet?

No.

Will brush teeth tomorrow.

??????????? Special K or Raisin Bran??????

Wow. Thanks to the 437 of you who voted. Raisin Bran it is!!!

Raisin Bran raisins are dry. Has anyone else noticed this?

375 do. Sweet!!!

What happens if the Microwave won’t turn off?

Welcome new followers: BF, Ice9, BigBadWolfestein, Ten2Life, GetWellJack, and Ann Coulter.

Drawing a bath.

Microwave answer: it explodes.

Writing blog post on lack of German comedy writers while waiting for fire department.

We need a Dunky D in LA!

Okay, the fire’s out but they didn’t have to use the axe.

Mail just arrived. AT&T bill for $125.90, Warner-Cable bill for $94.02, Cialis from Canada, foreclosure notice, EMMY magazine, charity, charity, charity, charity, jury duty final notice, charity, SELF magazine, rejection form letter from the New Yorker, Victoria Secrets catalog, NRA newsletter, Malinov-Silverman mortuary flyer, SHORTBUS DVD -- Netflix, Betty Ford Center patient application, shuffleboard tournament invite, charity, and a post card from my cousin Ira who’s in

Don’t you hate it when you have too many words and they just cut you off?

Saskatoon.

Making a tuna sandwich for lunch. I like it with relish. Do you?

Kitchen is still kind of smoky. Can’t see. Maybe I better go out.

Had to pee first. 29 seconds.

Ann Coulter just wrote that we should invade hostile countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war. And yes, gotta have relish.

ESPN sportscenter is on at Jerry’s Deli. I’m watching.

They had a story on A-Rod. Now they have one on the Celtics. I don’t know what though. The sound is down. Does anybody know what that story is?

Jerry’s Deli is expensive.

OMG! Forget to turn the bath water off. House is now flooded.

Changed my Facebook picture. Taken at Star Trek convention. I’m the Klingon on the right.

Does anyone who lives near me have a bucket?

House appears to be destroyed. Mood: sad.

Missing BREAKING BAD marathon on AMC tonight. Mood: REALLY sad.

Found toothbrush. It just floated by.

Can I stay with anyone tonight?

Nobody?????????!!!!!!!

Seriously.

I’m not kidding here.

437 of you voted on my fucking cereal choice but no one can spare a goddamn couch?!!!

I can’t believe this!!!!

Who gives a shit what the fucking Celtics story was? Jesus Christ! I’m homeless!!!

Okay.

Fine.

I piss on you all. 58 seconds.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

No one ever bought a drink at CHEERS

Every show takes creative license. Even 24. On CHEERS we did our share of fudging.

First off, no one ever paid for a drink. We writers knew this was a little dicey but who wanted to see Carla make change for twenty-two minutes or Sam putting his flirting on hold while he ran a credit card for approval?

There were other things we did sheepishly knowing we were stretching credibility.

No one came into town and checked into a hotel. They would go from the airport straight to the CHEERS bar, not even bothering to call to check if the person they wanted to see was even there. And who just ASSUMES their friend will be in a bar at noon? It’s a stretch but it’s always better to see a character than just hear him on the phone. And we figured it wasn’t so bizarre that it would take the audience out of the show.

When those out of town visitors showed up at CHEERS they never had their luggage. We used to joke that there were taxi drivers in Boston with million dollar wardrobes.

The phone was wherever we wanted to place it for blocking purposes. At stage right one week, stage left the next. These were pre-cordless days.

The acoustics at CHEERS were very odd. Sometimes characters could hear all the way across the bar, other times they couldn’t. And the extras upstage at the bar could never hear anything, even though they were two seats away.

Sam cut more lemons than every other bartender in America combined.

Cliff wore his postal uniform even on Sunday. (We did a lot of things with that character but we did think it would stretch believability to ever have John Ratzenberger dance on a show. Sorry he didn't win DANCING WITH THE STARS.)

There were many times when no one was tending the bar. And after Diane left Carla was the only waitress. That must’ve made for some long 16 hour shifts.

As a noted psychiatrist and author of books and articles, Frasier spent as much time in the bar as Norm. When did he ever work we often asked ourselves in the room?

In one episode (that David and I wrote) Norm has to keep feeding a parking meter. That means a guy who drinks beer all day and night drives to and from the bar?

But I will say, to our credit, that we did not go through with the episode where Rebecca gets trapped in a giant Tupperware container. It was quite a discussion though. What clinched it was the argument that if the top were sealed tight Rebecca would get no air and die. There’s only so far you can with creative license and we felt death was just a little over that line. We’d get letters. I know we’d get letters.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Boat that Rocked

Here's the movie I can't wait to see. It'll be out next spring. It's from Richard Curtis who gave us LOVE ACTUALLY, and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (a movie that would be in my top five comedies if it weren't for Andie McDowell) and is about subject matter near and dear to my heart -- pirate radio.

In the 60s when the British invasion was exploding in the US, the only radio in England was the BBC and they were playing Mozart and "Cricket Talk". So some industrious folks started pirate radio stations just outside international waters (Radio Caroline being the big one) and gave kids the Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders and Lulu hits they deserved. This is their story. A story that MUST be told.

If you have memories of listening to Pirate Radio stations, would love to hear them.

And here's the trailer.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

nice = death

Hi kids. It’s time for some Friday questions. What’s yours?

Reader John asks:

Ken, what's the hardest type of character for you to write for while making them sympathetic? To me, it seems as through character like Becker, or going way back, Phil Slivers' Ernie Bilko are more difficult to handle, because you've got a character who's jammed full of bad personality traits, but who the audience is still supposed to be rooting to succeed (as opposed to the bad personality trait character in the Frank Burns mode, who's going to get his by the end of every episode).

Actually, the hardest characters to write are the ones who are intrinsically good and have a minimum of flaws. When characters are duplicitous, conniving, lascivious, cowardly, vain, self centered, overly ambitious, lazy, or a Scientologist – now you’ve got comedy gold. Case in point, in MASH it was infinitely easier to write Frank Burns than Father Mulcahy. And if the flawed characters are funny that really takes the curse off of them.

Most actors get that. But some don’t. They’re always lobbying the writers to make them nicer because they constantly want to be seen in a good light. What they can’t seem to comprehend is that “nice”= death in comedy.

From Brian:

What exactly does a show runner do?

He oversees the entire production and essentially provides the voice and creative direction of the show. He hires the writing staff, the crew, the directors. He is in charge of the show’s budget. He approves and breaks the stories, assigns them, rewrites them, and decides when the scripts are ready for distribution. He does all of the casting. Deals with the network and studio. Approves sets, wardrobe, music, the Christmas party, opening titles, webisodes, and in single-camera shows tells the director the style he wants.

During runthroughs he has final say. He can ask for scenes to be re-blocked and override a director’s acting notes. He then has final say on the rewrites. If an actor isn’t cutting it it’s his call to fire him.

During filming of a multi-camera show he determines whether a scene still needs more takes or they can move on. On single-camera shows he is either on the set to make that call or can demand a re-shoot if he’s not happy with the dailies.

He also oversees the editing. The editor and director put together their first cut and then the showrunner is in control. He can change that cut at will, if the show is long he determines what gets cut. He then supervises post production – sound, color correction, music.

If the show has a laugh-track he oversees that process as well.

On the one hand you’re thinking, “Wow! How great! He has tremendous creative control.” On the other, you’re thinking, “Jesus! That sounds exhausting. And he has to turn out a show a week? How the hell does he have time to do all of that?”

Answer: He doesn’t. And that’s the real art of showrunning.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A typical day in show biz

I love this industry. Just a glance at the LA Times CALENDAR section on Wednesday and I learned this:

Woody Allen continues to attract the finest actors of our time for his films. Larry David is starring in his next one. (Since it’s a comedy I hope Woody had the good sense to let Larry improvise… or rewrite the whole thing.)

There will be another HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. So many unanswered questions in the first three. Aren’t the kids like 40 already? Male patterned baldness will be one of the subplots.

Britney Spears comeback “Circus” tour is being considered a rousing success. Thank GOD!! The Times paid her a huge compliment as an artist when they said she “renewed her claim as one of the world’s most adept manipulators of the public interest.” The show appropriately also features jugglers and clowns. If all goes well she hopes to get another record deal and permission to see her kids.

LOST’S Terry O’Quinn is glad to not be dead. That was front page.

Kirk Douglas is glad to not be dead. Also on the front page.

And finally, a university in Liverpool now offers a master of arts degree in the Beatles. Can an academic study of Freddy & the Dreamers be far behind? Serious scholars only need apply (like USC football players). I guess my question is what kind of a job can you get with an advanced degree in the Beatles? Other than maybe picking up Ringo’s laundry I can’t think of one.