Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wade Boggs and Baaaaa-d behavior

Happy May Day. Here’s are a couple of Friday questions that loosely relate to Sam “May Day” Malone.

From blog regular A. Buck Short:

In one of those wonderful Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern episodes you and David wrote, did somebody actually have to calculate how many sheep were needed to fill the Cheers backroom office? Or did you know you could get away with whatever would be sufficient for the camera angle?

As we were writing the first “Bar Wars” episode we just thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to see Rebecca enter her office and it was filled with sheep?” So we put it in. And voila, on filming day there they all were.

But yes, someone had to determine just how many sheep would be used. Before every episode there is a production meeting. Led by the First Assistant Director, all the department heads, show runners, producers, and the director sit around a table and go through the script carefully. There are a thousand questions to be answered with every show. Does the episode take place in the winter? Wardrobe needs to know. Should the actor have a coat or sweater? When an actor comes home with groceries, how many groceries? And what specifically are they? How many extras will be used in a scene? Will the phone ring live on stage or laid over in post production? So I’m sure in the “Bar Wars” production meeting there were discussions of how many sheep would be used, how would they be transported, how many shepherds would be required, and were any of the sheep minors that would require classroom time with the studio tutor?

Meanwhile it took us half a minute to dream up the bit and put it in the script.

And was Wade Boggs flown out specially to be in that, or was the taping scheduled for a time he had to be out there anyway to play Anaheim or somebody?

This was the last episode to be filmed that season. It was mid March. We were looking for a local very recognizable Boston sports figure for the bit. Unfortunately, the Red Sox were already in spring training in Winter Haven, Florida. Wade Boggs was our first choice and we asked our casting director to check and see if there was any possible way he might agree to do it. We figured it was a real Hail Mary, but what the hell? A half hour later we got the good news that Boggs was in. The Red Sox manager gave him a few days off. All we had to do was provide airfare and accommodations (in addition to his fee). David and I felt incredibly powerful. We just say “Wade Boggs” and poof, we make him appear!

It was only a couple of years later when his mistress Margot Adams wrote a big expose in PLAYBOY magazine detailing their affair. In her article she mentions how thrilled they were when this CHEERS gig came up because it meant a free trip to a three day tryst. He’d have guested on AGRICULTURE THIS WEEK if they popped for a first class plane ticket.

In the article, Margot also maintains that Boggs asked her for a pair of panties because he had promised the guys on the team that he could come back with Kirstie Alley’s panties. I was on the stage when Kirstie read this. Her expression was priceless. Kirstie was very cool about stuff like that. From then on I would occasionally say to her, “Listen, Kirstie, I’m going to my high school reunion and at graduation I promised the guys that I would bring a pair of your panties to the reunion so if you wouldn’t mind…?” She always laughed and told me to go fuck myself.

What’s your question? Just leave it in the comments section. Thanks. And again, may this be your best May Day EVER.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: ANNIE HALL

Usually my movie picks are little gems that are somewhat forgotten. So you may be saying, why select ANNIE HALL? It won the Oscar in 1977 for Best Picture of the Year. My answer: Have YOU seen ANNIE HALL? And if you have, was it within the last ten years?

I’m amazed by how many young people have not seen this comic treasure. Knowing Woody Allen for the movies he’s made in this decade is like knowing Dick Clark for his recent appearances on NEW YEAR’S ROCKIN’ EVE.

You forget that Woody Allen was….

… once considered hip.

… once screamingly funny.

… once wholly original (all the conventions he’s used over and over for the last 32 years were actually new then).

… once secure enough to collaborate with other great writers like Marshall Brickman.

… once young enough to not be confused with the father of all of his love interests.

Rarely does a romantic comedy really suck you in. Yes, you’re laughing (a lot) but more than that, you find yourself genuinely caring about this couple. When can you say that about a Kate Hudson starrer?

For me the mark of a good romcom is “would I like to fall in love with that girl?” (That’s different from “would I like to sleep with that girl?” Those movies I call “Cinemax After Dark”.) ANNIE HALL completely passed that test for me… and I don’t even think Diane Keaton is that hot. But I got swept up in this romance. I wish it were me in those little cafes and jazz clubs. (I do stop short at taking my love to see SORROW & THE PITY, I would like to get laid occasionally.)

Some of the movie may seem a little dated today. It’s hard to imagine a relationship where two people can’t text each other. And there are no pratfalls. But the emotions remain real and deep and ring as true today as they did back then when “Boogie” was an actual word.

This is not to say movies were better “back in the day”. Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd can do no wrong (for the moment). Still, it’s worth checking out or revisiting ANNIE HALL. If for no other reason than to see Christopher Walken as Duane. You knew then he had the makings of a star or serial killer.

A guide to FACEBOOK etiquette

Oh, if only I had watched this helpful video first. I have so much apologizing to do to my friends on FACEBOOK.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

C U at the C-BAG

Continuing yesterday’s post, since a lot of multi-camera shows all shot on Tuesday – both at Paramount and other studios like Gower-Sunset, Raleigh, and Ren-Mar – the writing staffs and casts from these shows began stopping off at the Columbia Bar & Grill for an after-filming drink. The C-BAG (as it was known) is now Pinoit on the corner of Gower and Sunset.

But there was a golden period in the late 80s through late 90s where this was the Algonquin Table west. It was not unusual to be sitting with the show runner of FRASIER, creator of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, Ted Danson, Nathan Lane, the President of CBS, two producers from FRIENDS, director James Burrows, and Jennifer Aniston.

I’ve always believed that the best shows were the ones where the writers and actors worked together, not at odds. Being able to socialize with them once a week established a real trust. And their stories were always GREAT. Actor stories tend to be more colorful than writers’. Ours are usually horror stories, getting fucked over by networks or studios or spouses or doctors or American Express. Theirs are about hilarious anecdotes in the theater, filming mishaps, and who slept with who on what set. We would always try to steer the conversations in that direction.

The C-BAG was the place to go for juicy TV gossip and dish. If there was trouble on any set in town we learned about it. Anyone institutionalized, we knew it (usually because someone would ask, “Hey, where’s so-and-so tonight?”)

Interestingly, rarely were agents there. They were welcome. Anyone was welcome but Brett Butler. Agents were always present at the filmings. Why, I don’t know. They didn’t know either. There was nothing for them to do. They’d sit, bored to tears, and watch the monitors. I always found it ironic then when you needed agents you could never get them on the phone. And when you didn’t, there they all were at the ready in full-force. The only time I ever asked my agent for something he didn’t come through. Despite repeated pleas on my part he would not kill the network vice-president and his entire staff. So truly, what’s the point of even being there? But I’m guessing when the director yelled “That’s a wrap!” they bolted so fast they never knew everyone was invited to a post filming celebration.

Why did it end? The shows ended. And a new regime at Paramount placed far less value on writer/producers. The entire stable was either let go or encouraged to move on. But Tuesday nights for about a decade were magic. For any current showrunners, assuming there are enough actual shows in production, find a C-BAG of your own. And let me know if you need a designated driver.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Paramount lot

My nostalgic look back at the 20th Century Fox lot prompted a number of requests for other remembrances of studios past. For twenty years I was ensconced at Paramount. My fondest memories are of Paramount but more for the people and creative atmosphere than the historic landmarks. Although some of those indeed exist.

The motel-looking building that served as William Holden’s office in SUNSET BLVD. remains intact. And the huge mural of the sky is still there. It’s always sunny with a few wispy clouds at Paramount.

And there is the “tank”. This is a recessed parking lot that can be filled with water for shooting or flooding car purposes. The blockbuster TORA TORA TORA shot most of its exteriors there. All of the warships were toy models. How did we live before Industrial Light & Magic?

One night after a late rewrite I saw massive lights and activity going on at the tank. Remember the climax of PATRIOT GAMES? There was a big fight on a small yacht that was swirling around in a vicious storm? They were filming that. I sauntered over and watched. Everyone just assumed I was a member of the crew. How many tourists are on the Paramount lot at 2:30 in the morning with a dog-earred WINGS script? Harrison Ford is a nice guy, by the way.

The tank is used sparingly because it’s quite expensive to fill. We did employ it once for CHEERS. Sam and Diane are on a boat. I think it’s from the second season. For the rest of the run of the show whenever we were stuck for a scene I would suggest, “Fill the tank!”

STAR TREK filmed at Paramount. More than once I’d be standing in line at the ATM behind a Klingon.

There was never much of a backlot but their New York street is more like a New York neighborhood. Several streets of different vintage intersect. Westside meets eastside. I see that location in a gazillion films, commercials, and music videos. Half the AMERICAN IDOL Ford videos are shot there. When we were doing ALMOST PERFECT, our stage was adjacent to the New York street. One day I walked out of our stage and there was James Brown sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

Celebrity sightings were frequent. Tom Cruise (before he became a nut bag) had an office right above the FRASIER writers room and was quite visible. Jesus, he’s short! I turned a corner one day and bumped into Sean Connery. Oh, and the twins from SISTER/SISTER were always around! Not to mention those two women who had an act called THE MOMMIES. If only I had my camera.

Unlike 20th, Paramount was not in a great neighborhood. Even in the 70s and 80s there were more drug deals made outside the lot than in.

But Paramount was more like being at a great university than a movie studio (or fort, which out of necessity is what it looked like). The Harvard of television comedy. When I arrived the Garry Marshall camp was in full force. HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, and yes, even BLANKSY’S BEAUTIES. Jim Brooks brought his MTM all-star team over to do TAXI and that begat CHEERS, FRASIER, and the various other shows spawned from those writers. Gary David Goldberg set up shop with FAMILY TIES. And of course there was WEBSTER.

And all of us writers from all of these shows knew each other. We’d help each other out on pilots. We’d work on each other’s series. At one time I was directing, writing, and consulting BECKER, FRASIER, and IT’S ALL RELATIVE at the same time. For years I worked on both CHEERS and WINGS.

When writers would bump into each other the first question always asked was, “How late did you guys go last night?” i.e. how long was your rewrite night? If you got out after TAXI than your show was probably in shit shape that week because they always stayed late at TAXI.

And then there were filming nights. This was the age of multi-camera shows. Most filmed the same nights (Tuesday or Friday). After audiences were sent home usually the directors had about an hour or so of pick-ups. There was nothing more boring. So writers would usually wander from stage to stage.

And then there was the C-BAG.

Tomorrow, the C-BAG. (No AMERICAN IDOL review this week. Sorry. My house is being tented and it’s not worth being gassed to recap it.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

This is why you need to follow me on TWITTER

Thank God for Twitter! Without that invaluable service I could never share with friends the really important moment-to-moment details of my life. In case you’re not following me I’ve reassembled the Tweets you most recently missed.

Having a colonoscopy tomorrow.

Going out for magazines.

Is it just me or does Susan Boyle look like John Madden?

Okay. Starting to take the stuff.

Ugggghhh! It tastes terrible. Mood: Irritable.

Thinking of a Staycation this year. Any suggestions where I could stay?

It’s been a half hour. When is this stuff supposed to work?

45 minutes. Still nothing.

53 minutes and counting.

An hour. What’s the deal???

Just filled out my All-Star ballot.

HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kill me NOW!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay. I can breathe. Whew.

YEOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s working.

8rXX3 thinks Susan Boyle looks like… wait a minute….

HOLY FRIGGIN’ SHIT!!!!!!!

How long is this supposed to last?

Oh Christ! I forgot. Today’s the day we scheduled an OPEN HOUSE here.

Dennis Franz. That’s who 8rXX3 thinks Susan Boyle looks like.

No, you can’t see the bathroom! It’s currently occupied!

I would trade my Emmy right now for a Tums.

Wow, there are a lot of ads in VANITY FAIR.

Bowel mood: very irritable.

Hey my legs have gone to sleep. Has that ever happened to you?

There are eight people walking through my house. I almost knocked one down during the last urge.

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m in hell.

Moving on to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and MERCENARY LIFE.

Thanks you guys. Hearing your colonoscopy stories have really helped. LOL.

It’s been three hours.

And two rolls.

No offers on the house yet.

How stupid am I part two? Choosing to do this on the day of the TOP CHEF marathon?

Okay. I think the worst is over.

Wrong!!!!

Seriously. Someone. Kill me.

Oh great. My real estate agent just dumped me. For some reason she feels my house doesn’t “show well”.

I’m whipped. Better get some sleep. But here’s the good news: I convinced the doctor to just give me a local. So I’m bringing my laptop and you can expect tweets during the procedure. Please check back every five minutes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Never sing HOT ROD LINCOLN

One night in a sports bar in Syracuse, New York, I saw the greatest thing. Gary Cohen (now the TV voice of the NY Mets) and Dan Hoard (the voice of University of Cincinnati football and basketball) started reciting the lyrics of 70’s chart topper “Hot Rod Lincoln” real fast, in perfect unison (lyrics provided below). The entire song in less than a minute. When they finished the bar exploded in applause. I thought, this would be a great bit for Norm & Cliff on CHEERS. I laid it out for my partner, David who also thought it might be kind of novel.

So we pitched it the CHEERS producers a few months later when we were about to write a script. They looked at us like we were nuts. I said, “Trust me. This will work. This will become one of those classic CHEERS teasers.”

The producers shrugged, and I guess out of respect to our then-prestigious career said, okay, try it.

When they saw the finished draft they still had reservations. It seemed kind of stupid and pointless but so convinced was I that we had struck comedy gold that I made this offer: David and I would perform it at the table reading. We would show all these skeptics. Again, they said go for it.

Everyone assembled for the table reading. The cast, writing staff, some crew members, the studio, and the network. We took our cue and launched into “Hot Rod Lincoln”. And we were great. Having practiced diligently for a week we kicked some serious ass. Truly awesome! And when we were done….

Nothing. Nada. Dead silence. A vacuum. You could hear crickets from a field a mile away.

Just fifty faces staring at us with a mixture of bewilderment and sheer pity.

The embarrassment of that table reading was of course, just the beginning. Back in the writing room, David Lloyd got it started by saying, “So the ‘Hot Rod Lincoln bit – that worked.” Others said they were still not convinced, would we do it again for them? Next week could we perform “Stairway to Heaven”? These jokes continued…for four years. I’m hoping to out live them all because if not I just know they’ll reprise it at my funeral. Again, this is why I'm sooo glad I wasn't on staff when I went on TV last week with my Stevie Wonder glasses.

Note to young writers: NEVER guarantee a bit will be a classic. And second note to young writers: NEVER EVER make it worse by trying to prove it.

Here are the lyrics (written by Charlie Ryan). It was funny when Gary and Dan did it. REALLY.

My pappy said, 'Son, you're gonna drive me t' drinkin' ...
If you don't quit drivin' that - Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!'

Well, you've heard the story of the hot rod race,
When the Ford and the Mercury were settin' the pace.
That story's true I'm here to say,
Cause I was a'drivin' that Model A.

It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up;
That Model A body makes it look like a pup.
It's got 12 cylinders and uses them all;
And an overdrive that just won't stall.

It's got a 4-barrel carb and dual exhausts,
4:11 gears that really get lost -
Safety tubes and I'm not scared,
The brakes are good and the tires are fair.

We left San Pedro late one night;
The moon and the stars were shinin' bright.
We were drivin' up Grapevine Hill,
Passin' cars like they were standin' still.

Then, all of a sudden, in the wink of an eye,
a Cadillac sedan passed us by.
The remark was made, "That's the car for me."
But, by then, the taillights wuz all you could see.

Well, the fellers ribbed me for bein' behind,
So I started to make that Lincoln unwind.
Took my foot off the gas and, man alive,
I shoved it down into overdrive.

Well, I wound it up to 110;
Twisted the speedometer cable right off the end.
Had my foot glued right to the floor;
I said, "That's all there is - there ain't no more."

Now the fellas thought I'd lost all sense;
The telephone poles looked like a picket fence.
They said, "Slow down, I see spots."
The lines on the road just looked like dots.

Went around a corner and passed a truck;
I crossed my fingers just for luck -
The fenders clickin' the guard rail post;
The guy beside me was white as a ghost.

Smoke was rollin' outta the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac
I knew I could catch him and hoped I could pass
But when I did I'd be short on gas.

There were flames comin' from out of the side;
You could feel the tension; man, what a ride.
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly"
And the Cadillac pulled over and let me by.

All of a sudden a rod started knockin';
Down in the depths she started a rockin'.
I looked in the mirror and a red light was blinkin';
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln.

Well they arrested me and put me in jail.
I called my pop to make my bail.
He said, "Son, you're gonna drive me t' drinkin',
If you don't quit drivin' that - Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!"

DIFFERENT STROKES -- the urban thriller

Just how important is music in establishing a mood and tone for a scene or show? Here's all you have to see. And hear.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Brazil Court Frees Enviro-Nun's Suspected Killer

More great HuffingtonPost headlines. This from their Green section Friday:

22 Things You Didn't Know You Could Compost

Owl Living In Home Depot Garden Center Can't Be Removed

Kangaroos Don't Know How To Use Snuggies

Oprah Shines Light On Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Intelligent Robo-Penguins Take To Seas, Skies

Miss Philippines Contestants Driven Around In Electric Vehicle Convoy

Brazil Court Frees Enviro-Nun's Suspected Killer

Earth Night: 5 Ways To Green Up Your Sex Life

The Best Earth Day Jokes Of The Decade

Bronx Zoo lays off animals

"Dioxins My A**" Hat Mocks Contaminated Fish Advisory

Pigs Escape In Crash En Route To Bacon Factory

Mad Scientists Freeze Their Boat To Arctic Ice

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sitcom retrospectives

It’s Friday question day. What’s yours?

Damian J. Thomas wants to know:

Why do TV series waste my time with retrospective episodes? Some episodes simply show parts of the same stuff I’ve already seen. Was someone, such as the head writer, on vacation that week?

Retrospectives are a cheap way to fill out a season’s worth of shows. They generally do well in the ratings. And networks promote the crap out of them.

One of the most horrifying experiences in my life involves a retrospective. I was taking an MRI (already a heart pounding endeavor). Mirrors were set up in the tube that allowed patients to watch a television. So there I was, claustrophobic, not allowed to move even an inch, for 45 minutes, forced to watch the NANNY retrospective.

Years ago I pitched a sitcom pilot to NBC. When it was time for questions one network whiz asked (in a straight face yet): “What’s the first episode of season seven?” I picked my jaw off the floor and said, “The clip show featuring all the classic moments from the first six years.” I wanted to add but didn’t: “What the fuck do you think is the first show of season seven? How the fuck would I know that? Are you insane?” They didn’t buy the show.

Retrospectives are great for writers. They get royalties for any clips used from their episodes. My partner and I cleaned up on MASH and CHEERS. I think on CHEERS they used something like 25 of our episodes. After that, anytime in the writing room we were stuck on a story at CHEERS I would say, “Let’s just scrap this and do another clip show!”

We were there during the MASH retrospective and although it was cheap to produce it required five times the effort on our part to put it together. For a month every night after we finished our writing we drove to a production house in Hollywood and screened episodes until midnight or 1 AM. Then came the impossible task of culling seven years of great highlights into one expanded episode.

An additional problem is determining the format for the clips. There is the wraparound approach. This can be real dicey. I remember one series got around this problem by having their characters being robbed. While tied up together in the kitchen, to pass the time (as all bound families do) they started reminiscing. “Hey, remember the time you wrecked the car?” And then they’d show the clip. Smooooth.

Nowadays shows tend to steer away from that artful device. On CHEERS we took the cast out of character and put them on a panel. They answered a moderator’s questions and we used the clips to support those answers. Other shows use just strictly clips tied together by graphics or voice-overs.

One trend I’m noticing lately – these retrospectives are appearing sooner and sooner. It used to be you wouldn’t even think of doing a clip show before 100 episodes. Now it’s getting to where the clip show comes as a celebration of getting picked up for the back nine.

Someday I’ll have to put together a clip show of this blog. Various sentences from different posts. Wait a minute. I could say I’m doing that right NOW. Yes, welcome to my retrospective post.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The cause of Global Warming. Put down that pie!

Get out your aerosol spray cans, they’re not the problem after all!! Scientists now know the real cause of Global Warming.

Fat people.

Well, maybe not all scientists, but certainly Dr. Phil Edwards of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – one of the more prestigious of the institutions that combines two random names. “Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler” the I-assume-slender Dr. Edwards contends.

Each obese person is said to be responsible for emitting a TON more of climate-warming carbon dioxide per year than a thin one. Do the math. That’s an extra BILLION TONS of CO2 a year.

Phillip Morris may be killing you but Sara Lee is killing the world.

And it doesn’t stop there. Since heavyset people tend to exercise less they drive more, which is another major cause of carbon emissions.

So a hefty person who buys a Supersize meal from the drive-through window is personally responsible for melting polar ice caps. I hope it was worth it.

Hey, producers of 24 – there’s your storyline for next season. McDonalds is introducing one-pounders. Jack has 24 hours to blow up the central slaughterhouse.

The US and Great Britain are two biggest offending nations. They’re both getting fatter by the decade. So the next time you hit that cake stall hard during high tea at Harrod's just know that every finger pastry destroys another rain forest.

And of course the ultimate irony is this: Al Gore has been on a personal campaign to make the world aware of Global Warming. But since he won for President (and wasn’t allowed to serve) he’s picked up a few LB's himself. Al Gore is part of the problem!

That said, his movie, INCONVENIENT TRUTH. is a disturbing cautionary tale that should be seen by everyone. Just don’t go to the concession stand for a tub of popcorn, 64 ounce Coke, and four boxes of Snow Caps. Those Snow Caps may be the last anyone on earth ever sees.

AMERICAN IDOL -- Disco Night

When I think of the Disco era I think of Clive James dead-on description:

“Disco dancing is just the steady thump of a giant moron knocking in an endless nail.”

Disco was the theme this week and Paula was the moron. After several weeks of near lucidity even, Paula was at her over-medicated best. This was her best night since she critiqued a performer’s song before he sang it.

LIL ROUNDS (the judges’ punching bag) got it started with “Climb Every Woman” or at least that’s what I think she was saying. It will take the Jaws of Life to get her out of that Spandex jumpsuit. The panel hated Lil of course. Paula accused her of not “tapping into her inner goddess.” You just wonder how many “goddesses” and “imaginary friends” and “Miss Californias” reside inside Paula.

KRIS ALLEN sang Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” as if it were Kenny Loggins night. Disco unplugged. Paula observed that a lot of women shop in the men's department but few men shop in the women's department. I’m not quite sure whether she was praising Kris or Ryan.

DANNY GOKEY did Earth Wind & Fire’s “September”. His lead vocal was far superior to Earth’s original. Paula zeroed in on the mark of a good singer – his agility.

ALLISON IRAHETA understood that disco music is all about suffering. She gave a gut-wrenching rendition of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” that evoked traumatic memories of losing dance contests. I think Paula put it best. “The word compromise does not belong in your musical vocabulary.”

ADAM LAMBERT, now with dyed jet black Johnny Bravo hair, displayed his savvy yet again by taking a Bee Gees song “If I Can’t Have You” and turning it into a ballad. This time for me he was a little overwrought and theatrical. Paula didn’t agree. She was literally crying. With tears in her raccoon mascaraed eyes she said, “Adam, you tore your heart out and left it on the stage.” He nodded solemnly, all the while his “inner goddess” was laughing her ass off.

MATT GIRAUD sang “Stayin’ Alive” and of course had to go to his off-key falsetto. If he were singing “Old Man River” he’d find a way to work in his falsetto. He wore a red leather jacket, white shirt with the tails out, black tie, and funky hat. It’s as if one of the Blues Brothers became a Shriner. Paula’s comment hit the usual bullseye. “You pick songs like I bowl.”

ANOOP DESAI is growing a moustache and beard. I don’t think it will earn him any votes but it will get him full body cavity searches every time he tries to board an airplane in the US. He wore a grey suit with a pink sweater, a combination not seen since the bridesmen at Pat Boone’s wedding. Anoop closed the show with “Dim All the Lights”. Paula’s astute observation: “Real men know how to wear pink.” Seriously. The woman is out of her mind.

Two people get thrown into the Disco Inferno tonight. Lil and who else? Your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

AMERICAN IDOL review is coming

but it will arrive sometime in the early morning. I'm on KABC until 11 so won't get to it until late. I just pray it's not "Music to put you to sleep" night.

P.S.
From 10-11 tonight on KABC and KABC.COM, my daughter Annie will be reviewing the current reality shows. I never asked but I assume she's watched some of them.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How'd you like to go to work here everyday?

Last week on AMERICAN IDOL the contestants went to 20th Century Fox studios. And they were each interviewed standing right in front of my old office. Of the many movie lots I was fortunate to work at, 20th was probably my favorite.

Especially during MASH.

Back then I drove into the studio past the New York street built for HELLO DOLLY. Today there are office buildings. Goodbye Dolly. I drove past the MASH stage (9) – actually I raced past the MASH stage so I wouldn’t be stopped by an actor who had a script question. My parking space was in the old western town square used for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. I was mere steps from the whorehouse.

Our office was in “the Old Writers Building”. And that was before I was one. It was a two story Swiss chalet, featured in BABES IN TOYLAND and any other film that had elves. Supposedly, our office on the second floor once belonged to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda’s empty gin bottles were still behind the couch so it must be true.

There was always filming going on. CHARLIE’S ANGELS were there every other week. I guess the angels broke up a lot Swiss drug rings. But I’d walk out of the building and there would be Jackie Smith in a tight jump suit pointing a gun at me. This is why I wanted to be a writer, by the way.

The Old Writers Building still exists but western town is a memory, replaced by trailers. Jackie Smith can still get into that jumpsuit so that’s pretty cool.

The commissary was in the PEYTON PLACE town square. Remember the white gazebo? That was still there. Not anymore. Replaced by a massive parking structure.

What is now Century City used to just be part of the 20th Century Fox lot. But they lost so much money on CLEOPATRA that they had to sell some of it off. But in the late 70s a good portion still remained. There was a private bridge over Olympic Blvd that led to a back lot where a ton of scenery was stored. My partner and I would walk to Century City for lunch past several of the original STAR WARS sets.

Today the bridge is gone as is the back lot. There is a large office building and a parking structure. (“Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot”) The STAR WAR sets are in the Smithsonian or some prop guy’s den. They would have been in my den if I were smart back then.

A trip to the prop building was like a day in the greatest Hollywood museum ever. Priceless props were just collecting dust. Yul Brynner’s belt buckle from THE KING AND I was even there! Why didn’t I steal that too?! I am such an idiot!

Every afternoon we could watch dailies. The screening room was right behind Commissioner Gordon’s office from the TV version of BATMAN. Remember how the Batmobile would park right in front of the building and Batman and Robin would bound up the stairs? On the other side of the fa├žade was probably the producers watching the Julie Newmar in her cat suit from the day before.

And all of this was before even going on our set and watching them film scenes that are still being shown today.

It was a golden time that I cherish now and happy to say, recognized and appreciated at the time. Dream factories were more dreams and less factories. When I have occasion to drive onto the lot today I usually pass by the former site of the old western town and think of that great exchange in BUTCH CASSIDY.

BUTCH: What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful.
GUARD: People kept robbing it.
BUTCH: Small price to pay for beauty.

Join me tonight on KABC radio

I will be filling in for Al Rantel tonight on Talkradio 790 KABC in Los Angeles and on the web at KABC.COM from 6-11 PM PDT. I'll be discussing the pros and cons of the tentative SAG agreement, and will be interviewing David Fury (one of the producers of 24), Nikki Finke of HollywoodDeadlineDaily.com, casting director Sally Steiner, and the founder of the matchmaking website SeekingArrangement.com. I also will be throwing topics out to talk about so if you're listening, call. 1-800-222-KABC. It'll be a great way for you to meet me and plug my blog so I don't have to do it. That's tonight from 6-11, tomorrow from 9-11.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My latest most humiliating moment

I got new glasses recently. And by paying a little extra I got this spiffy feature where they darken in the sunlight.

They’re regular glasses! They’re sunglasses! All in one!

It’s an amazing thing.

Unless you go on television.

Last week I was invited to do a guest spot on the Dodger pre-game show for KCAL 9 in Los Angeles. It was a live broadcast. My Dodger Talk partner, Josh Suchon, and I were placed on the field for the segment. It was 6:40 in the evening. Dusk to be more poetic.

They turned on a big spotlight and we were on the air. We answered a few questions. All was going well. Or so I thought.

My glasses reacted to the spotlight as if “Hey, he’s looking right into the sun… from maybe the surface of Mercury”. As a result they got dark. And I mean DARK.

Depending on how charitable you wish to be, I looked either like one of the Blues Brothers or a complete idiot. Aw, who we kidding? A COMPLETE idiot.

I didn’t realize this until one of the hosts from the studio asked me about my sunglasses.

Sunglasses? I'm not wearing sunglasses. (then) Uh oh!

Imagine finding out you look stupid while on live television. I made some joke about my entourage letting me down but again, who we foolin’?

After the show the host that asked the question felt bad. Maybe I was blind or just had surgery or something. I shudder to think what the viewers thought. How can Ray Charles cover the Dodgers? The few times I do get my face on television I try not to horrify people.

It’s been several days. I’m still getting shit from my media buddies in the press box. I suspect it will go on for months (years?). Thank God I'm not currently on the writing staff of a sitcom. Stuff like this is comedy GOLD! Short of walking into the rewrite room wearing a toupee nothing would set off a barrage of vicious insults like this.

Oh, if I were only Jack Nicholson. And by the way, that’s not the first time I’ve said that.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

BRADY BUNCH XXX

People say why remake the classics? Usually I agree but I think this updated version of THE BRADY BUNCH may in fact be an improvement over the original. What do you think?

Why TAXI was better

Fellow writer/blogger Earl Pomerantz has a GREAT post on why he thinks TAXI was better. And it's not why you think.

Check it out here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's time for Dodger Podcast

Besides blogging and my other writing projects (I have many irons in the freezer!) I host Dodger Talk after every game on KABC radio in Los Angeles. And now through the wonders of electronics the station has decided to podcast Dodger Talk. You can hear them here. Much more fun than actually watching or listening to the games is hearing callers bitch about them. So join Josh Suchon and me as we give out our game balls, talk people off the ledge, and break for traffic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Did Hawkeye marry Hot Lips?

Here are some Friday questions. What’s yours?

rita asks:

It's "did-they-or-didn't-they"-time on the German MASH-forum again. this time the big question is, did Margaret and Hawkeye marry *each other* or did they marry *someone else*?

They married other people. We don’t know who. If I was Hawkeye I would have gone after Nurse Marcia (pictured). Hot Lips probably married Dick Cheney.

Someone who didn’t leave his name but should wondered:

Were you were inspired by something that happened a few years before your great "Cheers" episode where Sam pitches Piels.

A few months after the Yankees' 1978 comeback against the Red Sox, Luis Tiant signed with New York as a free agent.

He did an ad for the short-lived, barely FDA-approved Yankee Franks where he exclaimed "It's great to be with a weiner!"

Actually, no. We gave our casting director a list of possible names and Luis was available. Or at least sort of available. He was pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico and flew in between starts. The scene in question from a first year episode called “Now Pitching: Sam Malone” (that David and I wrote) was a TV commercial that Sam does with Luis, a parody of a then-popular beer campaign. Luis had maybe three lines. It took at least forty takes. Afterward, we gave him a little tour of the set and he said (at least this is what I think he said, it was impossible to understand him) “Hey, I’m going to give this acting a try”. He’s currently in between representation if any agent is interested.

And finally, from Dave Sikula (with parentheticals inside parentheticals):

I've gotten hooked on "Green Acres." Other than the production values (they seemed to have a budget of about twelve dollars, and everything is overlit [but then everything was in the 60s]), it holds up and is still an extremely funny show.

That said, I'd guess that all but a handful of the 170 episodes (over six seasons) were written by Jay Sommers and Dick Chevillat. (I think I've seen only three eps not credited to them, and we're well into Season 4.)

Would it be possible today for a team of two writers to have that kind of productivity? Most shows I see now have a huge staff of writers, assistants, and "producers." I suppose it's possible, but could you and David, say, maintain that pace for six seasons and still keep up the quality, or would you just burn out?

David and I could easily write five or six years worth of television by ourselves. The only thing is – they’d be shit. By season three think Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING. David and I wrote or rewrote practically all of season 7 of MASH and it damn near killed us. Contrast that to Larry Gelbart who essentially wrote the first four years of MASH himself and the show was never even remotely as good after he left.

It takes a very special talent to write an entire season of television considering the time pressures involved. David Kelley can do it. So can Aaron Sorkin. A few others too. Josh Schwartz I believe. It's a real gift and I hate and admirer them for it.

But having a staff of other writers is not a bad thing. Having fresh eyes, different perspectives, and different strengths can only produce a richer show. And keep the show runner out of the UCLA Medical Center (or at least delay his stay).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Multi-camera shows are not dead!

And neither is Kal Penn but that's a different story.

The same network honchos who said multi-camera sitcoms were a tired obsolete format are now heralding them as the savior of comedy. What a difference two years of no new hits, a failed economy, and the BIG BANG THEORY can make. This pilot season is loaded with standard traditional (formerly tired, obsolete) multi-camera comedies. Suddenly family shows, workplace shows, and buddy comedies are fresh instead of hackneyed. Makes you wish you saved those bell bottom pants, huh?

As I’ve said often on this blog in between AMERICAN IDOL recaps and Natalie Wood tributes, with rare exceptions every great enduring American sitcom has been multi-camera – from I LOVE LUCY to THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, BILKO, the HONEYMOONERS, the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE, ODD COUPLE, BOB NEWHART SHOW, TAXI, CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, RAYMOND, to SEINFELD.

It’s not the number of cameras. It’s the quality of the execution. It’s the writing.

But that’s not why they’re once again in vogue. It’s because they’re CHEAPER. They cost less to produce than single-camera shows like 30 ROCK. Yes, multi-camera shows like BIG BANG THEORY and TWO AND A HALF MEN get ratings (despite networks’ earlier insistence that they no longer would) but that’s just gravy. THEY’RE CHEAPER!!!

Networks now contend that in these tough economic times viewers once again have an appetite for comedies. That doesn’t explain why they also had a healthy appetite for them in the prosperous 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s but still. We’ll take whatever rationale suppliers have for commissioning comedies. People want to laugh during El Nino years – sure.

My very best wishes to all the young writer/producers who have multi-camera pilots under consideration. I hope you create the next great wave of comedy. I hope you bring fresh voices to the table and introduce us to new hilarious worlds. But I offer one piece of advice. And this is from a guy who’s ecstatically happy with his current job hosting baseball shows on that cutting edge of technological communication, AM radio – multi-camera shows are hard to do. Harder than you think. And there have been very few opportunities for young writers to learn how to do it. But there’s good news. The writers who DO know how to do it? They’re still alive. They’re still out there. They’ve written and produced all those great shows that inspired you to want to be a comedy writer. They’re now at Starbucks. They’re the men and women in the corner saying, “Fuck that Brett Butler!”

Hire one or two of them.

You don’t have to hire them all. You’re going for a new attitude, a different tone. Which is great. It’s what you should be doing.

But…

When you and your young staff are at a runthrough and something doesn’t work can you identify just what that something is?

And how to fix it?


Can you and your young staff rewrite an entire script overnight?

Can you come up with that big joke at 3:30 AM that gets you out of the act?


Do you know how to deal with temperamental actors? (“Fuck that fill in the blank!”)

If you know your show is going to be long can you watch the quad split and know if you have the proper coverage to make the necessary lifts?


Can you budget your time between the writing, editing, casting, politics, and hand-holding required to turn out 22 episodes in about 30 weeks?


Can you get a tee-time at Riviera?


The experience these “veterans” provide will prove invaluable. And the Brett Butler stories alone will be worth their hire.

AMERICAN IDOL -- Movie night for the top (magnificent?) 7

Wait a minute? The judges had to double up because they were taking too long? We only get Simon’s critiques half the time? That’s like the producers of MORK & MINDY trimming an episode down to time by keeping Pam Dawber and cutting out Robin Williams. It’s insane! The show has never had to resort to this before. So let’s do the math: three judges, no problem. Four judges, IDOL & MINDY. What number can I call to vote Kara off? And if the issue is contractual, you don’t have to fire her. She can critique the contestants on the tour.

Another way to trim five minutes is to eliminate Ryan’s grand entrance down the stairs. This is a reality show, not LORETTA YOUNG THEATER.

I know I can be a little rough on Paula but I must say she looked stunning Tuesday with those bejeweled oxen reins around her neck.

This week’s theme was movie night – or more correctly – Bryan Adams movie night. With a billion titles to choose from most contestants selected dreary ballads. If only I had mentored them instead of Quentin Tarentino (who was great, by the way. Except he’s starting to look like Hitler.) I would have chosen much better movie tunes to perform.

ALLISON IRAHETA opened with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. Yes, she’s only 16 but she sounds like she was breast fed on unfiltered Marlboro’s. Simon, Paula, and the leader of the Third Reich liked her but a better selection would have been: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

ANOOP DESAI did one of the Bryan Adams songs. He pleased the two judges that were allowed to speak but could have wowed them had he opted for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”or “Moon River”.

ADAM LAMBERT – Wasn’t sure this week if he was Boy Genius or Boy George. Did “Born to be Wild” but instead of the hard rock Steppenwolf rendition he went more for “Disco Tex & the Sexolettes”. Adam is always interesting although Simon was a little disappointed. I’m sure, like me, Simon would have preferred him to sing, “Where the Boys Are”.

MATT GIRAUD should be kicked off the show for reminding me there was once a movie starring Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway as the romantic leads. And there was a sex scene. GAAAAAAAA! Matt lent his usual vocal gymnastics to another Bryan Adams song and left the judges cold. Personally, I think the falsetto and gravelly riffs would have been far more effective on “Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo” but I never ruled Germany so no one asked me.

DANNY GOKEY sans the glasses emoted his guts out on “Endless Love”. For his big finale he looked up to the heavens, which was very moving unless you thought he was going to the widower’s card again to enlist some sympathy votes. But that would make you very cynical. Just like thinking Danny didn’t wear glasses so he could get some of Kris Allen’s votes. You’d really have to be jaded to think that. Der Fuhrer gave Danny good advice – curtail the hand gestures and just sing the song, but he vood not listen! The result was a tad over-the-top. For that kind of raw, from-the-kishkes, heart wrenching tearjerker he should have done the “The Woody Woodpecker Song” from WET BLANKET POLICY.

KRIS ALLEN did a nice job with “Falling Slowly”. Mindy scolded him for choosing an “obscure” song even though it won an Oscar. Maybe if he sang a more recognizable movie classic like “Pass That Peace Pipe” from GOOD NEWS, “Zing a Little Zong” from JUST FOR YOU, or “Freddy’s Dead" from SUPERFLY she would have appreciated him more. We were denied Simon’s comments for that???

No matter what LIL ROUNDS sings Simon thinks it’s wrong. Still, it was fun to hear her stand up to him, even if he was right. I like Lil, just don’t love her. For weeks Simon has been trying to zero in on just what kind of singer she is. I can tell you that. Background. Lil over-sang and later under-sang “The Rose”. So the only tune I could think of for her was the “Theme from ROCKY”. Three minutes of instrumental then…

Trying hard now
It’s so hard now
Trying hard now
Getting strong now
Won’t be long now
Getting strong now
Gonna fly now
Flying high now
Gonna fly, fly, fly

Unfortunately, for dear Lil, I think she’s going to be singing…

Gotta pack now
I’ve been sacked now
Don’t look back now

It’s too bad because at this stage of the competition all of the contestants are good. Don’t you hate it when movies have sad endings?

P.S.
The show still ran long.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Writing for BARNEY MILLER

BARNEY MILLER is one of those forgotten gem sitcoms from the 70s. I guess because they were taped and now look like crap you rarely see them pop up in reruns. Set in a dectectives’ squad room in an NYPD precinct, BARNEY MILLER was a quirky character comedy revolving around the detectives and the nutcases that walked through their door (most in handcuffs).

It was created by Danny Arnold who was a true character. Brilliant, unpredictable (a nice term for bi-polar), demanding, and kind, Danny was an A-list show runner and a type-A+ personally. The man had a heart attack on the treadmill in his doctor’s office getting his heart checked. He had an oxygen tent installed on the BARNEY set so he could keep going during demanding shooting nights (which lasted routinely until 5 in the morning because of all the pick-ups he wanted). The results were fabulous but what a cost.

When David and I were starting out BARNEY MILLER was just starting to take off. It was one of the show we really wanted to write for. We had sold a couple of things and were making the freelance rounds. Our agent called with the good news that Danny had read our material and loved it. He wanted a meeting.

That meeting was one of the best EVER. We walked into his office and there was the nicest, most ebullient cigar-chomping uncle you’ve ever met. He was effusive in his praise. We couldn’t have been more excited. It was like the prettiest girl in school let you eat at her lunch table.

He invited us to come back with some story ideas and very much looked forward to working with us. A week later we were back in his office with our notions.

I noticed a bit of change right at the start. He was a little more gruff. Probably just the result of a long day. We started pitching and every idea was met with, “NO!!” “FUCK! ARE YOU KIDDING?” “JESUS, HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED OUR SHOW?” Needless to say we were shaken. After he had rejected all of them we started out and just before getting to the door he said, almost as an afterthought, “That Yamada gambling thing. I don’t think there’s anything there but if you want to develop it more you can.” Not exactly a sale.

But we went home and decided to develop it anyway. We wanted to show him that if nothing else we weren’t intimidated by him… although we sure as hell were.

We turned in an outline. He bought it. Had us in for notes and was very complimentary. We implemented his changes and turned in the revised outline.

He cut us off.

Well, we figured, so much for BARNEY MILLER. At least we got outline money.

Two weeks later I get a call from Danny’s assistant. Could we be in his office tomorrow at 8:30? Swell, I thought, he wants to chew us out again.

But we go and it’s the happy ingratiating Danny. “Boys! Come on in. You want a doughnut? How was your weekend?” He had read over our outline again and decided it was terrific. He had just a few tweaks. We were told to dash off a revised outline and then we’d go to work on the draft.

Two days later we delivered the new outline. And the following day…

He cut us off.

It just didn’t “jump off the page” for him. But he paid us for a second outline.

Elements of those outlines appeared in future shows but what the hell? He did pay us.

We never did a BARNEY MILLER assignment but a few years later when we were head writers of MASH he called and asked if we wanted to be his showrunners for the upcoming season. We chose to stay with MASH.

The guys who did take the job worked a million hours a week, learned a hell of a lot, got paid a fortune, and Danny gave them Rolls Royces… which they used to drive themselves to Cedar-Sinai hospital.

I wish some cable channel – any cable channel – would show BARNEY MILLER. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a treat.

Harry Kalas 1936-2009

This is a sad day for baseball and especially Philadelphia. A real person has passed away. Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Phillies collapsed in the broadcast booth before a game in Washington and died shortly thereafter. He was 73. Kalas also narrated NFL films and broadcast NFL football for Westwood One. He was inducted into the baseball hall-of-fame in 2002.

Harry had the deepest voice you’ve ever heard. It was strange hearing God tell me to go to the fridge right now and get a beer. But more than the richness of his baritone was the warmth of his voice. Harry was a genuinely nice man and it came across on the air. When you listened to him it was very assuring to know that God was a good guy.

I’ve known Harry for close to twenty years. Had dinner with him in the Dodger Stadium press box last summer. For fun I would have him say mundane things like, “Take out the garbage, willya?” just to hear it in that voice.

The Phillies won the world championship last year and Harry got to make the final call. It’s only fitting that he would go out on top. After all, who is better than God?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

In fond memory of Dr. Kutner and Amerca's intelligence

Has television finally so blurred the line between reality and fiction that it is now impossible to distinguish which is which? Or, are we just a country of morons?

On last Monday’s episode of HOUSE, the character of series regular Dr. Lawrence Kutner committed suicide. Very sad episode. Why did he do it? What is the meaning of life? Who will be tormented by this and who will end up sleeping together as a result? You know, mourning.

And now there is a Lawrence Kutner Memorial Facebook page. With photos in his memory. And a discussion board where grieving loved ones can share their memories. Here are some:

Wow, I have to say that I am shocked that he died. Ever since he was introduced he became my favorite character besides House. My favorite memory has to be when he electrocutes himself with the paddles. Also when he ran that fake House help site. He was such a funny and intriguing character and will be missed.

Kutner was a great docotr and a good person, he will be sadly missed. I loved it when he shocked himself why using the difibulators, would do anything. Rest in peace Kutner.

Kutner was always the Princeton Plainsboro staff member I wanted to drink with most. I'll miss him.

I'm devistated. (sic)

Why, why, why, that was a shocker, now who is House going to hire?

R.I.P. Old Friend You Will Be Missed

RIP, Dr. Kutner. I hope your next life brings you joy.

Long live kutner, never miss them until there gone...

Yeah, but see here’s the thing – IT’S JUST A FUCKING CHARACTER ON A TV SHOW!! THE ACTOR IS NOT DEAD YOU CRETINS!!!

Kal Penn, who PLAYED Lawrence Kutner voluntarily left the show to take a job in the Obama administration. So to Rush Limbaugh he’s actually dead but to the rest of the world he’s still very much alive.

And for anyone who can’t understand that, you are welcome to use this comment section (assuming you are smart enough to click on the word “comments”) to post your loving memories of Bambi’s mother.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Steve Gordon

Every couple of years I want to introduce or re-introduce you to Steve Gordon. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in November of 1982 at age 44. He is still one of my inspirations, and whenever I begin writing a screenplay I always reread one of his. It’s called ARTHUR.

For my money, nobody wrote sharper or funnier comic dialogue than Steve. His only other produced screenplay was THE ONE AND ONLY, which airs from time to time on HBO. It stars Henry Winkler as an narcissistic actor who becomes a TV wrestler in the early days of television. Like ARTHUR it’s brimming with wonderful lines.

And if you haven't seen ARTHUR starring Dudley Moore, I have just one made-up word for you: Netflix.

Steve started in advertising in the early 70’s. Feeling he could write a better play than the ones he saw, he banged out TOUGH TO GET HELP. In true storybook fashion it went straight to Broadway with Carl Reiner directing and John Amos starring. Okay, it closed in one night but still!

Through Reiner’s introductions, Gordon moved on to television, doing freelance episodes for shows you’ll never see again and within a couple of years created his own series, THE PRACTICE for NBC starring Danny Thomas (shown on the left). Picture Becker meets Uncle Tanoose. That’s where I first discovered Steve. The dialogue just crackled. My partner and I had just finished our first MASH and suddenly we were hot for five minutes. We pretty much had our pick of freelance assignments. And we chose THE PRACTICE.

Working with Steve we found him to be charming, incredibly funny, and maybe the most nervous intense human being I had ever met. Ohmygod! Two hours with him and I wanted to take up smoking. But it began a relationship that lasted until his death.

THE PRACTICE was cancelled in its second season. Next he created a series called GOODTIME HARRY about a womanizing sportswriter, starring Ted Bessell. It had Steve’s trademark brilliant dialogue but little network support. ABC scheduled it Saturday nights at 10:30. (If there’s a worse time slot for a comedy in the sixty year history of television I don’t know what it is. THE COSBY SHOW would have gotten a 2 share Saturday night at 10:30.)

You’re probably sensing a pattern. Terrific work. Fairy tale-like big breaks. Failure. Is it any wonder he made Richard Lewis seem mellow?

Steve turned to screenplays. The pattern continued. His very first script got produced (THE ONE AND ONLY) and did little at the boxoffice.

And then came ARTHUR. Breakthrough! It was the number four boxoffice hit of 1981. It earned Gordon an Academy Award nomination for screenplay and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for John Gielgud.

Steve was finally on his way. The hottest comedy writer and director in Hollywood. And then he died.

Some patterns are just hard to break.

I wish more of his scripts were available. If you have one, let me know. There is a special collection of his work at the University of Toledo but rarely will you see his name on TVLand. (I’m hoping that someday THE PRACTICE with Danny Thomas will resurface on DVD or at least on the Lebanese channel.) Steve Gordon was a genius and continues to make me a better writer today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

If only George Carlin were here to see this...

Taken from the AP wire:

DENVER (AP) - Kelly Coffman-Lee wanted to tell the world about her love of tofu by picking the letters for her car's license plate. But her tofu fondness ran into a snafu at the Division of Motor Vehicles, which blocked her plan because they thought the combination of letters could be interpreted as profane. Her suggestion for the plate on her Suzuki: "ILVTOFU." Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said the letters could be misinterpreted.

I wonder, what are the seven dirty foods you can't spell on a license plate?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Point of View questions

My recent cranky POINT OF VIEW post sparked some Friday questions.

Andy Ihnatko asked:

I loved the novelty of "POV." What sort of problems were created by some of those sequences?

I mean, did you all discover that the layout of the 4077 compound "made sense" even when you found yourself filming the actual route a casualty takes from the chopper pad? Did you have to build out sections of the OR and hospital that were never designed to be shot from that kind of angle?

It sounds like one of those interesting creative events where the thought "Hey! We'll shoot everything from a patient's perspective" takes just five seconds to conceive, but then brings up huge problems...!

Fortunately, the MASH compound at the Malibu ranch was laid out just like a real MASH unit. So when you saw those shots of the chopper pad and the path leading to the tents, all of that was already in place. We did have to build ceilings for certain sets like the O.R. Patients wheeled into operating rooms rarely see klieg lights and boom mikes (unless you’re Jimi Hendrix).

A special camera mount had to be fitted. There were no steady cams. The poor cameraman was practically crushed by the heavy equipment on his chest.

And every scene had to be one continuous take. The HOUSE episode (directed brilliantly by Dan Attias) was able to have the patient blink and have trouble focusing. And they were able to do quick jump cuts. We didn’t have that luxury. There was nothing to cut away to so each sequence had to be filmed in its entirety. A few were very long or complicated which meant many many takes.

The actors found it really fun and challenging the first day. By the fourth they hired a hit man to kill both me and David.

And Charlotte asks:

Are "stunt" or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary episodes (like "Point of View") the most sought-after writing assignments by the writing staff on a TV series? Because of the creative challenge and the potential for the episode to really standout if it turns out well? Or do the regular writers on a series tend to shy away from these more unusual stories for the same reasons: because of the greater writing challenge and the greater risk that for all their extra work the episode might end up standing out all right, as a laughable disaster.

Show runners or head writers tend to take these unusual assignments because they’re more prestigious (“tonight on a very SPECIAL episode of TIL DEATH…”) and stand a better chance of getting nominated for an award. Wait. I mean, they take these because as artists they welcome the chance to really challenge themselves. Aw, who am I kidding? We all want an Emmy.

In the case of POINT OF VIEW it took two seasons of lobbying to get the producer to go for it. And we were honest. We told him this would be either the best or worst show of the year.

But we really believed in the story. It wasn’t just a gimmick. It was a novel way to view the characters in a very different light. I’d like to think if you had never seen an episode of MASH before POINT OF VIEW that by the end of the show you’d know who everyone was, what their relationships were to each other, and how they coped with the unbelievable pressure and craziness of the war. In many ways, we were constructing a second pilot.

And yes, we did get several nominations (including an Emmy nom) but we never won with POINT OF VIEW. Maybe if we did a colonoscopy episode and saw the world through the patient’s ass, that might have gotten us the gold. We were so close. Just chose the wrong end.

What’s your question?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bad tables in restaurants

I’m one of those people that hate to be shown to a bad table. In addition to the discomfort of being by the kitchen or next to the screaming baby, I always take it as a personal insult. The host just assumes I’m an idiot and doesn’t know the difference. Or I’m too unimportant to be shown a decent table. Better to leave the good one open just in case the Pope should happen in off the street.

I feel all diners should enter a restaurant wearing a badge. Either a green one or red one.

The green one means “Hi, my name is Gomer and you can seat me in the kitchen next to the grease trap if you want, or put my party of eight at a table the size of a silver dollar in the section with no view and trainee waitress.”

And the red one means, “Stop. I don’t pay your prices to sit next to the coat room, behind the bus station, under the hurricane-strength air conditioning vent, or next to Fran Drescher. Yes, I’d like a booth. Why would I prefer a table that’s in every waiter’s path? And if you try to give me a bad table I’m only going to ask for a better one so save yourself the step.”

Restaurant management might balk claiming everyone will then surely wear red buttons. But you know what? I bet 70% of the population still opts for the green.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hey, look who stopped by to say hello

Hi, this is Babe Ruth. First I’d like to tip my cap to Ken for letting me be his guest blogger. Since it’s the start of baseball season and he's in San Diego covering the Dodgers (so no AMERICAN IDOL recap this week, which pisses me off too) he wondered if the old Bambino had any new curses and as a matter of fact I do. So woe be to the following:

THE NEW YORK YANKEES – for vacating the house that I built for a gaudy new stadium purely out of greed. The Red Sox ain’t moving from Fenway. The Cubs ain’t abandoning Wrigley. The Mets are one thing – Shea was a dump. But the original Yankee Stadium was a cathedral and you don’t raze it just so you can construct luxury pews. Good luck making new memories with Ramiro Pena. And fans beware, there are some seats with obstructed views. You can't see the players but you can see the in-stadium steak house.

HOLLYWOOD – for all those bad movies about me. William Bendix -- the guy from THE LIFE OF RILEY? And then John Goodman? Jesus Christ! Who’s next? Hillary Duff?

THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS – What kind of pussy name is “Blue Jays”? How the hell is a Blue Jay supposed to strike fear in the hearts of opponents? “Blue Jays” wear pigtails and sell cookies, “Giants” stomp on people and get arrested with Mickey Rourke.

Same with…

THE LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM – When you think of an “angel” you don’t think some bad ass dude who’s gonna grind your guts into garters. Fuck no. You think of Nicole Kidman prancing with wood nymphs and shit. Who cares if you’re from Los Angeles, Anaheim, or California ? If your team name is “angels” your city of record is Fantasyland.

And along those lines…

THE HOUSTON ASTROS – Name me a team that cowers going in to “Minute Maid Park”. It might as well be “Summer’s Eve Stadium”. Get a better name! There are no fucking tool companies that are looking for corporate sponsorship?

ESPN – It’s bad enough you’ve saddled the great Jon Miller with Joe Morgan (pitchers need to throw strikes, we get it!) but now you’ve added Steve Phillips ? That’s like adding cufflinks on pants. There’s nothing either of those clowns could say that Jon Miller couldn’t say better and more succinctly (hey, look at me, using a word like succinctly!). Maybe Jon Miller should play me in the next movie. At least I’d sound smart.

PLAYERS WHO USE STEROIDS – Talent, conditioning, proper diet, and beer isn’t enough???

CBS – for canceling ALMOST PERFECT. That Nancy Travis was a cutie. If I were 30 years younger and alive…boy!

And finally…

LADY GAGA – What the fuck is that?!

Again, thanks to Ken for letting me blog with you today. If I have anything else to add I’ll send you all a Tweet. So long everybody!

Monday, April 06, 2009

By the time I got to Phoenix

This travelogue is a combination of three trips to Phoenix I made this month to cover the Dodgers’ spring training.

It was quite a culture shock going from Hawaii where everything was named Wailea and Lahaina to Phoenix where I drove over Skunk Creek.

This is a sprawling city of giant shopping malls broken up by sports complexes. Oh and numerous aircraft boneyards. From rusted out WWII planes to 747s that haven’t flown since Braniff went under, they’re all here. Was hoping to swing by and pick up an L1011 fuselage but time got away.

Other major attractions Phoenix can boast about: the world’s largest Kachina Doll, the world’s largest inflatable dam, and the world’s largest sneezing nose – a fitting tribute to the many allergies people suffer from in these parts.

Famous sons of the Valley of the Sun include Steven Spielberg, retired golfer Alice Cooper, Wonder Woman, Hugh Downs, Barry Goldwater, and most prominent of them all – American Idol Jordin Sparks.

To get anywhere in Phoenix – to work, a restaurant, the rental car outpost from the airport – you just get on the freeway and go 13.2 miles. Everything is 13.2 miles away. Except Circle K’s. There are two on every corner. How much beef jerky can this town chew?

I’ve seen ads for the University of Phoenix in Los Angeles and St. Louis and Philadelphia but who knew? They also have a branch in Phoenix!

On my first trip I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express near the big University of Phoenix stadium, (home of the Superbowl losing Cardinals) which looks like an enormous Jiffy Pop bag just before it explodes. What college has an enormous stadium but no football team?

You can sure feel the effects of the economy. The Dodgers kicked off the Cactus League season against the Cubs in Mesa. Usually Cubs tickets are harder to get in the desert than oceanfront property but this year even opening day didn’t sell out. Obama’s bailout plan is going to have to include scalpers I’m afraid.

Next day we headed to Scottsdale (13.2 miles) to face the dreaded Giants. Scottsdale is the ritzy section of Phoenix. As you approach it the car dealerships get much more upscale.

Scottsdale is gorgeous. Known for its swank resorts, golf courses, art galleries (you better like “southwestern”), and the Bob Crane murder.

Most restaurants in Phoenix are a chain but at least in Scottsdale they’re Morton’s and Roy’s. Most everywhere else they’re McDonald’s and Roy Rogers.

But it was not worth driving 13.2 miles for fine dining when right nearby there was a Tilted Kilts. Who knew anyone could improve on Hooters? The breasts seemed more real, the kilts more skimpy. And for an even finer culinary experience I recommend the chicken wings appetizer. When they arrive ask for a different dipping sauce so the hot tattooed Betty Boop has to return and lean over your table to deliver it. Any top chef will tell you – it’s all in the presentation.

The new Dodger complex in Glendale is magnificent! Camelback Ranch (not to be confused with the Mustang Ranch – the other spring training destination for most men). Camelback Ranch looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright after a long night at Tilted Kilts.

But the amenities for the fans are amazing and if there’s anything better than having a picnic with your family, sitting out on a grass berm and watching major league baseball in the sunshine I don’t know what it is. Okay, maybe also getting a Valentino Pascucci home run ball and several fans got those.

Hung out with my buddy, Kurtwood Smith at one of the Dodger games. Kurtwood’s a great actor. You’ve seen him in a million things including DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, THAT 70s SHOW, and of course BIG WAVE DAVE’S. Recently, he’s been on 24. Not that Dodger fans aren’t the most knowledgeable in all of sports but Kurtwood said he went up to the concession stand and people were calling out at him, “Hey, man, lighten up on Jack Bauer!” (SPOILER ALERT: Kurtwood gets killed… for the 500th time in his career.)

Missed the big ostrich festival. Ostrich races AND Foghat!!!

Best Phoenix TV show bar none is “Lone Butte Casino’s LUCKY BREAK” every Saturday night at 10:30 on CBS 5. It’s a cheesy AMERICAN IDOL ripoff hosted by Olympic Gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Grand prize is a dinner for two at the Verona Chop House. One of the judges is a plumber. I’m not making this up! One of the contestants was 83 and just had a hip replacement. Did not bust a lot of moves in her routine. Halfway through the judges blasted an air horn to stop her. Nice. She had to be helped off the stage. Next up was her daughter who got the air horn even faster. Five contestants ended in a tie so to break it they each had to sing Happy Birthday. One actually stumbled over the words. She won.

Come ye all to the annual Arizona Renaissance Fair. Wear ye heavy garb of velvet and wool or ye full suit of armor. Imagine if they held this in August. Merry Old England during the Bubonic Plague.

The local oldies station, KOOL has a very limited playlist. “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers. That’s it. But for their big weekend feature playing all the hits from the 60s-80s they add “Long Train Running” by the Doobie Brothers.

You can go Indoor Skydiving in Phoenix. A simulated freefall chamber will drop you 13,000 feet at 120 mph. It seems to me skydiving (outdoors) requires courage but offers an incomparable thrill. Indoor skydiving down an elevator shaft requires losing a bet at a frat party.

Pheeniks is number nine on the US list of most misspelled cities.

I was really stylin’ the second trip. My rental car was a maroon Chevy hearse. At least that’s what it looked like. I kept checking to make sure Bob Crane wasn’t in the back.

Alas, spring training is over. Last week rooms at the Holiday Inn Express were $165 a night. This week they’re free with a ticket stub from the Ostrich races. But if you’re a baseball fan or you just want to see if the Red Lobster in Phoenix is any different from the one in your town, you’ve got to come to Arizona in March. I’ll never be able to see HOGAN’S HEROES again without wanting to go back.