Sunday, May 31, 2009

Writing problem: what to do if you get stuck?

This happens often as you write your script or novel. You come to a point where you think you’ve written yourself into a corner. A plot point requires something and you just can’t get there. Wait a minute, he can’t swim to safety; he’s in a wheelchair. Exactly how is she going to get to the Pope to sell him Girl Scout cookies?

This is one of the benefits of a being in a partnership – sometimes he can solve it.

But when working alone, here are four handy tips:

First, don’t be afraid to go back. Yes, you spent an hour on the last page and there’s a great joke about renal failure but if it drops you off at a dead end replace it with something that works. Once you have it you’ll probably be able to make up for lost time and more.

So now that you’ve freed yourself, let your mind wander. Come at the problem from different angles. What if he doesn’t get drunk? What if she gets drunk instead? What if he kills the cable repairman tomorrow and not today (right away that makes more sense because the cable repairman is always a day late)? Way too often we get stuck thinking there’s only one way to solve a problem. There’s not. On LOST once there was some crisis and the solution was to “move the island”. Now that’s not the first thing you normally think of. Look for other options. They’re out there.

Second, go past it if you can. If it’s a joke you just can’t find, stick a pin in it and move on. Do the heavy lifting first and then come. It’s a lot easier to tackle the problem when you know it’s the final thing you need to do. But I say “if you can” because if the issue is a major plot point or character definition it’s usually better to solve it now. You don’t want to have to go back and rewrite six pages before the problem and then sixty pages after the problem once you’ve solved it. Or that could just be me. However, long speeches, specific jokes, finding the perfect paragraph to describe a setting – save that crap for later.

Third. Don’t panic. You’ll get it. It might not be in five minutes but you will. My partner and I always joke when we come to a bump that “that’s it. A thirty year career comes to end because we can’t figure how to get Daphne out of the room.” Yes, it’s frustrating but you’re a writer. You welcome pain.

And finally, just walk away. Take a break. Do anything else but write. For some this is hard. They don’t like to stop until they’ve finished a scene or a certain number of pages or ZACK & CODY comes on. But it’s okay to stop in the middle of a scene, the middle of a speech, the middle of a word. Clear your head. Go for a walk. Go see a movie. Go to bed. Let your subconscious mull over the dilemma. It will, trust me. Many times I’ll go to sleep with a pad and pen by my bed. In the morning the solution is somehow there. I also do a lot of problem solving in the shower. It’s hard to read back later because the pad is wet, but letting your mind drift while you’re in a relaxed state often unlocks the lock.

Let me show you an example. I don’t really know how to end this post. So for now I’m ju

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tonight on FAILURE THEATER...

Back in the 70’s and 80’s we had “Failure Theatre” Networks would air their unsold pilots. Here are just a few. Some are included because they’re particularly wacky, others are intriguing, and a few sound downright great.

A DOG’S LIFE – People dressed as dogs. Starring Barney Martin (SEINFELD) and Charles Martin Smith (AMERICAN GRAFFITI). No actors were injured in the making of this pilot.

DUFFY – A dog with human qualities. Dogs were in back then. I guess penguins are the new dogs.

DINER – Barry Levinson who wrote and directed the movie, wrote and directed the pilot as well. With Paul Reiser and James Spader (BOSTON LEGAL).

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT – MR. ED with very wide master shots. Starring Todd Sussman who, during that period, starred in fifteen or twenty failed pilots. Ethel’s career never recovered from this project.

THE FESS PARKER SHOW – The man who played Davy Crockett starred in a comedy.

FRANKIE & ANNETTE: SECOND TIME AROUND
– You loved them in the Beach Party movies and wondered how long could they remain a couple before they finally had sex? According to this pilot, twelve years and counting.

FRAUD SQUAD – from Jack Webb productions. Frank Sinatra Jr. as the head of the LAPD Fraud Squad. Not intended to be a comedy but ohhh mannn…

FROM CLEVELAND – Featuring Bob & Ray and the brilliant cast of SCTV.

GHOST OF A CHANCE – Shelley Long, pre-CHEERS, as a zany ghost.

GOOBER & THE TRUCKERS’ PARADISE – The title alone should have warranted a pick-up. This is a spin-off of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and marks the very first appearance of Gomer Pyle.

GOOD PENNY – Billed as a comedy about an emotionally disturbed woman (that must’ve been a helluva pitch). Well cast with Rene Taylor in the starring role.

GREAT DAY – another premise chock full of comedic possibilities. Skid row derelicts in Los Angeles. Featured Al Molinaro (HAPPY DAYS) and as “Jabbo “– Spo-De-Odee.

HARRY’S BATTLES – Dick Van Dyke and Connie Stevens did not have the magic of Dick and Mary Tyler Moore, or even Dick and Hope Lange.

HIGH SCHOOL USA – After his “Garden Party-take-me-seriously-as-an-artist” period Rick Nelson starred as the principal in a series that featured a ton of 50’s and 60’s family sitcom cast members including Harriet Nelson, Jerry Mathers, Ken Osmond, Paul Peterson, Dick York, and Barbara Billingsley. Also Crystal Bernard (WINGS) who must’ve been 9 then.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING – Adaptation of the Broadway smash. Written by Abe Burrows. NOT directed by James Burrows.

HUMAN FEELINGS – Billy Crystal playing an angel.

IF I LOVED YOU AM I TRAPPED FOREVER? Not only is that a great title, it was written by Larry Gelbart (MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD). This is one I’d really like to see.

KANGAROO IN THE KITCHEN – A Greenwich Village apartment overrun with animals. To me the real show would have been the poor people in the apartment directly below.

LOVEBIRDS – Eugene Levy in a sitcom.

ME & MRS. C. – Another comic goldmine premise: A widow living on Social Security. Starred Doris Roberts (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

MR. & MRS. DRACULA – After 618 years of marriage they move to America. Bats out of water. Written by Robert Klane (WHERE’S PAPA, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) so it was probably damn funny.

NEWMAN’S DRUGSTORE – A Brooklyn diner during the Depression. God, I’d love to go in to Fox and pitch that today.

OFF CAMPUS – Coed rooming house starring Marilu Henner (TAXI) written by Marshall Brickman (ANNIE HALL, JERSEY BOYS). This is one of about seventy college dorm/sorority/coed rooming house pilots done during that era. Another one featured Michelle Pheiffer.

SITCOM – A spoof of the genre, following the Gooseberry family. Created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). I read this script. HILARIOUS! And while we’re on the subject of Tom & Jay…

THE CHOPPED LIVER BROTHERS – Patchett & Tarses wrote and starred as two struggling stand-up comics. Add 50 years to them and you have…

THE SUNSHINE BOYS – Neil Simon wrote the pilot from his play, this time starring Red Buttons and Lionel Stander. I wonder if the network gave him notes.

I’m sorry but I would rather see any of these over the schlock reality shows that are being jammed down our gullets this summer. WIPE OUT???!! Don't the promos alone make you cringe? Bring back “Failure Theatre”!

Friday, May 29, 2009

I love this music video

It's from the 60s. There was a primetime show on ABC called SHINDIG. Primarily, it was a rock n' roll variety show. Here are the Hondells singing their big hit "Little Honda". Except that... they're riding Vespas. And watch what the girls do halfway through the song. This is a safety message you want to be sending to kids. God, we were gullible back then.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inside info about FRASIER

First off, thanks so much to all of you who took the time to write in yesterday. WOW! I'm really blown away. If you haven't weighed in yet, I'd love to hear from you.

One feature that seems popular is the Friday questions. When I don't have the answer I try to go to the person who does. In this case, David Lee, one of the creators/executive producers/writers/directors of FRASIER. Thanks, David!

Dhppy asks:

I noticed the Frasier logo was always silver colored in it's final season. Was that designed to be a sign of it's platinum year or something to that effect?

As far as I recall, silver was chosen for the final year because it was one of the only colors left. It may have had some special significance as I don't remember using a metallic color before. Not sure. Changing colors every year was decided early on because when we watched CHEERS in syndication we found ourselves often asking "Which season was that show?" We now have replaced that question with "Which season was orange?"

Dhppy also wants to know:

Was there ever talk of getting Jean Smart as a regular on Frasier?
Not really. We of course loved her, but we found on FRASIER that it was better just to leave things open no matter how terrific the actor, so that if a story arc ran its course we could wrap it up rather than be stuck "servicing" an actor week after week . We did this over the years several times with terrific actresses since Frasier was always finding a woman of whom he thought "this time I think she's really the one" only to have it turn out badly.

Thanks again, David. What's your question?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

3,000,000 and counting

It’s just a number and it’s not even accurate but according to my site counter I will hit 3,000,000 visitors this week. There are also RSS feeds, feedburners, and other ways that people access this blog that don’t show up in the stats so I’m told the actual number is significantly higher. I still have no clue how any of this works. I'd have an easier time comprehending the Theory of Relativity than Widgets.

But I do want to take this opportunity to thank all 3,000,000+ of you. I’ve been writing this nonsense for 3 1/2 years, almost 1500 posts. This blog fulfills a dream – to do a ton of writing for absolutely no profit.

Still, these milestones serve as a great excuse to ask you guys to write to me today. Especially new readers, lurkers, and AMERICAN IDOL finalists. Let me know where you’re from, how long you’ve been here, how you found the blog, and any thoughts of what you do or don’t like. I do pay attention to the feedback. You’ll notice I have not reviewed STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP in over two years. All I ask is you leave a name.

This has been a labor of love. And I can’t tell you how many great people I’ve met as a result of this folly. So to paraphrase the airlines: “I know you have a choice of 7,846,935,833,8563 blogs, thanks for reading mine.”

And thanks in advance for leaving a comment.

Shake-up at ABC

It’s not just Fox. ABC just let their SVP of Comedy go. Samie Falvey is being replaced presumably by Kevin Plunkett who runs comedy for their studio. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kevin and he’s terrific. Not that he’ll ever buy anything from me but he’s a great choice.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cliff Clavin explains Yorkshire pudding

Bonus Friday question: Dana Gabbard asks:

Maybe you could give us a peek at the legal process a script goes through. I know from reading the Making of Star Trek that someone researches whether a character's name is too similiar to an actual person who has the same profession as the character, etc.

There are a couple of research firm that comb through scripts to identify possible legal problems and double-check facts. You mention Hitler and they’ll say, “Former German dictator”, stuff like that.

One time on CHEERS we had a run where Cliff explained the derivation of Yorkshire pudding. The research person called me (since I co-wrote the episode) asking where I got that information. She had been researching it for two days and couldn’t confirm our claim. I said a waitress at Lawry’s Prime Rib restaurant told me. The researcher was apoplectic. “You can’t go with historical information based on hearsay from a waitress!” I reminded her it was Cliff telling the story. Who gives a shit if he’s right? She hung up satisfied.

My other research firm story is not so amusing. When my partner, David Isaacs and I were creating the MARY show for Mary Tyler Moore in 1985 we set the series in a Chicago newspaper. We gave the research firm a list of about twenty newspaper names. They came back with five or six that had cleared. We selected the Chicago Post. We filmed the pilot and then David went to Chicago to supervise the filming of our opening credit (yes, we even had opening credits back then). We had posters on the side of buses showing Mary.

At 9:00 the next morning I get a call from a gentleman who said he just saw a bus go by and was very concerned. He was the editor of the Chicago Post. I picked my jaw off the floor and said I’d have to get back to him. I then called Chicago information and sure enough there was the Chicago Post. The research firm had fucked up BIG TIME! MTM contacted him and was willing to arrange a settlement for use of the name.

Fortunately, the words Chicago Post were nowhere in the newsroom set. But the Post editor figured we’d have to reshoot the whole pilot at a cost of several million so he really had us over a barrel. He asked for a fortune. MTM countered with a very fair offer. He said they were bluffing. They gave him a deadline. He didn’t bite. We became the CHICAGO EAGLE. It cost a few hundred dollars to loop Eagle for Post in dialogue and a few thousand to reshoot the bus shots in Chicago. Far less than it would have cost had we settled. FAR less. But can you imagine the hassle? All because the research firm (who we fired, you’d be surprised to learn) didn’t employ as one of their resources the damn phone book.

Comedies are BACK!! Kinda. Sorta.













Yesterday I presented a general overview of this year's series pick-ups. Today let's focus on comedy (since drama is the same doctor shows/lawyer shows/cop shows/sci fi shows/procedurals/and spin-offs of the above with names of cities tacked onto the title).

ABC’s MODERN FAMILY is getting good buzz. Advertisers found it “flat out hilarious”. I’m not quite sure Don Draper would know a great comedy but still, it’s encouraging. MODERN FAMILY is a mockumentary about three suburban families.

For ABC’s comedy night, all four entries feature actors who have already starred in at least one hit comedy – Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Ed O’Neill and Courtney Cox. Yes, they're playing it safe but give them credit -- they could have gone with Alex Karras, Jeff Conaway, Susan Clark, and Fran Drescher.

FOX is being a little more chancy. Their midseason entry, BROTHERS stars Michael Strahan, whose previous acting experience was playing defensive end for the New York Giants.

Every year there seems to be two shows that are exactly the same. This year it’s COUGAR TOWN with Courtney Cox as an older woman dating a younger man and CBS’ ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE starring Jenna Elfman as an older woman dating a younger man. I’m sure this was a wildly popular premise among women network executives.

In maybe the weirdest pick-up, FOX renewed ‘TIL DEATH for a full season. Last year it did so poorly that FOX yanked it off the schedule in November and there are still a ton of episodes that remain unaired on top of the 22 new episodes just ordered. As long as FOX never puts 'TIL DEATH back on its schedule it could go for ten more years.

Gone is ACCORDING TO JIM (there IS a God!) and SCRUBS will be back but Zach Braff will only appear in six episodes. The industry is now nicknaming it AfterSCRUBS. I have some AfterMASH scripts if they need them. Just change "Soon-Li" to "Elliot".

NBC, once a broadcasting network, will be shelving 30 ROCK until midseason. Uh, it wins the Emmy for Best Comedy every year. Wouldn’t you sort of want that show on the air? Watch. The minute their first new show tanks it’ll be back on the schedule. So I’m guessing October 1st.

My best wishes to all the writers of all these shows. Keep the torch lit. The foundation of television has always been comedy (whether they know it or not). In success it's Jed Clampett hitting oil. And now more than ever, boy do we need to laugh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2009 Upfronts recap

The Upfronts are over, the smoke has cleared, and the final tally for fall pickups is 32 new scripted series – 21 dramas and 11 comedies. So percentage-wise, that’s 33% sitcoms. Clearly an improvement over past years but remember, NBC has officially thrown in the primetime towel and scheduled Jay Leno every weeknight at 10. There go two or three potential new nurse dramas (leaving us with only three).

A couple of the networks have given up on Saturday night completely, airing reruns of dramas rather than new product. (What a contrast to the 70s when CBS Saturday night was the biggest night of the week with ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, BOB NEWHART SHOW, and CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Today it’s NCIS reruns.)

SAMANTHA WHO? would have been picked up but ABC insisted producers cut $500,000 off of each episode’s budget… thus making it SAMANTHA HOW? The producers declined. Too bad. It was a decent show.

A couple of shows switched networks. MY NAME IS EARL apparently will move to FOX (I'm waiting for final confirmation but TBS is also interested) and MEDIUM will join the CBS lineup. NBC wanted to give MEDIUM a smaller order so the producers happily jumped to CBS who offered more. And now of course NBC is saying the show under-performed and they didn’t want it anyway. Had the producers agreed to stay at NBC they’d be claiming it’s the crown jewel of the network.

Greg Garcia, creator of EARL, was hardly miffed over leaving NBC. His quote: "It’s hard to be too upset about being thrown off the Titanic."

Both CBS and ABC are trying to establish a comedy night on Wednesday.

CBS added one new comedy. ABC ordered four and FOX ordered four. FOX then fired their comedy development VP.

Then there are the two almost-networks. No comedies ordered by the CW and NBC picked up two. NBC also (barely) renewed CHUCK after producers agreed to some "tweaking". I imagine that means cut the budget. Instead of a 3-D episode they may be forced to do 2-D. And they've made a product placement deal with Subway. Sarah Walker will now work at a Subway sandwich shop (thus becoming the smartest person EVER to work at a Subway). Oh, and the show won't air until next March after the Olympics.

Watch for more product placement deals in the future. It's going to be just like the 50s with tobacco companies dictating creative directions.

But of course the big story is that out of these 32 new series, a whopping 20 are owned by the networks . The only network that actually ordered more shows from outside production companies than in-house was ABC. 7 of the 10 were not ABC productions. The rest of the networks (and NBC) just stocked up on more of the shows they themselves own. Were they the best shows under consideration? You’re expecting me to say no but the answer is – probably because they owned most of the pilots too.

Tomorrow I’ll delve into more specifics comedy-wise. This season’s trends, what has good buzz, surprises, and the show that got renewed despite being yanked off the air last November.

P.S. If you were away all weekend, check out my Saturday post on the Worst Songs of All-Time. Always looking for new candidates.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day and then staff work begins

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, and trashing reality shows. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, convince non-Mac using colleagues to finally wise up and get a Mac, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scattershot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.

Week two you’ll come in and the show runner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.

Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that new Kindle, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books on your nightstand, caught up on my archives, and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.

The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them. And so it begins.

Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Worst Songs of All-Time

I've been doing this blog for so long I actually am starting to have annual traditions. One is the "Worst Song of All-Time" list. The fun is reading your cringeworthy suggestions. So let me know which tunes need to be added. There are, uh... "No Boundaries".

Here are a few to get you going.
Honey....Bobby Goldsboro

Good Morning Starshine....Oliver

The Night Chicago Died....Paper Lace

Billy Don't be a Hero....Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods

One Tin Soldier....Coven

My Boy Lollipop.....Little Millie Small

Surfin Bird....Trashmen

Mule Skinner Blues....Fendermen

He Hit me and it Felt like a Kiss....Crystals

Transfusion....Nervous Norvis

Ballad of the Green Beret....Sgt. Barry Sandler

Laurie...Dickie Lee

Deck of Cards....Wink Martindale

Hooray for Hazel....Bobby Roe

Yummy Yummy Yummy....1919 Fruit Gum Co.

My Dad...Paul Peterson

Timothy....Buoys

Unicorn Song...Irish Rovers

Watching Scotty Grow...Bobby Goldsboro

I've Never Been to Me...Charlene

Paper Tiger...Sue Thompson

Wildfire...Michael Murphy

Indiana Wants Me...R.Dean Taylor

Letter From Elena...Tom Clay

Little Black Egg....Nightcrawlers

Disco Duck...Rick Dees

Baby I'm a want you....Bread

Past, Present, Future…the Shangri Las

Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald....Gordon Lightfoot

Girls girls girls are made to Love...Eddie Hodges

Seasons in the Sun...Terry Jacks

Love Jones....Brighter Shade of Darkness

Heartbeat is a Love beat -- Delfranco Family

The Streaker...Ray Stevens

She Can't Find Her Keys...Paul Peterson

Ringo...Lorne Green

I Sold My Heart to the Junkman....Bluebells

Gallant Men....Senator Everett Dirkson

Which Way you Goin Billy....Poppy Family

Torn Between Two Lovers....Mary McGregor

Happiest Girl in the USA ...Donna Fargo

Ben...Michael Jackson

Open Letter to my Teenage Son...Victor Lundberg

The Men in my Little Girl's Life....Mike Douglas

Tin Man...America

Johnny Loves Me...Shelley Fabares

I Put a Spell on You...Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Claire...Gilbert O'Sullivan

Walk like an Egyptian…the Bangles

Today is Cindy's Birthday....Johnny Crawford

Close to Cathy....Mike Clifford

MacArthur Park...Richard Harris

Locomotion...Grand Funk Railroad

The Americans...Byron McGregor

Haunted House...Gene Simmons

Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town....Kenny Rogers

Bottle of Wine....Fireballs

Wait For Me...the Playmates

How am I supposed to live without you…Michael Bolton

Sad Movies make me cry…Sue Thompson

Martian Hop....Randells

Skinny Legs and All....Joe Tex

Hello Hello....Claudine Longet

Tutti Fruitti....Pat Boone

Mrs. Robinson....Frank Sinatra

We are the World…USA for Africa

Do the Clam....Elvis Presley

Hello…Lionel Richie

I Remember You…Frank Eifield

Sometimes when we touch…Dan Hill

Uh oh (part II)….the Nutty Squirrels

Wam Bam (Shang-a-Ling)….the Silvers

Laugh at Me...Sonny & Cher

Little Green Apples....O.C. Smith

I Wish I were a Princess...Little Peggy March

You Really turn me on...Ian Whitcomb

I'm Henry the Eighth....Herman's Hermits

Muscrat Love...Capt. & Tanille

Sit on my face, Stevie Nicks...the Rotters

Jingle Bells...the Barking Dogs

Downtown...Mrs. Miller

Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady...Helen Reddy

Candy Man...Sammy Davis Jr.

Puppy Love...Donny Osmond

Touch me in the Morning...Diana Ross

Another Somebody done somebody wrong song...B.J. Thomas

Float On…the Floaters

Dominique…the Singing Nun

Lovin' You...Minnie Riperton

How does that grab ya, darling….Nancy Sinatra

Chick a Boom...Daddy Dew Drops

Mmmmm Bop...Hanson

You Light up my Life…Debby Boone

Neanderthal…Hot Legs

Call Collect...Art Linkletter

Karma Chameleon…Culture Club

Please Mr. Please...Olivia Newton John

Mickey...Toni Basil

Old Rivers...Walter Brennan

You Better Sit Down Kids...Cher

Indian Lake...Cowsills

Ding dong the witch is dead....Fifth Estate

Master Jack...Four Jacks and a Jill

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep...Mac & Katie Kissoon

Wild Thing...Senator Bobby

Tall Paul...Annette

Feelings…Morris Albert

Dreams of the Everyday Housewife…Glen Campbell

Roses are Red…Bobby Vinton

Stayin’ In…Bobby Vee

Chevy Van…Sammy Johns

England Swings…Roger Miller

Patches…Dickie Lee

Popsickle…Jan & Dean

I am Woman…Helen Reddy

Playground in my mind…Clint Holmes

Wind Beneath my Wings…Bette Midler

Trying to stop the feeling…Barry Manilow

The Doggone Girl is Mine…Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney

Ain’t Gonna Bump with no Big Fat Woman…Joe Tex

Speedy Gonzales….Pat Boone

I'm Not a Juvinile Delinquent...Frankie Lyman & the Teenagers

Dead Skunk...Louden Wainwright III

Friday, May 22, 2009

One of those great moments as a writer

This is the episode of CHEERS David Isaacs and I wrote that featured the "Wang Chung" line. Of all the episodes we wrote, this is one of my favorites. And I learned recently that James Hues, the lead singer of Wang Chung, said in an interview that his kids were more impressed that Wang Chung was mentioned on CHEERS than in the music. How cool is that???

Some background on the episode: It's the only show we ever did where we wrote no outline. That was the exercise. We had the idea of doing Frasier's bachelor party and wanted it to be stream-of-consciousness, go in whatever direction it wanted, and have the freedom to go off on bar talk riffs. This was the result. Everybody have fun tonight...





Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cybill vs. Christine Baranski

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

Mike from Atlanta asks:

What do you do when the supporting character begins to overshadow the main character? Examples: the Barney character on How I Met Your Mother, Christine Baranski's character on Cybill, Dr. Johhny Fever in WKRP and even the Steve Urkel character in Family Matters (he wasn't a regular until later in the season).

It depends on the show and the star. Most of the time the stars accept it because they realize that with this breakout character (a la the Fonz) the show is a big hit. Otherwise, it's thirteen and out. In the case of Cybill though, Christine Baranski’s popularity caused much drama and acrimony on the set. Think the queen and Snow White. I am so glad I wasn’t one of the dwarves who worked on that show. Yikes!

Not to tell tales out of school but I understand Alex Karras and Susan Clarke really resented Emmanual Lewis who played Webster. But Jesus, the show was called WEBSTER.

I will say this, from day one everybody on FRASIER embraced David Hyde Pierce and recognized how supremely talented he was. And no one was more supportive than Kelsey Grammer.

Since most comedies are ensembles, egos tend to be in check. But there’s always that chance, especially when you have gifted thespians like Alex Karras and Susan Clarke.

Bob Summers wants to know:

What are your thoughts on turning movies (theatrical releases) into a series? "M*A*S*H" and "Alice" work, but I'm frustrated watching the first season of "The Paper Chase" on DVD. It was a great movie. The series just doesn't come close.

Usually they don’t work because the TV adaptation feels like a dinner theater version of the original movie. Big stars are replaced with faint carbon TV actors. MASH made the jump, in my opinion, because the writing was so stylized and great, they went against type with Hawkeye and Trapper, they were lucky enough to snare Alan Alda, and CBS stuck with the show. People forget that MASH was nearly cancelled in its first year.

PAPER CHASE was actually a pretty successful series in its initial run. And it had the advantage of having the star of the movie, John Houseman, star in the TV version as well. Maybe the exclusion of Lindsay Wagner was why the show wasn’t a smash. However, getting the film star to also star in the series is not always a guarantee for success. Nia Vardalos did little to rescue MY BIG FAT GREEK LIFE. Of course, in that case I don't think divine intervention would have helped either.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER worked better as a TV show than movie and I credit Joss Whedon for that.

Other misses include NINE TO FIVE, PRIVATE BENJAMIN, DIRTY DANCING, and CLERKS.

That said, I still think VOLUNTEERS would make a great TV series. Think of it, every week blowing up another bridge in the village.

Ironically, I bet there are now more movies from TV shows than the other way around.

Leave your questions in the comment section. As always, many thanks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

AMERICAN IDOL -- If I'm being honest...

Wow! What an upset! Kris Allen won. The All-American fresh-faced boy next door beat a theatrical guy who wore leather and eyeliner. Who knew??? This country is not yet ready to crown a young man who looks like Liza Minelli their next American Idol. Not that Kris didn't deserve it but clearly Adam was the more interesting, original choice. And I suspect will have the greater career (whatever that means). They could both be stars or in five years one could open for the other at Magic Mountain.

Still, it was Adam who jump-started the series. He's the one everybody was talking about, he's the reason you watched every week. My guess is all those tweenage girls who were so shattered last year when David Archeletta lost vowed they would never let that happen again. Hell hath no fury like a middle schooler with a Twitter account!

Of course the real winner here is AMERICAN IDOL. People will be talking about this for days.

I felt bad for both of them on the final performance night having to sing that insipid song co-written by Kara DioGuardi.

Go farther and deeper and don’t give up your dreams, there are no boundaries, climb every mountain, spread your wings, reach for the stars
.

Those lyrics might inspire Mike Tyson to bite someone's ear off but otherwise they’re nothing but a string of tired clich├ęs. And the person who co-wrote that drivel is telling other people they’re not artists?? Mark my words: after this week you’ll hear “Letter to my Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg on the radio before you ever hear “No Boundaries”. More on Kara later.

Here are my overall thoughts on this season. And please understand that I’m a fan of the show. At one time I loved it. It was the perfect blend of music, controversy, and stupidity all wrapped into one highly entertaining hour of live cheese. I just think they’ve gotten off the track.

AMERICAN IDOL has become American Airlines. You get far less for your money and it takes much longer to get to your destination.

In a Fox effort to get as much as they can out of their one cash cow (SIT DOWN, SHUT UP never panned out as the national phenomenon they expected) I’m sure they put pressure on IDOL to expand as much as they could. Y’know, a half hour here, fourteen hours there. But with no real new program content what we were left with was cocaine cut so thin it would pass a Major League Baseball drug test.

All of the “improvements” this season were designed to pump more air into the already stretched balloon. Adding a fourth judge. Good God, why? Two of the ones they already had were as useless as highway signs in Braille. Then, to compound matters, they hire a woman so annoying, so whiney that I find myself preferring the sound of a car alarm. And she’s still a better judge than songwriter.

Another “improvement” was to expand Hollywood week. They took 300 hours of Hollywood auditions and edited them down to 298 hours of airtime. Topped off by an entire night of kids stepping into an elevator that led to their doom. So much for follow your dreams, reach for the sky, etc. There may be no boundaries for Kris, but for the other 99,999 there definitely are and the sign at the border read KEEP OUT.

Once the live broadcasts began the show started to show some life. We were treated to actual performances. 90 second snippets that passed for songs but still! Of course we were now two months into the season already. (Compare that to 24 where by week eight more people had died than in World War I.)

This is the “psychopaths and opportunists on parade” portion of the festivities. Topping this year’s crop of loons was Tatiana Del Toro who was so off-the-charts obnoxious that Kara was tolerable. It’s like when your face is on fire you tend to forget that your tooth aches.

Here again, the producers’ “improvements” allowed whackjobs like Tatiana to just keep coming back, much like the Terminator or floods. The problem is after eight seasons we’ve become so conditioned to the freaks and losers that there’s nothing surprising or even entertaining about them anymore. So Tatiana on her knees wailing and groveling for one more chance is now as heart wrenching as the TV Guide program crawl.

Finally the Top 13 was selected (in previous years it was the Top 10). This gave producers the opportunity to stretch the show to two hours or more for weeks. Mentors were once again enlisted. Vocal advice from such noted singers as guitarist Slash, film director Quentin Tarentino, and actor (with a movie conveniently just opening) Jaime Foxx. Were fellow crooners Dick Cheney and Roseanne unavailable?

When they finally had to limit the performance shows to an hour it was like squeezing a Minnesota Viking into Nicole Richie’s leotards. First the judges had to team up and that was a disaster. Silence Simon so Kara could question everyone’s “artistry”. The cardinal rule of show business: You never replace Curly with Shemp if Curly is still alive.

Results shows that used to be a half hour swelled to sixty minutes. So there were now 58 minutes of shoe leather rather than 28. The rest of these hours were filled with former American Idols hawking their new singles (a Taylor Hicks pity booking), Ford commercials (they're zany these kids!), recaps of recaps, Up With People production numbers that transformed the tattooed contestants into Osmonds, and plugs for iTunes, tours, video downloads, their website -- pretty much everything short of Paula’s jewelry line and bottles of Mighty Mendit.

But unlike past years, the caliber of contestants (once you weeded out “Bikini Girl” and the future Mickey Rourkes) was much higher this season. Adam, Danny, or Allison could have easily beaten the "Soul Patrol", Jordin Sparks, or "the Velvet Teddy Bear (Ruben Studdard -- see how fast we forget?). All the more reason to be frustrated when performances were truncated so Randy had time to say “mad vocals” fifteen times a show instead of nine.

So congratulations to Kris. And Adam, who will probably get even more notoriety for losing. Most of the others from this year's crop will fade into the mist although Tatiana will surely resurface if they ever do a remake of SYBIL.

There’s a rumor that next year Fox plans to expand the show even more. This ranks up there in hubris with ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium. I hope it's not true and I'll just conclude by reminding you of that one great truism of Broadway.

“Cut out twenty minutes and the show will run for two more years”.

Tryouts for next season begin soon. Eagle scouts only need apply. See you in January.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Double dating with Frank Sinatra

Here's another excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the 60s. Note: After the AMERICAN IDOL finale I will post a review of the entire season.

But for now, let's stagger back to September, 1965...
...Meanwhile, willowy 19 year old actress Mia Farrow began dating a “real” senior – Frank Sinatra. He was 49 at the time. It would have been great to double date with them. Maybe go to the Friday night Taft football game, and grab a pizza at Shakey’s. You know what else Frank would like? A popular activity among popular kids was TP'ing someone’s home. That meant showering the house in streams of toilet paper. I can just imagine Frank tossing a roll, saying this house looked vaguely familiar and then realizing, “Hey, this is where the kidnappers held my son!”

School rivalries were big in the San Fernando Valley, especially in the fall when football reined supreme. Taft had two rivals – Canoga Park High and Birmingham High. Canoga was our nearest competitor. They had an older stucco campus and a much rougher crowd. The rivalry would have been bigger had we not been afraid to go to the Canoga games.

So we needed another rival more our socio-economic level. Birmingham High in Encino fit the bill. Good football programs and instead of knife fights you just had Jews taunting each other that their temples had inferior lecture series.

The fall semester was also basketball season. Having suffered through basketball boot camp in the spring I intended to get my just rewards and actually “play” the damn game. I was assigned to the “B” team, which is essentially junior varsity. And I was terrible. Only if there was twelve seconds to go in the game and we were leading by at least 65 points would the coach send me into the game, and usually with instructions to just stand underneath the basket and let myself get fouled. After maybe three games I was cut from the team. But the coach had a proposition. How would I like to become the varsity manager? I would collect the balls after practice. That seemed very demeaning to me, insulting even. Until I learned it would satisfy my P.E. requirement. Sold. I was team manager for three years. And for the next two springs I was manager of the varsity gymnastics team (same coach) where my chief responsibility was to hand out chalk. Not many people can say they lettered in two varsity sports and never once took a shower.

One very big perk of being a manager during basketball season was that I got to be the P.A. announcer at home games. Since I always wanted to be a sportscaster this was just my dish. But I was fired from that too when I caused a major incident during the big Taft-Chatsworth game. I thought I saw a Chatsworth player signal a ref so I said, “And Chatsworth wants a time out.” The ref heard that and charged a time out to them. Well, the signal was apparently for something else (Ooops. My bad.) and the Chatsworth coach went ballistic. This resulted in a technical for our team. Now our coach was livid. In short order everyone was screaming at everyone else. Chatsworth made the technical and eventually won the game… by one point. (Ooops. Reeeeeally my bad.) I spent the rest of the games icing ankles.

Thus concludes the section on my vaunted athletic career in high school. Or any other time in my life .

AMERICAN IDOL season finale review tomorrow. Hint: I hate Kara's songwriting almost as much as I hate her judging.

Monday, May 18, 2009

STAR TREK

NO SPOILER ALERT REALLY NECESSARY!!!

The trailer tells you more than I will.
What’s more implausible, time travel or a summer blockbuster that doesn’t disappoint? STAR TREK kicked ass – on both accounts. Okay, some of the rocking in the theater might have been from the 4.7 earthquake but the effects were good too.

J.J. Abrams, who understands that the key to a good action flick is the story and not how many explosions you can set off in two hours, does a nifty job in re-energizing the musty Star Trek franchise. Seeing the Enterprise crew when they were young and brash and could fit into their velour uniforms was inspired. STAR TREK meets the MUPPET BABIES.

Newcomer Chris Pine was terrific as the young Captain Kirk. I’m sure in forty years he’ll make an excellent Denny Crane too. Zachary Quinto did young Mr. Spock proud. There must be some Vulcan in his family somewhere because he brought a real believability to the role. Winona Ryder played his mother, always shrouded in a hood and robe – all the better to lift props when no one was looking.

The young Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, and Uhura were all there and "admirable" but Simon Pegg as Scotty almost stole the movie. Quick aside: We did an episode of ALMOST PERFECT where there was a STAR TREK convention and we wanted members of the original cast to guest. We inquired about Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura and she passed saying she didn’t “do episodic”. What?? We got Walter Koenig and he was great. Again, we thank him for slumming it and doing network television.

Leonard Nimoy appeared as the elder Mr. Spock. Vulcan dental work is apparently no better than earth’s. But I loved seeing this beloved STAR TREK original. I wonder if they asked about Nichelle Nichols and she said she didn’t “do prequels”.

Query (as Spock might say): Do all space villains other than Darth Vader have to look like Ming the Merciless from FLASH GORDON? Eric Bana’s evil Captain Nemo was Ming but after a drunken night in San Diego that resulted in elaborate face tattoos. But he was a worthy adversary and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a super villain say, “Hi!”

Kudos to Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman for their thrills & spills screenplay. And thanks for not making STAR TREK “dark” like every other super hero/action/adventure franchise. Yeah, Kirk’s dad died but it’s much more fun to see him raise hell than become goth boy.

The pace was great, the action sequences boffo, and all your favorite STAR TREK gadgets were there – phasers, beaming people aboard, heat shields, Vulcan mind melds, even phones.

And if you’re into having sex with green women, this movie is for YOU!!

STAR TREK – I give it 5 stars, 2 galaxies, and 1 1/2 novas (I had to take 1/2 off because Captain Nemo's enormous spacecraft was black. How many fender benders with other spacecraft is that gonna cause because you just can't see it in the dark?)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The earthquake

Oh, that's what it was! I was in the DGA theater watching a screening of STAR TREK. At the time I felt a rumbling and thought, "Wow, that J.J. Abrams really knows how to create realistic special effects!" Anyway, I'm fine and my review of STAR TREK follows Monday night.

Sure, NOW it's all "Glee"

I read an article recently about the new Fox show GLEE that will premiere in the fall but the pilot will sneak preview following the AMERICAN IDOL finale. It was created by Ryan Murphy who also created NIP/TUCK. The premise seems intriguing. An hour high school themed show that weaves in subversive musical numbers. So I guess it’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL meets “the Carver”.

The article was glowing. Kevin Reilly of Fox and Dana Walden, the president of 20th TV were touting Murphy as a genius. They were thrilled with the originality of the series, how bold and innovative it is. The young cast similarly was singing (and dancing) Murphy’s praises. It was just a big ol’ glorious love fest!

But as I read the article I thought to myself, “Ah, the honeymoon period.” Enjoy it everybody. But should the show premiere with less than stellar reviews, and should the numbers be disappointing just watch. The network and studio will turn on a dime. As will the actors.

Forget all that hand-off treatment. Networks go from nirvana to panic in less than 60 seconds. Murphy will be deluged. The network will want casting changes. Can they replace the two stars with Tatiana and Sanjaya? Do they have to do the musical numbers? Are the scripts too dark? Is the show too original? Too innovative? Might the budget be a little high? Can they re-shoot the pilot (even though it has already aired?) Everything will be questioned. The title music, the wardrobe, the props. What if the show wasn’t set in a high school?

The actors will now question lines and motivations? Kids who three months ago were waiting tables and singing oldies at Edie’s Broadway Diner will have concerns over where their characters are going. They’ll parrot suggestions their friends and acting teachers have made. Parents will request a meeting with Murphy.

Stunt casting of course will be the network cure-all. Could they get Obama? Or Susan Boyle?

Get ready for time slot changes. And “hiatuses”.

Hopefully none of this will come to pass. Hopefully GLEE will live up to its name. And it will receive a much better fate than say PUSHING DAISIES. Boy were those early articles amazing!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What to see and do in LA

It’s a slow day in LA. Kiefer Sutherland is charged for head butting someone. Ho hum. I know this is the time of the year when people start planning their vacations and if Los Angeles is among your destinations, here are a few things to see and do.

Walk along Sunset Blvd at night close to the curb. You never know which star is going to hit you with their car. You might get Halle Berry’s autograph and insurance information.

If you want to see celebrities go to Vicente market in Brentwood. Okay, it may be fired local news anchor Paul Moyer but it’s a name.

Go to Phillippe’s French Dip sandwich place downtown. Great atmosphere. You might be standing in line with the mayor, a homeless guy, and a rock star. Not sure if they do it anymore but Phillippe’s used to be the weekly hangout for former circus clowns. The Nate N’ Al’s for bozos.

Have a Pinkberry yogurt. It’s all the rage. I have no idea why. You’d think there was cocaine in it.

Visit the Grove. This is Disneyland without rides. An outdoor shopping mall that looks like Main Street USA. LA’s version of an urban neighborhood – Cute by half facades and an Apple Store.

Bobs Big Boy in Toluca Lake takes you back to the fabulous 50’s, when there was car service, double-deck hamburgers, thick milk shakes in silver goblets, and the greasers from high school who stuffed you in a toilet are there to terrorize you again.

See a ballgame at Dodger Stadium. Bring a transistor radio to listen to Vin Scully for the first three innings. Then bring a portable TV to listen to Scully call the rest of the game.

Ride the Metro. LA has a great subway system. But don’t ask an Angelino for directions to a station. No resident of the city has ever heard of the Metro.

For you culture vultures, there’s the Getty Museum and the Fredericks of Hollywood Museum of Bras.

Go to Mann’s Chinese Theater and see if your feet fit into the footprints of big stars like Marilyn Monroe or Trigger.

While in Hollywood, fall by Amoeba records. It’s the largest, greatest, most comprehensive record store you’ll ever see. And the staff of scary, tattooed, pierced, spiked hair freaks with chains dangling from every orifice are all courteous and knowledgeable.

And then there’s Chinatown, Jake. Of course there’s a Chinatown in every town.

For souvenirs and gifts for those folks back home, swing by Melrose Ave. and check out the fine selection at Condom-nation.

Sight-seers, there’s always the La Brea Tar Pits. Big black pools surrounded by chain linked fences. It’s amazing to think that way back millions of years in prehistoric days dinosaurs fell into those pits and constructed those fences.

Get a Map of the Stars Homes. Who knows? You might get lucky and see Ronald Coleman coming out to get the paper, or Lucille Ball throwing out Desi.

Unfortunately, LA’s top tourist attraction, the Lever Brothers Soap Factory has closed. The tour of the lye vats was not to be missed.

Don’t forget the Griffith Park Observatory where they filmed classic scenes from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. True story: the observatory was named for wealthy tycoon Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land. In perfect Hollywood Babylon fashion, he once served jail time for getting drunk one night and shooting his wife, convinced she was conspiring with the pope to murder him.

Which reminds me, see Phil Spector’s house too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Supertrain

The first pilot we wrote and produced was for NBC in 1979. It did not get on the schedule. We got beat out by PINK LADY AND JEFF. Also that season, Fred Silverman -- once the golden boy of CBS and ABC -- premiered his big budget sure fire new smash hit, SUPERTRAIN. It proved to be one of the most colossal failures in the history of television.

Here are the first ten minutes of the pilot. Television at its worst but cheese at its very best.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ready for some Friday questions?

Richard Y asks:

When a comedy show is filmed in front of a live studio audience (the producers hope they are alive) 'Laverne & Shirley', and many others for example. How do they set up the sight gags that one would see coming if sitting in the audience (and not laugh) but when viewing at home the audience laughter is appropriately placed as the sight gag is reveled?

Often we’ll have a riser covering a set until we’re about to shoot. Or pre-shoot a scene up until the big reveal. But it’s hard to really hide surprise-jokes. Plus, there are always re-shoots and pick ups so the audience sees the same joke several times regardless. The real fun is doing complicated stunts live in front of the audience. I talked about the pie fight I staged on ALMOST PERFECT. We did that live. See for yourself. There was an episode of CHEERS my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote where Cliff chains himself to his house to stave off the wrecking ball. Eventually Norm cuts the center beam and the entire second floor crashes down just after they vacate the place. Even a toilet is seen crashing to the ground. That was all filmed in real time in front of 200 startled and delighted people. Kudos to James Burrows for that one.

From Mark Potts:

What do you think about actors writing and directing episodes of shows you work on?

It all depends on the actor. Alan Alda was a good writer and even better director. Other actors we have worked with were not. When they wrote scripts we had to rewrite them from scratch. One actor I worked with got to direct an episode every season. Normally he was the nicest guy. But when he became a director he became a raging maniac It was so bizarre to hear him order around people knowing the following week he would just be one of them again. Often times when actors direct multi-camera shows they just work with the actors on the stage and someone else (usually the camera coordinator) has to do the camera blocking because the actor has no clue how to do that.

But some actors have become so proficient as directors they've become that full-time. Peter Bonerz, James Widdoes, Melanie Mayron, Amanda Bearse, Will MacKenzie, Robbie Benson, Betty Thomas, Penny Marshall, David Steinberg just to name a bunch. There are at least fifty others. And that's just the ones who are still alive.

My problem in general with actors writing scripts is that they tend to give themselves all the good lines and other cast members are given short shrift. In one script by one series regular (who will remain nameless) he gave his co-star six lines for the entire episode. Of course we had to rewrite extensively.

My problem with actors directing episodes is that usually they try to be light in the episode and as good as they might be behind the camera they’re better in front of it.

That said, some of the best directors I’ve ever worked with were (and are) actors. Danny DeVito and Alan Alda top that list.

And finally:

Rob! weighs in:

I was watching an episode of Frasier last night, the one where they all go to a cabin in the woods, intended as a romantic getaway for Martin and Ronnie, and they all have weird dreams.

Martin's dream is this huge musical number, complete with dancing girls, fireworks, etc. Quite an amazing little number.

My question is, in terms of producing such an episode--that clearly busts the budget for that particular episode, doing something so elaborate.

Where does that money come from? Do you go to the network for extra $$ or do the producers take money away from other episodes that come in under budget, to put it towards something special?

Studios are given money by the networks for two prime time airings. This is the “license fee”. It is negotiated between the studio and network. If the show goes over budget the studio is responsible for the remaining costs. But the studio owns the show and can sell it into syndication if there are enough episodes and there is a market for that series (like say FRASIER). Then it’s a license to print money.

But most shows fail. And most of the time the studios lose money on series. Now keep in mind, today the networks own the studios so the lines are blurred over who owns what and who is responsible for what. The network controls everything.

Generally shows have a yearly budget. So if you do an elaborate dance number one week, the next week just have an episode that takes place in Frasier’s apartment that can come in under budget.

You’ll notice that with 24. There will be some spectacular stunts and helicopters and giant gun battles. And the next two weeks Jack will be in FBI headquarters. Another thing, to help pay for the cost of sets and production, usually if Jack Bauer goes somewhere he’s there for at least two episodes. A warehouse, the White House, etc. And you’ll notice a “day” on 24 usually begins around 8 a.m. That allows them to shoot the daytime scenes in the summer when it stays light until 8 and the nighttime scenes in the winter when shooting can begin as early as 5. Lots of little tricks go into getting the most bang for your production buck.

I don’t know how they do it on LOST though. Every week is elaborate and expensive. It’s a mystery – like everything else on that show.

What’s your question? The comments section awaits.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mr.Burns explains the HULU controvery to you

Cable companies are mad at HULU.com. It's complicated but I think Mr. Burns does a good job of explaining the facts.

INT. MONTGOMERY BURNS OFFICE – DAY


Smithers enters.

SMITHERS: You wanted to see me, Mr. Burns?

BURNS: My great-great-great grandson tells me that something called YouTube is a big hit on that world web netosphere thingamajiggy.

SMITHERS: Yes, it is. It gets millions of viewers a day.

BURNS: I want in on that action! How can we steal it and say we came up with it first? Like I did once with radio.

SMITHERS: Well, I think YouTube already too established to steal. But we can improve on it.

BURNS: I’m listening. At least in this ear.

SMITHERS: YouTube just shows clips. What if we formed a competing site that shows entire episodes of current popular shows?

BURNS: You mean like “Mr. Peepers” and the “Colgate Comedy Hour”? Oooh, how the kids love that one!

SMITHERS: I’ve taken the liberty of asking one of our lowly employees to watch television for 260 straight hours so we can determine which shows the average simpleton will want to watch. (checking clipboard) His name is Homer Simpson.

BURNS: Homer, you say? That’s it! I’ve just thought of the name for this new site. HOMO.

SMITHERS: Brilliant as always, sir. HOMO.com.

BURNS: Let’s launch it right away. I’m liable to forget in an hour so time is of the essence.

SMITHERS: Well, there are some issues to be worked out first.

BURNS: Issues? What issues?

SMITHERS: The cable company pays cable networks for the use of their product. It’s not going to want to pay if the public can see the shows elsewhere.

BURNS: Who owns the cable company?

SMITHER: Well, we do.

BURNS: And who really pays the cable networks?

SMITHERS: That would be the subscribers.

BURNS: That Homer fellow then. And who owns hundreds of cable networks that make up the current landscape?

SMITHERS: Us and maybe two others.

BURNS: We own the shows as well, do we not?

SMITHERS: All except “Mr. Peepers” and perhaps “Family Guy”.

BURNS: And if we put commercials in the shows we show on the interspace we get all of that ad revenue too, correct?

SMITHERS: Not to mention, the cable company – that we own – provides the access to the internet in the first place.

BURNS: So we charge the great unwashed for that. What are the issues? Is there a ninth or tenth way to screw Mr. John Q. Public that we’re not thinking of? I’m all ear.

SMITHERS: You’re forgetting about the writers, directors, and actors.

BURNS: Damn it, Smithers, we’re talking about providing entertainment to the masses! How do writers, directors, and actors figure into any of that?

SMITHERS: They have this misguided notion that just because they actually created and made these shows that they have some proprietary right to them.

BURNS: What?! Why that’s INSANE! That’s like saying when I have a bowel movement that I own it.

SMITHERS: You don’t?

BURNS: Certainly not. Nature does. It becomes part of the grand scheme of this planet I so informally call earth. This is a moot point anyway. I haven’t taken a bowel movement since the Berlin wall went up.

SMITHERS: Well, these so-called “artistes” believe they should receive two or three cents royalties for using their material.

BURNS: Which is it?

SMITHERS: Sir?

BURNS: Two or three cents?

SMITHERS: We used to pay them $9,000 or so for every network rerun so we’re still getting off much cheaper.

BURNS: You didn’t answer my question. Two or three cents?

SMITHERS: I’m afraid they’re going to want more. They know that we stand to make billions.

BURNS: Two or three? It’s a simple question!

SMITHERS: It’s more like a dollar even!

BURNS: No! Never! The only reason I'm not pounding on the desk is that I can no longer make a fist.

SMITHERS: Sir, you could always promise the dollar to them and then never deliver. Just like we do with their pension and health benefits.

BURNS: Still. It’s the principle!

SMITHERS: Well, Mr. Burns, I think you’ve found your tenth way to screw Mr. John Q. Increase fees and let him pay for the royalties.

BURNS: Royalties that we have no intention of paying. Yes. That I can live with. When can we be up and running?

SMITHERS: Just as soon as we finish uploading WKRP and “Cops” we’re ready to go.

BURNS: Smithers, this will be a huge success!

SMITHERS: Absolutely. Years from now when people say the word HOMO they will think only of you!

BURNS: Finally! A legacy!

AMERICAN IDOL -- Adam and the two other guys










Some idle idol questions:

How do they schedule only six songs in 64 minutes and still go over? Especially when, in years past, they’d do nine songs and finish on time.

Was Simon and Ryan in the tanning booth too long? Their skin was the same shade as Bob Evans’ – a orange heretofore never seen in nature.

And were they in the same tanning booth?

What was Carrie Underwood doing on SURVIVOR?

Why is Kara even there?

Who were some of those people they showed in the audience? They’re now even less familiar than stars of Fox comedies.

Where’s the suspense? Adam, Kris, and Danny are like a presidential election between Barack Obama, Ralph Nader, and Lyndon LaRouche.

Now to the performances. The judges chose one song and the contestants got to choose the other.

Danny Gokey, as per Paula’s suggestion, did some forgettable song about a dancing relative, originally sung by Trent D’Arby, an artist whose name was so forgettable he forgot it himself and now is known as Sananda Maitreya. Simon criticized the song choice (I love that) and the hens were split on Danny’s dancing. I thought he did fine and could become the most nonthreatening performer to have a hit on the rock charts since the Singing Nun.

His other song was Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”. I know I’m going to take heat for this but I was disappointed. Joe Cocker had heart, Joe Cocker had raw emotion, Joe Cocker had seizures. I felt none of that from Danny. Just vocal gymnastics. Rarely will a guy plead his love to a girl by blasting a note to her from across the Acropolis.

Kris Allen did “Apologize” as per Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber’s suggestion. Maybe the best moment of the year was when Simon called out Kara for picking this nothing song and then criticizing Kris’ performance of it. Kara is that obnoxious cousin every family has that you hate yourself for thinking this but you wish she had married Ike Turner.

Kris’ next number, Kanye West’s “Heartless” was better. The judges thought his acoustic arrangement was daring and risky. Sorry but that’s pushing it a little. Daring and risky is tackling an acoustic arrangement when you don’t know how to play guitar.

Of course Simon had the best song selection – “One” by U2 for Adam Lambert. And of course Adam (who went back to the Joey Heatherton look) gave the performance of the night. Although, is it just me or is his high-pitched screech getting just a tad annoying? Please don’t burn a big A on my lawn. I’m just askin’.

For his own number Adam did Aerosmith’s “Cryin’”. At this point he could have done the “Unicorn Song” and still received the same four blowjobs from the judges. He’s a lock to win AMERICAN IDOL and either become the next Elvis Presley or Bette Midler.

And for Kris and Danny, hey, losing isn’t so bad. At least you don’t have to go to Africa.

Tomorrow: Montgomery Burns explains the whole Hulu/cable company controversy to you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Comedy writers can be bad ass

In the summer of 1990 I was broadcasting for the Tidewater Tides, the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets. It was a Sunday afternoon game and I had to read a commercial for the Day’s Inn at Military Circle – “Home to the visiting teams of the International League”. I noted that our dreaded rivals, the Columbus Clippers (Yankees ) were coming to town next and said, “Why don’t you call them all at 5 a.m. and welcome them to Tidewater.” Now you have to bear in mind that no one listened to minor league radio broadcasts other than players’ wives.

Or so I thought.

The next afternoon I arrived at the park only to learn that the Clippers had been besieged with pre dawn wake up calls. Needless to say they were pissed.

I guiltily went down to their clubhouse and apologized to their manager, Rick Down. He was very gracious, said he had heard it on the air and thought it was pretty funny. He also felt this would stir up the team, I might have done him a favor. (It did. They won that night. So now I had pissed off both teams.) But Rick was very forgiving.

The Clippers’ trainer however, was not. He went ballistic when he saw me, calling me words that were too harsh even for DEADWOOD. And he vowed to get back at me when we were in Columbus the following weekend.

I calmly asked if he ever watched CHEERS. He said, “Yeah, why?” wondering why that was relevant to anything. I then asked if he ever caught some of the bar wars episodes between Cheers and Gary’s Old Towne tavern? Again, he said, “Yeah. So what?” “Well, I wrote those shows, motherfucker, “ I said, “Do you really want to get into a practical joke war with me?”

That was the last I heard of the trainer.

The moral is clear.

Do NOT fuck with comedy writers! EVER!

We may appear harmless but we can fill your office with sheep just for looking at us funny.