Friday, July 31, 2009

My Twitter experiment

I see I have a little over a thousand people following me on Twitter. First off, thank you followers. I’ll be tweeting more often now that I know what a tweet is. (recent example: I'm only sorry John Updike is not still with us. Imagine him on Twitter? I'd love to see him try to get a single thought into 140 words.)

So anyway, with that as an idea of the solid gold you might receive from me on a somewhat regular basis, along with updates on new blog posts, I’d like to try a little experiment. I’d like to see if I can get more people to sign up for my Twitter account this weekend.

The goal: 4,563,472.

By Monday.

It’s kind of like a telethon except there’s no good cause and no Norm Crosby or Tony Orlando to provide entertainment. On the other hand, I’m not going to go all “Gene Scott” on you either. Gene Scott was an LA televangalist in the 80s who owned a local station way up on the dial. He was on the air 24/7 teaching the gospel, but 23/7 of it was pimping for money. And I’ll be honest, I don’t think Jesus saw one dime of the return. Gene would sit on a big wooden throne adorned with buffalo horns and yell at you to pick up the phone. Sometimes with utter contempt he would just stare at you… for an hour. Eventually the FCC kicked him off the air. Too bad. Even just staring, he was still more entertaining than half the cable networks on today. But I digress.

I want to test out this whole “viral” theory. So if you sign up, and tell one friend, and maybe mention it once on your Twitter page I should be able to get 4,563,472 followers lickity split!

So just click on this link or the Twitter icon.

I'll be updating all weekend on Twitter to let you know how I'm doing.

Again, thanks for your support. And bless you my children.

Update: 11:30 PDT. 1,130. Off to a bit of a slow start.

Lindsay Lohan on e-Harmony

It's going around but if you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat. Done for Will Ferrell's website. You've got to admit Lindsay is a GREAT sport. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

David Hyde Pierce: guest blogger

This Friday’s question comes from reader Alyson:

I recently rewatched Frasier - great show, even better than I remembered. I'm curious about the fencing scene in "An Affair to Forget" from season 2. Awhile back, you wrote a nice post about Jane Leeves and how she learned how to shoot pool for an episode. So my question is: We all know David Hyde Pierce is a great physical comedian. Did he learn how to fence for that episode, did he already know, or was he just winging it?

Not knowing the answer to this I asked someone who does – David Hyde Pierce. Alyson, here is his response:

As I recall, the writers asked me about my fencing experience before they wrote the episode. I’d been trained in stage combat by a guy named B.H. Barry, and I’d done two big sword fights for B.H., one in Cyrano and one in Kevin Kline’s Hamlet. ( In each case I both fought with and understudied the lead, which meant I had to learn both sides of the fight So, theoretically I could challenge myself to a duel and lose.) Coincidentally the actor who played Maris’ fencing instructor had also trained with B.H., so since we spoke the same language fencing-wise, we were able to learn a fairly elaborate fight in a relatively short time.

Hope that’s helpful. Happy Summer,
Dhp

Many thanks to David Hyde Pierce along with David Lee.

The episode was directed by Philip Charles MacKenzie and the script by Anne Flett-Giordano & Chuck Ranberg won the Emmy that year for writing, beating out the more famous “Matchmaker” episode.

Here’s the actual scene. What’s your question?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I was an original Mallrat

Here's another small excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 60s. It's 1964 and I'm too young to drive. My guess is today nothing's changed.
The Topanga Plaza opened!

Finally! A place for teenagers to loiter in air conditioned comfort!

The Topanga Plaza was L.A.’s first indoor mall. So take that West Covina and Terminal Island! It’s one thing to just call yourself a great suburb, but now we had an Orange Julius, Montgomery Wards, and Morrow’s Nuts to prove it! No wonder the Soviet Union viewed Woodland Hills as a target!

The mall was about the size of a city block, two tiered, flanked by Broadway and May Co. department stores with a Monkey Wards in the middle. There was also an ice skating rink (a reminder that in other parts of the world they had this thing called “winter”), Don Paul’s Seven Seas food court (affectionately known as Seven Sewers), and the world’s coolest fountain.

Beads of water (actually glycerin) ran down these ceiling-to-floor thin transparent plastic or nylon tubes creating a rainforest effect. When psychedelic drugs became fashionable a few years later this fountain became a big attraction. Just staring at it for ten hours became very commonplace.

On the opposite end of the mall there were kiosks with exotic birds and monkeys in large circular cages. That might not sound like a big deal but I don’t know one kid who didn’t love those monkeys.

But the real attraction to anyone under 20 was the Wallichs Music City record store. Owned by the ubiquitous Clyde Wallichs, his Music City stores were an L.A. institution. The main branch was at Sunset & Vine and was the hang-out capitol of Hollywood. It stocked the most complete collection of records anywhere and far more important – had listening booths! This was a revolutionary concept. You could take a sample album into this little glass booth and play it. Without having to buy it!! Why not just pass out free crack?

Every kid flocked to the Topanga Plaza for one simple reason. Most of the time we were all bored. Despite what you’ve read about how exciting the 60s were, those of us who grew up in it spent a great deal of time looking for crap to do. When our children were out of school we filled their summer days with karate lessons and dance classes. Back then we just hung out, sitting around the food court, wandering aimlessly through stores (like I gave a shit about the “Raj of India’s” Pooja Accessories Sale).

From time to time they filmed WHERE THE ACTION IS at the Topanga Plaza, which was quite ironic considering there was no action there ever. This was a daily afternoon dance show on ABC that was all shot in “groovy” locations. If anything helped perpetuate the California Myth it was this show. They’d be at the beach, the zoo, Marineland, drag strips, Pacific Ocean Park, Knotts Berry Farm, Griffith Park stables, Pickwood Pool, Busch Gardens (a combination tropical forest/brewery – Disneyland for tosspots). I say “myth” because if you didn’t have a car (or worse, not know how to drive) you were shit out of luck. In all those anthems to Surf City never once do they mention getting there by city bus.

Frequent guests were Paul Revere & the Raiders. It would be a thousand degrees and they'd be on the beach in Malibu in their heavy wool revolutionary war garb. Too bad they didn't have shorts and tank tops in the 1700s.

Tomorrow: David Hyde Pierce guest blogs and answers one of your Friday questions.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'll never make fun of Ryan Seacrest again

Last weekend I co-emceed the Hollywood Stars softball game at Dodger Stadium. Over fifty celebs participated including former slugger Larry King. Lots of movie, TV, NFL, and music stars. Even a couple of contestants from last season’s CELEBRITY APPRENTICE so you know they’re celebrities.

My job was to interview the stars during the game. It fulfilled my dream of always wanting to be Ryne Seacrest. I had been given bios of everyone. Rob Lowe’s failed to mention he had once passed on a pilot of mine but otherwise they were very complete. The Dodger staff is first rate.

The assignment did not start well. My very first interview -- I said, “I’m here with Joel Madden, the lead singer of Creed.” He then says, “Uh, Good Charlotte.”

Oops!

In addition to feeling two hundred years old at that moment I also felt like a complete idiot. I had read the wrong thing. Would it shock you to learn I do not own a Good Charlotte CD?

I covered as best I could and got him to agree to add Dodger organist Nancy B. Hefly to the group because she always wanted to be in an emo band. But there was no getting around my gaffe.

Having done live radio and TV for years I can tell you it wasn’t my first. But what I’ve learned is this: own up to it. And if possible use it to your advantage.

My next interview was with Kate Flannery from THE OFFICE. I introduced her as the lead singer of Creed. In fact, I pretty much introduced everyone as the lead singer of Creed except for Scott Stapp.

It’s a time honored comic device -- turn your goof into a running joke. You can’t buy it back; you might as well have some fun with it.

I named my baseball book IT’S GONE… NO WAIT A MINUTE! after my signature blown home run call in the minors. And when I did play-by-play for the Seattle Mariners, we had a feature in the post game show – “the Mikeda Power Tools Play of the Game” where we replayed the game’s most exciting moment. If I muffed a play or had a pitcher “throwing up” in the bullpen that’s what I would reprise as the Play of the Game.

It just occurred to me, if President Obama starts saying Congress acted “stupidly” and the press acted “stupidly” and the cabinet acted “stupidly” I’ll know he reads my blog. Cool!

Thanks to Jon Soohoo of the Dodgers for the top photo.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Einstein couldn't figure out this remote

I just got my new DVR!!

My old one stopped showing program guides, which is a problem if you want to do something crazy like record future shows. So the cable man came out, said “Yeah, everyone’s old DVR’s are starting to break down” (by “old” he means two years). But no worries. He’d just replace it with the brand new (refurbished) model.

Ten minutes later the old was swapped out for the new. Turns out it’s a completely different system and interface. But it offers more recording space and some other advantages but the cable guy couldn’t recall them. Maybe it’s also a toaster. I don’t know. He didn’t either.

Anyway, he showed me the remote and how to access the various features. The old system was complicated. You had to click one button, there were all the channels and categories on the screen and you just scrolled around, zip zip zip.

But the new IMPROVED box – all that complex one button pushing was gone. Replaced by a far easier system!

If you want to turn the TV on you press TV then power then cable. Be careful. If you accidentally hit the cable button twice you could turn off the box, which means your future shows won’t be recorded. If you push power before either TV or cable your garage door opens.

When you want to see what’s on just press guide. That’s the teeny tiny button on the upper left side of the remote. This takes you to a grid. You scroll up and down. Once you find a show you want you hit okay. To get info on that show you must find the info button, a smaller button even then guide. This gives you a synopsis. Another tiny red button allows you to record. Another menu asks if you want to record the series? Another menu provides you options.

With me so far?

How do you play these recorded shows? That’s easy!! Hit the exit button next to the guide button and then hit menu. Or don’t exit guide but hit guide again for the menu. Little icons appear. Scroll through those to find the one you think might possibly mean recorded shows. Maybe the little heart. Nope. Not that one. Find the back key – a pimple of a button on the right side. Hit okay. Try another icon. Nope, that’s sports. Shit. Where’s the back button again? Or I could hit the exit button and start all over. Eventually you find it. A list of your shows appears. Hopefully one or two are the ones you programmed. Scroll to one and hit okay.

Now find the handy play/stop/fast forward/rewind buttons and start your show. When you want to delete you…uh… let’s skip that one for now. Maybe you hit menu then guide or guide and then menu or guide and then volume up. And of course you can always hit exit to take you back or back will take you back as well. The icon might be a red X or skull and crossbones. It’s not the little heart. I know that.

To find shows to record hit the little magnifying glass icon (this is assuming you’re in the guide as accessed by the menu) to find the search engine. This is where you find shows by title. If you use search to find out various instructions and features, you’re shit out of luck. This search allows you to find shows by title. A row of five boxes appears at the top of the screen. Each box will ask you to scroll through the alphabet to find your desired letter. Repeat this process five times. Don’t accidentally hit okay or the cursor will drop down to the show selections. But if you do screw up, no problem. Just hit exit, last (which is back), then exit again, and cable. What could be simpler?

It’s highly likely you’re going to push a wrong button on occasion and suddenly you have the Spanish track or closed-captions. Normally you’d go to search to learn how to solve the problem but the five boxes appear and you realize you’ve doubled-back to the titles of future shows.

Hit menu or guide or exit or last or cable or power. That should take you somewhere where you could push those buttons again and go somewhere else. No wonder they didn’t leave an owner’s manual. This stuff is just toooo easy!

You can fast forward or rewind through current shows. Whatever channel you happen to be on will record from the moment it’s on. Unless you then go to On Demand (I think the icon depicts a little cartoon Pharaoh banishing the Jews). In that case, the channel recording only begins after you leave On Demand (by hitting fast forward then exit then guide then source then mute).

Can you record a show while watching On Demand? There is a way to do it but no one knows how. The creator of this system died and all of his notes were donated to the Magic Castle, where only member magicians can pour through such documents to learn the secrets of pre-taping THE DAILY SHOW.

The remote also features a little yellow triangle button, a blue square, red circle (not to be confused with the other red circle that looks just like it but is record) and a little green diamond. I believe they’re for decorative purposes only. Either that or they run the system. There’s a day button, which I can only assume makes it light outside, two page buttons (maybe this remote will also control your books), and four self-explanatory PIP buttons (that range from swap to +).

There’s also a way to switch over to your DVD player and I’m signed up for the DeVry Institute’s three year college program on using your remote so I’ll have to get back to you on that. I believe DVD players come in the second year.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I smell toast burning.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I hate Katherine Heigl... again

Wow!  I'm getting a lot of new readers who all Googled "I hate Katherine Heigl".  I think she's brought more people to my blog than her latest movie.   In any event, welcome. 

My favorite ungrateful actress is at it again! Katherine Heigl on Letterman last week said this about her first day back on the GREY’S ANATOMY set: “It was – I’m going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them – a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean.”

Poor Katherine Heigl. What she neglected to add was this: This “cruel” shooting schedule was only to accommodate HER and her needs. The producers graciously shuffled things around so she could go off and do promotion for her new film. Also, with union rules, the producers had to pay a ton of overtime and penalties to make this happen. The thanks they get is Katherine Heigl going on national television hoping to embarrass them.

This is an extreme case of chutzpah, but it’s not uncommon that when shows become big hits cast members become much in demand. They’re offered movie parts, plays, free cruises, you name it. All of a sudden, the show that launched their success is now sort of an imposition. Much more fun to go off and do a movie or a limited run on Broadway. So producers are put in the sticky position of either denying them these outside projects or moving heaven and earth to accommodate them – as if it’s easy to complete principle photography on a normal schedule. (This is of course irrelevant to Katherine the Ingrate who only thinks of herself.)

Imagine you're a showrunner. You get that call from the agent. She gets on the phone and is all sweet and friendly. You know she wants a favor. When she gets on the phone and is curt and bitchy it’s to complain about something on her client’s behalf. So this is the bubbly persona today. Sure enough, can she ask a big favor? Her client has an audition/chance to do a movie/been asked to co-host the Rose Parade/been invited on Elton John’s yacht/wants to do a play in Florida/has tickets for Springsteen in Finland/been offered a commercial in Japan/needs to go on QVC to sell her doll collection/been offered a seat on the upcoming space shuttle/has been drafted by the Astros.

If you say "no" your actor sulks and becomes a huge pain in the ass. If you say "yes" you inconvenience two hundred people who are already hopelessly overworked and behind schedule anyway.

Most of the time you say "yes", even though it’s a big headache for all concerned and will likely be costly.

And then it gets worse. Two actors have scheduling favors. And they conflict. Or they can’t say for sure when they’ll be back. Still, you twist around Rubik’s Cube and try to make it work.

I dearly love the cast of CHEERS but by the last season we went down for runthrough one time and it was Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, and the script supervisor, the first and second AD, and the prop guy. I recall going back to the office to rewrite and someone said they didn’t think a particular Sam joke worked. I blurted out, “How the fuck do we know? Brian did it!”

Again, as show runners we’re happy our actors are doing well. Many struggled for many years and thanks to our show are now getting recognition and opportunities that were never there before. And they want to take advantage. I understand that.

But at least be grateful when we shift things around on your behalf. The CHEERS cast always was. We were forever thanked. And if we needed one of the actors to do a network promo or come in early so we could pre-shoot something -- whatever – they were always there.

Katherine Heigl did not embarrass the producers of GREY’S ANATOMY. She embarrassed herself. She once again exposed herself on national television to be a self-centered prima donna. And I hope another actor on GREY’S ANATOMY needs a few days off and Katherine has to work a 19 hour day. Not that she would.

P.S.
Wow! Lots of comments and opinions. Let me just add...
I did see the interview....
It didn't look like she was joking to me...
Saying she was just joking sounds like damage control...
I'm not fat.

Now your turn. Comment away.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Where are the damn nutmegs?

Hard to believe it's been three years since my musical played off-Broadway. And by "off-Broadway" I mean a little hamlet in Connecticut a hundred miles away. Anyway, for those of you still looking for a summer vacation location, here again is my travelogue from beautiful but weird Connecticut.

Back from five weeks in East Haddam, Ct. and nearby Chester, Ct. where the musical I’ve co-written, THE 60’s PROJECT is in production. My eternal gratitude to Michael Price and the super folks at the Goodspeed Theatre for their hospitality. support, and bug balm. I’ve never worked with a classier, more professional bunch.

If you love Americana (which I do more than just about anything other than money), the “Nutmeg State” is for you. And Sourtheastern Connecticut was particularly beautiful and affectionately goofy.

Stayed at a lovely apartment. Very tastefully furnished. Naked drawings and statues throughout. Even the drinking glasses featured topless women. It’s like I was in my own house.

A local pet store sells reptiles and “critters”. And if you buy a cage they’ll give you two free “long haired dwarf mice.”

Roadside sign spotted: SCENIC ROUTE, NEXT 0.3 MILES.

A fork in the road -- one sign points to Camp Beth El, the other to Christian camps.

There are few Cajun places in the south as good as the New Orleans restaurant in Old Saybrook. Their noontime special is a FAT ASS LUNCH. I qualified.

“Casual” is another name for “fried” when it comes to funky fun seafood restaurants. Lenny & Joe’s is the best.

People could not be nicer.

Keep a can of OFF with you at all times.

If there’s a ten minute thunderstorm anywhere in Connecticut, power and cable goes off for the entire state. Usually for 24-30 hours. The state symbol should be a flashlight.

As green and lush and gorgeous as this place is in the summer I bet the fall is even better. With all the salt in the Connecticut River the red and gold colors of autumn must be extra striking and vivid.

If you go to Killingworth, take a drive down Roast Meat Hill Road. I’m not kidding. There’s really a Roast Meat Hill Road.

The Merchant House on US 154 sells Vera Bradley apparel (e.g. purses) and fireworks. Ideal for milady terrorist.

The local East Haddam liquor store closes at 8. And all day Sunday. Blue laws are still in effect. You don’t see a lot of Yale students here.

My 60’s PROJECT writing partner, Janet, got a manicure where the top coat was hoof veneer. Beware any beauty parlor where their celebrity clientele includes Secretariat.

Take I-84 to New York. The highway is smooth as glass. The second you cross into New York state you hit potholes.

Boy, they love Nathan Hale. One good quote (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”) and the guy is a God. Attractions include his house, his school house, his barbershop, the Dairy Queen where he used to make Blizzards.

Connecticut is also the birthplace of Anika Noni Rose who will become a big star after DREAMGIRLS is released.

The Tylerville convenience store sells worms in the freezer section between Ben & Jerry ice cream and tater tots. There’s something terribly wrong when worms are more expensive than long haired dwarf mice.

Towns have colorful names like Moodus and Old Lyme (the actual home of Lyme Disease).

I felt like I was in Twin Peaks. And come to think of it, after the first week, I never saw Laura Palmer. Hmmmm?

At the local Bank of America drive-thru ATM I waited in line behind a motorcycle gang. Guess they needed some extra cash for new chains.

Good morning! The menu at a Middletown diner leads off with “Breakfast Cocktails.” If you go out for pancakes, better have a designated driver.

Do not pass a market without stocking up on bug spray.

Most restaurants close on Monday nights. Every one that is open sells pizza.

Big tourist attraction in East Haddam is the Gillette castle. I can just picture their knights, all using swords with the patented four blades for a smoother, closer kill.

There is not yet a Starbucks in every small town. This might not be true by the time you read this.

Sign in Centerbrook: CALAMARI RECYCLING. From what TO what???

The ambience is very New England. By that I mean a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. And their coffee is FAR better than Starbucks.

All you see are people on motorcycles. What you never see are motorcycle helmets. They should rename one of the more treacherous streets Motorcycle Meat Hill Road.

If you bought a house here in 1792 you could sell it today for at least double what you paid for it.

There is better cellphone service in Antarctica than Southeastern Connecticut.

Had lunch at the Griswold Inn in Essex, which claims to be the oldest Inn in America – serving since 1776. There must be a hundred old Inns on the East Coast making that same claim. This one had the very first hand blower in their bathroom. But at the time it was just a guy who blew onto your hands.

If you’re hungry, haven’t eaten in four days and only have one dollar, spend it on mosquito netting.

Larry, Darryl, & Darryl are alive and work at every gas station in the state.

There are wonderful hiking trails. You can see nature at its finest and discover Laura Palmer’s body.

A lot of these small towns look like movie sets. If you like bed & breakfasts, Laura Ashley-like dress shops, tchochkes, and cemeteries this is your heaven.

Some big Indian casinos nearby. For you history buffs, Tony Orlando is appearing frequently.

Based on the number of sightings, I’m beginning to think Connecticut is an Indian word for road kill.

There is a Goodspeed airport in East Haddam. One Cessna, a red shack that says 42B on the roof (no running through long terminals trying to make connections.) and a burned out Quonset hut (the “Admirals Club”). It still takes two hours to get through security. Only airport employee is Grizzly Adams on a tractor demanding $5 landing fees.

In Deep River the ice cream parlor is next door to the tattoo parlor. Perfect for the motorcycle gang that has a sweet tooth.

Only passed through New Haven. Wanted to stop by that venerable jewel of the Ivy League, Yale and tell the students to stop trying to be comedy writers. Go into law or politics for Christsakes! You’re at Yale!

And never got to Hartford. Didn’t want to fight all the tourists stampeding to the Insurance Capital of the World.

But in five lovely weeks I’m sure I saw all the major attractions of the Nutmeg State…except, now that I think about it, nutmeg.

Teleseminar feedback

Thanks to everyone who participated in my teleseminar. What did you think? Was it worth the no money? Since I'm a newbie at this teleseminar business any feedback would be helpful -- good or bad. What did you find valuable? Was there any point where you thought to yourself, "Here's five minutes of my life I'll never have back"? Again, thanks. Hope you had as much fun listening as I did pretending I knew what I was talking about.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Miss "I don't know how to view a rough cut lady"

A rough cut is a edited pass at a show or movie. It isn't color corrected, the sound is uneven, effects are sometimes missing, and if there's music at all it's generally just a temporary track. We're required to send rough cuts of our episodes to the network for notes. You'd be shocked at how stupid some of them are. "Aren't you going to have music here?" "The color of her jacket seemed to change. It was really distracting." That sort of nonsense. And these people are SUPPOSED TO KNOW it's a rough cut and that these imperfections will be smoothed out in post production.

Many don't. Yes, you're right. How DO they keep their jobs?

I came across a funny parody of the Budweiser "Real Men of Genius" campaign that salutes "Miss I don't know how to view a rough cut lady".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who is my favorite writer?

First off, thanks to all of you for the lovely comments on yesterday’s post. I shall continue to defend Patty Heaton even at the risk of Anonymous calling me names.

Also, today’s the last day you can sign up for my 90 minute teleseminar (which happens on Saturday). It’s free and here’s where you go to register.

Now for some Friday questions.

Vermonter17032 (as opposed to the 17031 other Vermonters) writes:

QUESTION: I'm wondering how show-changing decisions get made. For example, during the fourth season of Cheers, Lilith was introduced in one episode as a date for Fraiser. In season five, she was back in a larger roll one episode, and then a few shows later Fraiser and Lilith are cohabitating and she became a regular character. How does that process work? Did someone decide that Fraser needed a steady girlfriend/wife, or was Bebe just so good you couldn't keep her out of the show?

These are the happy accidents producers hope just fall into their laps. A guest actor happens to really score. So you bring them back and give them a little more to do. They hit it out of the park and eventually they wind up regulars. Lilith is a perfect example. As you mentioned, she originally was just slated to be in one three page teaser. Another example is Reverend Jim on TAXI. He was introduced in one episode as a guy hired to perform a marriage ceremony. And then there’s Klinger on MASH (who knew a guy in a dress would be funny?) These are gifts from God. Our reward for having to take stupid notes.

Sonia asks:

One of the best ideas I've seen in all these years was making Daphne getting fat because of her love for Niles. How did you think about this? How did you think it could work?

I wasn’t on staff of FRASIER at the time but I think this story turn was necessitated because Jane Leeves got pregnant. Quite a few producers have been faced with this writing challenge but I agree on FRASIER they handled it deftly and inventively. But with the FRASIER staff, would you expect anything less?

And Scott Siegel has two questions. Actually, three now that I think about it.

Who is your favorite writer, or what scene in a movie/tv do you wish you wrote?

Larry Gelbart is my all-time favorite. I assume you mean comedy. There are others I greatly admire but I don’t want to list them because I know I'll leave someone out. And then Woody Allen is calling me pissed. I don’t need the headache.

If I had to choose one single comedy scene I would say the “Putting of the Ritz” scene from Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. I laugh just as hard now as I did when I first saw it.

My next question is about those artists/writers that have given you praise for something you wrote (or said they wished they had written that). Are there any that really stick out in your mind and say, "Wow, that was special praise".

Alan Alda in an interview said that “Point of View” was one of his all-time favorite MASH episodes. I cherish that.

Director James Burrows surprised the heck out of me by telling a reporter that an episode we wrote of CHEERS, “The Big Kiss-Off” was one of his faves.

But the greatest praise, and I’m still stunned to this day, is that Kurt Vonnegut said on Charlie Rose that he wished he were good enough to write a CHEERS. Holy shit! I am still utterly blown away.

What’s your question?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My 1500th post!

It seems like only 1300. My original reason for starting this blog was to hopefully entice an editor into buying one of my book ideas. So in that regard it’s been a total bust. But otherwise, this has been a great experience. You’ll excuse me for for getting a little nostalgic. Through this blog, over the last 3 1/2 years…

I got shut down once for being mistaken for a porn site.

I received a lovely note from Sky Saxon’s widow.

I pissed off Diana DeGarmo’s mother.

I’ve made friends with writers I otherwise never would have met. Mystery writers, playwrights, romance novelists, syndicated columnists, Pixar scribes, TV critics, food critics, bloggers, stand up comics, screenwriters with much bigger careers than mine, late night pundits, lyricists, Vanity Fair senior contributors, and television writers from many foreign lands including Canada.

I got invited to Porn Star Karaoke (that’s not why I was shut down).

Larry Gelbart once left a comment.

I launched free teleseminars. The next one is Saturday.

Hopefully my writing advice hasn’t sent too many people off in the wrong direction.

On occasion I have been almost as funny as Tallulah Morehead.

AMERICAN IDOL invited me to a taping. And I got to sit next to Sanjaya’s sister!!

I talked Earl Pomerantz into starting his own blog. Check him out. Who knew you didn’t have to be mean to be funny?

I get hate mail any time I post anything remotely political. Or mention Patricia Heaton.

I got death threats from Opie & Anthony fans.

The LONDON TIMES has re-printed my Oscar reviews.

I've provided some nice links to other sites. Does anybody even look at recommended links lists?

A few of you find my travelogues amusing.

I get to show off my talented kids.

My goofy contests proved to be a hit. Or maybe it was just the elaborate prizes that sparked your participation.

I’ve heard from network and studio executives, pleased about something I had written, not expressing shock I was still in the business.

The LA TIMES mis-printed something, which caused Aaron Sorkin to call me a disgruntled out-of-work writer.

I received a nice apology from Aaron Sorkin.

I got the opportunity to rally support for the Writers Strike.

The BBC interviewed me about the strike. They asked if the internet was having an impact? I said this was my fourth strike and you’ve never interviewed me before. They took that as a “yes”.

I’ve received Blog-SWAG like books, DVD’s, and an Astroglide travel mug. No, I was not shut down for that either.

I get to shamelessly promote my radio shows on Talkradio 790 KABC.

Nathan Lane took issue with something I said. Boy did he.

I've developed thick skin when it comes to AfterMASH...

And MANNEQUIN 2.

Colleagues I’ve respected did guest posts. Thanks again to Peter Casey, David Isaacs, Sam Simon, Bob Gale, Allan Burns, John Masius, and whoever I accidentally left out.

CNN.COM stole one of my post ideas.

I was able to show episodes of ALMOST PERFECT and BIG WAVE DAVE’S so even if only five of you watched, that’s five more than would have ever seen them otherwise.

I have something to post on Twitter that isn’t “I’m not really hungry but I could eat”.

The SITCOM ROOM got launched.

The producer of INSTANT BEAUTY PAGEANT got in touch to defend his show. No defense was necessary. I love that show. It’s the hosts I hate.

The HUFFINGTONPOST invited me to contribute pieces for them. So I get hate mail from their readers when I write anything vaguely political. Or about Patricia Heaton.

I get my mail mixed up with the Ken Levine who created BIO-SHOCK. Turns out I don’t have nearly as many fans as I thought I did.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY said nice things about me. That wasn’t always the case when I had shows for them to review.

I’ve gotten to introduce you to some wonderful writers you might not be familiar with like Treva Silverman, Jerry Belson, Bob Ellison, and Steve Gordon.

I get to write whatever I want and NEVER get notes.

And best of all, I’ve gotten to connect with great people like YOU.

Thanks so much for your support and bookmarks. On to the next 1500. Or at least 1300. You'd think one goddamn editor would find this site, even by accident.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eliza Dushku and my swimming pool

I will not be attending COMIC-CON this year. I have my responsibilities with the Dodgers and well, I’m geeky enough as it is. But in honor of this gala celebration of sci-fi and Hasbro I will share a story about DOLLHOUSE. (There will be a whole panel discussion devoted to it so it qualifies).

One day last year we get a knock on our front door. My wife answers to find the location manager for a new pilot called DOLLHOUSE. It was a Joss Whedon production. She was aware of the name. He was my marching buddy one day on the strike line. Anyway, they were interested in using our pool for the pilot. They had been scanning GoogleMaps and from 300,000 feet our pool seemed to be the right shape and color.

He took pictures, said ours was one of a number they were considering, and gave her his number if we had any questions.

I came home that night and was not enthused. The thought of a film crew – sixty guys named Dave – trampling through my house and yard did not excite me. They always say they’ll leave the house exactly as they found it but do they really? What if they break my priceless bowling trophy? Plus, it’s just an invasion of privacy. I don’t want to be sunbathing nude while Dave, Dave, Dave, and Dave drag cables across the patio.

Plus there was a chance they’d want to film the second night of Passover, which is when we had 35 people coming to the house.

Yes, they pay you but weighing all the factors, it just didn’t seem worth it. I called the location manager, politely passed, and then, purely out of curiosity, asked what the scene was about. The conversation went something like this:

LOCATION MANAGER: Eliza Dushku would be swimming laps.

ME: Eliza Dushku?

LOCATION MANAGER: Yeah, she’s been cast as the star.

ME: Eliza Dushku? In my pool?

LOCATION MANAGER: Well, thanks for letting us take a look.

ME: Wait. Wait a minute. Eliza Dushku would be at my house? Swimming in my pool? Getting out and drying off? Maybe a few times? And you'd be paying me? Would I be allowed to be there?

LOCATION MANAGER: Of course. It’s your house. Have a good weekend.

ME: HOLD IT! Wait! I think we can do this. Yes. Definitely. I’m back in.

LOCATION MANAGER: But you said there was likely to be a conflict.

ME: What? The Jewish holidays? No, don’t worry about them. It's not like they’re carved in stone. Would I be allowed to invite my poker buddies?

LOCATION MANAGER: We found some other good pools anyway, so it’s really no big deal.

ME: Where? They can’t be as nice as mine. What if I waive the fee? The poker guys don’t have to come.

LOCATION MANAGER: Listen, I’ve got another call…

ME: Joss Whedon! He’s a very close friend of mine. I know he’s going to want to use my place.

LOCATION MANAGER: Well, you could always call him.

ME: I don’t know his number.

LOCATION MANAGER: Goodnight, sir.

ME: Tell ya what, could you have him call me? Ken Levine. We marched together at 20th. I wore the ALMOST PERFECT baseball cap. He asked “Was that a show?” Really. We got very tight.

DIAL TONE

ME: Hello…? Hello…?

They did not use my pool. Whoever’s pool they did use, they used multiple times. And the show’s been picked up for a second season so they’ll probably use that pool multiple times more. Oh, and they didn’t shoot during Passover.

So you talk about the one that got away. When they decide to stage SCHMUCK-COM, I’ll be hosting a session.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Actors: How to give notes to writers

Actors, here are some tips on how to convey your script concerns to writers in a way that might result in them addressing your problems without hating you, slashing your tires, or making you the butt of room jokes for seven continuous months.

One ground rule though: This is predicated on your note being a legitimate concern with the sole purpose of improving the show. There’s no hidden agenda of “this puts me in a bad light” or “I want to have the last line” or “this guy is not handsome enough to be my boyfriend”. We understand that you will never actually say your problem is “I don’t want the audience thinking I’m not attractive enough to snare a better looking boyfriend” so you will couch your objections in actor-double-speak. “It’s counter to my character’s arc” and that sort of shit. Understand this: we see through that crap immediately. And there’s nothing we hate more than arguing over the script under the guise of art and integrity when we all know damn well it’s purely about your vanity.

So, let’s assume you have a legitimate concern. We writers don’t like to admit it in public but we acknowledge that you live with the characters you’re playing, you internalize them, you do give them a lot of thought (sometimes too much thought), and ultimately you’re the one who will be in front of the camera, naked to the world. Begrudgingly, we also admit that a lot of your instincts are correct. Your suggestions many times improve the script.

So it’s just a matter of communicating your concerns in a way that will make us receptive to you and here’s the key – WANT to make those changes.

Quite simply, it’s all about showing us respect.

When we come down to the stage don’t glare at us like we killed your puppy. If the script doesn’t work it, we didn’t do it on purpose. Try to remain positive. Give us the impression that you’re not overly concerned, that you have every faith that we can fix it. Is that hard to do sometime? Yes, of course. But you’re ACTORS. Act!

One trick is to start by praising something. You love “this” but just have some issues with “that”. We know you’re bullshitting We do the same thing when giving notes to other writers. But we appreciate the gesture.

If you want us to shut you off completely just say, “My character would never say that!” Whether it would or not, you say those words and we hate you.

You throw a script on the ground, expect us to walk away.

Please don’t say something we wrote is “stupid”. I can’t tell you how many times an actor claimed a certain story point or character action was “stupid” and “no one would ever do this” when in truth it stemmed from an actual incident that happened to the writer. Don’t trap yourself. Just ask. You can very nicely say, “this bit seems a little out there. Do you know of anyone who really did this?” If the answer is no, our next response will probably be, “You think we went too far?” You smile and say, “Well, kinda, yeah.” Our rewrite will include examining that bit.

I worked on a show once where an actress, a noted British thespian questioned some bit of business by saying, “So my motivation for this is what, darling? I’m an out-patient?” Her way of registering protests was with slightly pointed humor. This can be disarming or really backfire depending on the tone. Be careful. In this case, she was a sweetheart and we knew there was no malicious intent. That line became our way of questioning something for the rest of the year.

If you don’t think your character would say something we’ve written please tell us (nicely!!) why. We’ll never expect you to come up with the alternate line, that’s our job. But guide us a little. We’re not mind readers. And if you can, explain your problems in plain English and not actor-speak. “This line goes counter to my emotional center” does not help us a whit.

Expressing your objection in the form of a question often softens the blow. “Don’t you think I’d be curious when I see him come to bed in clown make-up?” Often times it’s easier for us to just say, “We’ll look at that” rather than try to justify it.

And once we say we’ll address it just thank us and move on. Don’t keep belaboring the point. We got it. We’re on it. You made your sale. Walk away.

Sometimes we’re not sure if it works or not so we want to see it. When you show it don’t purposely sabotage it. Trust me, we can tell in one nanosecond if you are. And if you are, we’re likely to dig in our heels and insist that it stays.

Here is why we need you to give it your best shot in a runthrough. If you commit to the material and it doesn’t work then we know it’s our fault and not yours. By seeing it on its feet we can often see what’s wrong with the scene. An alternative might occur to us. A scene may not work but there are three great jokes in there that do and maybe can be saved.

Don’t try to win every battle. Give us a few. If we really believe in our best professional judgment that something works or will get the laugh, let us have it. We’ll be so much more willing to change something for you that we’re not as cock sure about. Again, it goes back to respect. Trust us a little.

Don’t question EVERY line. After awhile we’ll hide from you, or in the case of a drama, kill you off.

And finally, let me share with you the single best way to give a writer a note and almost be guaranteed that he’ll agree to fix it. This comes from Nick Colasanto (who played Coach on CHEERS). Whenever he had a problem (which wasn’t often) he’d start off by saying, “Look, I’m happy to do it just as written, but…” Then we would lay out his concerns. But the fact that he offered to do it as written, we ALWAYS, every time, went back and adjusted the line to his satisfaction. Try it. It will work!

Thanking us the next day when we have made your changes also goes a long way in the goodwill department.

Bottom line: we all want to make the best show. Unfortunately, we’re also all under tremendous stress, have giant egos, and are a mass of insecurities. These are some tips to help actors deal with writers. I bet you actors have an equal or longer list of things we writers can do better in dealing with you. I may flinch but I’d be happy to hear them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

So you think you can wipeout on a Japanese dance talent show?

I decided to spend a rare night off last week catching up on network television.

OH
MY
GOD!!!

Since when did the summer become an absolute toxic waste dump for cheesy reality shows?

Flipping around from one to the other, this is what I found:

I SURVIVED A JAPANESE GAME SHOW – Two teams of American idiots compete against each other on a Japanese game show similar to DOUBLE DARE but without the elegance. Rome Kanda is the Japanese host. Picture Crazy Eddie from his stereo stores or Sean Penn in MYSTIC RIVER. This maniac just shouts – EVERYTHING!! Even Sam Kinison backed off for a sentence or two.

The stunts are zany and wacky and we’re told on their website “hilarious”. In the episode I saw contestants had to kick soccer balls while wearing vision impairing goggles. Seriously, how uproarious is that? And then they hit beach balls off of teammates heads with golf clubs onto a grossly sticky surface while the other team had to remove the balls. And the kicker: the team retrieving the balls would get stuck and couldn’t move easily! Only a comic genius could have conceived a stunt so incredibly inspired. Contestants are slipping. The host is screaming. Tacky Japanese graphics in day-glow colors are flashing on the screen. A Japanese studio audience is doubled over with laughter at the dumb Americans, probably thinking “And we couldn’t beat these guys in a war?”

The winning team got to eat beef; the losing team went on a fishing boat trolling for seaweed. I had to turn it off at this point. My sides were splitting.

That was on ABC. Its lead-in was WIPE OUT. Twenty-four morons compete in giant Rube Goldberg-like obstacle courses, invariably falling into mud. Obstacles include such fan favorites as “Big Balls” and “Plank in the Face”. Are tears running down your face from laughter?

The only thing surprising about this show is that it’s co-hosted by John Henson of TALK SOUP. Isn’t this just the kind of thing he spoofs so savagely? It’s sad to see this brilliant satirist doing play-by-play on fat people socked in the chops by automated boxing gloves.

FOX countered with SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE hosted by British hottie, Cat Deeley. One of the judges is Nigel Lythgoe, whose claim to fame is being one of the producers of AMERICAN IDOL. How this qualifies him to judge dancing I do not know. When a group of men did an African routine he said, “Africa is a continent that puts up with so much crap but when they get together, they can really dance.”

The other regular judge is someone I’ve never heard of – Mary Murphy. Her bio on the show’s website claims she’s an “in-demand film and television star”. Oh. Okay. And it further states that she does “crowd pleasing work”. Talk about an impressive resume!

The contestants were all fine dancers, at least to me. But then I don’t have the trained eye of someone who is “crowd pleasing”. The hoofers all flew around the stage, spinning and leaping. What do I know? The women wore skimpy outfits and looked hot; the men were all ripped. No chance the zaftig girl from HAIRSPRAY would ever get past week one on this show.

During commercial breaks, the local LA Fox affiliate did their nightly news tease – showing footage of Michael Jackson with his hair on fire. It seemed to compliment the evening perfectly.

NBC aired AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, the U.S. version of the British hit show that introduced the world to Susan Boyle and destroyed her life. Like its fellow reality shows, the host was somebody I had never heard of. Nick Cannon. His bio boasts that People magazine cited him as “one of the top ten most successful young people in Hollywood”.

Huh?? For what?

The bio goes on to explain he’s “a multi-faceted entertainer: film star, comedian, musician, writer and executive producer of his own hit TV shows.”

Huh?? What TV shows???

His big contribution to the program was standing just off stage telling each contestant to “Go get ‘em, y’all!”

The judges are…

Piers Morgan (who?), the obligatory pompous British guy who apparently just won the CELEBRITY APPRENTICE show, so who better to judge talent? Prior to that he was a newspaper editor, the ideal training ground for any entertainer.

Sharon Osbourne – a complete joke, and then…

David Hasselhoff from BAYWATCH. That’s like letting Kellie Pickler determine Nobel Prize winners.

Acts I saw were a 74 year withered fungo bat dressed like Elvis doing a disco number, three Spice Girls wannabes, an AMERICAN IDOL reject, a double-jointed dancer, and a magician in a blue Phantom of the Opera mask. In other words – a freak show. AMERICA’S GOT WEIRDOS.

Meanwhile, the studio audience was not just enthusiastic, they were absolutely orgasmic over this WAITING FOR GUFFMAN level talent.

Jesus, I long for the days when networks would fill their summer hours with failed pilots, endless reruns, and Captain & Tenille specials. Has the world gone nuts? Seaweed fishing in prime time. Sharon Osbourne. Geriatric disco dancers. I should be given a $50,000 first prize check. I performed the most difficult task of all. I SURVIVED A NIGHT OF AMERICAN REALITY SHOWS.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hey, weren't you "Jerk at the bar"?

A trainer in my gym is also an actor. (I know – knock you over with a feather). He recently appeared on the Showtime series CALIFORNICATION playing the fan favorite, “Hollywood Asshole”. And knowing him, I bet he was good in it. Some of his previous roles included “Jerk at the Bar”, “Thug #2”, and to prove he has range – “Jogger”.

An actress I know has these impressive credits: “Vegas Showgirl” on CSI. Also “Bikini Girl”, “Sheik Girl”, “Cute Girl”, and “Homewrecker”.

Another actress friend boasts these credits on imdb: “Waitress”, “Saleswoman”, “Assistant Candidate #1”, and the part she’s best known for -- “Desperate Woman”.

And one of the most talented comic actors I know lists these on his resume: “Caterer”, “Waiter”, “Delivery Boy”, “Great Great Grandfather” (he was in his 30’s at the time), “Husband”, “Exterminator”, and my personal favorite – “Squid”.

Forget being a star, most actors in Hollywood would be thrilled for a role that actually had a name.

Usually these parts are one or two lines, usually day player roles. But not always. Remember the old guy who used to sit at the bar at CHEERS. His name was Al Rosen. He became a semi-regular. He had lines in probably thirty episodes. His name on the show was “Man Who Said Sinatra”.

“Sinatra” was the first line he was assigned, he got a good laugh, and a few weeks later the writers were looking to give a line to a bar patron and someone suggested, “What about the man who said Sinatra?” And thus a legend was born.

It’s not easy being an actor. And for every one who gets a part as “Punk #2” and “Guy in the Sewer” just remember – there are five others who auditioned for those parts and didn’t get them.

Yours truly,

Schmuck with blog

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

He told us that President Kennedy had died.

He told us that we had landed a man on the moon.

He walked us through national conventions.

No one was elected President until he said so.

The Viet Nam War ended when he said it was time to go.

He reported on the bombings of London.

And the Olympic skiers in Squaw Valley.

There were never any articles about his hairstyle.

We never knew whether he was Republican or Democrat.

He reassured us in times of national crisis.

Celebrated our triumphs and called us on our shortcomings.

He had no agendas.

He wasn’t folksy or perky.

He was the voice of reason.

The conscience of the country.

He was just… Uncle Walter. The most trusted man in America. And now that voice has been silenced. We’ve lost the last true journalist the broadcast industry will ever see. Just how monumental is his passing?

Name me one person, anybody, who could be called the most trusted man in America now. I can’t think of one either.

God bless you, Walter Cronkite. You were the best that ever was.

And that's the way it is.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How many F-bombs can you drop?
















Here are some answers to your Friday questions. I’ll also be answering over twenty more in my teleseminar on the 25th. It’s free. Go here if you’re interested.

Michael Tassone has a question and only uses the F word five times.

Are there any golden rules of thumb when it comes to using profanity in comedy? I think about the wedding singer in Old School who starts adding fuck to the lyrics he's singing. I thought he went one fuck too far. What do you think? Why is fuck so fuckin funny?

Obviously, it depends on the project. On DEADWOOD I assume a polish of a script meant adding fifty more. On HANNAH MONTANA you’d be hard pressed to get in one.

Assuming this is not for network television or a Sunday school play…

If a character you’re writing is foul-mouthed (like a sailor or rapper or anyone in a Judd Apatow film) then you’re just being true to who they are. But generally speaking I say less is more. Not because I’m a prude but because the word loses its impact.

Sometimes I feel writers use the word as a crutch. Isn’t there a funnier, more elegant comeback than “Fuck you, dude!”?

My basic rule of thumb: take the high road.

Bob Summers wonders:

Have you ever been forced to write an episode based on a real current event? (WKRP Who concert trampling episode, for example.)

I wouldn’t say “forced” but on MASH most of our stories stemmed from actual incidents. We did extensive research, interviewing doctors and nurses and veterans from Korea. Some of the real life stories they told were so outrageous we had to actually tone them down.

Also, have you ever been on a show where the premise was the victim of bad timing? (ABC's "Invasion" in 2005 about the strange aftermath of a hurricane debuts weeks after Katrina.)

On CHEERS we had a rule: never include an elderly public figure in a joke because we would be responsible for their death. If we had done say a Rose Kennedy joke, we just knew that five minutes before it was to air NBC would break in with a bulletin that Rose Kennedy had just died. We didn’t want that kind of blood on our hands.

David and I wrote a SIMPSONS that inadvertently was the victim of horrible timing. The episode is called “Saturdays of Thunder”. In it Homer feels he needs to be a better father so we had him go to the Bill Cosby Fatherhood Center. Channel 11 in Los Angeles reran that episode just hours after it had been announced that Cosby’s son had been tragically murdered. Needless to say they got phone calls.

And finally, from the lovely Mrs. Trumbull:

I enjoy Chicago's MeTV, home of "I Love Lucy," "Dick Van Dyke," "Andy Griffith," "Bob Newhart Show" "The Cosby Show" etc. All reruns. What is the typical deal for actors, writers and others these days on reruns?

It depends on what the guild contracts were when those shows were produced. For I LOVE LUCY, no one gets royalties. For shows in the 60s and early 70s I believe the actors, writers, and directors received residuals for only ten airings.

Starting in I believe 1978 the situation improved to where we all get residuals in perpetuity. We’re paid on a de-escalating scale of course, but free money is free money. I’m very fortunate to have come along during this era, which is why I’m so gung-ho union. I want to ensure that future generations of writers receive the same or better benefits.

Thanks for your fucking questions. If you have one just leave it in the fucking comments section.

My take on the Emmy nominations

The Emmy Award nominations have just been announced. As always, I’ll be reviewing the Emmy telecast. But here are a couple of initial thoughts:

One name conspicuously absent this year: mine!

Thrilled that FAMILY GUY made the cut for Best Comedy. But the SIMPSONS deserved that honor years ago.

Also nice to see HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER finally making the cut. But the funniest comedy, BIG BANG THEORY, didn’t.

Who would I have bumped? THE OFFICE. Not its best year.

22 nominations for 30 ROCK. I like their chances.

Nominees in certain categories have been expanded this year. So actors who still have been shut out should feel really snubbed and could make life on their sets a living hell for the next month. Showrunners and P.A.’s beware.

MAD MEN might not be a shoo-in this year.

Will this be the year that long deserving Hugh Laurie finally wins an Emmy? If he loses to Simon Baker who just smirks his way through THE MENTALIST I’ll be pissed. If he loses to Michael C. Hall for DEXTER, well, okay.

Hey, they still have a category for “Best Mini-Series”! Do they still even make mini-series? Same with “Best Main Title Design”. That category should be renamed “Best Ten Second Opening”.

Jim Parsons is to BIG BANG THEORY what David Hyde Pierce was to FRASIER.

Sarah Silverman earned a “Best Lead Actress in a Comedy” nomination by playing herself. How does that work?

Seriously. I wasn’t nominated for anything.

My vote for the “Best Lead Actress in a Comedy” even though she’ll probably lose – Christina Applegate for SAMANTHA WHO?

According to my scuttlebutt, there are a lot of writers and crew people in Hollywood rooting for anyone to win but Mary-Louise Parker.

The usual suspects are in the Best Competition Reality Series. Expect THE AMAZING RACE to win again. They could have expanded that category to fifty and I SURVIVED A JAPANESE GAME SHOW still wouldn’t make the cut. I’ll be reviewing that delight and other beauties like WIPEOUT next week.

Based on his work on the TONYS, Neil Patrick Harris is a great pick to host the show. Even better than former emcee, Heidi Klum.

Sentimental choices: I hope Phil Abraham wins “Best Drama Director” for MAD MEN, Ted Danson cops the “Best Guest Actor in a Drama” for DAMAGES, and the “Outstanding Music Director” Emmy goes to Harold Wheeler for DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Why is Charlie Sheen nominated for “Best Comedy Actor” and Jon Cryer nominated for “Best Supporting Comedy Actor”? I thought the kid was the half of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

Tracy Morgan got nominated for something and I didn’t?

Thrilled that LOST got recognized for Best Drama. Same with Michael Emerson getting a Best Actor nod.

How did Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig, two very funny ladies, get nominated for “Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series”? Since when is SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE a comedy series? Wasn’t it a variety show for the last thirty years or so?

If Dianne Wiest doesn’t win for IN TREATMENT Al Franken should demand a recount.

Wow! Bob Newhart was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor in a Mini-series Or Movie”. Payback for not winning every year for Dr. Hartley.

Heidi Klum was nominated and I was shut out?

Alan Alda was recognized for “Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series” for his stint on 30 ROCK. Alan has now been nominated in every category except “Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For a Series”. Maybe next year, Alan.

There’s a category called “Outstanding Special Class” where BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is up against the Bruce Springsteen Superbowl halftime show.

Steve Peterman, if you win for HANNAH MONTANA, I’ll be in my living room cheering.

Four of the five “Best Writing for a Comedy Series” noms went to 30 ROCK scripts. Deserving but where’s the love for BIG BANG THEORY?

Four of the five “Best Writing for a Drama Series” are episodes of MAD MEN written or co-written by Matthew Weiner. Even if he splits the vote he’s still a lock.

Speaking of locks, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.

Congratulations to all the nominees. And I guess I’m okay that I wasn’t nominated. At first I took it personally but then I realized, I didn’t do anything this year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Writers can't find work in adult entertainment

As if it wasn’t hard enough to make a living as a screenwriter these days, now another market is apparently drying up. According to a front-page article recently in the New York Times, the porno industry is cutting way back on scripts for their features.

Sidenote: What does it say about the state of the newspaper industry when this is on page one of the Gray Lady?

Due to the internet the average attention span of adult entertainment viewers is three to five minutes. (Attention span or task efficiency?) Not that every story needs to have the complexity of THE WIRE but five minutes is a little thin for a feature length movie even by porno standards. You don’t have to lay out the real estate agent’s backstory but you do need to explain why she’s showing a house nude. Incredibly, audiences don’t seem to care.

So screenwriters who might otherwise make a nice living in pornos are forced to lower themselves and write mainstream studio films instead.

At one time the adult industry was all about making movies with plots. The success of films like DEEP THROAT and BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR created the illusion that porno films might be suitable for more general audiences. Decent people like you and I might be able to justify purchasing a XXX-rated film because it’s not a feature about a gangbang and hot girl-on-girl action, it’s a study of lust in the old west. Porno producers had this fantasy that women would be drawn in as long as there was a plot. Women love a good story they reasoned and what could be a better one than a 21 year old horny housewife letting in a hunky tatted-up pizza delivery boy?

But now porno production mills are gravitating toward just sex scenes (“vignettes" they delicately call them) strung together by a loose theme, like “girls in glasses” or “sluts of the Vatican”. Free YouTube-type porno websites are showcasing small clips. DVD sales have taken a nose-dive. The adult industry is scrambling, looking for new profit opportunities. Their best avenue to date is mounting websites that people must subscribe to. And this requires new material updated daily. So these studios are just cutting to the chase, going right to sex scenes. Who cares why a smoking hot Asian girl is a cantor?

And thus a long-standing art form is soon to go by the wayside. Gone will the subtlety, the nuance, the spellbinding narratives we’ve come to expect from skin flicks. And it’s not just writers who are suffering.

The Times article quotes reputed porn star queen Savanna Samson who laments the plight of actors. She claims she took her acting seriously and used to prepare studiously for her roles. An example is the rich multi-layered character she portrayed in 2006’s THE FLASHER. She played a psychotic who became a flasher and had hardcore sex in public due to mother issues. You just don’t find good roles like this for women.

Hopefully, the pendulum will swing. I’d hate to think my original notion about a psychotic pool boy who has sex on diving boards and doesn’t change the chlorine often enough will not go unsold, or worse, be adapted for Dane Cook’s next summer studio comedy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weekend in Milwaukee

Here's the last leg of my road trip with the Dodgers. Vegetarians beware. Part one is here. From Gotham it was a late night flight to Milwaukee where we stayed at the historic Pfister. The Pfister is pfirst class. It’s an old regal downtown hotel that just happens to be haunted. Some ballplayers are so freaked they stay elsewhere, or sleep holding a bat for protection. Carlos Gomez of the Twins was getting out of the shower and his iPod suddenly went haywire so instead of calling AppleCare (or Ghostbusters?) he raced out to the lobby without his pants. I shared a room with the Ghost of Christmas Future. He says “UFC Undisputed” will sell out quick this season so shop early.

One thing I’ve discovered about Milwaukee – it’s in a time warp. The buildings, the cars, the people – it’s 1956. Friday night’s postgame concert featured newcomers Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In an attempt to blend in I wore an “Adlai Stevenson for President” button.

Missed the 60th annual “South Shore Frolic”. Friday’s big attraction for the kiddies: a chainsaw artist. And if that’s your cup of tea, visit the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory where Jeffrey Dahmer was a trusted employee.

I did however get out to Karl Ratzsch’s for the best German food this side of Stalag 13. Order anything with a “Z” in its name.

Miller Park, home of the Brewers, boasts a retractable roof (handy since it snows 300 days a year), cheerleaders, a giant slide where mascot Bernie Brewer plunges into suds throughout the game, and national treasure Bob Uecker (their longtime radio voice).

The retractable roof can be problematic. One sweltering summer day they closed it during a game because thundershowers loomed. But the result was they trapped the heat and humidity IN the ballpark. Someone said that when the fat lady finally did sing she was a size 4.

Miller also has something no other ballpark in the land can match --- the world’s greatest bratwurst. That comes as no surprise, certainly, this is Germantown, but they’re even better than expected. One bite and you can actually feel an artery clog up. Yet it’s so good you finish it anyway. The record for most bratwursts consumed here in one day is seventeen by a gentleman from Menomonee Falls. From what I understand, he’s buried somewhere down the left-field line. The condiments for these brats consist of the usual mustard-onion-relish fare along with sauerkraut and something they call “Secret Stadium Sauce.” Nobody will divulge just what is in this thick red secret goo, but it was allegedly discovered during an early experiment of the Manhattan Project.

And then there are the tailgate parties. Folks here jam the parking lots long before game time and crack out the barbeques and coolers, filling the air with heavenly aromas and grease. If you love block parties with total strangers whose only common bond is the mass consumption of life-endangering substances, you’ve gotta love Milwaukee. I, of course, do.

All in all it was a great trip. The Dodgers won six, Manny hit .349 with three home runs, no one threw a syringe onto the field, I survived a tornado and German cuisine, and the Ghost of Christmas Future also wants to remind you to use zip codes when sending packages through the mail. Thank you.

Have a great summer and Merry Christmas wherever you are!

Free teleseminar info can be found here. Spaces are filling up. Thanks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finally! A new travelogue!

A number of readers have asked why I don't write those funny travelogues anymore? It's because I haven't gone anywhere. But recently I accompanied the Los Angeles Dodgers on a three city road trip, hosting my Dodger Talk radio show live from those venues. Since it's three cities it's long. So I'm breaking it up into two part. San Diego and New York today. Milwaukee tomorrow. Milwaukee for sure deserves a post of its own. I hope this was worth waiting for.

No one goes from San Diego to New York to Milwaukee unless they’re running from authorities or on a road trip with a big league ballclub. Many thanks to Scott Akasaki and the Los Angeles Dodgers for making the trip and travel so easy. I am now permanently spoiled after only one week. Also thanks to KABC, who told me to “start packing” and did not mean I was fired.
It was the 4th of July weekend in San Diego – “America’s Last Resort Community” (maybe my favorite city slogan of all-time) and firework shows were everywhere. At Legoland non-guests were allowed to watch them from the parking lot for only $2!! If you were outside the parking lot Legoland security officers would apprehend you and insist you only look down.

A number of communities had fairs and festivals for the 4th. Many featured circus workshops, which makes sense considering the increase in San Diego traffic. Now when locals carpool they can get 30 in a Kia.

Speaking of the circus, Manny Ramirez -- lovable baseball drug policy abuser and all around spectacular hitter – returned from his 50 game suspension. This caused a media frenzy the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Farrah Fawcett funeral three days before. Manny held a press conference before his first game. He agreed to talk about anything other than his suspension, steroid use, drugs in general, who his doctor was, and the resignation of Sarah Palin. However, we were able to ask if he was looking forward to playing that night and if it was okay to pet on the first date.

At least there were no bees. The day before the Padres game was delayed almost an hour because a swarm of bees invaded the outfield. First thought: make them a fan giveaway (“Bee Night for the first 50,000 fans wearing netting”), but cooler heads prevailed and a beekeeper was summoned to round them all up (and release them in the new Yankee Stadium).

I watched fireworks from the broadcast booth at Petco Park while on the air. It was like hosting Dodger Talk during the Baghdad bombings.

Missed the San Diego County Fair. Was hoping to enter the watermelon seed spitting contest (soon to become an Olympic event), worm racing, the frozen t-shirt contest (whatever the hell that is), most patriotic costume competition (I even had my “Daughter of the Revolution” dress packed), “Kazoo that Tune”, and what old fashion county fair would be complete without the traditional “Cellphone Texting Contest”?

Breakfast recommendation: The Broken Yolk. A mainstay of Pacific Beach, now also located in the Gas Lamp district. Be different. Try the eggs.

Sunday was getaway day. An afternoon game with the Padres then an evening flight to New York. The Dodgers blew a five run lead in the 9th and finally won it in the 13th. Time of game: a brisk four hours and thirty-three minutes. We staggered into our New York hotel at 3:45 a.m.

That hotel was the Le Parker Meridien, which is a huge upgrade from the Grand Central Hyatt – location of other teams and Columbian drug dealers. Le Parker Meridien is very chic. The d├ęcor is a cross between Art Deco and the Jetsons. It provides sophistication and class for the discerning guest and cartoons in the elevator for Manny Ramirez.

New York was glorious! Perfect weather! You know you’re getting close to Central Park when you’re accosted by five people on every corner wanting to rent you a bicycle, sign you up for a bus tour, or sell you half price tickets to NAKED BOYS SINGING.

How Jewish is New York City? At the Redeye restaurant on 7th they offer miso matzah ball soup. Just like “Obaasan” used to make.

New York Post headline: NEW SEX CAPITAL? IT’S BROOKLYN. In lieu of the Dodgers I guess that’ll do.

Spotted on 57th street: a person NOT checking their cellphone! Spotted on 6th avenue: a young man wearing Aladdin sneakers. Disney characters embossed on athletic footwear just seems wrong on so many levels.

There’s a street vendor on Madison Avenue who hands out business cards. Call “Cheikh” anytime for bags, scarves, and jewelry. His card table is located at 77th St. & Madison Avenue… unless it rains or he’s run off.

The Mets now play in their $800,000,000 new home, Citi Field (although it should be called “Taxpayers’ Field”). What a vast improvement over Shea Stadium, where every tunnel was a sewer and Lyndon Johnson was president the last time it was painted. Citi Field has all the amenities of modern stadiums – lounges, private clubs, luxury boxes, and stands so close to the action you can get clocked with a flying bat. But its most impressive feature is a huge rotunda celebrating Jackie Robinson. So between that and the exterior, which is a nod to old Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, the ballpark is pretty much an ode to the Dodgers. That’s fine for me but the Mets have a rich history themselves and I wish more of that was on display. Where’s a statue of Choo Choo Coleman?

Most new ballparks have gleaming concourses adjacent where fans can spill out into restaurants, bars, and souvenir arcades. At Citi Field you have your choice of muffler stores, repair garages, and auto body and paint shops. Usually the teams get a cut of the action but in this case I suspect the Sopranos got there first.

That nice weather I mentioned ended Tuesday just as a group of us piled into a towncar at midnight to leave the park. I wanted to stay longer and browse for fuel pumps but was overruled. So we headed back to the city right when a tornado hit Yonkers. (Since when did New York become friggin’ Kansas?) The sky opened up and we were deluged with rain. Add to that construction work near the 59th Bridge so we were living “Bonfire of the Vanities” during a monsoon. And picture Mel Gibson from LETHAL WEAPON as the driver… with Jews in the car.

“Manny Mania” continued. The New York press converged on him like a Tootsie Roll at a fat farm. He agreed to not answer the same questions he didn’t answer in San Diego.

From there it was on to Milwaukee. That story tomorrow. Hint: Food is involved.

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