Monday, August 31, 2009

Things to do in Denver when you're not dead

On the road again with the Dodgers. This time Denver and Cincinnati – two cities that are incredibly similar in that neither is near an ocean. The most absurd moment happened even before we boarded the plane in Los Angeles. An overzealous TSA agent was patting down Vin Scully. Yeah, it’s common knowledge terrorists like to hide explosives in World Series rings.

Stayed at the Ritz-Carlton hotel downtown (or, as they call it – “LoDo”). I had a beautifully appointed room with a spectacular view of the Greyhound Bus Terminal. (How convenient for all the bus travelers that there is a Ritz-Carlton across the street so they have somewhere to crash before moving on to Utah.)

Was walking distance to the 16th Street Mall, where red oak trees and fountains line this showpiece pedestrian mall featuring a thousand Verizon and AT&T stores and great local dining from Chili’s to the Cheesecake Factory.

Also walking distance is the ballpark, Coors Field. It’s a Camden Yards clone combining modern conveniences (luxury boxes, stadium clubs, lights) and retro features (brick exterior, and uh… brick exterior). But because of the thin air baseballs travel farther there. So to compensate they moved the fences back to where they’re now beyond the horizon.

In early July Vegas oddsmakers estimated the chances of the Rockies winning the pennant were the same as DONKEY PUNCH winning an Oscar. And yet there the Rox were, fighting with the Dodgers in a crucial series for first place. You’d think the whole town would be abuzz and they would were it not for the more important Denver Broncos pre-season game on Sunday.

John Elway is to Denver what Andy Taylor is to Mayberry and Jesus is to Rome.

Nearby is Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheater cut into a mountain. It’s a breathtaking setting. If John Denver were still alive this is where he’d be playing every week, sharing the bill with Harry Chapin if he were still alive. Red Rocks also has the distinction of being the only U.S. venue in which the Beatles didn’t sell out.

There is new meaning to “Rocky Mountain High”. Authorities have seized nearly 20,000 marijuana plants from Colorado national forests. It’s bad enough rangers have to deal with bears stealing pic-i-nic baskets, now they have to contend with international drug cartels. I bet if those plants were there in the 60s that Beatles concert would have sold out.

Denver is the most sexually active city in America. Contraceptive sales are 189% higher within the city limits than the national average (sales of female contraceptives are a whopping 278% higher). Coincidentally, Denver also has the world’s largest brewery (Coors).

And easily the best, most dramatic thunderstorms! Huge bolts of lightening create a thrilling panorama, and what better place to view them than a radio booth at a baseball stadium surrounded by electronic equipment and light towers?

Locals say the best way to prepare is to take note of the wind kicking up and the first cow blowing across the sky.

There is now only one newspaper in town, THE POST. THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS (my favorite of the two because it once gave ALMOST PERFECT a decent review) folded in February after 150 years of service. And it’s now an all-too-familiar scenario in most major cities. Did Al Gore have any idea of this when he invented the internet?

Traffic is still backed up from last year’s Democratic convention. And there are still people walking to their cars after attending Obama’s acceptance speech.

And if you’re driving from “LoDo” to the I-70 with kids and you’re looking for a fun thing for them to do, have them count the number of gun shops they see. The kinder will be occupied the entire trip!

You gotta love the name of Denver’s mayor – Hizzonor John Wright Hickenlooper.

Things not to miss: The Butterfly Pavilion insect zoo, the “Mind Eraser” rollercoaster at Elitch Gardens, the giant cement slide at Bear Valley Park that looks like a vagina, the Buckhorn Exchange restaurant with 500 stuffed animals (it’s how I imagine Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s bedroom), the stone marker that claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and any CVS pharmacy for contraceptives.

The Dodgers won two out of three and we beat a hasty retreat to the Queen City.

Tomorrow: Cincinnati

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I hate pop-up ads!!!

Okay, this is me going on a rant.

I will not buy anything I see in a pop-up ad. They are the most annoying form of advertising ever devised. I know the big problem with the internet is that no one has figured out yet how to make a substantial profit out of it. That certainly is my problem. Banner ads are only slightly effective. And newspapers and other sites have found it’s difficult to charge people for their services when other outlets will provide it for free. Why go to reputable newspapers when there are people like me in their underwear banging out blogs?

But I can’t imagine anybody… ever… in any corner of the universe… buying something they see from a pop-up ad.

It’s as if you’re watching a concert and suddenly from out of nowhere someone gets right up into your grill and screams “HEY, WANNA BUY LIFE INSURANCE?!!” What are the chances you’ll say “Sure. Thanks. I specifically went to this remaining-Beatles reunion just hoping someone would sell me long term life insurance”?

Wouldn’t it be more likely you’d knee him in the groin and threaten to kill him and his family if he ever again came within one mile of you?

That’s the common reaction when people are assaulted by pop-up ads. First off, they resent the product. Like me, they’ll probably boycott it. It doesn’t take Don Draper to figure out that boycotting is not a good end result to an advertising campaign.

Seriously, should an X10 camera ad pop onto my screen I will scramble to my mouse and obliterate it faster than if it were a sex scene between Larry King and a goat.

Girls, name me one time a guy ever won your heart by continually yanking at your hair. This form of attention getting DOES NOT WORK!

Of course the idiot advertisers who think otherwise are devising new ways to skirt pop-up blocking programs and making their CLOSE tabs so small no one can find them without a microscope so strong it can differentiate atoms.

As for you websites that allow these obnoxious pop-ups, I understand that you need revenue, but you run the risk of pissing off your readers and losing your audience. And once you have no traffic your sponsors will go away too. So it’s a lose/lose/lose/lose/lose situation.


I feel better now. Thanks.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Everything you wanted to know about the CHEERS' Bar Wars

Heading home from Cincinnati. Happy birthday, Annie. Save me a piece of cake.

I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.

Did we purposely plan for the Cheers gang to lose every time?

Yes. Except for the last one. Frustration is much funnier than victory. The trick however, was to find different ways for them to lose – or screw themselves. Guess I grew up watching too many Road Runner cartoons.

What about the last Bar Wars in the final season?

Ultimately, we decided to not only let Cheers win but to demolish Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern once and for all. We’re nothing if not vengeful. Trivia note: That is the only episode of CHEERS that I appear in. I’m sitting at the bar in an early scene.

Who played Gary?

The answer is: which time? We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. The first time the character appeared, Joe Polis played him in a 1985 episode called “From Beer to Eternity”. When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode Joe wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary. For Bar Wars II we went back to Joe Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in the sequel to the DA VINCI CODE.

What is your favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars V. My partner came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer.

What is your least favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars VI. The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the BIG SLEEP of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened.

Was it hard to plot these episodes?

Yes. Very. These episodes were a bitch to conceive and then hard to write because there was always so much story. By nature, exposition and set ups are not inherently funny and entertaining. We had to pull a lot of jokes out of nowhere.

What was your favorite gag?

Filling Rebecca’s office with sheep. That’s the power of being a writer. You come up with a goofy idea. And voila, there are fifty sheep being herded onto the set. I’m sure the guy who came up with snakes on the plane had the same heady feeling.

There are some Bar Wars type episodes not called Bar Wars. How come?

Those were episodes not originally designed to be bar wars but evolved into them. Or they were competitions not practical joke wars, per se. In other words, I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out BAR WARS II.

And finally, are you that diabolical?

Let’s just say I hope you’re not allergic to sheep.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ellie Greenwich

Every inch on every wall of her apartment was filled with awards, gold records, recognitions, framed notes and articles. There were pictures of her with the Beatles. Lyric sheets, music sheets, album covers. If she and I had lunch plans I always insisted on meeting her at her apartment. A half hour early. Ellie Greenwich’s apartment was like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Better. It was in New York, not Cleveland.

You may not know her name but you’ve sung her words.

You many not recognize her voice but you’ve heard it on the radio a billion times.

Ellie Greenwich was a singer/songwriter who during a golden period of the 60s expressed the feelings, angst, and joy that my generation was experiencing and she put them into the meaningful words we couldn’t … even if those words were Da Doo Ron Ron and Doo Wah Diddy.

Ellie Greenwich passed away this week. She was only 68.

Along with Jeff Barry and other collaborators, Ellie wrote many teen anthems. “Leader of the Pack”, “Be My Baby”, “I Can Hear Music”, “River Deep/Mountain High”, and countless more. The Broadway musical “Leader of the Pack” was loosely based on her career. She discovered Neil Diamond and sang background on all his hits. She had a couple of hits herself as lead singer of the Raindrops. She’s produced records, wrote famous jingles (e.g. "Ooh-La-La-Sasson"), sung with Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Blondie, and Cyndi Lauper. Brian Wilson called her "the greatest melody writer of all-time".

Ellie was part of the Brill Building, which basically was a stable of songwriters who churned out most of the smash hits of the day. Working in little offices side by side were Leiber & Stoller, Bacharach & David, Goffin & King (as in Carole), Mann & Weil, Sedaka & Greenfield, and a few other heavyweights. (Some of them like Neil Sedaka were still teens in high school at the time. I always loved the fact that Jewish kids who couldn’t get a date would take the subway into Manhattan after school and write the love songs that every teenager in America was singing.)

Anyway, I had an idea to write a musical about the Brill Building and connected with Ellie about providing the music. Thus began a collaboration (although I never got the project off the ground) and friendship I have cherished for years.

God, she could make me laugh. There are some people who just know how to tell a story. Hers often involved giving Phil Spector shit (it’s a wonder he didn’t shoot her). They were the kind of stories you couldn’t repeat because no one but her could do them justice.

She used to love my travelogues. I email them to my friends as well as posting them. One of the joys of writing these travelogues (lord knows I’m not making any money off of them) was hearing from Ellie. And it’s ironic because I’m writing this on a plane to Cincinnati and am in the middle of another travelogue. I’m sending it to her anyway.

Ellie Greenwich loved a good song and loved a good laugh. I hope all of those wonderful treasures and keepsakes on her walls are given a good new home; somewhere where the life and contribution of this lovely talented lady can be forever appreciated. Y’know, Cleveland’s not so bad after all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who is that guy with the weird laugh?

Greetings from Cincinnati. Here are answers to some of your Friday questions.

velvet goldmine wondered this last week:

I know that even shows filled before a live audience sometimes used to "sweeten" them with recorder laughs. But there's this one man's laugh that you hear on TONS of shows from the 70s, from MTM to Taxi. You know the one I mean? First there's a startled "Haw!" as the setup gets underway, then this extended "Haw Haw Haw..." when the joke reaches its zenith.

Why in the world would they keep using this familiar, even annoying laugh? And if by chance it was the same guy at all the tapings -- say, a superfan, or a self-impressed writer -- why wasn't he muzzled?

This is less of an answer than a confirmation. As several people correctly mentioned in the comments section, the distinctive laugh you hear belongs to James L. Brooks (pictured above). It’s less annoying when you realize it’s genuine. And when he laughs at something I’ve said or written, it’s sheer music.

There are also two very distinctive laughers on the last seven years of CHEERS. Phoef Sutton and Bill Steinkellner. I can’t describe them but watch any episode from those middle and later years and you’ll know what I mean.

Jim Stickford asks:

What's the procedure for deciding what particular line to use. I saw Carl Reiner in an interview years ago and he said one of the reasons he stayed in the writer's room for Your Show of Shows was that he could type, which was a bid deal in the days before computers and photocopiers. When the writers threw out lines, Carl picked the one he liked best and typed it in.

Is there a procedure? Is it decided by the show runner? Do you vote on it?

It’s either the showrunner or the person designated to run the room in the showrunner’s absence. Someone has to have the final say otherwise you have the scene in GODZILLA with all the people running through the streets crazed. Although, wait a minute. It's like that normally.

From Jaime J. Weinman:

Do you prefer writing sitcom episodes with a tag before the closing credits (M*A*S*H) or episodes that have no tags and end the episode with the second act (Cheers)?

Also what are the reasons for having tags or not having tags: is it usually network policy (like in the '80s when almost none of NBC's sitcoms used tags), or is it sometimes the showrunner's decision?

Tags are those little two minute scenes at the end of sitcoms. They serve the purpose of rewarding the viewer for staying through the last spot break. Some shows have them, others don’t. It depends on their format and needs of their network. There seem to be fewer today as networks are going more to a three-act format -- again, all in the cause of audience maintenance; none in the cause of better storytelling.

I MUCH prefer writing tags to the teasers we employed on CHEERS. At least with tags you could draw upon content established in the episode and just do a call-back. Teasers were completely independent of the story that followed. The Charles Brothers thought it would be novel and help establish the world of the bar. They were right of course, but teasers were a bitch to pull out of our ass every week.

What’s your question???

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You can't say that on the radio!

I read in Wednesday’s edition of L.A. Radio a glowing story about former talk show host Joe Ortiz. I worked with Joe once and my encounter was, uh… devoid of glow.

1972. I’m a relief engineer at KABC and their sister station KLOS-FM. That meant I played the records on KLOS and played the commercials on KABC. My shift on Sunday nights was to play the public service shows. As preposterous as it sounds now, radio and television stations once were expected to actually serve the community. A certain amount of their programming had to be devoted to public affairs. So of course stations would bury these shows in the middle of the night or early and late Sundays when no one was listening.

One Sunday night I see we have a new program scheduled. IMPACTO. It’s a talk show geared to the Hispanic community. I’m thrilled. It was live. Normally I played half hour tapes on how to fill out Social Security forms.

The host is Joe Ortiz. He’s relatively new to radio; primarily a community advocate. I ask, “What’s the game plan?” He says he’ll take calls and if there’s a lull I’m to just play a record. What kind of record? He says it makes no difference, just grab something KLOS normally plays. Sounds easy enough to me.

So he starts taking calls. And every other one starts off like this: “Hey man, I’m tired of this fucking shit…” Whoa! Every two seconds I’m diving for the kill button (we were on an eight second delay). I tell Joe on a break to remind his callers they’re not allowed to swear on the radio. He gets pissed at me. That’s censorship. No it’s not, I tell him. It’s the FCC. We could lose our license. He ignores me.

So for weeks I’m hitting the kill button so often you’d think I was tapping out Morse Code. Needless to say, our relationship was frosty.

From time to time there are lulls and he calls for a record. He says, “We’ll be back right after a little music” and I play Crosby, Stills, & Nash or whomever. KLOS was your classic rock station even before we knew the stuff was classic.

So one night the swearers aren’t calling. He signals for a record. I grab one from the rack and cue it up. He announces on the air, “We’re going to take a break but here is a record that expresses the perception of the Hispanic community.” I let the record fly. It’s “Dead Skunk In the Middle of the Road”.

Joe goes nuts. I show great restraint by not falling to the floor in laughter. I say, “It’s on the playlist. Who the hell told you to introduce it like that?”

So Joe files an official union grievance on me. I have to go before a board of the Chief Engineer and union representatives. I’m charged with being a racist. Once they hear my side of the story they fall on the floor laughing. The grievance is dropped and I’m completely pardoned. Better yet I’m taken off that shift.

For years I had no idea whatever happened to Joe Ortiz. He hasn’t befriended me on Facebook. And then in the article I learn he’s primarily no longer in broadcasting. But ironically, his last on-air gig was hosting a talk show on a Christian station. I wonder how “Hey man, I’m tired of this fucking shit…” would go over there.

On a totally unrelated subject, I know a lot of my readers also follow Earl Pomerantz's blog (if you don't you should). Anyway, he had a little health scare that proved to be not nearly as serious as he had first thought. So he wants me to remind you that he's continuing to blog. Check him out while he's still alive. Thanks.

All you need to know about the new Yankee Stadium

From Elayne Boosler...

Yankee Stadium had to combine the two offices when people heard the seat prices.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fall Movie Preview: Part Three

Hello from Denver. Here's the wrap-up of this season's film fare:

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS – Easily the best title of the season. George Clooney tracks down psychics in the army. What’s going on with the military? Gays AND psychics???

UP IN THE AIR – George Clooney’s ninth movie this fall season. A habitual airline traveler, he falls for another habitual airline traveler. “We’ll always have Tucson to Detroit with a stop in Dallas”.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – How many times are they going to remake this goddamn story? We get it!! Bob Zemeckis performance-capture version starring Jim Carrey playing multiple characters. It would take the “Ghost of Christmas Threatening To Take My Life” to get me to see this movie.

PRECIOUS – Oscar buzz for this Sundance darling. And that’s WITH Mariah Carey in the cast. So it must be the best picture ever.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL – Another chipmunk movie? How can you possibly improve on perfection?

A PROPHET – Life in an Arab prison. Good luck to the marketing department.

2012 – Disaster movie. Not sure what year it takes place in. John Cusack and Amanda Peet yelling “Look out!” a lot.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG – Disney’s first traditional animated movie in five years. The studio is making a big deal that its star (Anika Noni Rose) is the first African-American heroine in a Disney animated feature. Yeah, but she plays a frog!

OLD DOGS – John Travolta and Robin Williams. Robin learns he’s the father of an ex-girlfriend’s twins. TWO MEN AND TWO BABIES.

PIRATE RADIO – The movie about pirate radio in England in the 60s starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. They keep pushing it back from season to season. This can’t be a good sign. Will I be the only one in the theater?

IT’S COMPLICATED – Danger! Danger! Nancy Meyers romcom. Expect by-the-numbers formula studio storytelling.

SHERLOCK HOLMES – Robert Downey Jr. as the super sleuth. This time Holmes is also proficient in martial-arts. Think Popeye with cocaine instead of spinach.

INVICTUS – Morgan Freeman takes a break from sleeping with his grand-daughter and his longtime mistress to portray Nelson Mandela in a film directed by Clint Eastwood.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? Hey, Hugh Grant is still around! Who knew? He stars with Sarah Jessica Parker as a married couple working things out in the Witness Protection program. They’re sent to Wyoming. Yeah, that’s where you’d send a British guy and Jewish girl to just blend in with the community.

and finally...

AVATAR – James Cameron’s long awaited $200,000,000 sci-fi epic that will either revolutionize cinema or be HEAVEN’S GATE in space.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fall Movie Preview: Part Two

Here's more of what'll be playing and you might be seeing...

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT – The only vampire movie being released that week. Stars John C. Reilly and features Salma Jayek as a bearded lady. When she’s not looking, he replaces her vibrator with a Lady Norelco.

AMELIA – the Amelia Earhart story starring Hilary Swank. Famous woman aviator who disappeared over the Pacific in 1937. We see her negotiate polar bears, smoke monsters, and being captured by “the Others”. Based on the true story.

LOVE HAPPENS – Aaron Eckhart is a widower who falls in love with Jennifer Aniston. In case that doesn’t remind you enough of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, it’s even set in Seattle.

THE BOYS ARE BACK – Clive Owens becomes a single parent who must raise two boys. Wow, widowers are this year’s vampires!

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU – The NY version of PARIS, JE T’AIME, an anthology of short stories by different writers and directors all woven together. Shot in only a few days. Cast features every New York actor who didn’t have a gig on LAW & ORDER that week.

WHIP IT – Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. She calls it a “love story between a mother and daughter which, emotionally, tears your heart apart”. How could it not? It’s set in the world of roller derby.

THIS IS IT – Michael Jackson posthumous concert film. Let him be remembered for slammed together rehearsal footage that was never meant to be shown. R.I.P. – Rest in Profit.

ZOMBIELAND – Amusement park for Sean Hannity followers.

SAW VI – Jigsaw takes a job at Home Depot.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – Dick Cheney invites you all in for a visit.

NINE – movie based on the musical based on a movie. Directed by Rob Marshall who made magic with CHICAGO. Stars Penelope Cruz who is a nine (plus two). Also stars Nicole Kidman whose boxoffice losing streak is fast approaching ’88 Baltimore Orioles territory.

BROKEN EMBRACES – Another Penelope Cruz movie, this one for Pedro Almodovar. Young hot actress obsessed with a film director. Coincidentally written by the director.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX – Stop-motion animated version of Roald Dahl’s children book given the Wes Anderson treatment. So adults should find it fascinating while kids will be completely baffled. Meryl Streep does a voice so the Motion Picture Academy will add a new category of Best Voice-Over Work By An Actress so she can win that Oscar too.

PLANET 51 – Animated movie about an earthling who lands on another planet and see, HE’S the alien. To further complicate matters, Dwayne Johnson (the Rock), a real alien does the voice of the human.

THE BOX – Cameron Diaz needs money. She’s offered a million dollars to just push a button on a wooden box. The catch: if she does a stranger will die. Uh, didn’t they do this exact bit in one of the Batman movies? And wasn’t that lifted from one of the SAW movies?

The final part tomorrow.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fall Movie Preview: Part One

Off to Denver with the Dodgers for a week long road trip that will also include Cincinnati. I hope it doesn't snow. In the meantime, here's my annual Fall Movie Preview, so you'll know what to rush out and see when it's finally available at Redbox.

JENNIFER’S BODY – Diablo Cody’s cannibal movie. A high school she-demon eats people. Edible Oedipal.

FAME – must be fleeting since they have to remake it every few years. Now the star wannabes pursue careers in rap and filmmaking. But I’m sure all the kids are still misunderstood, unsure of their sexuality, and deathly afraid of gym class.

TYLER PERRY’S I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF – It should be about the unconscionable way he treats writers.

EXTRACT – Written by Mike Judge so it’ll either be a hit or pulled after one showing. Jason Bateman as a frustrated boss in a company that makes something unimportant. Probably will never be adapted for television. What network would buy such a premise?

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY -- Michael Moore’s latest documentary. This time examining capitalism. How he does this without embarrassing Charlton Heston is anybody's guess.

MORE THAN A GAME – Documentary about LeBron James’ senior year of high school. Since it’s not done by Michael Moore the film is about basketball, not corruption in the educational system, corruption in organized sports, or corruption in the royalties owed Charlton Heston.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS – Animated version of the children’s book. Written and directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller who did CLONE HIGH so I might see it despite the title.

SURROGATES – A sci-fi world set in the near future where humans mingle with robots. So far I’ve described every sci-fi movie of the last ten years. The twist here is that there is a terrorist. And Bruce Willis. "Yippe-ki-yay, cyborgfucker!”

ALL ABOUT STEVE – Sandy Bullock’s latest Romcom, which she also produced. She stalks Bradley Cooper. Sounds like the title should be ALL ABOUT SANDY.

THE INFORMANT! – Matt Damon helps the FBI expose a price-fixing scheme. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Hollywood will let him make a movie about accounting inconsistencies in agriculture but not one about baseball.

THE OTHER MAN – Laura Linney nude scenes, guys!

THE INVENTION OF LYING – Ricky Gervais as the only person on the planet who is capable of lying. All politicians, studio execs, and Roger Clemens must be dead then. Smart money says this is a smart comedy.

BRIGHT STAR – the story of 19th-century British poet, John Keats. Date movie for anyone over two hundred.

SHUTTER ISLAND – Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller starring Leo DiCaprio (natch!) set in a high-security facility for the criminally insane. But with a title like SHUTTER ISLAND you know Fox is going to turn it into a reality show.

COUPLES RETREAT – Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau comedy about couples trapped in a high-security facility for the criminally insane. Oh, wait. I always get this confused with SHUTTER ISLAND. This is four couples on a romantic tropical island. Another possible Fox reality show. Hey, it’s directed by Peter Billingsley – Ralphie from CHRISTMAS STORY! Be careful looking into that view finder -- you could poke an eye out.

Part Two tomorrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Because I love L.A. absurdity...

What better place to grow up with an appreciation for the absurd than Los Angeles? There is goofiness everywhere. For example:

An actual home in Beverly Hills:
And this is a Japanese restaurant.
No wonder comedy writers gravitate here. It's one sprawling funhouse.

What caught my eye recently were some VERBATIM headlines I read in and Clearly, they were meant for the 310 area code crowd. They're supposed to be taken seriously. And I'm sure for anyone who has had too much Botox they were. But for you and me, you can't make up these punchlines.

Jaime Pressly: I Didn't Pee In Public

Why Actress Ellen Burstyn Slept On The Street: Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Chinese Bride Wears 7,083-Foot Dress

Burger King Asks Barefoot Baby To Leave

Lady Gaga Is Nude, Wants To Turn The World Gay

Is Religion Ruining Our Health?

'Hung' Star Thomas Jane Talks About His Penis

Slain Model Was Identified By Her Breast Implants

Brad And Angelina Go Shopping For Gerbils

Sting's Daughter: My Dad Knows Nothing About Tantric Sex

Jeremy Piven: I Haven't Had Fish In 11 Months, I Feel Like A Different Person

Octomom's 2-Year-Old Calls Her 'Bitch'

NBA Star's Jilted Fiance Talks Reality Show, Wedding Dress Giveaway

Jill Sobule: I Called Katy Perry A Slut Ironically

Celine Dion Pregnant With Embryo Frozen For Eight Years

Study: Over 50 Percent Of Women Hate Their Feet

PHOTOS: Presidents And First Ladies In Swimsuits

Obese Texas Inmate Hides Gun In His Flabs Of Fat

Paula Abdul's First Day NOT At Work:

Running Enthusiasts Flock To Weird-Looking 'Barefoot Shoes'

Australia's Newest Political Party: The Sex Party

PHOTOS: Jeremy Piven's Many Hairlines

Michael Jackson's Body Held In Deep Freeze

Victoria Beckham: Joy At Being An 'Idol' Judge Is Ruining My Moody Pout

Heidi Montag: I Want More Plastic Surgery

Jon Hamm's Grandmother Doesn't Like 'Mad Men'

David Byrne Makes London Building Into Musical Instrument

It's World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Luxury Resort Offers $19 Room, Minus The Bed And Toilet Paper

Man Offers 40 Goats, 20 Cows To Marry Chelsea Clinton; Hillary Calls It "Very Kind"

'Survivor' Richard Hatch: I Was Imprisoned Because I'm Gay

'So You Think You Can Dance' Star Charged With Multiple Rapes

Tyra Banks To Reveal Her 'REAL Hair'

PHOTOS: Madonna, Jesus & Kids In A Boat

Karolina Kurkova: Pregnancy Is The New 'It' Bag

Jeremy Piven And Chris Kattan In Sushi Screaming Match

WATCH: Kate Gosselin Cries

WATCH: Octomom: 'I Screwed Myself'

Rapper C-Murder Convicted Of Murder

Why You Must Vacation When Your Wallet Is Empty

Jon Gosselin Claims Kate 'Tried to Cry It Up for the Cops'

Seth MacFarlane: Baby Stewie From 'Family Guy' Is Gay

Pop Quiz: Could You Be in Madonna's Entourage?

10 Ways To Sleep Like a French Woman

Who Dissed Gwyn's Cooking?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The funniest LITERAL music video

A couple of weeks ago I shared my favorite music video. Several commenters mentioned "literal" versions. I've checked out a few and for my money this is hands down the funniest. TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART. Thanks to Dusto Films for this hilarious parody.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Diana Ross as Hot Lips

Time to kick off the weekend with some answers to your questions.

From Mark:

As far as making a sitcom believable, could you comment on filming vs. taping? Is the technology advanced enough to make a four camera show look real with tape?

Back in the days when some multi-camera shows filmed while others taped, the taped shows never looked real. They always looked like you were watching a play. They featured stark lighting and a very flat look. The sets looked like, well… sets. Audiences were used to film – either on TV or at the movies. So multi-camera filmed shows felt more real. So real that CHEERS had to announce that each show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Otherwise viewers didn’t believe the laughs were real.

So why were there taped shows when they didn’t look as good or as real? Because they were CHEAPER.

I told the story about a year ago how CHEERS experimented with switching to tape.

I’m not a technical guy so I don’t know specifics, but with today’s new HD cameras it’s much easier to achieve a filmed look on tape. Some will say it looks as good but I think that’s stretching it. It’s the same as Diet Coke and regular Coke but with pixels instead of sugar. To my knowledge all multi-camera shows are now filmed in this high def process.

And Fred asks:

Years ago I noticed you wouldn't see Margot Kidder in a movie without Michael Ontkean showing up in the same movie. There was another actress, Kaki Hunter, who also showed up with both Kidder and Ontkean in movies at this same time (thanks to IMDB for her name).

Just this week I saw an episode of Psych with Christine Baranski as a guest star. Cybill Shepherd has also guest-starred on Psych. Do I need to mention that they were in a situation comedy together a few years ago?

Perhaps some of these were coincidences. However, I wonder if agents make package deals for their clients. Nowadays you couldn't imagine someone saying "if you want Margot Kidder, you also have to take Kaki Hunter," but there was a time when Kaki Hunter wasn't the box office poison she is now.

Does this happen, or am I a conspiracy theorist in need of a much better conspiracy?

Wow. This was my first Kaki Hunter question. TV networks like to “stunt cast” – hiring guest stars that will attract a larger audience. Madonna on WILL & GRACE. Britney Spears on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Betty White on everything else.

When we were doing AfterMASH the studio wanted us to bring in Loretta Swit for an episode to reprise her role as Hot Lips. But she declined. That didn’t stop the brilliant 20th exec. He said, “It doesn’t have to be Loretta Swit. Just find anyone to play Hot Lips.” Oh yeah? I suggested Diana Ross.

Sometime pairing people from other shows is a big draw (a la Cybill & Christine). I know I’d love to see Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards do a guest shot on GARY UNMARRIED.

This “reunion” concept works in features too. When Tom Hanks and John Candy clicked in SPLASH they were re-teamed for our movie, VOLUNTEERS. “If you liked them in one, you’ll like them in one not as good.”

As for Margot Kidder and Kaki Hunter et al, I have no idea what that’s all about. I would imagine Margot Kidder’s only demand is “hire me!”

Sometimes producers and directors have favorite actors they use time and again. Maybe this was the case with Margot-Kaki-Michael. Who am I kidding? I have no fucking clue.

From friend-of-the-blog Rory L. Aronsky:

What items (of value and of little value) have you taken from the shows you worked on? When "Almost Perfect" was cancelled, did you try to swipe Nancy Travis on your way out?

No. Like an idiot I have the bathrobe she wore in one episode (which you can watch here) but I didn’t have to foresight to throw Nancy in my trunk.

When BIG WAVE DAVE’S folded I took a few surfboards. Otherwise, I never lifted anything from one of our sets. I was probably stupid. Some folks from MASH at the end took everything they could fit into their cars. Oh wait. I do have one of the helicopters.

Having my name on printed scripts from the shows I’ve been lucky enough to work on is all the keepsakes I need. And the helicopter.

And finally, from Jose:

After a late night in the writer's, about how much turnaround time would you guys get before having to come back for the next work day?

Depends on the show. For most multi-camera shows we got in at 11:30 in the morning. That gave us the afternoon to work of future scripts before the late afternoon runthrough. Rewrites varied but generally wrapped up around midnight or one. So we could in theory get a decent night’s sleep.

But when we were doing that comeback vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore, one of us had to be on the stage every morning for the table reading of the new draft. So that meant going home at 6:00 a.m. and returning by 10:00 a.m. I don’t recommend it.

What’s your question?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why period comedies generally struggle: Part 2

A reader wanted to know why period comedies generally are not successful. I asked the creators of two very worthy examples to explain why they didn't think the genre worked. Last week I featured Earl Pomerantz. This week it's Phoef Sutton. Among his many TV and movie credits, Phoef wrote and produced CHEERS. He also co-created THANKS -- amazingly the only sitcom about Pilgrims to get on the air. Phoef (who pronounces his name "Feef") writes:

Ken Levine sent me the following e-mail:

Wondered if you had a chance to bang out a couple of paragraphs on why period piece comedies don't seem to work.

Well, that’s a pretty tall order to fill but after thinking about it for a week and procrastinating for another, I decided to tackle it.

I suppose he asked me because I was responsible, along with Mark Legan, for that legendary cult classic THANKS. What’s that? Never heard of it? Come on, Sara Vowell wrote about it in THE WORDY SHIPMATES and she goes on and on about it on THIS AMERICAN LIFE. So, let me correct myself – you know that show THANKS that ran on CBS for six episodes in 1999 and was never rerun and nobody but Sara Vowell saw? I created that show. It was a sit com about the Pilgrims.

It featured a stalwart, optimistic young Pilgrim named James Winthrop, father of three, who would say things like:

“What a beautiful day it is – snow melting, everyone out and about, airing out their clothes, dragging out their dead.”


I’ve decided, in the hopes of lifting the spirits of our community, to hold a gathering tonight. Everyone is invited. There will be music and… well, not dancing because that’s a sin, or course, but it’ll be a… well, not a party, that would be wrong, but there will be lots of … well, not entertainment, because that’s forbidden, but I assure you, you’ll all have plenty of… well, not fun because that goes against everything we stand for…

He had a precocious daughter Elizabeth, who was just ten but wise beyond her years.
She would comment to the dentist that maybe he should wash his hands before putting them in her mouth because he might be passing disease from patient to patient; “There might be tiny creatures, smaller that the eye can see, living in people’s mouths.” The response to this from the dentist was predictable; “Sounds like black magic to me!” And then little Elizabeth would spend the afternoon, hoisted up in the stocks in the middle of the town square. But she didn’t let it get her down; “Father, my feet touch the ground now!”

You get the idea. I hope.

Anyway, Ken goes on to say:

A reader asked why period sitcoms don't seem to work. Since you had one of the funniest, would you mind writing a paragraph or two about THANKS, why it struggled, whether you got enough network support, the hazards, advantages, unique challenges, etc.?

Before I go on to the specifics of this, let me give a brief over-view of the rich history of historical sitcoms.

I can think of six. This is a comprehensive list that I compiled while sitting in an airplane flying back to LA and trying not to watch SEVENTEEN AGAIN, the in-flight movie. (I should say that I also did an exhaustive search on both IMDB and Google, where a search for historical sitcoms leads you to a lot “history of sitcoms” but no historical sitcom and that wasn’t what I meant, don’t those Google idiots know anything?)

I’m not including sitcoms about the recent past, as in That 70s Show or Happy Days, because they play more on nostalgia than a sense of history. And also ‘cause I don’t feel like it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Please point them out with angry e-mails.

So the six are:

F Troop (1965-66) -- I loved this show when I was a kid. Mostly because of a running gag – Sgt. O’Rourke would say to Col. Agarn; “I don’t know why everybody says you’re so dumb,” and Col. Agarn would reply, after a pause; “Who says I’m dumb?” It doesn’t sound very funny, but that pause between set up and punch line would get longer and longer. Often whole scenes would pass, sometime the act break would come and go before that inevitable line would come out of Larry Storch’s mouth. This taught me an important lesson – despite what they say, comedy isn’t always about surprise. Sometimes it’s the great joy that comes from waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But history? Not much from F Troop. There were Native Americans (back then they were called Indians) but the joke was that they were all played by Borscht Belt comedians. The name of the tribe? The Hekawi Indians. As in, “where the heck are we?” (Okay, that is pretty funny.)

Was it successful? – well, it ran for two season back in the day, so they made 65 episodes. Not bad, but not a hit.

When Things Were Rotten (1975) -- A comedy from Mel Brooks about Robin Hood. It starred most of the Get Smart ensemble. Dick Gautier (Hymie) was Robin Hood. Bernie Koppell (Siegfried) was Alan-a- Dale. It lasted 13 episodes, which made it a big bomb in those days. Don’t feel bad if you missed it, though – Mel Brooks was able to recycle most of the gags for his Robin Hood: Men in Tights feature. Watch that and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the show was like.

Best of the West (1981) – The Best of them All. Flat-out the finest historical sitcom in the short history of the genre. Earl Pomerantz should be knighted, sainted and given the Congressional Medal of Honor for creating this wonderful show, set in the Old West. Why it isn’t re-run constantly on TVland is a mystery to me. But more of a mystery is why it only lasted 22 episodes. To say that it was a model for THANKS would be an understatement. Quoting jokes doesn’t do it justice. I only tell you to watch it. Only it’s not out on video. That’s right, Perfect Strangers is out on DVD, but this masterpiece isn’t.

The Black Adder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth (1983-89) The Citizen Kane of historical sitcoms. Maybe it was because it was made in England, where history matters. Maybe it was because it was made in England where a hit show runs for six episodes a season. Whatever the reason this show succeeded where none (but one – I’ll get to that) has before. If you’ve only seen Rowan Atkinson as the mute Mr. Bean, his sheer verbal dexterity with astound you. If you’ve only seen Hugh Laurie as the tortured Dr. House, his pure, unabashed silliness as The Prince Regent with astonish you.

Mark and I talked about following the lead of this show, and setting THANKS is other time periods (The Revolution, the Civil War, the Frontier) if it ever got tired. Silly us, thinking it might last long enough to get tired.

I should mention The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998), which crashed and burned just before THANKS similarly flamed out, but I made a point of not watching it, for fear of cross pollination. I hear it was good, though.

Before I come to the last, and the only successful American historical sitcom, I suppose it’s time to address the other questions in Ken’s e-mail.

Why THANKS struggled, whether you got enough network support, the hazards, advantages, unique challenges, etc.?

Well, first of all it was a sitcom about the Pilgrims. So, naturally, the first strike against was that people would think it was just a sketch comedy. You had to hang around awhile to see that, yes, it was that but it was a little bit more. It was a family comedy too. And a satire. We called it silly-smart. We were the only ones who called it that.

Did the network support us? Well, yes, in that they, for no reason whatsoever, PUT THE SHOW ON. And let us make six of them. They never really gave us notes, for the simple reason that they couldn’t figure out how. The usual network rules (make sure the leads are likable, make sure we root for them, make sure they’re good at their jobs) just didn’t seem to apply. Sure, they were likable and we rooted for them; they were Puritans on the constant brink of starvation for godsakes. If that isn’t “stakes,” I don’t know what is.

Did they promote the show? Not at all. Did they renew the show? Not so much. But they still let us make six episodes. I’ve always felt like I pulled a fast one there.

The biggest drawback to historical sitcoms is figuring out when to set them. What period in history do we feel the closest to at this point in time? F Troop thought the frontier was that time for the 1960s. When Things Were Rotten opted for Robin Hood’s age. Best of the West thought the Old West was the time we felt most connected to, and the only reason I can give for its failure was that it just missed the Western boom in TV. THANKS? Mark and I thought the Puritan times were ideal for drawing a parallel to ‘90s. We still think so. CBS and the viewing public disagreed.

Which brings us to the one clear success in the historical comedy sweepstakes. The show which ran for 6 seasons and produced 168 episodes. The show? Hogan’s Heroes.
It ran from 1965 to 1971. As Sgt. Schultz put it, “I know nothing!”

Thanks for THANKS, Phoef.

I will read and critique your script

As you know, my one blog related rule is that time doesn't permit me to read and critique scripts. I'd have to give up such luxuries as sleeping and eating. But I am making an exception for a good cause. The Dodgers are sponsoring their second annual "Think Cure" radiothon, raising money for cancer research. So for their on-line auction I have volunteered to read someone's spec script and share my thoughts and suggestions. I am also donating three signed scripts -- "Point of View" and "None Like It Hot" from MASH and the two-part "Never Love a Goalie" from CHEERS.

There are also a lot of other fun items up for bid (some even baseball related) and again, it's for a great cause. The auction ends Monday.

Here's where to go.

Please bid. I'd hate to think a script review by me brings in less money than autographed Chicken Foot drum sticks.

Many thanks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

House Husbands of Hollywood

In my relentless quest to bring you the best in reality show cheese, I submit for your edification: HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD. It premiered last week (and I imagine is repeated endlessly) on something called the Fox Reality Channel (as opposed to the Fox News Channel which bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality). Upfront disclaimer: One of the participants is a good friend (Charlie Mattera) so I am hoping the show does well. But that doesn’t stop me from laughing and cringing in all the wrong places, which of course is my criteria for a truly great reality show. So I can recommend it heartily.

HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD is a nine part series that follows five hubbies who are stay-at-home dads (or in one case, stay-at-home dog sitter) while their high-powered wives work. If the series gets picked up for another season it will be re-titled DIVORCED HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD.

Let’s meet them shall we?

My buddy Charlie. His wife is a psychologist so she doesn’t want to be shown on camera for fear of compromising patient relationships. Okay, I buy that. But we do hear her over the phone. Every morning she leaves Charlie a to-do list on Hello Kitty stationery. And then throughout the day as he’s cleaning the kitchen and picking up the toys and unloading the dishwasher she calls to make sure he also folded the laundry. We see Charlie changing a wet diaper (it wouldn’t be a pilot without it), hanging out at our gym with his BFF Ryan O’Neal, and pushing little Ryan’s stroller (yes, his baby is named Ryan). We also see him conferring with a priest. Y’see, Charlie has a dillemma. He used to be a bank robber and spent 8 1/2 years in prison. How does he break this news to the in-laws? Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. But he’s genuinely charming and funny and what does it say about a husband-wife relationship when you’re rooting for the felon?

Billy Ashley used to be a Los Angeles Dodger. One of his home runs landed on Jupiter. He looks like a bad-ass wrestler. Now he wrangles two pre-teen daughters while wifey Lisa applies make-up to the stars and launches her own line of beauty products. Well, actually…Billy runs the business. He’s on the phone all day trying to hawk the “ultimate eyecream” and the “ultimate moisturizer.” My guess is former teammates were not on the other end of the line.

He’s a man surrounded by tweens. His two daughters with a ‘tude, and then his wife makes him assist in a little in-home seminar with the neighborhood twelve year old girls where they discuss menstrual cycles. You see the look on his face and just know he’s thinking “Oh, why didn’t I just get hit in the head with a Roger Clemens’ fastball?”

Remember Tempest Bledsoe from the COSBY SHOW? She’s now grown up and we’re told still a successful working actress (which was news to me). Her husband is Darryl M. Bell (yeah, the kid from DIFFERENT WORLD). She comes off the best of the wives (only slightly naggy) and he’s very funny. He’s going to make his next spouse very happy.

Poor Grant Reynolds. He’s married to Jillian Reynolds – scatterbrain co-host of GOOD DAY LA, and eye candy for FOX NFL SUNDAY. Once a Marine sniper, he’s currently a failed actor (excuse me…”aspiring” actor) who is now chasing after his toddler daughter (who is adorable, by the way). His three salvations: racing motorcycles on the open road (understandable death wish), deciding which of the two moms at playdates to eventually fuck (they can’t mention his name without their legs flying apart as if they were spring loaded), and although he’d never admit it, the little passive-aggressive joy he receives when his daughter rushes to his arms and screams whenever mommy tries to pick her up. This is the family I worry about. Marine sniper, remember.

And then there’s Danny Barclay. This schlemiel gets the shit beaten out of him the most and he doesn’t even have a kid. After watching Danny’s blonde shark self-centered wife for three minutes I wanted to borrow Grant’s M-16. In fairness though, Danny doesn’t help his cause. He was a promising pre-med student who chucked it all to become an out-of-work actor. I bet the in-laws would have preferred Charlie’s rap sheet. Danny receives an email from Katherine (don’t call her Kat) every morning with the subject heading TODAY. It lists all of the chores he is required to do TODAY. He tries to put a kegorater in the kitchen and that goes over well. Faster than you can say castrating bitch it gets shipped off to the garage.

In a futile and pathetic attempt to reclaim his manhood, Danny sets up a “man cave” in the garage. Beach chairs and little tables are set up to create a haven of testosterone. The rest of the house husbands come over (I hope they have babysitters. I’d hate to think the wives are taking care of the kids) and it looks like Bart Simpson’s treehouse club. Worse is when Katherine (not Kat) comes home early and parks her car in the man cave. No male can watch this segment without his testicles retreating so far up his body that tweezers are needed to retrieve them.

A huge majority of the real housewives and mothers are not like this. But then they don't get reality shows.

Ultimately, HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD will have a happy ending. Those kids (and dogs) are being raised by loving dads. In the meantime, there are toilets to be scrubbed, bickering to be had, and fun bad reality television to be made. Start checking off that list, boys.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Eric Dane sex tape and the Cartoon Network

Some random musings...

The latest sex tape to hit the internet features Eric Dane from GREY'S ANATOMY, his wife, and another woman. Oh please let it be Katherine Heigl.
The Cartoon Network now has live-action shows. MTV and VHI have non-music related shows. American Movie Classics currently features hour series. What’s the point of branding? For all the talk of narrow-casting and a gazillion channels trying to find their niche, when push comes to shove, everyone wants a bigger audience and that usually means casting a wider net… Or, to use an outdated obsolete old school retro term – BROADcasting.

By signing Michael Vick the Philadelphia Eagles are now the most hated team in the NFL… even in Philadelphia.

Bob Dylan was stopped by cops in New Jersey and asked for ID. I can just imagine the exchange. Cop: “What’s you name, sir?” Bob: “Bababadabeedraleebadin.” Cop: “What?” Bob (getting annoyed): “Bababadabeedraleebadinyastunampidirasssher!” Cop: “Okay, buddy, let’s see some ID.

Britain released UFO documents detailing 800 alleged encounters. 780 of them from guys leaving pubs.

MAD MEN’S third season premiere did not disappoint. My head hurts with all the symbolism and Joan should no longer ever wear red but it’s fascinating to watch those characters and that world. The new British owners of the ad agency are really evil. That’s who the Martians should be targeting.

DANCING WITH THE STARS has announced its new line-up. One of the “stars” is a skateboard champ. Hey, YOU try to find sixteen actual celebrities in Hollywood! Also scheduled: Kelly Osbourne.

The next ten people who sign up to follow me on Twitter will become eligible to be contestants on the next edition of DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Michael Jackson will be buried on his birthday. Which year?

HuffPost Headline: Madonna Celebrates 51st Birthday In Poland Amid Catholic Protests. Too much loud Jewish music!!! How are we supposed to confess when there’s that goddamn Hava Nagila going all night long!!

Watching the Obama Town-Hall forum on Saturday I saw a number of elderly people angrily complain that the government should not get involved with health care. Uh, who do you think is running Medicare??

Paula Abdul says she might want to come back to AMERICAN IDOL. Like Hollywood Week, she should be made to go up the elevator, walk that long corridor to the massive judgment room, sit in a little chair in front of the producers, and plead and wail to the point where Tatiana del Toro is embarrassed for her.

At one time the Dodgers had the best record in baseball. Now they don't even have the best record in Southern California.

Madison Avenue had officially declared the summer TV schedule a failure. Not one new show sparked America’s imagination. I say wait, give HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD a chance. My review tomorrow.

I haven’t seen it but does THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE buy that her husband keeps disappearing to go back in time? This is a more plausible explanation than let's say, oh...he’s having an affair?

I’m sick to death of Jon & Kate. And three weeks ago I didn’t even know who they were.

But if it was Jon & Kate AND the other woman -- now THAT'S the kind of live-action show I'd watch on the Cartoon Network.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The 40th anniversary of Woodstock

This is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. 500,000 long-haired stoned members of my generation attended this three-day open air music festival. I was not one of them. But at least I admit it. For every person who attended there was another thousand who said they attended but really spent that weekend doing chores for mom. And while half a million rain soaked, bathroom deprived, hippies grooved on three days of love and understanding, I was in LA bombarded by news updates on the Charles Manson murders.

I did see the movie WOODSTOCK that came out the next year. Jesus, did that scene look crowded! And uncomfortable! Yeah, Hendrix and Janis were great, but good God, I’d have to go three days without a toilet! I always thought the tagline for the film should have been, “Great Music! Stereophonic Sound! Clean Rest Rooms!”

But like I said, anyone who was east of the Mississippi in the summer of 69 says they attended Woodstock. In fairness, some who didn’t were probably so loaded they thought they were there. When their favorite Woodstock act was Lady Gaga that’s a clue.

But one friend of mine claimed he was there and I believe him. Why? Because this is what he said, “Most of the time the music was really bad.” Everyone remembers the headliners – Crosby, Stills, & Nash, the Who, Joe Cocker – but there were a lot of no-name bands that screeched through endless sets. Again, I wasn’t there so I didn’t hear for myself, but there’s probably a reason the movie didn’t include Quill (doing a 40 minute set consisting of four songs), the Keef Hartley Band, the Grease Band, and six or seven other headliners that died on the editing room floor. He said at times it was also hard to hear and impossible to see. There’d be hippies staggering around completely lost. Babies screaming, people talking through the music.

Another person I know was there was Grace Slick, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane. As luck would have it I met her Friday night at the radio station. What a cool lady. She said the groups were housed at a nearby motel and airlifted by helicopter to a field behind the stage. So for most of the festival she watched bored musicians shoot pool.

She and the "plane" arrived on the scene at 9 pm, but the program was running just a tad long. They didn't get on stage until 6 am. Not the best time I would imagine to perform rock n' roll. But she thought it was an incredible experience and seeing 500,000 people from the air was a sight she'll never forget.

Amazingly, there were only two deaths. One from an overdose (duh!) and the other was run-over by a tractor. But considering the number of people, in such close quarters, with precious little food and shelter, the fact that there weren’t riots and chaos, and new Scientology chapters says a lot about my ge-ge-generation.

Woodstock was a statement of peace (I think it was made just before the Sha-na-na set). And a declaration of unity. Whether we were there or not I’m sure we’d all like to go there now – to recapture those old feelings, to feel a sense of shared purpose, to buy a summer home we could escape to on the weekends.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My PLAYBILL bio: Aren't you impressed???

When the musical I co-wrote was produced I was asked to submit my bio for the program. The trouble is, if I list that I am primarily a TV writer it’s like putting a big target on my chest for New York theatre critics. So I thought I’d fudge, tailor it a tad for the Broadway theatre crowd. What do you think of this?

Ken is the adopted son of Stephen Sondheim. His godfather was Bob Fosse who he met while walking Gwen Verdon’s dog. He spent his formative years building the sets for LES MISERABLES. A Peace Corps stint followed where for two years he introduced the Broadway musical to poverty stricken villages throughout Cambodia.

Ken returned to New York where he walked Carol Channing’s husband. He became somewhat of a play doctor, coming in uncredited to save A CHORUS LINE, PROOF, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (originally titled: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH SHLOMO). WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, AVENUE Q., AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (additional dialogue), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (talking Mamet out of the dance numbers), and THE ODD COUPLE (originally titled: TWO AND A HALF MEN).

An experimental work of his own played two nights in Boston and two nights in St. Louis. It was called the 2004 WORLD SERIES.

He has never seen a television show, watched a movie, or read any book not written by John Simon or Frank Rich.

Fire everybody!!!

A couple of weeks ago on Dodger Talk we got on the subject of how much angrier sports fans are in general these days. But we concluded that angry sportstalk radio seems to get ratings. So I decided to go that route. It also provided a way to get into a commercial I had to read.

Join me and get pissed!

You can hear podcasts of Dodger Talk here. Relive all your favorite wins and losses from the last week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"You're canceled! Now get out!"

Would a weekend be complete without your questions and my attempt at answers?

willieb asks:

Any truth in those "everybody has a screenplay" stories ("My hairdresser/valet/dry cleaner gave me a screenplay to read")? Have you been bombarded with sample scripts? If so, what's the weirdest situation you've had to deal with?

I’ve received scripts at my high school reunion, I’ve told the story about getting pitched a movie while making funeral arrangements for my grandmother, and a couple of years ago one of the host helpers during my mother’s condolence wanted to pitch me a pilot idea. When I announced minor league baseball people would come up to the press box all the time with scripts. It's not like there was great security in ballparks in Rochester and Toledo. If someone had the lung capacity to climb those stairs they could get in.

A director I know was attending High Holiday services one year at his temple and a fellow congregate pulled a script out from under his prayer shawl.

I’m sure a few of the working writers who read this blog could weigh in with their own appalling stories.

Cap'n Bob Napier wonders:

I just saw a M*A*S*H episode written by MacLean Stevenson. When actors do this are massive rewrites usually required or are they pretty good to start with?

I don’t know about that particular episode but yes, massive rewrites usually are required. One reason: they often give 90% of the good lines to themselves. But in fairness, they’re not writers. If I were to suddenly have a big guest role in a MASH or CHEERS episode I’m sure I’d suck. I’m not an actor.

I will say this though, Alan Alda’s scripts were terrific and we changed very little.

From Steve:

On a show like Cheers, do the showrunners or writers know where they want their main characters to wind up by the end of the series (e.g., Sam & Diane will finally get and stay together), or is that unusual and more typically the story arcs are just thought of season by season, or even every few weeks?

First off, it’s unusual that shows are so successful that producers can determine when the series will end. Usually it’s America.

In the case of CHEERS, we always thought it would be great to bring Diane back for the finale but Shelley Long had to be available and agreeable to doing it. If she were in Norway making a movie we were shit out of luck.

If producers know where the finish line is they’ll usually work towards it in the final season. Sometimes it’s a five or six episode arc that leads up to the conclusion. For LOST it’s a three year arc.

I still think David Chase doesn't know how THE SOPRANOS end.

Some shows have built in endings. the war ends on MASH. And I would hope that on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER? we would find out how the hell he did already.

A bigger question than what to do for the finale is how long the finale will be? Networks try to make huge events out of these and stretch them from a half hour to (if they had their choice) nine hours plus an intermission. This greatly affects the storytelling. MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, and SEINFELD were waaay longer than they needed to be but the networks got one last massive payday out of them. In my opinion, as good as all of them may have been, they would have been far better if they were only an hour.

Kudos to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND for ending their series with half hour episodes. For my money they’re three of the best finales ever. And that's one reason why.

My partner and I have had three series and none of them had a planned final episode. Once the network says, "You're canceled! Now get out!" that pretty much puts the kibosh on your glittering two hour finale. If we knew we were doing a last episode of ALMOST PERFECT the plan was to bring back all the characters from our other two series and end all three at once. Well, maybe when our next series is canceled.

Ask your question in the comments section. Thanks. Have a great weekend.

Blogger trouble

Am I the only one on blogspot having this problem? I try to set up future posts and get this error message: bX-fduxe2

What the hell does that mean? When you click on their support link it just leads to confusing dead ends. And since I'm a computer retard anyway, I thought maybe one of you might know what's going on? Whether this is serious? How can I fix it? How can I report it someone who actually might do something?

Thanks. I've always depended on the kindness of cyber strangers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Please move the Federal Building!

Friday questions will be my next post but first...
There’s a Federal Building near my house and it’s a giant pain in the ass!

First off, in typical government fashion, when construction began it was discovered that the foundation was laid down backwards. The back of the building fronted Wilshire Blvd. and the grand entrance faced the parking lot.

Located in Westwood, near UCLA and a major freeway, it is also the scene of frequent demonstrations. And by frequent, I mean constant. Anytime the price of the yen goes down a quarter there are five hundred screaming people with Iranian flags and signs. This clogs up traffic, not just on Wilshire Blvd. (a major thoroughfare) but the freeway as well. If you’re trying to get from the valley to Culver City you can’t because of these nitwits.

And then on Thursday some nut who apparently made threats against the White House was cornered in a VW bug in the parking lot. There was a stand off for eight hours. Streets in the area were closed, nearby apartment dwellers were evacuated, a thousand police cars kept vigil. Even some UCLA police cars were there (and that’s really sending in the heavy artillery!) A goddamn tank was present. Helicopters loudly buzzed overhead.

Three times robots tried to fire tear gas into the car and that failed. Who trains these friggin’ robots? Eventually, after eight hours the suspect was arrested. But not before traffic was an utter nightmare.

I imagine tomorrow the Middle East protesters will be out there claiming the U.S. mistreats robots.

Please move the Federal Building. Death Valley would be nice. Maybe the top of the Ozarks. Think how much easier it would be to provide security. Maybe I should organize a rally to spearhead that. Do you know where I can get 500 Iranian flags?

I just drove by there at 9:30 PM. I SWEAR this is true. There are five protesters with Iranian flags.


Thanks to David and Jessica Thomas for the picture.