What is it about Sonya Walger that every network casting person adores? I mean, she’s certainly a very good actress and extremely pretty to look at but she's not the only pretty actress in Hollywood. There have to be at least six others. Yet, Sonya Walger seems to get every part out there.
And sometimes it gets disconcerting. She’s dear sweet Penny on LOST. Her hubby Desmond has gone through hell and earth and time for her love and yet there she is on HBO giving her other husband a handjob on TELL ME YOU LOVE ME. And now she’s married to a third husband on ABC’s FLASH FORWARD. In the pilot she has a vision of the future and being with another man. Maybe it’s Desmond during one of his time travels. My head is exploding.
In past years she was the wife Mike Binder was cheating on in HBO’s MIND OF THE MARRIED MAN (which made no sense at all since she’s far hotter than the trollops he chased after).
Sonya was also in the American version of COUPLING and had recurring roles on SLEEPER CELL, CSI: NEW YORK, and THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. How does she keep straight which set to show up at each morning?
And again, nothing against Sonya. I wish I were her agent. Every year there seems to be another network darling. This year she's the lucky one. Last year it was Kim Raver. Despite annoying fans on 24 she also was a series regular in THIRD WATCH, NINE, and LIPSTICK JUNGLE.
The queen of course is Paula Marshall. Paula's starred in seven different series and recurred in five others. Someday there will be cloning and she'll be in all twelve at once.
Networks like familiarity. Whenever you see the cast list of pilots, next to the actors’ names in parenthesis are always the last series they were in. Rarely do you see…
“Rachael Needimeyer” (never been in anything but is really good).
The irony of course is that TV makes stars. And when a new show takes off it usually is because it features some exciting newcomer (Jon Hamm anyone?). And it’s not just the broadcast networks who favor familiar faces. The only HBO show Sonya has not been on is JOE BUCK LIVE.
I’m sure Paula, and Kim, and now Sonya test through the roof. They’re attractive, versatile, likeable, and if I were in a focus group and saw Sonya Walger naked giving a handjob I’d give her the highest score too.
But I’d sure love to see Rachael Needimeyer get her shot. Who knows? She could star in a series. Or two. Or seven.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
What is it about Sonya Walger that every network casting person adores? I mean, she’s certainly a very good actress and extremely pretty to look at but she's not the only pretty actress in Hollywood. There have to be at least six others. Yet, Sonya Walger seems to get every part out there.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Okay comedy writer, here’s your assignment:
Create a pilot with the following –
Make it a family show, and even though there have been family shows on television for sixty years, find an entirely fresh new approach.
It must be enduring so that you could generate stories for five years.
You must create ten distinctive characters. They all must funny, relatable, edgy, flawed, and yet endearing. They all must relate to each other in some way. You need to set up relationships, dynamics, conflicts, alliances.
You must cast these parts perfectly, preferably with fresh faces we haven’t seen ten thousand times. And if you do use a familiar actor he’s got to be so right for the role you can’t imagine anyone else in his place.
You need to set a tone. Quirky but grounded. “Out there” but believable.
You must introduce all of these elements in twenty minutes, giving each character ample time to establish him or herself. You must create story threads that all dovetail so that the show has a nice flow.
You must make it genuinely funny.
This must be a network show. You have no leeway on language.
You must tie it all together at the end.
And again, all of this in only twenty minutes.
That’s MODERN FAMILY that premiered last Wednesday night on ABC. Without a doubt it was the best comedy pilot I’ve seen in years. It was damn near a master class in writing and a producing a half hour sitcom.
Kudos to Steve Levitan & Christopher Lloyd, two sitcom “veterans” (imagine that – old guys) for concocting this delicious stew. Stand-out characters for me were Eric Stonestreet as the flamboyant gay boyfriend (pictured left), Ty Burrell as the clueless “cool” dad, and Ed O’Neill as the family patriarch married to a hot young Latino wife. But all the characters are good. And by midseason I bet I’ll have two more favorites.
MODERN FAMILY is the story of three intertwined families, shot as a reality show. Happily, the purpose of this convention isn’t just to capture the characters in humiliating situations. The story arcs are ingenious, the sight gags and slapstick moments score, and the dialog is hilarious. I say “dialog” because it’s not a series of one-liners. The characters just happen to say funny things that come out of their personalities.
I hope the subsequent episodes are as good. Given the pedigree of the creative staff I like their chances. I would just implore ABC to leave them alone. Let them do the show they want. They already pulled off a spectacular pilot. And it wasn’t as easy as it looks.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Channel surfing recently I came upon INPPV, which I guess is our cable company’s pay-per-view “adult” channel. These are the ACTUAL titles. I may have taken a little creative license with the descriptions. But probably not much. Again, the titles are REAL.
HOT AND BUSTY SECRETARIES/NUDE -- They feel objectified and demand their bosses refer to them as Hot and Busty Assistants/Nude.
FORBIDDEN SEX EXPOSED -- It’s the one show MacKenzie Phillips hasn’t been on yet.
BUSTY BANK TELLER ORGY CAUGHT ON TAPE -- Doggy-style day afternoon.
NUDE COEDS: WET & WILD – There’s a flood in the Math Science building.
PORN STAR BOWLING -- no one can pull off a 7-10 split like these gals.
NAKED NEWS TV – Analysis of the recent G20 Summit.
UP THE SKIRT UNCENSORED -- The world as viewed from under a subway grating.
BLIND DATE/SLUMBER PARTY – Because every blind date looks like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with the lights out.
DESPERATE SLUTS -- Starring Teri Snatcher, Fellatio Huffman, Marcia Crass, and Eva Longwhoria.
NUDE YOUNG SLUTS REVEAL ALL – They share their most recent findings on Merkel cell research.
SORORITY STRIP OFF – The election for house treasurer is decided on jello shot night.
ALL NUDES HOTTIES/ HOME ALONE -- No wonder those two burglars keep trying to break in.
BIG BUSTED COPS: WILD SEX ORGY – Fund raisers honoring Joseph Wambaugh haven’t brought in the big bucks.
SOCCER MOM WILD SEX PARTY – For that big postgame celebration, Pizza Hut accommodates the kids and the moms!
GIRL ON GIRL: LICK MY HEART -- To accomplish that it would have to be GIRL ON DEAD GIRL.
AMATEUR PERV CAM – It’s the one porno the Teamsters don’t want you to see.
CHEATING MILF’S EXPOSED – Beverly Hills plastic surgeons discover some of their patients have used other doctors.
AMERICAN COUGARS -- Courtney Cox stars in this delightful new comedy.
HORNY NUDE SPORTS GROUPIES -- Baseball’s “other” bobbleheads.
NAKED GHETTO GIRLZ -- Girls so poor they can’t afford clothes and the letter “s”.
SEXY GIRL ATHLETES: NAKED YOGA – By popular demand, more supine poses.
NAKED BEACH VOLLEYBALL – Very tough on the commentators since no one wears numbers.
MILFS WHO LOVE YOUNG BABES – And spend all their husbands’ money futilely trying to look like them.
And finally, requiring no explanation:
JERRY SPRINGER UNCENSORED
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Monday is the Jewish High Holiday. It's the day of atonement. A chance to reflect and ask forgiveness for our sins and transgressions over the past year. In my case, the Shohreh Aghdashloo crack in my Emmy review. It's a day of fasting (Jewish tradition has it that on all holidays you either fast or eat way too much), spiritual reconnection, and taking a break from your daily responsibilities (I will not be hosting Dodger Talk on Monday despite it being a crucial game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and it's 2010 Magnetic Schedule Day at PNC Park).
Staying out of work and school is not always easy or convenient.
I'm reminded of Sandy Koufax not pitching the first game of the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale pitched instead. The Minnesota Twins bombed him. He was lifted in the third inning. As Dodger manager, Walter Alston came out to the mound to get him, Drysdale said, "Yeah, Skip, I know what you're thinking. Why couldn't HE be Jewish?"
To all who observe: Happy 5770 (which means Mel Brook's 2000 year-old man is now really 3758).
Wow! THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE has been yanked by the CW after only two airings. How bad must the ratings have been for the CW to give it the quick hook? THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE was about good-looking models having sex. And not enough of the CW audience was interested in seeing that?
Actually, this takes the pressure off of me. I try to predict the first fatality of the Fall season and was undecided between MERCY, TRAUMA, and THREE RIVERS. My hang-up was they’re the same show. But now I don’t have to guess. It’s THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE.
A couple of years ago Fox cancelled a show before it even aired. That of course is the record but gone after only two airings on the CW – that’s pretty impressive.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
In between the time Sonny Bono wore fur vests and became a US Congressman he owned an Italian restaurant on Melrose Ave. in LA named “Bono’s.” He picked a bad location. Within months it went belly up. Since then, every time I drive by that place it’s something else – Japanese, Indian, American diner, etc.
When we’re in production on a show it seems that every week there is that one nagging joke that doesn’t work. It’s replaced on Tuesday. That joke doesn’t work. Wednesday, same story. On and on throughout the week.
That joke is called a “Bono”. And like I said, there’s ALWAYS one (at least one). The term was coined by Denise Moss, a fabulous writer on MURPHY BROWN.
What it teaches you is to stick with it, never settle, try new areas. And never just go for the easy joke…which is why I’m refraining from any reference to skiing.
Friday, September 25, 2009
This is why you need to read the comments. Readers pose interesting questions. Others respond. And occasionally a show's creator weighs in with the real scoop. That's what happened today. David Lee, one of the co-creators of FRASIER responds to a discussion thread.
Here's the original comment:
Michael R, Singapore said...
I have always wondered where the idea came from to spin-off the Frasier character into his own show. Was the idea first to spin-off a CHEERS character, then producers/writers met to discuss which one? How close did we come to getting CLIFF or WOODY? Personally, I thought the show would flop because I thought Frasier was insufferable on CHEERS and the most unsympathetic character to base a show around. So, how did you know that he was the one to spin off? Though I still hate Frasier (the character), I was shocked at how good the show was just by the supporting characters and the writing.
Brian Phillips said:
To answer "Michael R, Singapore"
"I have always wondered where the idea came from to spin-off the Frasier character into his own show."
In Kelsey Grammer's autobiography, Grammer said that the original show that he wanted to do after "Cheers" was a variant on "The Man Who Came To Dinner". He would play a bed-ridden screenwriter (or producer, I forget), who ruled the roost from his bed and made life miserable for all the other people in the house. NBC's Brandon Tartikoff either read the script or saw a pilot and he told Grammer, "I think comedies should be funny."
Having taken that note to heart, he decided that it would be best to go with a character that the audience already knew and liked. I don't recall whether the spin-off was pitched to him before he tried the bed-ridden curmudgeon idea or not, though.
And now the REAL answer, graciously submitted by one of the gentlemen who actually MADE the decision -- David Lee.
The decision to spin the character of Frasier off CHEERS was actor driven at first. Kelsey had done a guest spot on WINGS and won and emmy for it. He decided he'd like Angel Casey and Lee (that would be me) to develop a series for him. We did not want to do a spinoff at first, so we pitched him an idea based on a Malcolm Forbes type mega millionaire who is injured on his motorcycle. The series would revolve primarily about his relationship with his home health care worker (are you starting to see echoes of what would later evolve?) It was not about him driving the household crazy, though I'm sure that would have happened. Kelsey liked it. We pitched it to John Pike, then head of Paramount TV, and it was he who uttered the ""I think comedies should be funny" line. (This was, I thought, a ridiculously dismissive comment. Think of pitching a series about a medical unit in the midst of the carnage of the Korean War and the response being ""I think comedies should be funny.")
Still, we abandoned the idea (it was never a script or an outline.) Pike then pushed us toward the spin off. He said we had a tremendous asset and we might want to take advantage of it. We agreed, but with the caveat that there would be no other characters spun off from the show. So that is why you never saw CARLA! or NORM! or CLIFF!
PS Peter David and I always credit John Pike with really being the executive who made that show happen, despite the thousands of people who would lay claim to that credit. Sadly, he was fired by the time the first episode aired.
Thanks again to David Lee. I now owe him eight lunches, five dinners, and a Manny Ramirez bobblehead.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
It’s Friday Question Day – my most popular feature, even if it’s my only feature. Leave your questions in the Comments section. Thanks.
Brian Phillips starts us off:
I recently heard the "Fresh Air" interview on NPR with Terry Gross. Ted Danson said that it took him over a year to play Sam properly. Within that year, I would argue, Sam and Diane worked well off of each other. On the shows you have worked on do you find that the cast "chemistry" is something that is pretty much in place near the beginning of the show ("Friends" creators felt this way about their cast) or does it tend to develop over time?
I found it’s often more rare that the chemistry is present right from the beginning. Usually both the acting and the writing evolves as everyone gropes to find that perfect formula for success. Frequently series will need one or even two years before they really hit their stride. I felt that about THE OFFICE and BIG BANG THEORY.
It sometimes is a trial-and-error process in the early going. Eventually you sift through and find the gold (hopefully).
Ironically, I thought Ted played Sam the best that first season. Part of it is our (writers collectively) fault. I think at times in the course of the run we made Sam too dumb. Granted, that made it easier to mine comedy from the character but I love how cool and together Sam Malone was in those early episodes. But that could just be me.
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is another example of a show I believe had sensational chemistry right from the pilot.
I was in college in the 80s and had a friend at William and Mary who told a story about a classmate who wrote a spec script for M*A*S*H, submitted it and had it produced. This writer, the story went, wrote at least a few scripts while still a student at William and Mary, and eventually became a regular writer for M*A*S*H.
Is there any truth to this story, and if so is it something that could never happen now?
No truth to that story. Sorry. Of course, I've known of guys who happen to share my name who have taken credit for writing my shows. When someone says they wrote for a hit show ask to see a residual check.
It could happen that you sell a spec but it’s highly unlikely. If your script gets you meetings or an agent or an assignment then you've hit it out of the park.
But there are, from time to time, instances when a show will buy a spec script and produce it. That’s what happened to Sam Simon and TAXI. It’s very rare, but who knows? Producers are always scrambling for good stories.
Ken have there been any shows you've written for/been employed by and have left that you looked at in their ensuing episodes/seasons and wondered "Why are they doing that?" or "Why are they taking the show in that direction?"
Yes. But there have also been times when I’d see a future episode of a series I worked on and think, “Damn! That’s a great story. Why didn’t we think of that?”
Do you see any hope for the return of the anthology series?
Probably not but you never know. Anthologies are very expensive to produce. You need a new cast every week, new sets, new stories. In this economy especially, I don’t think networks are looking to take on that kind of ambitious project.
Plus, audiences become attached to characters. Anthologies introduce you to new ones every week. You have to figure out who they are, whether you like them – that’s way too much work for most people. Much easier to just turn on the TV, there’s Monk, he’s afraid of germs again, I’m happy.
There have been variations of anthologies. One is to have one leading character anchoring the series. QUANTUM LEAP and THE FUGITIVE are examples. The series star meets new people and finds himself in new situations but still, the show is centered around him. To some degree MY NAME IS EARL is structured along those lines (but that show had several recurring characters).
And finally, from Joey:
Episodes are edited for syndication or cable to allow more commercial time than when they were first run. Do writers anticipate this and write scenes that are not crucial to the A story that are, in effect, designed to be edited out.
Generally not. If there’s a free floating tag, that’s easily removed. But here’s the thing – even if we wrote scenes that could clearly be lifted, whoever is editing the shows for syndication would select something else. Some MASH episodes are hacked up so poorly that the stories no longer make sense. Or invariably editors will cut out the best jokes of the show. They have a sixth sense for that.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a World War II porno movie for Jews. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film about a rogue band of Jewish soldiers hell-bent on bringing down the Third Reich should earn him boxoffice riches and every deli in New York will name a sandwich after him.
People have always been divided on Tarantino’s work. Those who resent his “too cool for school” sensibility will surely hate INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. This is the first World War II movie I can recall with a hipster vibe. And spelling freaks will also find the film abhorrent (yes, that’s how you spell abhorrent).
But those like me who find his work rollicking good fun (when he is on his game) should enjoy the crap out of it. The mistake most filmmakers make when tackling World War II is that they are true to facts. These only get in the way. You want authenticity? Then go to the HISTORY CHANNEL. You want a fun date night bloody war epic? Then INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is just your dish.
A good friend of mine, who is the most discerning filmgoer I know, judges World War II movies by how many Nazis get killed. I agree (and this movie delivers big in this happy department) but I look for something more – a great villain (besides Hitler – he’s a given). And in this case, Tarentino has hit not just a home run but a grand slam home run.
Christoph Waltz, as the evil Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, is the best screen villain since Alan Rickman in DIE HARD some twenty-one years ago. So charming, so hateful, so methodical, so scary – he could only be in the SS or CAA. Waltz is an inspired choice and absolutely deserves the Oscar. If Heath Ledger got one for the Joker, Waltz should get two for this role.
And then there’s lovely French actress Melanie Laurent. If she reminds you of Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA that’s because she looks just like Ingrid Bergman, wears her hair the exact same way, and even dons the same hat. She spoke primarily in subtitles but was clearly up to the material.
Warning: A lot of this movie is in subtitles and I was terrified at first because I thought if Tarentino can’t spell either of the two words in the title, how the hell is he going to subtitle a hundred pages of dialogue? Thankfully though, all was spelled correctly.
Brad Pitt, as the hillbilly leader of the brigade of killer Jews (think: Dirty Dozen as the Mayhem Minyan), is clearly having fun, speaking in a fractured accent that one must assume is a loving homage to Larry the Cable Guy. And Eli Roth as the “Bear Jew” might have an outside chance for “Best Supporting Actor”. If not him than his bat.
The story builds nicely and cleverly, and has the feel-good ending of the year. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – now killing and scalping Nazis in a theater near you. I doubt if there will be a TV version because I can see the networks all saying to Quentin, “We love it! There’s only one thing that bother us just a little. Do the soldiers really have to be Jewish?”
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Actually it’s a TV series (although 20th is in the process of developing it as feature). It’s called HUSTLE, produced by the BBC. Tony Jordan created it and I wouldn’t want to get into a “Bar Wars” type duel with this guy.
AMC airs the series from time to time “over the pond” but you can get the DVD’s.
HUSTLE is about a group of con artists that pull elaborate stings. And by elaborate I mean ingenious, intricate, sometimes inspired. You’ll be saying, “How the hell do they come up with this stuff??”
Leading the cast is Robert Vaughn. (The Man from UNCLE now essentially plays Mr. Waverly.) Yes, he’s wooden as always. He never acts, he “poses”. But it works somehow.
Adrian Lester is the real revelation. He plays the mastermind leader, Mickey. And if you’ve never seen him before that’s because this is the first non-theater project he’s done. But you’ll see him again. Denzel Washington, watch out.
Marc Warren plays Danny. He’s the young, raw, talented newbie to the group – gifted but unpredictable. Ironically they picked a guy who looks like a young Illya Kuryakin (the Man From UNCLE’S partner who always got the shit beaten out of him while Vaughn’s character slept with the dictator’s wife).
There’s Robert Glenister as “Ash”, the technical whiz who can break into any safe, rewire any security device, and although they never showed it, understand the new Time-Warner Cable DVR remote.
Luscious Jamie Murray plays Stacie. She was the villainess in season two of DEXTER. It’s fun to watch a woman who is ten times smarter than the men she targets to con.
After the first three seasons characters drop out and are replaced. I haven’t seen those episodes so I can’t say whether they suffer. Season four has to because Adrian Lester isn’t in it. He returned for season five however. I don’t understand why actors drop out of English series. They only make six or eight at a time.
The production values are sumptuous. The series is super stylish. Michael Mann would be proud.
Examples of some of the cons: they have to break into jail, they have to create an entire Bollywood production, they have to create a forged Mondrian so good that it fools experts, they steal the Crown Jewels, and in my favorite so far – Danny and Mickey stage a competition. They’re both dumped out in the center of London at noon completely naked. They have eight hours to return to the home base and whoever grifted the most money wins. In short order they’re wearing tailored suits, cruising around in chauffeured limousines, raking in the dough.
The gang doesn’t always succeed, they often have to improvise, personality conflicts and past feelings also get in the way. But it’s always fun, always a good ride. HUSTLE, where the cons are pros.
Monday, September 21, 2009
In this ever-changing world it’s nice to know there are still State and County Fairs. For sheer Americana and just plain goofiness you cannot beat these celebrations of our country’s past and cardiac wards’ future. What better place to take your third grade class, Brownie troop, or legally insane killer inmates than a county fair. You may have heard, last week a homicidal murderer escaped at a Washington state county fair on a "field trip". (They let deeply disturbed killers go on field trips in Washington? Are they that liberal or is attendance that far down? I'm just askin'. )
Anyway, my all-time favorite was the Ohio State Fair I attended a few years ago in Columbus. The eight-foot statue of boxer Buster Douglas carved entirely in butter was certainly the highlight but watching the greased pig competition was a close second.
Folks still bring their cows to win blue ribbons. Moms still slave over hot stoves to make apple-gooseberry preserves worthy of kicking their neighbors’ sorry asses. And that prize clucker of yours might just win the chicken race this year and fried chicken competition the next. There are karaoke contests and hog calling contests (which may just be the same).
Carnival rides, manned by men who look like Reverend Jim, offer the kids hours of violent turbulent fun. I bet the escaped killer could've easily passed as a ferris wheel operator. There are exhibits, concerts, midways, horse and frog racing (different tracks), shopping opportunities, and a myriad of gastronomical delicacies, all dipped in chocolate and of course, all deep fried.
I don’t mind admitting it – I love County Fairs. So it took little persuasion to get to me to schlep out to the LA County Fair last week to make a personal appearance for the Dodgers and our radio station, KABC.
Here are some of the food items that are being served. And I’m not making ANY of these up. Deep Fried Coca Cola. Deep Fried Spam, Deep Fried Frog Legs, Deep Fried Twinkies and Oreos, and my favorite – Deep Fried Zucchini Weenies. Or you might prefer Chocolate Covered Bacon or Chocolate Dipped Pickles. There was something called a Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich ("Hey, that's not jelly. It's chicken!"). And who could resist savory Pig Butts? (I could see death row convicts requesting fair food for their last meal -- maybe the field trips make sense.)
These are the items listed under “Breakfast”. Again, I’m just copying what’s on the brochure. Mini Doughnuts, Cinnamon Rolls, Baked Potato (huh???), Texas Donuts, and Grand Desserts. Breakfast truly is the most nutritious meal of the day.
There are 33 venues selling beer, wine, and cocktails; 13 selling all other beverages.
And what a fair be like without Funnel Cake?! You can get your cholesterol level up to 300 with just four bites!
Personally, I have some rules about food. I don’t eat anything that’s blue. That meant no Icees, and no pulled pork.
My favorite part of any major Fair is the big exhibition hall where vendors hawk their wares. I love watching these Dan Aykroyd/Bassomatic salesmen go into their spiels. Forget computers! Forget Stem-Cell research! We have Titanium No-Stick Cookware now! And son-of-a-bitch, IT WORKS!!! IT'S A MIRACLE!!!!
And speaking of wonders -- there is now reusable ice! Thank GOD!!!
Every kind of household appliance, electronic jimjick, fashion accessory, black velvet artwork, health and beauty aid, automotive doohickey, flavor of jerky, schmatah, jewelry, and pet product known to man is for sale in one of the many cavernous exhibition halls. (I bet they even have handcuff keys.)
I got my Nail Fungus Kit, my Taco Proper, my Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer, pet clothing, Custom Hitch Covers, Scum Off, Vita Mix (which looks suspiciously like a Bassomatic), fairy wings, my Shopping Jeep, and my Meat Pounder (I’m taking that back. It’s not what I thought it was. Turns out it’s a kitchen product.).
I found it amusing that they were selling life insurance policies ten feet from the Deep Fried White Castle Hamburger stand. And I noticed a lot of booths for bible study and Christian conversion but not a single booth for the Chabad House. The Republican Party also had a booth. I asked if they had any souvenirs like Dick Cheney rifles and the elderly women who manned the booth were not amused.
There were massage chairs, a back bubble traction device (kinky!), relief from any ache or pain for only three payments of $39.95. Someone was selling cast iron Butch Cassidy safes and another vendor was hawking seven-foot ladders. “Would you like a bag for that, sir?” I don’t think they’re doing great business. I didn’t see anyone walking around with a giant ladder or safe on his back.
I didn’t make it to the Safari Adventure but I did swing by Jurassic Planet to see the prehistoric dinosaurs (large enough to be impressive, small enough not to scare the shit out of kids.). At “A Pirates Life” they were teaching youngsters how to steer a pirate ship (so they have fun and learn a useful trade).
And of course I went to the big livestock barn. Here’s where the LA County Fair has it over their Ohio State counterpart. Both have sheep shearing demonstrations. But the LA Fair doesn’t sell lamb burgers right outside the hall. Is it bizarre that I still just like to walk around and look at animals?
I did my radio show, interviewed Steve Garvey (I said in the spirit of the Fair I had him dipped in chocolate), hung out with Dodger fans and handed out pocket schedules. I don’t know why, the season is over in two weeks.
I hope County and State Fairs go on forever. In this age of mega-corporations and Wallmarts, it’s nice to see small businesses and ma & pa operations (even if they’re killing us with Funnel Cake). These Fairs are an American tradition that need to be preserved. Or at the very least, deep fried.
The 61st Annual Emmys, with the theme this year “a tribute to Lorne Michaels”, benefited greatly by having Neil Patrick Harris host instead of Heidi Klum yet introduced maybe the most appalling innovation in all its 61 years. The promo scroll at the bottom of the screen. Right in the middle of someone’s acceptance speech they would flash “Jennifer Love Hewitt and Patricia Arquette in 5 minutes”. In other words, just 5 minutes until these nobodies are through and people you care about will again be on.
Never once during an actor’s speech however, did they flash “The Writers of BURN NOTICE in 6 minutes”.
It was painfully obvious that the producers had one goal only – reverse the ratings trend and not lose again to the WEATHER CHANNEL. The scroll was one device. Another was to pre-shoot several awards and only air edited versions (cutting out those interminable crosses from the winners’ seats up to the stage). But the ATAS realized that might be disrespectful to the industry when the major guilds threatened to boycott the show and not grant them use of any film clips.
So in reviewing the telecast I have to cut them some slack because they had to stage an awards show where they were forced to actually show the awards.
The evening started on a high note for me since KTLA Channel 5 once again rolled out their red carpet show. Hosted of course by celebrity footstool Sam Rubin and a random bimbo. This year’s tomato was Victoria Recano, who I learned is their evening news anchor. These two lovable chuckleheads are always good for a few idiotic questions and comments. Also present was Tom O’Neill (a so-called Emmys expert). Sam asked him for a preview of the show and he said, “The highlight will be the In Memoriam feature”.
And then there was fashion expert, Jennifer Dorogo (whoever the hell she is). Jen did not like Elizabeth Moss’ gown. So Sam asks, “Is there someone to blame?” Apparently not since Jen declares, “the celebrities have the final say”.
Victoria to Anna Gunn regarding her gown, “Who is this guy?”
Sam to Johnny Galecki of BIG BANG THEORY: “Have you heard from nerds?”
DEXTER’S Julie Benz, quite birdlike in a dress that looked like a chandelier was very excited to get the free mints KTLA doled out. My daughter Annie said, “That’s her dinner”.
More fashion critiques from Jennifer Dorogo who somehow mistook Lonny Ross (Josh on 30 ROCK) for Jennifer Morrison (of HOUSE).
The actual show got off to a rousing start with Neil Patrick Harris (in a white dinner jacket) singing a big splashy opening number. The Academy wanted to recapture the magic of Neil hosting the Tonys and they certainly succeeded. It was the gayest opening of the Emmys ever. But Doogie can really sing and perform and has a nice easy charm. I thought he was the best Emmy host in ages. Next year the show airs on a different network so depending on which it is; expect either Gordon Ramsay or Katherine Heigl.
There were fewer Kanye West jokes than I thought. Maybe twelve.
Very elegant comedy montage – pratfalls, sex jokes, and Tina Fey on the toilet. Doesn’t it seem like FRASIER’S been off the air for a hundred years?
Yay for Kristin Chenoweth who won for a show that ABC cancelled. Her voice is so squeaky high anyway that when she started to cry garage doors all over America went up. But her emotional speech felt very real and heartfelt and after directing her last sitcom I’m relieved that I didn’t kill her career.
A big comedy bit was “Best Seat in the House”. A supposed fan is given the best seat in the house. But one time it’s behind the Harlem Globetrotters and another it’s behind equipment. Ha ha. I’m sorry but I’d rather see a winning writer walk all the way from his house to the stage than that lame bit.
Much funnier was the mock commentary by John Hodgman and Neil Patrick Harris introducing presenters by their most cringeworthy credits. Fortunately for me, no one from MANNEQUIN 2 was a presenter this year.
Olivia Wilde had the dress of the night, maybe the year. It was a two-piece white backless gown. Feathers over her left breast and then the other part. All she needed was a parrot on her elbow and she could get a thousand dollars a night performing at the Badda Bing.
I’m sure Toni Collette deserved her award. I understand she was very good. What show was she on again?
The Reality Show montage: five minutes of angry people being bleeped. This is the “excellence in television” we’re celebrating tonight.
When Jessica Lange was thanking everyone in the world I was hoping for a promo crawl underneath her to say, “Jessica Lange speech over in 8 minutes.”
One category they should eliminate is “Guest Actor/Actress” for comedy and drama. These are nothing more than a salute to stunt casting. It’s a reward for movie stars to slum it and do TV or former TV stars to get a big payday while they still can. Steve Martin, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Aniston, and perennial Ellen Burstyn (who actually won one year for being on camera literally 14 seconds). Replace the category with “Newcomers of the Year”. The ATAS wants new viewers? Honor new talent. Can you imagine anyone who uses the word “dude” rooting for Ellen Burstyn?
How is Jimmy Smits considered a “Guest” actor on DEXTER? He was in 12 of the 13 episodes.
Debra Messing came dressed as Aerial, the little Mermaid.
I was thrilled for Michael Emerson and Cherry Jones. Happy for Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (although I would have been happier for Jim Parsons).
Jeff Probst – Best Reality Host. Hugh Laurie can’t win an Emmy but this guy now has two for saying “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” every friggin’ episode.
During the Movies & Mini-Series montage they should have had a promo crawl that said, “Music & Variety Awards in 38 minutes.”
Note to winner Shohreh Aghdashloo: Sleeves!!
How did Bruce Gowers win an Emmy for directing AMERICAN IDOL? First of all, it was in the musical-variety category. Isn’t AMERICAN IDOL a reality show? And second, how hard is it to direct AMERICAN IDOL? One singer at a time comes out and stands in the same spot. And the judges all sit at one table. Half the nimrods on YouTube could do that.
Only in television could the great Sir Ian McKellan, Kenneth Branaugh, Kevin Kline, Kevin Bacon, and Brendan Gleeson be up for the same Best Actor in a Movie award with Keifer Sutherland for the two-hour 24.
After Ken Howard thanked someone for giving him a kidney, isn’t it a little hard for the next winner to go up and thank Lorne Michaels?
FAMILY GUY might’ve won for Best Comedy had they campaigned.
I hear GREY GARDENS was great unless you were expecting the musical.
No one who watched any of the mini-series or movies-for-television had the slightest clue what the DR. HORRIBLE bit was all about.
Congratulations to all the Creative Arts winners although there was not even a single mention of them this year. “Creative Arts” is a nice word for “crew”. To use a football analogy (since most people were watching the Cowboys-Giants game anyway) they’re the offensive line that protects the quarterback. Without them Teri Hatcher would be sacked forty times a game.
Question about the Variety montage – There was a shot of the Inauguration. The Presidential Inauguration is now considered Musical/Variety?
You’re going to think I’m making this up but I’m not. While the winners of the best song were giving their acceptance speech a promo crawl appeared that read, “In Memoriam in 11 minutes”.
The one criticism everyone had about the Oscars was that instead of just showing the people who passed on full screen during the “In Memoriam” segment, they opened with a long shot of the stage, the names and faces appearing on a screen in the background while an anguished singer performed in the foreground. That was universally reviled. So what do the Emmys do? The exact same thing.
I was happy for Matthew Weiner of MAD MEN although during his speech I half expected a promo crawl to say, “Summer Olympics in 3 years”.
No big surprises for the honored shows. MAD MEN, 30 ROCK, THE AMAZING RACE, THE DAILY SHOW. All well deserved. But if LOST, DEXTER, FAMILY GUY, or THE COLBERT REPORT had won I wouldn’t have been that upset.
Will all the “improvements” and Neil Patrick Harris be enough to turn the tide? It’s hard to say. They certainly made some strides. But the WEATHER CHANNEL had a special on hail storms in Kansas. I’m not optimistic.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Helping you to get in the mood for yet another awards show, here’s another of my old war stories.
My partner David and I were head writers of MASH. We had a very small staff so quite a few scripts were assigned to freelance writers. Some, like Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell and Tom Reeder did terrific work and most of their first drafts are what you see on the screen. But others didn’t pan out as well. In those cases, David and I would rewrite their scripts (often 100%). Since the plotting of MASH was somewhat intricate, it was always easier for me and David to break the story and write the outline ourselves. The freelancer would come in, we would hand him the story and talk him through it.
Never did we try to share credit. We figured that was part of our staff responsibilities. Most shows operate that way, or at least they did.
Anyway, we get a very disappointing draft and do a page one rewrite. It’s now award season. We get nominated for writing (not the Emmys). And this freelancer gets nominated for that script.
And we lose.
Essentially we lost to ourselves. Ouch!!
So good luck to all the nominees. I hope you win, and if not, I hope you at least lose to someone else.
I’ll be doing my annual jaunty Emmys review. It’ll be posted early Monday morning.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I loved the personal stories some of you told about Larry Gelbart following my tribute. Here's more on Larry. The TV Academy conducted an eight part interview with him that's available on YouTube. Each segment runs close to a half an hour. The one I've selected is the portion that centers on MASH. But I think you'll get a sense of what a affable, decent, humble, witty man he was.
SITCOM ROOM note: Registration is now closed. Thanks to all who signed up. We'll see you on November 14th. Get some sleep.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Registration ends tonight for the SITCOM ROOM. Remember, I only hold this once a year and for a maximum of twenty attendees. Trust me, this is a writing seminar unlike any one you’ve ever attended. For more info or to sign-up just go here to the SITCOM ROOM website. Thanks.
From Dana King:
I stumbled across a cable show the other night that was about what a hell hole MASH was to work on, at least for the actors and crew. How McLean Stevenson actually left because he couldn't take it any more (And I always thought it was for HELLO, LARRY), and Wayne Rogers constantly battling with Fox and CBS. Without betraying confidences, how much of that is true, and how much is sour graping after the fact?
None of it is true. And it’s why I refuse to be interviewed for these shows. In order to get viewers they fabricate all this “inside dish”. Here are the facts.
Most of the MASH crew worked the entire eleven-year run of the show. If they were so miserable they would have bailed for other shows. The economy was actually good back then and there were other shows to go to.
McLean was frustrated playing a supporting role and was receiving all these offers to star in his own series. So he left but not before serving the length of his contract. When people are really unhappy they want out right NOW. That wasn’t the case. And I know McLean was devastated upon learning his character was being killed off. I imagine he thought there might be some way for him to guest on future episodes somewhere down the line.
Wayne Rogers was also frustrated. Hawkeye and Trapper were supposed to be equal characters (Wayne was actually hired first) but Alan emerged as the star. Don’t blame the producers. Blame America. Wayne went off seeking starring roles. He also had issues with the studio over certain deal points and objectionable clauses in his contract. There is another facet of Wayne and that is he's a brilliant businessman. His investments and financial endeavors have earned him far more than he was making as an actor – even on MASH.
Wayne still participates in MASH retrospectives and even said if he had known the show was going to stay on eleven years, “I probably would have kept my mouth shut and stayed put."
MASH was a very happy set. But if the documentary showed that for an hour no one would watch. Better to just keep showing Kristy McNicols having drug problems.
And Joe asks:
How can you tell (or at least improve your odds) when an actor or actress will devolve into a complete PITA?
By PITA I assume you mean monster and not the bread. When casting parts you try to do your homework. Ask people who have worked with the actor before. In television there’s a pretty good grapevine. Nightmarish behavior gets around at the speed of “Send”. So heed the actor’s reputation.
Sometimes you’re in a pickle because you know the actor can be difficult but they’re also brilliant and no one else is as perfect for the part. Then you have to make the “Is this person worth it?” decision… otherwise known as the “Mandy Patinkin” decision . Often times you make a Faustian deal with the devil. Lots of people got rich thanks to Brett Butler and GRACE UNDER FIRE but half of them are spending it all on 24-hour care at the drooling academy.
If the actor doesn’t have a reputation and you just meet them it’s very hard to tell if they’re going to become a major problem. Actors can be incredibly charming when they want to be. But that’s the result of good acting.
At this point, I need to make a distinction here. There is a big difference between an actor who is a pain in the ass and one is just high maintenance. The latter has a slower process but he’s genuinely working hard to give you the best possible performance on show night. The pain in the ass is a primadonna, unreliable, disruptive force who makes everyone’s life miserable, and worse, doesn’t give a shit. He's also a justification for waterboarding.
I must say however, that these bad seeds are very rare. The overwhelming majority of actors are fabulous people who treat those around them with respect and kindness. I have even had actors in my home.
What’s your question?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I get home on Tuesday night at 1 a.m. after a four hour Dodger game and hour post game show. My internet isn’t working. All the lights on the modem are on and blinking just the way they should. So I call Time-Warner Cable’s 24-hour tech helpline.
After going through several menus (press one for this, two for that), I’m put on hold for the next “customer representative”. During this period (a half hour) I’m treated to recorded music interrupted every two moments by promos for Time-Warner Cable's Road Runner service – how it's so fast and so reliable. And they're sorry for the inconvenience.
Finally a woman with a pleasant voice comes on the line. If I had gotten someone else this conversation might have been very different. But in an exchange worthy of Abbott & Costello ("Who's Online First?") here is my interaction with my “customer representative”.
Rep: How may we help you?
Me: I can’t get onto the internet.
Rep: I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that.
Me: Huh? What? Isn’t this tech support?
Me: Then why can’t you help me?
Rep: Our system is down. I can’t pull up your account.
Me: Does that mean the internet is down too?
Rep: I don’t know.
Me: Would you know if there’s a general problem in my area or it’s just me who’s having trouble?
Rep: I don’t know.
Me: Can you check?
Rep: No. Because my system is down.
Me: Are you getting an inordinate amount of calls from people in my area with the same problem?
Rep: I don’t know. The system is down.
Me: Can you ask the person in the next cubicle if she’s getting a lot of calls?
Rep: No. I can’t do that.
Me: Well if your system is down is it safe to assume there’s a problem with the internet?
Rep: Our system is always down at this time of night.
Me: Wait a minute. Then you’re saying no one can get tech help every night at this time?
Me: Well, what can you do?
Rep: Tell you to call back when the system is up.
Me: Well, that’s not helping.
Rep: I’m sorry.
Me: Okay. Then why don’t you have a tape alerting people that your system is down so they don’t have to wait on the phone a half hour just to learn that?
Rep: Well, we don’t know that the system is down.
Me: You just said you did. You just said the system is down every night.
Rep: But we don’t know if the internet is out.
Me: You’re the cable company. You send out the internet. How could you not know if you’re not sending it out?
Rep: We don’t know because the system is out.
Me: You need to bring up peoples’ billing status in order to know whether you’re providing service?
Rep: I’m sorry for the inconvenience.
Me: But you say this happens every night?
Rep: Yes, sir.
Me: Then you know you’re inconviencing people but do it anyway.
Rep: There’s nothing we can do. That's procedure.
Me: You could play a recorded message telling people the system is down and to call back later. That way they wouldn’t have to wait forever only to be told you can’t help them.
Rep: Since we’re getting a lot of calls there’s probably some problem.
Me: You said you didn’t know if you were getting a lot of calls.
Rep: Well, if you waited a half hour then we probably are.
Me: But you don’t know for sure.
Me: And there’s no one you can ask?
Rep: No. The system is down.
Me: When will the system be back up?
Rep: In another hour.
Me: So from probably 12:30 – 2:30 every morning there is no tech service.
Rep: No. There’s tech service 24 hours.
Me: But they can’t help anybody if the system is down.
Rep: Sometimes it’s an area-wide problem and if we’re aware of that we can tell the customer.
Me: But how would they know if you need the system to be up?
Rep: Well, if we get a lot of calls that usually indicates there is a problem.
Me: But you won’t know what the problem is.
Me: And you can’t play a tape to reassure people you’re aware of some problem and are in the process of looking into it?
Rep: Well, we don’t know for sure there is a problem.
Me: Because your system is down.
Me: So what can I do NOW?
Rep: You can go to our website for status updates.
Me: How?! I can't get on the internet!
Rep: I can try to transfer you to a senior tech support representative.
Me: Will I have to wait long?
Rep: Well, if there are a lot of calls and there seems to be, then yes.
Me: Will he be able to tell me anything you don’t know?
Rep: Possibly .
Me: Does it stand to reason that if he knew what was going on he’d relay that information to you?
Me: So if he doesn’t have information for you then isn’t it safe to say he doesn’t know anything either? And he would just tell me the same thing you are telling me but after I wait another half hour?
Rep: Yes. Would you like me to transfer you?
Me: No. Forget it.
Rep: Well, thank you for calling Time-Warner Cable. I hope we have been of some assistance. Please call back whenever you have a problem. We’re dedicated to serving you.
The internet returned the next morning. But now Road Runner can't find certain websites and I get a "sorry for the inconvenience" page. Obscure websites like ESPN.COM. Aw hell, I'd rather live without sports scores than have to call TW's 22 hour tech support again.
Registration closes Friday for THE SITCOM ROOM. It's filling up. Only a few spots remain. Would love you to be one of them.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I see there’s a new movie coming out about the roller derby (WHIP IT, directed by Drew Barrymore). I wonder if today’s young cineplexgoers will have any connection to this elegant sport. For me, growing up in the 60s in LA, the roller derby was a big part of the local landscape. Our team -- the Los Angeles Thunderbirds -- outdrew the Lakers for a couple of years. If only Hollywood royalty like Jack Nicholson and prison elite like Mike Tyson had fancied the rink instead of the hardwood, folks in the southland might be driving around with T-Bird flags on their cars.
What is the roller derby? It’s a banked oval track. Two teams of five skaters go around and around. One member from each team wears a beanie called a “jammer cap” and accrues points by passing opposing team members. There is a lot of hitting, pushing, elbowing, and tripping in this finesse competition. And confusion because you have both offense and defense taking place simultaneously.
That would be enough. But wait! There’s more! It’s a coed sport!!! The T-Birds had a men’s squad and a ladies’ squad. That’s right. Women hitting and elbowing and clotheslining each other. Let’s see Kobe Bryant compete with that.
There was this bogus league that included the T-Birds and three or four other teams. T-Bird games were live on Channel 5 at least once a week. So they never traveled. And they rarely lost. I’d like to say they were world champions every year but it seemed the annual post season playoffs took place every six weeks. I believe New York had a league too. There might have been leagues in Kansas City and Mobile too. It wouldn’t surprise me.
The T-Bird's announcer on KTLA was colorful Dick Lane. With his catch phrase “Whoa Nellie!” after every blow to the kidney, Lane delighted Angelinos with his exciting call. Dick walked us through the finer points of the sport – which cheap shots were legal and which were not. I think setting an opponent on fire was the only infraction worthy of a penalty.
We all had our favorite T-Birds. Mine were Ralphie Valladeres, John Hall, and Danny Reilly. One of the players wore glasses (might have been Reilly, not sure) and I found that hysterical considering players were getting whacked in the chops during the National Anthem. On the women’s side I loved them all. Terri Lynch, Honey Sanchez, Gwen Miller and the rest of those angelic creatures could really gouge.
The home of the T-Birds was the downtown Olympic Auditorium. Built in the 20s for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, this was a big ominous barn where boxing and wrestling matches were held along with the roller derby.
I only attended one game in person. Several of my friends and I ventured to the Olympic one night to see the big grudge match between our beloved Thunderbirds and the dreaded Detroit Devils (who could have been the Texas Outlaws the week before, who knew?). The place was packed. You were very close to the action. And the acoustics were LOUD.
Three memories stand out. The T-Birds won (guess I caught ‘em on a good night), there was an old lady next to me (had to be 90) who stood on her chair and screamed obscenities. And then this – the greatest announcement I’ve ever heard at a sporting event: The P.A. announcer said, “Fans, do not throw anything onto the rink. You have no guarantee it’ll hit the player you’re aiming at.”
Registration is still open for the SITCOM ROOM seminar. Thanks to those who have already signed up.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Thanks again to everyone for your nice comments about yesterday’s Larry post. I didn’t want his words to live forever. I wanted HIM to live forever.
Anyway, onwards and sidewards…
Replacing Paula Abdul with Ellen DeGeneres was a great move. So what if she knows nothing about music? She’s funny and won’t sleep with male contestants. And Portia will kill her if she flirts with female hopefuls.
I miss John Madden already.
James Schamus, the producer and screenwriter of TAKING WOODSTOCK said this to reporters at the Cannes Film Festival: “The biggest challenge was to get extras who were skinny but who were not working out all the time. And who still had pubic hair.” I hope no one told director Ang Lee he couldn’t use a crane because they went over budget on merkins.
The JAY LENO SHOW marks the end of NBC as a competitive primetime network. They should retire the peacock and just use Jeff Zucker making a deposit at a cash machine as their corporate symbol.
This isn’t too confusing. There are two movies coming out this fall. NINE and 9. 9 is animated and supposedly great. NINE is based on the musical and I don’t even know if the musical is great. And then there’s CLOUD 9 about an overweight 67-year-old woman having an affair with a 76-year old man and the movie is filled with nudity, explicit sex, and close ups. So it's a horror movie.
Meanwhile, 67 year-old Harrison Ford wants to do another Indiana Jones chapter. Let’s see how CLOUD 9 does at the boxoffice first.
Registration is still open for THE SITCOM ROOM. It’s either a great learning tool to put you ahead of the pack or a comedy writing fantasy camp for those who always wanted to experience just what it’s like in a writing room. They tend not to let the general public come into the BIG BANG THEORY room and just pitch jokes and eat their food.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday suggested that ANIMAL HOUSE as a comedy will not stand the test of time. I disagree.
Maura Tierney: Get well soon.
Hey, Circus Vargas is still around! This is an old-time traveling big top circus complete with hilarious clowns (who are undoubtedly sad in real life), animals (that failed the Ringling Brothers audition I suppose), and of course the Willy Family’s “Sphere of Death”. It was very cool to have an actual circus come to my neighborhood when I was a kid. I never ran away with them although my parents were pushing me to.
Why did SNL fire Michaela Watkins? She was the funniest cast member on that show?
The quality of late night fare on premium movie channels has really gone downhill. Where are those fabulous “women in prison” movies? I once heard a producer of one take offense that his film was considered “exploitive” and “gratuitous” and then I watched the movie. There’s a scene where all the inmates with naked, together in the shower, reading their mail.
La Toya Jackson thought Michael looked “fabulous” at the funeral. She especially liked that he wore pearls.
Sorry to hear about Patrick Swayze. Watching the movie GHOST will be particularly eerie now.
Members of THE TRANSFORMERS crew, in an open letter, have branded Megan Fox as “Dumb-as-a-rock” and “Classless Trailer Trash”. But they do admit she has nice eyes.
And yet the asshole of the year trophy MUST go to Kayne West. Talk about classless. Interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech on the MTV Video Music Awards to say Beyonce deserved the award instead was nothing short of reprehensible. Or, as Pink so succinctly put it on her Twitter page: "Kanye West is the biggest piece of shit on earth. Quote me." I did. On the other hand, Beyonce, forfeiting her acceptance speech later on to let Taylor have her moment was the height of class.
Favorite recent HuffPost headline: Hugh Hefner: I Waited A Decade To Divorce For The Kids.
Not that we’re too litigious or anything but a personal chef is suing Simon Cowell, accusing him of stealing or throwing away her shoes. I hope this one goes all the way to the Supreme Court.
Happy birthday to Cliff Levine this week. I love you, dad.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
In addition to everything else, he wrote beautiful eulogies. With his flair for words and wit and warmth he constructed eloquent touching tributes. I used to kid him that he had to live forever because no one else could write them as well. And now I find myself in the agonizing position of trying to write his. First off, let me say, it won’t be as good.
So rather than tell you what you probably already know – that he was the Mozart of comedy writing and recipient of every honor but the Heisman Trophy – I’ll try to share some things you might not know; some personal stories.
In many ways the hardest part of writing scripts is turning them in. Because then you have to wait. And wait. And wait. It’s a stomach churning exercise filled with angst and insecurity and flashbacks of high school. After a day you’re an utter basket case. After a week you’re confessing to crimes you didn’t even commit.
When you turned in a script to Larry at 5:30 he called you at home to say he loved it… at 6:30. The first Rolaid hadn’t even dissolved in your stomach yet. Trust me, this is unheard of. But that was Larry. Empathetic, considerate, a mensch. He was the kindest man in an industry that seriously frowns on that sort of thing. Fortunately, he had the talent to overcome it.
And despite his enormous success, he was just as human as the rest of us mere boulevard farcitiers. He arranged for house seats for my wife and I to see the original production of SLY FOX. Jacqueline Kennedy was sitting next to me. When I called the next day to thank him and tell him who was sitting on my left, he got very nervous. “Did she like it? Did she laugh? Which jokes?” He was thrilled to learn she did laugh, and I’d like to think thrilled that my wife and I laughed too but probably more Jackie. After all, she paid for her seat.
I mentioned one day in a rewrite that my favorite MASH episode was “the More I See You” with Blythe Danner guesting as Hawkeye’s former flame. A few days later I received a gift. In those days Larry used to write his scripts longhand on legal pads. He gave me a Xeroxed copy of his original first draft. And the Mozart comparison continues. There were no cross-outs. Every line was perfectly constructed. Emotion and humor flowed from speech to speech with absolute ease. How does one do that? It’s impossible! That draft (now bound) remains one of my most cherished possessions.
And by the way, he could write an entire MASH script in one night. He was incredibly fast. Stanley Donan was going to direct a movie called BLAME IT ON RIO. He was not happy with the draft his writer had ,turned in and asked Larry if as a favor, he’d read it and offer his suggestions. Larry said sure (Larry always said sure). The script was delivered to him Friday at 5:30. No, he didn’t call back with his reaction at 6:30. He waited until Monday morning. But he said he had so many problems with it that instead of just scribbling down some notes he took the liberty of REWRITING the whole screenplay himself. Unbelievable. Even Mozart didn’t compose an opera over the weekend. Larry said use what you like. Donan used every word.
A similar story: For rewrites we would dictate to our assistant, Ruth, who was lightening quick. There was a big Radar speech. Larry started pitching and was just on fire. We were in stitches. Ruth broke in, telling him to slow down. Even she couldn’t write that fast. Larry said, “Just get half” and kept going. The half she didn’t get was better than anything else on television.
Larry always sent thank you notes. Larry always dropped you a line wishing you well on your upcoming project. Larry always returned phone calls. Larry always emailed you right back. Larry even left comments on my blog. I half expect a thank you note for this essay.
His legacy will last forever. His work was timeless, universal, steeped in humanity, and brilliant. MASH will always air eight times a night, TOOTSIE and OH GOD! will forever be on your screens (be they 64” plasmas or 2” iPods), FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and CITY OF ANGELS will be revived as long as there are stages.
Like any screenwriter, Larry had drawers and drawers of unproduced or unsold or unfinished projects. In June he just had a reading of a pilot he conceived. Last year he mounted a play in Chicago he was shepherding to Broadway. At the time of his death he was adapting one of his films into a musical and one of his musicals into a film. So yes, he left behind an amazing body of work but still we “just got half”.
Many people who knew him felt that Hawkeye Pierce was an idealized version of Larry. I’d like to think one of his other character creations was a more accurate representation of just who he was. God.
Enjoy the work of Larry Gelbart. You will laugh until you hurt. And for those of us who were blessed to have known him, we will hurt until we laugh.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Thanks to all of you for your heartfelt sentiments regarding Larry. They mean a lot. I'll have my thoughts ready Sunday night. Meanwhile...
Who deserves an Emmy for producing a comedy or drama? It used to be easy. There were four or five of them – the show runner and those few writers who have worked their way up the ranks to producer. Now every show has more producers than West Virginia has registered voters. Stars get producer credits, inexplicitly, so do their managers, non writing executives jump on the band wagon, studio executives horn-in on the credit, punch-up guys are now “consulting” producers, series directors join the act, and in lieu of studios giving writers bumps in salary they now just hand out producing titles. Yes, they’re making story editor money but they’re co-producers.
As a result, when a show wins Best Comedy or Drama it looks like the Normandy invasion as half the audience invades the stage to pick up their hardware. In an attempt to not deplete the world’s gold reserve the Academy has revised the rules and will now only allow eleven producers to be eligible for best comedy show Emmys and ten for dramas.
But then comes the question of which eleven of the say, twenty or fifty producers should be eligible?
Here are my thoughts. NO non-writing producers. These are all executive, not creative positions. Not saying that they don't have a role in the process but it's not in this area. Studio development people? Development is their JOB. They make calls. They come to meetings and just sit. They offer "support". And there's no "Best Supporting Producer" category. Directors? Sorry, this is the one medium you are not the king. And as for managers -- if the sum total of a manager's contribution is one time handing a pilot script to his client he does not deserve an Emmy (or the money he’s skimming off the show for doing nothing but that’s another story).
This is the bottom line: During a rewrite at 2 a.m., look around the room. Whoever is not there automatically should be eliminated (with one exception -- the line producer. He/she works harder than anybody, usually under the most impossible of conditions.) The non-writing producer who waltzes out at 6 to get to the Laker game? Disqualified. The actor who has no idea where the writers room is? Application denied. The studio exec whose only talent is doing a good Ari Gold impression? Not a chance.
Hopefully, when it’s just down to writers, ten or eleven slots will be enough. Consultants, by the way, don’t qualify. Full-time only. If the issue still isn’t settled then there’s only one way writers can resolve it, equitably -- taking into consideration seniority, contribution, loyalty – and throwing all that shit out. Nerf basketball! One-on-one. Round robin eliminations.
It's how writers make all major life decisions -- marriage, whether to go out on strike, which religion to believe it, etc.
I know what some of you are thinking -- isn't that a frivolous and irresponsible way to make important decisions? No. Not at all. But if you are concerned and want to settle these things in a more, shall we say, mature manner -- then I recommend Foosball.
Good luck to all the nominees in all the categories. I'll be reviewing the EMMYS September 20th.
Registration for the SITCOM ROOM opens at 9 a.m. PDT Monday. 20 spots only. Hope to see you there.
So I made this big 45 minute promotional video/webcast/shameless informercial to introduce everyone to the SITCOM ROOM seminar. Registration opens Monday. But in light of Larry Gelbart's passing it just didn't seem right to post it. "We now pause from our time of reflection to SELL YOU SOMETHING!" But if you're curious, here's a link to it.
And here's a photo of the greatest writing room ever -- CAESAR'S HOUR. The gentleman on the far right with the glasses is Larry. The other writers are (from the left front row) Gary Belkin, Sheldon Keller, Michael Stewart and Mel Brooks, and (from the left back row) Neil Simon, and Mel Tolkin. Even though they're not household names, the writers you don't recognize here are just as sensational as the ones you do.
I'll post my attempt at a tribute to Larry on Sunday night. I sure wish he were here to punch it up.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I hope to have my Gelbart tribute ready for Monday. In the meantime...
Merrill Markoe is one of the funniest people I know. She was the original head writer for Letterman and amazingly he got old while she got younger. It's a Benjamin Button kind of thing I guess. I dunno. Anyway, she's also written great humor books (and unlike mine, she's sold them) and to prove there is no end to her many talents, she also interprets (correctly I might add) the existential dilemma inherent in all Quick Draw McGraw cartoons and life. Hopefully you will enjoy this and see the world differently from now on.
Larry Gelbart passed away this morning. He was 81. He was a dear friend, mentor, inspiration, and the finest writer I've ever met. I'll write more about him in the days to come. At the moment I'm just too devastated. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
9/11 affected us all, profoundly and in many cases personally. Two of my dear friends were on flight 11. David and Lynn Angell. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of them, missed them, and not felt grateful that they were in my life.
David and I worked together on CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER (the latter two he co-created). We used to call him the “dean”. In his quiet way he was the one we always looked to for final approval of a line or a story direction. He brought a warmth and humanity to his writing that hopefully rubbed off on the rest of us “schickmeisters”. And he could be funny – sneaky funny. During long rewrite sessions he tended to be quiet. Maybe two or three times a night he’d pitch a joke – but they were always the funniest jokes of the script.
For those of you hoping to become comedy writers yourselves, let David Angell be your inspiration. Before breaking in he worked in the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, an insurance firm, an engineering company, and then when he finally moved out to L.A. he did “virtually every temp job known to man” for five years. Sometimes even the greatest talents take awhile to be recognized.
I first met David the first season of CHEERS. He came in to pitch some stories. He had been recommended after writing a good NEWHART episode. This shy quiet man who looked more like a quantum physics professor than a comedy writer, slinked into the room, mumbled through his story pitches, and we all thought, “is this the right guy? He sure doesn’t seem funny.” Still, he was given an assignment (“Pick a con…any con”) and when the script came back everyone was just blown away. He was quickly given a second assignment (“Someone single, someone blue”) and that draft came back even better. I think the first order of business for the next season was to hire David Angell on staff.
After 9/11, David’s partners Peter Casey & David Lee called me and my partner into their office. There was a FRASIER script David Angell was about to write. (It was the one where Lilith’s brother arrived in a wheelchair and became an evangelist. Michael Keaton played the part.) Peter & David asked if we would write it and for me that was a greater honor than even winning an Emmy.
David’s wife, Lynn, was also an inspiration. She devoted her life to helping others – tirelessly working on creating a children’s library and a center that serves abused children.
My heart goes out to their families. To all of the families.
I still can’t wrap my mind around it.
So tragic, so senseless, and even eight years later, so inconceivable.