Thursday, December 31, 2009

May 2010 be for you...

…what 2009 was for…

Taylor Swift, the New York Yankees, Lady Gaga, GLEE, Tar Heels, Mark Ingram, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, Alicia Keyes, Albert Pujols, Don Draper, Vera Farmiga,Alele, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sean Penn, Kyle Bush, Twitter, John Mayer, Comic-Con, Kate Winslet, Diane Sawyer, Dan Brown, LeBron James, Penelope Cruz, MODERN FAMILY, Toni Collette, THE HANGOVER, Cherry Jones, Alex Ovechkin, Noby Noby Boy, Al Franken, the Boss, Sheldon, Leonard, and Penny, TRANSFORMERS 2, Tina Fey (may your decade be as good as Tina’s), Beyonce, SURVIVOR’S Natalie, Facebook, the Florida Gators, Hulu, Halo, Elizabeth Strout, MLB.TV, MAD MEN, cougars, Lynn Nottage, GOD OF CARNAGE, Adam Lambert (even though he didn’t win), Kris Allen (even though he did win), the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marcia Gay Harden, James Cameron, Emmy winner Kater Gordon (even though she was then fired), Robert Plant and Alison Kraus, vampires, BREAKING BAD, Ne-Yo, Peyton Manning, Sandra Bullock, TOP CHEF, Health Care, G.I. Joe, Dexter, Nora Ephron, Real Housewives (wherever they are), the STAR TREK franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Good Wife, Jason Reitman, Oprah (it’s always Oprah), Billy Elliott, Tim Lincecum, Ari Emmanuel, smart phones, UP, UP IN THE AIR, Robert Downey Jr., Joe Mauer, Angelea Lansbury, and this blog for having readers like you.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This year in this blog

Here are a few of my favorite posts from the past year.

The Academy Awards are always an easy target. This was my review.

In March I was all a-Twitter.
No wonder you're not following me.

Lots of good reaction when I take nostalgic look back at studios I've worked at. This was Paramount.

Readers either loved or hated my AMERICAN IDOL reviews. So you'll either love or hate this one.

And then Paula Abdul left the show but not before a tough negotiation. This is how I imagined it.

David Hyde Pierce was a guest blogger in July.

The Emmys are another blog perennial.

In September we lost the great Larry Gelbart.

And then two months later, the brilliant David Lloyd.

David Letterman was caught cheating and this is how I imagined he should apologize on his show.

And finally, my tips for saving the entertainment industry.

Thanks again to everyone for reading my insane ravings and snarky drivel. I look forward to providing more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My pick for movie of the year

I don’t see every movie that comes out. I used to. But then I just reached that point where I realized it was stupid to see everything just because I was in the industry. I think that moment came ten minutes into WHAT WOMEN WANT.

I mention this because when I tell you what I think is the best movie of the year it is with the disclaimer that there be something better that I just haven’t seen. I read film critics’ top ten lists and don’t recognize half of the titles (or half of the critics for that matter). So without seeing ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL, here is my pick for the best movie of 2009.

The envelope please?

UP IN THE AIR.

Writer/director Jason Reitman is the real deal, folks. THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO were not flukes. And now comes UP IN THE AIR, a smart, funny, bittersweet, thoughtful, topical film with an ending that’s either uplifting or sobering depending on your point of view. I found it optimistic but you know me – always the optimist. UP IN THE AIR also manages to somehow be modest and ambitious at the same time.

You’re familiar with the plot by now I’m sure. George Clooney is this emotionally vapid executive who happily spends his life on planes, in airports, and Hilton Inns. He sees the world from either 35,000 feet or Hertz shuttle vans. His job is to swing into towns, fire people, and move on. He’s like the Lone Ranger except when he leaves a silver bullet it’s in a person’s heart.

Along the way this loner meets his female counterpart, played to utter perfection by Vera Farmiga (the best thing about THE DEPARTED). In this case “similars attract”. You’ve gotta admire a woman who says to her lover, “Just think of me as you with a vagina.”

Finally a romantic relationship you haven’t already seen a thousand times. They’re two grown-ups. They don’t act silly. They aren’t needy. It is possible to make a middle-aged couple funny and interesting without having to resort to a hundred Flomax and menopause jokes (are you listening, Nancy Meyers?). And when was the last time you saw an American comedy that didn’t have even one pratfall? This is what I mean about ambitious. This movie takes big chances!

Ryan Bingham was the role George Clooney was meant to play. He’s been playing it in every movie but this time the character fits! He’s not Cary Grant (women would sacrifice their own jobs just so Cary Grant could fire them) but he’s sure close. It’s not easy to have sympathy for a hatchet man who fires so many he already has enough frequent flier miles to fly to the NGC 6397 globular star cluster (and get an upgrade).

Anna Kendrick as the young corporate wunderkind wound tighter than her poni-tail also shines. Nice to see her not in a vampire movie, by the way.

Still, the real revelation is Vera Farmiga. Picture a taller, sexier, younger, straighter Ann Heche with the smarts and sassiness of Bogey’s Becall. I love this woman! I want to write a movie just so she can be in it.

Rounding out an excellent cast is pitch-perfect non-actors. As a poignant touch, Reitman uses real people to talk about what it’s like to be fired. Seriously, this young filmmaker is a major talent. There will not be a JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK in Mr. Reitman’s future.

Kudos to all concerned including co-writer Sheldon Turner and Walter Kirn who wrote the novel from which the movie was based.

Years from now I think we’ll look back at UP IN THE AIR and compare it to CABARET (follow me on this one) – two very entertaining movies about time periods that really sucked. Prewar Berlin or PostBush Omaha – it’s all pretty much the same. Not a lot of good came out of 2009, but at least we got UP IN THE AIR. If it was my call I’d give Jason Reitman an Oscar and a lifetime American Airlines Platinum card.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes -- one bad ass m***f***er

Sherlock Holmes is not an action hero. That’s like the Hunchback of Notre Dame being a romantic lead or Santa Claus being a Zionist leader. The element that separates Sherlock Holmes from other detectives is that he uses his superior intellect and powers of deductions to solve crimes and that compensates for not having physical gifts. See, it’s elementary.

Holmes is not England’s 19th century James Bond. He’s not Batman. He’s not Rambo, McCain, Chan, G.I. Joe. He solves mysteries. He doesn’t kick serious ass.

The new SHERLOCK HOLMES as redefined by Hollywood is just another franchise, another assembly line holiday/summer blockbuster comic book character. His competition isn’t evil geniuses, it’s Avatars. And since it is pulling in decent numbers expect to see Gandhi next summer packing heat and plenty pissed.

But even that wasn’t my biggest problem with SHERLOCK HOLMES. It wasn’t even a GOOD action movie. Yes, the effects were spectacular and all the CGI magic was in evidence but the story was a confusing convoluted mess. Half the time you’re saying, “where is he now?… what is he doing? … what did he just say?… how’d he get the doctor costume? … “who is this guy again?… "why does Holmes have bandages on two fingers in some scenes and not others and how did he get injured?...how much longer till we can go get something to eat?”

This is not surprising when you see there are like fifteen writers. There must’ve been 62 drafts of this. I guarantee for every writer who received screen credit there are three more who didn’t.

The bottom line is this: if the audience isn’t hooked into the story, all the dazzling stunts and action leaves you flat. I sat there watching thrilling chase scenes and mega explosions and wondered to myself, “why am I so bored?” Sometimes you can jam too much into a story. Sometimes you need to go a little slower to make sure the audience is still with you and not texting.

The good news about SHERLOCK HOLMES is that Robert Downey Jr. is his usual fabulous self. The movie is worth “seeing” (and by that I mean Netflixing) just for him. He plays Holmes with the requisite insouciance and intelligence. Thank you Warner Brothers for not casting the Rock.

Jude Law was surprisingly good as Dr. Watson. He seemed to be having the most fun of everyone in the movie. Rachel McAdams had the most challenging role of all – you try to running and jumping around in action sequences wearing a Victorian gown with an overskirt and eight layers of linings. Mark Strong played the dastardly Lord Blackwood. Picture Stanley Tucci as Dracula.

If you’re just looking for a two-hour thrill ride or escape from those visiting out of town relatives then sure, check out SHERLOCK HOLMES. This was the kind of fare I would definitely see when I was in this movie’s target demographic… of course I would get stoned first. But if you revere the legend, you might want to pass. I personally have a certain standard when it comes vehicles featuring Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective: “No shit Sherlock”.

Tomorrow: my pick for movie of the year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December in Hawaii

The Levines are home from another fabulous trip to Maui, “land of sunshine, Kindles, and tattoos”. Now that my wife has received her doctorate I noticed the Samoans treated her with much more respect this year. At various times we were also joined by our son Matt (the Apple Design Engineer of our eye) and daughter Annie (Dorothy Parker without the psychotic episodes). The above picture was taken by Matt.

We arrived just in time for a torrential downpour. Stayed at a condo in the E-coli Village overlooking the ocean and the even more breathtaking Grand Wailea Resort. The GWR has been in the news a lot recently. They are considering a major expansion project and they are in danger of foreclosure. Now how exactly do those two things happen concurrently?

I’m still traumatized. My favorite restaurant on the island, Roy’s in Kihei closed. This is the biggest tragedy to hit this state since either Pearl Harbor or Jasmine Trias being voted off of AMERICAN IDOL.

Speaking of the Day of Infamy, this was overheard at a Wailea shoe store: a customer asked the clerk if they were doing anything special for Pearl Harbor Day? Special? Uh, like what? If you’re a survivor of the invasion you get a free pair of Keds? Half-off all shoes if your foot size is 12 or 7? What can they do? They’re a friggin’ SHOE STORE!

Seriously though, you can’t help but reflect on December 7th, especially if you’re in Hawaii. Still I must smile thinking back to when my kids were little and went on the U.S.S. Arizona tour. My daughter Annie pretty much summed it up. “You look down, you feel sad, you go.” I would only add to that: “You remember”.

I know this is an awkward transition but you MUST try Sansei in Kihei for the greatest sushi this side of our former enemies.

Saw an ambulance roaring through south Maui, lights on, siren blazing – toting a boat. It is not a good idea to get sick during whale watching season.

Nice feature at the E-Coli condos, just as the sun goes down every day at 5:45 PMT (Pacific Mimosa Time) someone blows a conch shell or Pu. It’s another reason why I love Hawaii. You sound horns to convey thanks for the blessings of the land not because some schmuck cut you off on I-95.

Since I am still recovering from minor eye surgery I had to wear these huge sunglasses during the day, making me look like THE FLY. My empathetic kids kept singing the Blue Blockers rap every time I wore them.

Going upcountry? Stop by the charming little town of Paia first. It’s advertised as a throwback “hippie” village. And I must say it took me right back to the 60s when hippies supported their drug habits selling gelato.

Next go to the Haili’imaile General Store for their unbelievable sashimi napoleon. When they ask God to be a guest judge on TOP CHEF this is what they're going to serve Him.

From there, as you head up the beautiful slopes of the Haleakala Crater be sure to visit the Surfing Goat Dairy. Home of award winning cheeses and water sport enthusiast goats. They offer evening chores and milking tours.

There are a lot of gullible tourists in Hawaii (I mean “evening chores” tours??), which explains why Former Governor, Former Candidate, and hopefully soon Former Author, Sarah Palin was on Maui hawking her alibiography. The whales were not happy. They traveled thousands of miles from Alaska just to get away from that magpie.

But Sarah’s stay was short-lived. She fled early when those bad bad paparazzi took pictures of her wearing a McCain-Palin visor with McCain blotted out. People have interpreted that as a disrespectful gesture. She of course can’t understand why and frankly, in this case I must agree. On all Levine & Isaacs scripts I routinely black out David Isaacs’ name. The covers just look better that way!

Our rental car was a Ford Fusion. They have the turning radius of an aircraft carrier. And the radio crashes. That’s what happens when you combine Ford engineering with Microsoft engineering. Their new slogan is Ford – Drive One. Trust me. That’s all you will.

Had some drink in a coconut at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. I’m not sure what was in it – tequila, rum, coconut juice, mango juice, vodka, gin, Tabasco -- but after two sips every word in the English language looked like Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. And then when I got in the car I found it very hard to jam that damn coconut into the cup holder.

The North Shore waves were large enough this year (40-50 feet) that for only the 7th time in 25 years the Eddies were held! This invitation-only surfing competition has had trouble securing a major network to broadcast it live since organizers decide to hold it on a moment’s notice. The goats hardly had time to get down the mountain.

Professional big wave surfers are a breed apart. Even high performance race car drivers and Kamikaze pilots say those guys are fucking CRAZY!

The winner was Greg Long followed by Kelly Slater and goat Phil.

There’s nothing more beautiful than the drive to Hana. Yes, it’s a winding two-lane treacherous road and cars have gone over the cliff but the scenery as you’re plunging into the ocean is startling. Driving to Hana provides that rare opportunity to leave civilization behind… unless you pick a day when East Maui citizens are picketing en masse along the road to protest water usage.

Classiest store title in Maui: “Who Cut the Cheese?” I just feel bad for the coffee shop right next door.

This is the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood. At least according to the commemorative plates. Locals took a break from their secede the union rallies to celebrate being taken over by our great nation.

Attention criminals! Stay out of the Foodland shopping center. Right between the Rainbow Attic and Aroma’s Italian restaurant is the Kehei police department. My guess is all three close at 10.

Of all the times we’ve been to Hawaii, believe it or not, we’ve never been to an authentic Marriott Hotel Luau. Until now.

First we adhered to ancient Hawaiian tradition by having tropical drinks on the Astroturf surface and checking out all the merchants selling cheap jewelry and wooden tikis. Then we wandered down to the oceanfront to watch the sunset while people took our pictures and told us where we could buy them.

The kalua pig with an apple in its mouth was removed from the spit, I guess (I was at the bar having the first of many pina coladas) and it was royal feast time. The macaroni salad was to die from. Had poi for the first time. Poi is Hawaiian for “Wallpaper Paste”.

Meanwhile, a Hawaiian combo played Island favorites like (I kid you not) “The Brady Bunch Theme” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On”.

The big show began, filled with dancers in elaborate costumes. Instead of junk jewelry they should have been selling those coconut bras the hula dancers were wearing. Those were stylin’! The hula girls were gorgeous and the hula guys were buff and beautiful and when they’re not doing luaus they’re probably letting girls lick Reddi Whip off their chests at bachelorette parties.

The theme of the show was the story of Hawaii, circa the 11th Century. I was thrown a little in one scene when one of the hula girls had a cellphone. Now the songs were authentic Polynesian tunes and chants as evidenced by Matt’s Shazam app on his iPhone being unable to recognize any of them.

The dances, pageantry, and legend continued and I can honestly say that anyone who had two or more drinks was saying, “What the fuck??” After three drinks Annie said to her daddy, “You’re cut off!”

The finale was truly spectacular though. Fire dancers. One in particular was amazing – twirling two flaming batons. You always wonder – how do majorettes ever make money? Well, the key is talent and a lighter.

The show ended to much applause and the traditional chants of “Aloha” and “Don’t forget to get your luau photos!”

Okay, now we’ve done that. Next trip maybe the Virgin Sacrifice at the Sheraton.

Sightseers beware: before you drive the length of Maui to see a bona fide blow hole, regular gas is $3.73 a gallon.

The only day you can’t go deer hunting on Maui is Christmas. How humane of them.

The closer we got to Christmas, the more tourists arrived… including President Obama. Hawaii is his birthplace, unless you’re one of those who believe the proof is insufficient and he was really born on Pluto. (Those people can be spotted on the beach reading “Going Rogue”.) The President is staying in the posh Kailua Beach home he rented last year. He wanted to vacation at the Kahala Hotel and Resort but Jeffrey Katzenberg already booked the Presidential suite and has dibs on the best table at the lanai restaurant and the beach. The President didn’t want to be on the waiting list for cosabellas so he opted for a private mansion instead.

By Christmas Eve the place was overrun by tourists. When there are more snorkelers than fish it’s time to leave. But like the whales, Obamas, and Eddies we will return. “Hau'oli Makahiki Hou”, which either means "Happy New Year" or “Thank you flight attendant Shirley for saying you read my blog everyday and then giving me free ear buds so I could watch POST GRAD!”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

L.A. is so much better without people!!

The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year. More property taxes and obligations are on tap for me in January but here in the waning days of December I can bask in the glory of the city that Zorro once called home.

First of all, the town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

For industry guild folks there are free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. It’s also their way of giving back to the community. However, the nanosecond the nominations are announced this lovely gesture ends instantly. And they go back to the business at hand – busting the unions.

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.

The Rose Bowl is the "Granddaddy of Bowl Games" and this week, for its 96th edition, it is finally taking on a sponsor. So first the first time it's the "Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi". How fucked is that? This year's teams are Ohio State and Oregon thus reprising one of the longest and greatest rivalries in sports.

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.

The New Year's Eve tradition is to watch Dick Clark and experience the year change in tape delay. Unless you have satellite. Then you can watch the East Coast feed in which case you're in 2010 for three hours while the rest of us are still in 2009. Not sure if Dick will be there this year. On the one hand I hope so. But on the other, stay home and enjoy it Mr. Clark.

The Rose Parade is Saturday morning. Today some idiots will start staking out spots along the parade route. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA gets a 50 share, everyone else gets a 2. Why these other stations still bother is beyond me. KTLA coverage begins at like 3:00 a.m. Five hours of watching people paste flowers on floats and the idiots from today freezing. KTLA will begin replaying the parade immediately upon its conclusion. Then they replay it again. And again. Sometime around January 15th they return to regular programming.

Bob Eubanks has been hosting the parade since the floats were powered by horses. For many of those years his co-host was Stephanie Edwards, a popular local personality who was mostly known for being the carnie for Lucky Markets. She was replaced in the booth a couple of years ago by local KTLA morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira. This caused quite a stir. Most people felt that Michaela was horrible and resented her in that Deborah Norville way for squeezing out our beloved Stephanie. (Fans would show their support for Steph by shopping at Lucky but Lucky no longer exists.) Now Stephanie is back. Although she will have to go by "Stephanie Edwards Presented by Citi".

Then on New Year’s evening all the locals will go out to dinner, have to wait 45 minutes for a table since the Ohio State rooters got there first, and things will return to normal.

So for my fellow Angelinos – enjoy it while you can!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Some classic Malapropos!

I can’t speak for the accuracy of these Goldwynisms, but Jesus, if only half of them are true at least that’s a majority!

SAMUEL GOLDWYN QUOTES

Samuel Goldwyn (1882–1974) was an Academy Award and Golden
Globe Award-winning producer, also a well-known Hollywood
motion picture producer and founding contributor of several motion
picture studios. His inferior English language skills led to many of
his malapropisms, paradoxes, and other speech errors called
Goldwynisms. Having many writers in his employ, Goldwyn may
not have come up with all of these on his own:


“Keep a stiff upper chin.”

“In two words: im-possible.”

“Gentlemen, include me out.”

“They stayed away in droves.”

“Let’s have some new clichés.”

“There is a statue of limitation.”

“Tell them to stand closer apart.”

“Gentlemen, listen to me slowly.”

“That’s our strongest weak point.”

“A hospital is no place to be sick.”

“Modern dancing is old fashioned.”

“The harder I work the luckier I get.”

“I read part of it all the way through.”

“Flashbacks are a thing of the past.”

“You fail to overlook the crucial point.”

“I paid too much for it, but it’s worth it.”

“I have been laid up with intentional flu.”

“God makes stars. I just produce them.”

“Our comedies are not to be laughed at.”

“He treats me like the dirt under my feet.”

“You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.”

“A bachelor’s life is no life for a single man.”

“If I look confused it’s because I’m thinking.”

“That’s the kind of ad I like, facts, facts, facts.”

“What we need now is some new, fresh clichés.”

“This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up.”

“What nerve. Not even a modicum of originality.”

“You’ve got to take the bull between your teeth.”

“I had a great idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.”

“It’s absolutely impossible, but it has possibilities.”

“Never make forecasts, especially about the future.”

“A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.”

“For your information, just answer me one question!”

“For your information, I would like to ask a question.”

“Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day.”

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

“Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg.”

“Plenty of room for a tiny brain and a huge ego, though.”

“Don’t worry about the war. It’s all over but the shooting.”

“Can she sing? She’s practically a Florence Nightingale.”

“If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.”

“The trouble with this business is the dearth of bad pictures.”

“Don’t pay any attention to the critics — don’t even ignore them.”

“Put it out of your mind. In no time, it will be a forgotten memory.”

“I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty.”

“I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them at least five years.”

“Color television! Bah, I won’t believe it until I see it in black and white.”

“We have that Indian scene. We can get the Indians from the reservoir.”

“Let’s bring it up to date with some snappy nineteenth century dialogue.”

“I don’t think anyone should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.”

“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.”

“Anyone who would go to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined!”

“Why did you name him Sam? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sam!”

“Give me a couple of years, and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.”

“If I were in this business only for the business, I wouldn’t be in this business.”

“Go see that turkey for yourself, and see for yourself why you shouldn’t see it.”

“Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.”

“When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy.”

“That would doubtless be a dank and dark and a desolate and dreary place to dwell.”

“From success you get a lot of things, but not that great inside thing that love brings you.”

“I hate a man who always says yes to me. When I say no I like a man who also says no.”

“That’s the way with these directors, they’re always biting the hand that lays the golden egg.”

“I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.”

“I don’t care if it doesn’t make a nickel. I just want every man, woman, and child in America to see it.”

“Why should people go out and pay to see bad movies when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing.”

“True, I’ve been a long time making up my mind, but now I’m giving you a definite answer. I won’t say yes, and I won’t say no — but I’m giving you a definite maybe.”

Movies I would see before IT'S COMPLICATED

HOSTEL
HOSTEL 2
GIGLI
HOWARD THE DUCK
BATTLEFIELD EARTH
CATWOMAN
WITLESS PROTECTION
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS
AN ALAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN
KAZAAM
STAYING ALIVE
NORTH
JUDGE DREDD
THE 13TH WARRIOR
TREASURE PLANET
GODS AND GENERALS
SAHARA
STEALTH
ZYZZYX ROAD
GLITTER
FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY
LEONARD PART 6
FREDDY GETS FINGERED
DISASTER MOVIE
MIXED NUTS
MYRA BRECKINRIDGE
THE CONQUEROR
All ABOUT STEVE
DADDY DAY CARE
MISS MARCH
CODE NAME: THE CLEANER
YU-GI-OH: THE MOVIE
THE HOTTIE & THE NOTTIE
CORKY ROMANO
THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH
LARRY THE CABLE GUY: HEALTH INSPECTOR
WHITEOUT
THE POSTMAN
BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER
SHOWGIRLS
STRIPTEASE
MAC AND ME
SWEPT AWAY
BOXING HELENA
OSMOSIS JONES
MONKEYBONE
CUTTHROAT ISLAND
TOWN AND COUNTRY
CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC
THE FOUNTAIN
SUPER BABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2
LOST HORIZONS
AT LONG LAST LOVE
YES, GIORGIO
SON OF THE MASK
BASIC INSTINCT 2
DUCK YOU SUCKER
and anything with Pauley Shore

It opens today.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jack Bauer interrogates Santa Claus

MERRY CHRISTMAS everybody!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Mommy Dearest Merry Christmas to you all!

May your family have as wonderful a Christmas as Joan Crawford's.



And what holiday celebration in the Crawford home would be complete without this heartwarming scene?



MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

When NOT to take down your Christmas decorations

This is my friend Kevin’s house in the residential San Fernando Valley. He’s Jewish but loves to celebrate the colors and lights of the season. This tradition began (as most things do) because his girlfriend at the time really loved Christmas decorations.

There’s not another house on his block even remotely as elaborate. I bet you can see Kevin's house from space.

Now the question always arises, when do you take down your Christmas decorations? For most people the answer is usually after the first of the year. Certainly by Memorial Day.

But I guess if you take them down earlier you face dire consequences.

Last year Kevin made the mistake of striking his on December 26. This caused an absolute shitstorm with his neighbors. Their wrath knew no seasonal bounds. Kevin’s house was egged, he was left threatening notes, and people he didn’t even know called to scream at him.

But the coup de grace was this: His neighbor from across the street, who he never talks to and has no relationship with whatsoever, called him.

KEVIN: Hello.

TINA: Kevin, this is Tina from across the street. WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!

KEVIN: Excuse me?

TINA: Why did you take down your Christmas decorations? Are you INSANE?

KEVIN: Um, Christmas is over.

TINA: Yes, but I have a big New Year’s Eve party every year and one of the big attractions is that everybody likes to look at your decorations. And now you’ve RUINED MY PARTY!

I mean, how do you possibly respond to that other than sending invitations for their next New Year’s Eve bash to the Hells Angels?

Now to review: Out of the goodness of his heart (the girlfriend has long since moved on to Tiger Woods or whomever) Kevin puts up the decorations on his own time and at his own expense.

And this is how he’s rewarded.

Kevin, I wouldn’t entirely take down your holiday decorations this year. I would remove all the lights and the big snow globe like you normally do but I would hire a Department Store Santa to sit on your front porch with a fucking bazooka. A few blasts from Rudolph the Red Nose Rocket Launcher and by God, your neighbors will once again rekindle that holy spirit of Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My favorite cheesy TV Christmas Special

Here's a holiday excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the 60s.

I still can’t fathom why anyone watched the ANDY WILLIAMS variety show on NBC if they didn’t own a color TV. It was so wholesome your teeth ached. Whatever “edge” the show had was provided by the Osmond Family. But it was in color and production numbers always featured grinning All-American yahoos in brightly colored sweaters holding brightly colored balloons. Not having a color TV and not being gay I never watched THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW… except…

During their Christmas special.

It was the one time of year Andy had his beautiful family on the show and this became a 60s American tradition. Mom and dad and the Williams kinder would sing Carols, exchange presents, and their message of love and holiday good cheer would absolutely entrance you. That’s not why I watched it, of course. I wanted to screw Andy’s wife.

Claudine Longet (Mrs. Williams) was a willowy brunette with exquisite doe eyes and luscious lips. Laura Petrie but French. She was also a successful recording artist but believe me, if she looked like Charles De Gaulle she couldn’t give away one record. But I found her incredibly sexy, even when she was singing Silent Night in front of a crucifix. She and Andy would divorce in the 70s and two years later she shot her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich to death. I still wanted to screw her, but not as much.

So as enjoyable as those holiday shows were in the mid 60s, watching them now on PBS they take on a whole new level of absurdity. Two of their kids are named Noelle and Christian. How much more seriously can you take Christmas? And yet, twelve years later, there’s mom in a different winter wonderland with a loaded revolver. She was ultimately convicted on a lesser charge and married her defense attorney.

I’ll be on parole for Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: SMILE

Since it’s the holiday season I thought I’d suggest a comedy that is cynical, unsentimental, not for kids, and features a Klan type meeting. SMILE from 1975 is a largely undiscovered gem.

It’s all about a cheesy beauty contest in Santa Rosa, California. We follow the contestants (who are blessed with such talents as suitcase packing), the organizers, and some pre-teens trying to sneak peeks at the girls when they’re naked. The movie is steeped in Americana. This is the kind of film the Coen Brothers would have made if they weren’t like nine at the time.

Michael Richie directed in a very “mockumentary” style. But the script by Jerry Belson is really the star. Great biting satire on the importance we place on these absurd superficial competitions. A parallel could be drawn to today’s reality shows if one is so inclined. But if not, hey, just come for the laughs.

Belson (profiled here) was one of the great writers of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ODD COUPLE, and HAPPY DAYS. This movie was made into a Broadway play a few years ago and in Jerry’s Playbill bio he said, “SMILE fulfills a lifelong dream for Mr. Belson – to get paid twice for the same script”.

Several performances of note: the young Melanie Griffith and Annette O’Toole, and Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) as a former beauty queen whose entire self-worth is connected to the pageant.

Is you like scheming, young women in underwear, patriotism, explosions, bad choreography, the American Dream, laughter, and suitcase packing advice, SMILE is for you.

Here's the trailer:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas in Las Vegas

As you prepare for Christmas and all the holiday traditions, take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the season. And nowhere is that more present than in Vegas -- Bethlehem with slots. Here's my holiday travelogue from a few Decembers ago. Gather up the whole family and enjoy.


Deb and I just got back from a brief weekend in Las Vegas, or, as I like to call it, "Three Card Monty for the Red States". Many big attractions there this holiday weekend. The annual rodeo, the Anti-Aging conference, the Jose Luis Castillo/Joel Casamayer title bout. But we were there to see Linda Eder. Ms. Eder is a spectacular singer -- Barbra Streisand but at affordable prices and you never have to suffer through "Evergreen". We've become friends with her manager, Dave, who graciously invited us to join him for her concert. Since we likely would have gone to Vegas for Christmas anyway, we gladly accepted.

Stayed at the Mandalay Bay. Dave is also a VP of something for the House of Blues (who knows more about the blues than the Jews?) and arranged for us to get a room on the "House of Blues" floor. It had the two things Debby and I require in a hotel room -- a fabulous view and voodoo decor.

I'm not joking about the annual Anti-Aging conference. But am I the only one who finds it odd to hold an Anti-Aging conference in the one place where people stay up all hours drinking, gorging, smoking, and enduring the enormous stress of losing their money? I guess it's held there out of respect for Joan Rivers. My feeling is if the President of the Anti-Aging organization isn't 117 then it's a sham.

Had dinner Friday night at Rumjungle in the hotel. Very classy. Girls dance in cages above your head. To me that is classy. To Vegas it's positively elegant.

Interesting crowd at the hotel because of all the special events. A lot of shitkickers (I assume for either the rodeo or "Mamma Mia") and the prizefight attracted several hundred Ruben Studdards decked out in jewelry and Oakland Raider sweatsuits. Rode in an elevator with one -- a mean looking dude in black sunglasses. He said, "you here for the fuckin' fight, man?" I sheepishly had to say "No, the Linda Eder concert". I'm lucky I'm still alive.

This week a boxing title match, next week an ice spectacular featuring American Idol loser Diana DeGarmo.

The headliner at the hotel was Larry the Cable Guy. If Shecky Green were dead he'd be rolling in his grave.

And as I said, a full Broadway production of "Mamma Mia", not to mention a separate "Mamma Mia" STORE. Someone had a great line about Abba. It's like being hit in the head with Ikea furniture. You appreciate the craftmanship but it hurts.

I won $20 in blackjack. Debby lost $.55 in the slots. I doubt if we'll be comped the next trip.

I think there were Christmas lights and decorations up all over town. Who could tell?

The waitresses were all attractive with massive chests. If there was a flood on the casino floor they would float to the surface.

The most beautiful girl I saw there was a parking valet attendant bundled in a heavy coat. If she got a boob job I'm sure she could get an inside job. Maybe Santa will be good to her.

Next day we hit the beach. Yes, Mandalay Bay has it's own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But Debby and I took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

From there we hotel hopped. Had to stop in at the Excalibur -- a casino in Sleeping Beauty's castle. This is home to the black socks, shorts, and wife beater shirt crowd. You know you're in trouble when they have a special parking lot just for motorhomes. Handing a pair of dice to one of these idiots is like handing a gun to a monkey.

Then on to the Bellagio, where Debby and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!" The paintings were glorious and it was just nice to be in the only room in Las Vegas where everybody voted for Kerry. I can only imagine the paintings Monet himself would have made had he been to Las Vegas. "The Imperial Palace as seen from the Luxor".

The highlight of the trip was the Linda Eder concert. It's the third time I've seen her. I realize that if I see her one more time I'm officially gay. But I don't care. That will happen in March when she performs in Northridge. The only problem was that her concert hall was impossible to find. It's somewhere on the UNLV campus -- the Jerry Tarkanian Music Hall, or something like that -- and even cab drivers have no idea where this is. Dave and I set out for the sound check. The venue is five minutes from our hotel but we wound up somewhere near the Mustang Ranch. The only map on how to get there was on the ticket envelope you pick up at the box office. But we ultimately found it and the concert was wonderful. Celine Dion can't carry her Chloraseptic.

Headed home early this morning. McCarran airport is the worst in the country re security checks. You actually DO have to allow two hours. It's bad enough you have to remove your shoes, but the spurs must come off too and that takes some time.

And now we're home, shopping for voodoo wallpaper.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The best music video of the year

This is the most satisfying music video of the year. A musician, Dave Carroll, watched as United Airlines baggage handlers destroyed his custom Taylor guitar. For a year he tried to get them to pay for the damages and they told him to go fuck himself. He told them he was going to make a music video exposing them. They said, "Good luck with that one, pal."

So he did. And he posted it on YouTube. And it went viral. CNN even picked it up. And it now has over 6,000,000 hits. United Airlines called Carroll and wanted to arrange a settlement if he would pull the video. You can guess what he told them. "Good luck with that one, pal."

Taylor guitars has since sent him two custom guitars.

In case you haven't seen it, here's the video. So far this is the most heartwarming Christmas story I've heard this season.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to drive your actors completely insane

Aloha. Here is some last minute Friday Q & A’s before Christmas. If you have a question, send it my way via the comments section. Mahalo.

LD wonders:

Often syndicated programming will shoot promos with the cast where they mention the name of the local station. Can you shed some light on how this goes down? How many of these are typically done in a year? At what point does everyone start to go crazy from the repetition? How often would writers be asked to prepare something unique instead of just saying "Watch Frasier on WXYZ!"

The shows’ writers never got involved in that. That would cost the syndicators money so you know that'll never happen. Usually once a year the promo department would assemble the cast and at one time, over a couple of hours, record all of these local promos. After about a half hour the actors were going nuts. Because it wasn’t just parroting back call-letters, each station had its own slogan and each station had its own news anchor they wanted plugged. On MASH one year they did it on a Friday night after filming for twelve hours. I swear, by the end, they looked like Confederate soldiers hobbling home dazed from the Civil War.

willieb gets in the spirit of joy with an AfterMASH question:

A number of reviews of the new "Scrubs" this week said something along the lines of: "It's a bad sequel, but not as bad as AFTER M*A*S*H*." Really, what made AFTER M*A*S*H* the last word in failed sequels?

Well, it premiered with a 51 share and sunk to a 19 by the end of the season. That’s usually a bad sign (although the show was still renewed if you can believe it).

I think the combination of assembling three second-bananas and setting them in the comedy-rich world of a Veteran’s Hospital in 1953 combined for a less-than-stellar show. Even with Larry Gelbart at the helm we couldn’t overcome that obstacle.

Hey, as funny as they are, I’d like to see the BIG BANG THEORY writers try to squeeze laughs out of that leaden premise.

From Abie'sIrishRose:

Back in the day, my family watched Bing Crosby movies (Going My Way, Holiday Inn, etc. etc) The Bishop's Wife, etc. And we looked forward to The Grinch and other animated specials. I know many non Christians go out to movies on Christmas (and have Chinese food). But are there any holiday themed movies you would watch as part of the festive season? I could only think tangentially of "For Your Consideration" which features the making of a movie about Purim. And that's kind of new.

If you’re looking for Jewish-themed Christmas movies I can’t think of many. EIGHT MEN OUT is not about Hanukah. But my favorite holiday movie is A CHRISTMAS STORY.

TBS or TNT or one of those cable networks that begin with a “T” traditionally has a 24 hour marathon of A CHRISTMAS STORY and I watch it (or parts of it) every year.

rickatnite asks:

It seems there's some kind of unwritten law of sitcoms that once the youngest kid of the show's family reaches the age of the oldest kid at the start of the series (give or take a year), it's time to cancel the show...or add another set of twins. Am I imagining this or is it real?

I’ve never heard this. If it’s true, the next family sitcom I create will have a middle-aged dad with a young trophy wife so his children will be six months old and 35.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The year I got fired at Christmas

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 35th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish. (Reelradio.com has some of my embarrassing airchecks.)

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My open letter to Tiger Woods

Dear Tiger,

I see the number of mistresses you’ve had is now 14 and counting. It’s one thing to cheat on your wife, but cheating on 13 mistresses, have you no decency, sir?!

Did you really think you wouldn’t be caught? 14 times? News flash: One of the big reasons women want to sleep with you is so they can TELL PEOPLE THEY’RE SLEEPING WITH TIGER WOODS. Don’t you have anybody advising you? Jesus, even your caddy should know that!

So the question is: now what do you do?

Please don’t play the “Sex Addict” card. Don’t claim it’s a disease and you have no control. Has anyone noticed that ugly guys never have this disease? The only tragic victims are good looking married celebrities with money. David Duchovny is in rehab with this serious problem. Of course it’s not serious enough to keep him from filming CALIFORNICATION where his character does nothing but fuck his brains out. Oh, right. That’s for his “art”. I forgot.

The point is, Tiger, the public is no longer buying it. I mean, Steve Phillips, public dimwit, used that claim. If you want to be honest, say you’re a “Marriage Addict”. Say you have this uncontrollable need to be married. That we could believe. No one as successful as you with as many smoking hot women throwing themselves at you would be stupid enough to get married unless it was something you couldn’t control. There must be some “Elizabeth Taylor” or “Mickey Rooney” clinic you can check yourself into.

It looks like your wife is going to file for divorce. Even though you told a friend you were going to go out to Zales and buy her a Kobe diamond ring, which you eloquently defined as a “house on a finger”, she still seems determined to leave. By the way, idiot, who buys priceless jewelry at Zales for Christsakes? Has anyone in your posse ever heard of Tiffany’s? But I digress. Even your passionate pleas that “She meant nothing to me. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or her. Or the other ones yet to be revealed” have fallen on deaf ears. And a number of sponsors have dropped you as their spokesman. You may pick up some others but I doubt it. Certainly not Cadillac. You go five miles an hour, hit two objects, and wind up unconscious? That can’t be good for selling cars.

“Marriage Addiction”. That’s the ticket, Tiger. And next time be smart. Get some help. Get a trusted adviser. I won’t always be there for you. And don’t get just anybody. You want the best. You need the best.

Give Derek Jeter a call.

With best wishes for the holidays,

Ken Levine

Monday, December 14, 2009

I want my MTV

Here’s another great real-life MAD MEN story. This Don Draper is named George Lois. He was a Madison Avenue star in the late 50s, early 60s. He came up with the Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign in 1960 (for the nine of you who remember it). He also dreamed up with the name “Lean Cuisine”.

When MTV was launched in 1981 it had a tough time getting off the ground. A few cable outlets in smaller markets like Tulsa carried it but none of the big cities. And without LA, New York, Chicago, and maybe Pismo Beach they knew it would never succeed. They pitched MTV to all the major cable operators and no one was remotely interested.

Looking for assistance they turned to George Lois.


He met with the MTV head honchos Bob Pittman and Les Garland. And his proposal was this: a commercial – but not to the cable operators; to the public.

His idea was to take the MTV logo, add loud striking visuals, and end with a voice-over saying, “If you don’t get MTV where you live, pick up the phone, dial your local operator and say…”

(You know the rest.)

“I WANT MY MTV.”

And to jazz it up he suggested Mick Jagger do the tagline. Jagger did.

They bought some commercial time on national networks and lots of time on targeted cable outlets.

The response was otherworldly. Within six months “I Want My MTV” was on the cover of Time magazine. And MTV joined every cable outlet in the land.

So in many ways we have George Lois to thank for the music revolution that was MTV and Boy George.

When CBS made lovely promos

Hard to believe it's the same network as the one airing this ad.


This is from 1966. What a difference 43 years makes. (Thanks to friend of the blog Arlen Peters for alerting me to this.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why does anyone go to an NFL game?

Okay, I’m from L.A. and we have no NFL team. So I know I’m not your typical fan. And today I watched games from Maui. But still, I’ve always wondered, as we’re now in Decemeber --

Why does anybody GO to football games when it’s freezing, snowing, raining, hailing, or all of the above? The games are on TV. In HD. You get closer angles, you get replays, you get that yellow line! How can we even follow a football game now if it doesn’t have that yellow line?

There was that Packer-Giants 2007 NFC championship game in Green Bay where it was something like twenty degrees below. Half the players got trench foot. And they were the lucky ones. Meanwhile, 72,740 people sat in the stands, frozen, for almost four hours. Why? Yeah, I understand the camaraderie and the excitement of being there live, but Holy Christ!! This is how Russian armies won wars – by freezing out their opponents, who by the way, wore just as many layers and passed around just as many flasks as loyal Cheeseheads.

I’m sure diehard fans will scoff and say I just don’t understand – and they would be right. A big-screen TV, a hot pizza, a roaring fire, a nearby bathroom (that’s CLEAN), a pause button, and the yellow line vs… frostbite.

And then there’s rain and snow. There’s nothing more fun than watching an NFL game in a blizzard or deluge. They should outlaw domes. With snow the field turns white, there’s zero visibility – it’s a beautiful thing. And in the driving rain the field turns to mud, no one can hold the ball, there’s fumbles every play, and if someone should miraculously catch a pass he then slides for ten yards. Uniforms get black, announcers have no idea who anybody is, hash marks disappear – now THAT’S entertainment!

But if you’re sitting in the stands, peeking out of ponchos or garbage bags and the rain and snow is pelting you too, doesn’t that put a tiny crimp in your enjoyment? Help me here. What am I missing, besides double pneumonia?

It’s not like baseball. People brave brutal weather conditions to attend playoff and World Series games but that’s so they don’t have to listen to Tim McCarver. I get that. But Chris Collingsworth is okay. Troy Aikman and Phil Simms are boring but they don’t send you screaming into the frozen tundra. And newcomer Jon Gruden is quite good.

I could do without the stupid animated transformers on FOX, GARY UNMARRIED promos on CBS, and NBC could cut their half-time roster of announcers by six and stop showing the Philadelphia Eagles (they've been on Sunday Night Football fifteen times already this season) but football is a television sport. And for you hearty souls who say drive four hours in grid-lock traffic to and from Foxboro and sit for four to six hours in torturous conditions, just consider this – the players you are watching are all getting millions of dollars. You paid for your seat. What’s wrong with this High-Definition picture?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The gifts you can't return

One clear sign that it’s Christmas in LA is that you see more TV show jackets. For years that has been the Christmas gift of choice for staffs of television series. Which if fine if you work on THE OFFICE, not so fine if you work on WORLD'S BIGGEST LOSER.

You feel a little bit like a schmuck anyway, wearing a show jacket, like you’re bragging, hoping to impress “the chicks”. Trust me, an AMISH IN THE CITY fleece is not an aphrodisiac.

Other gifts are traditionally baseball caps (when show runners don’t want to pop for jackets for the crew), T-shirts (same deal), and if you ever get a show mug you know you’re about to be cancelled.

One year on CHEERS we received lovely dart boards. At the time everyone had young children. I don’t think anyone even took them out of the box. (I’m sure there’s still one or two floating around ebay). On MASH one year the cast gave us all engraved watches. It was a beautiful gift, one I still have. The next season the new writer on the staff was counting the days until the big gift. It turned out to be a custom 33 rpm album of all the scenes in which the cast sang on the show. He was livid. “You guys get watches and I get a fucking album of Loretta Swit singing?!” (I don’t even think ebay has that one).

Most studios gave out big gift baskets, silver key chains, bottles of nice wine, Walkmen, DVD collections, etc. For many years I worked at a studio where the holiday gifts were always disaster first aid kits, huge honkin’ flashlights, Thomas’ road maps, and earthquake preparedness guides. Everything spelled doom, especially the present that came two years ago…the mug. I’m no longer at that studio.

Oh well, I still have my memories. And my IT’S ALL RELATIVE fleece, BIG WAVE DAVE’S cap, ALMOST PERFECT sweatshirt, LATELINE jacket, KIRSTIN fleece, CONRAD BLOOM bowling shirt, ASK HARRIETT t-shirt, and GEORGE & LEO beltbuckle…which I would all gladly trade for one MODERN FAMILY handkerchief.

YOU supply the headlines

From time to time I like to present audience participation posts. These are actual news stories that just cry out for headlines. Have at 'em, dear readers. Leave them in the comments section. And as always, thanks for playing.


****

Among the health-insurance upgrades demanded by Philadelphia-area transit workers and agreed to by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in November was removal of the 10-tablet-per-month rationing of Viagra and similar medications, to allow as many as 30 per month (according to a Philadelphia Daily News report). (The final contract, reportedly even more beneficial to the union, was being voted on by union members at press time.)

*******

When police in Brimfield, Ohio, stopped Jaime Aguirre, 42, for a traffic violation in October, they found some conventional photos of nude and near-nude women, but were especially surprised at a stash of x-rays and mammograms, which they supposed came from Aguirre's job as technician at an imaging center in Tiffin, Ohio. The Brimfield police chief said he believed the stash was used by Aguirre for sexual gratification, and since some of the x-rays and mammograms were of girls under the age of 18, Aguirre was charged with possession of child pornography.

****

In Ogden, Utah, in October, Adam Manning, 30, accompanied his pregnant girlfriend to the McKay-Dee Hospital emergency room as she was going into labor. According to witnesses, as a nurse attended to the woman, Manning began flirting with her, complimenting the nurse's looks and giving her neck rubs. When Manning then allegedly groped the nurse's breast, she called for security, and Manning was eventually arrested and taken to jail, thus missing the birth of his child.

****

Thousands of airline passengers continue to attempt to bring prohibited carry-on items on board. The New York Post reported in September that the Transportation Security Administration had confiscated 123,000 items so far this year from just the three main airports serving New York City. Included were 43 explosives, 1,600 knives, a 10-point deer antler, several fire extinguishers, a tree branch, nunchucks, a grill, a baby alligator, "unwashed adult toys," a gassed-up chain saw and a kitchen sink.

****

Andrew Burwitz, 20, was arrested in Appleton, Wis., in November and charged with two drive-by shootings. No one was hit, and the major damage was done to Burwitz's car, in that Burwitz fired the first shot before he remembered to roll down the window.

Happy headline writing, comedy scribes.

A jaw dropping CBS ad. Not a joke. They really aired this

CBS Cares. This aired on How I Met Your Mother.


Watch CBS Videos Online

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah in Santa Monica

Hanukkah (however the hell you spell it) begins tonight. What better way to celebrate than with a traditional Hanukkah song? Here's HANUKKAH IN SANTA MONICA by the brilliant Tom Lehrer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Am I related to Chuck Lorre?

Aloha from Hawaii. It’s Friday Question Day, even observed here on the islands.

Sacul wonders:

I always like to read the credits on my fave shows. Are any of the Levines (or Lorre) related to you or each other?

Nope. Not related to Chuck Lorre (Levine is his real last name), Laura Levine, Emily Levine, or actor Kenny Levine. I wish I was related to Chuck’s money though.

Scott Siegel is looking for dish:

Did you and David ever have a no-holds-bar disagreement about the direction of a script?

We’ve argued but it never got personal. Usually if one of us can’t convince the other we’ll just back away from the issue and try something else entirely. You can’t make somebody write in a direction they don’t believe in. Try it. It’s torture and the results are never productive.

As with jokes, we’ve found that it’s easier and faster to just come up with a completely new one rather than to argue for a half hour and ultimately one of the partners is pissed.

Three keys to a good partnership: You respect and value the other’s opinion. You don’t take arguments personally. You both have cars so you can give the other rides when his car is in the shop. The first two you might be able to live without.

From Terry Collier:

In Frasier, I love David Hyde Pierce and his choice of reactions to comments. So often, it's his reaction that makes the joke. The same with watching him do more physical comedy, such as falling. How much of that is written in the script, and how much is his choice?

Sometimes a reaction is written in because it’s key to his motivation to do something or another. But most of the time we just left David to his own devices. I can’t tell you how many times he saved our bacon by making lines and moments work that really shouldn’t have. As I’ve said before, of all the comic actors I’ve had the privilege of working with, David Hyde Pierce is the best. And here’s the thing, I’m sure there’s a lot of technique and craft going on in there but he makes it all seem absolutely effortless. I just marvel.

Richard Y asks:

Of all your pitches you and you and your partner prepared were there any that were not accepted that were more serious in nature or at least partially? Such as doctor (besides M*A*S*H and Becker), lawyer firefighters, police type shows?

We never pitched an hour series so no in that regard. There were some MASH pitches that we all decided in the room might be a little too dramatic. “Hawkeye killing everybody” and stuff like that. We tended to table that for Hawkeye throws a party.

And then there’s the spec screenplay I wrote about nine years ago that was strictly a drama. We were represented by one of the major tenpercenteries (I love that expression) and I called my agents to tell them about my new project. They were very excited. I then mentioned it was a drama, not a comedy.

Silence on the phone. For thirty seconds. You could hear crickets.

Their lack of enthusiasm was palpable. One said, “Well, why’d you go and do THAT?” I suggested that maybe I’m more than just a comedy writer and the other agent said, “Yeah, but that’s what you SELL.” A month later we left the agency.

And finally, from Rory L. Aronsky:

When you directed "Becker," how many scene transitions were available to use? Obviously you had to hew to daytime or nighttime scenes, but did you have free reign to choose what you wanted, or did they have a set list so that, say, one that appeared in an episode before yours wasn't used again in your episode?

If you mean those stylized transitions between scenes I never concerned myself with them once. That was all post-production magic. I assume show runner Dave Hackel, line producer Tim Berry, and editor Darryl Bates made those decisions. I never even knew how many transitions there were or exactly what they were. I’m sure there’s some BECKER fanatic out there somewhere who has kept track of what transition was used when and he’ll sell his Guide to BECKER Transitions book before I’ll sell one of mine.

Leave your question in the comments section. Mahalo.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our casting nightmare Part III

More on our snake-bitten CHARACTERS pilot for NBC in 1979.

Okay, we cast the girl. Maggie Roswell. But now we needed the guy who would be her comedy partner. Details of the pilot premise here.

As with the girl, we saw a bunch of guys – some incredibly talented – and Matriarch nixed them all. After she shit all over the screen tests she gave us the name of the couple she wanted. The actress was Ms. Broadway and the guy was an emerging LA actor. Did we like them? Her for sure. Him, it was hard to tell from his reel. But at that point we would have taken Trigger if he weren’t stuffed.

We fly Ms. Broadway out to LA, spend a delightful day trying to cajole her into doing our pilot. She was leaning against it but said she’d mull it over. Back to NY she flew to star in her Broadway play the next night.

We inquired about the guy. His agent said he wasn’t interested. He had just had a bad experience with a pilot and didn’t want to do a series at the moment.

We reported this back to Matriarch who screamed at us again. “You’re producers! Convince him! He’s the only one I’ll approve!” and again she slammed down the phone.

So we call the agent again and arrange a dinner with the actor. For four hours we reassure him that this pilot experience would not be like his previous one, that we are straight-shooter and he can trust us. Eventually, he gives in and says he’d do it – but only because we seemed to have the integrity the other producers lacked.

The next day business affairs and his agent begin negotiating the deal.

Meanwhile… Ms. Broadway is still on the fence. One of her concerns was who would her co-star be? Matriarch messengers over a tape of the actor. Ms. Broadway doesn’t like him.

So right in the middle of negotiations NBC pulls their approval and the deal is dead. To this day I am mortified. You live and learn. Today if that happened I call Matriarch and tell her she can take the pilot and shove it right up her ass. Either the actor is approved or we walk.

But then we were young and green. And stupid. A day later Ms. Broadway decides to pass.

So now we have neither.

Matriarch’s next choice is Jeff Altman. Nice guy, talented, but not right for this role. We pass. She slams down the phone again. Altman then gets cast in another NBC pilot that becomes PINK LADY AND JEFF. That show gets picked up instead of ours. A girl singing group from Japan (unknown to American audiences) that spoke broken English singing bad cover versions of Donny Osmond songs and doing comedy skits with Jeff Altman. It was a super train wreck (as opposed to SUPERTRAIN wreck, which was also picked up).

Finally, we catch a break. Philip Charles MacKenzie (pictured: above) walks into our office. He’s PERFECT. So perfect that even Matriarch has to approve him.


Does he look familiar CHEERS fans? Yep, he played the fiance in the Coach's daughter. Originally another actor played that role but didn't work out. I suggested Philip. He came in with only one day to rehearse and just nailed it. Philip is now a very successful director.

Two more roles to go. Stay tuned for more chapters.

By the way, three years after this pilot David and I sign on to produce the first season of CHEERS. At the first table reading NBC President Brandon Tartikoff takes us aside and says, “You know, you guys were right about Andrea Martin.”

We almost kissed him.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

RABBI SCHLOMO RABINOWITZ: CRIME FIGHTER

People ask why don’t I branch out into hour television. I tell them I’m certainly open to the prospect but need just the right vehicle. And finally I’ve found it. Don’t steal this now. I’ll be pitching the major networks and NBC when I get home from Hawaii.

It’s a police drama inspired from an article I read recently in the New York Times. Apparently the police department in Helena, Montana, in an attempt to acquire a bomb sniffing dog discovered that instead of resorting to the huge cost of training one, they could just buy an Israeli bomb sniffing dog. They have a surplus over there (I mention it just in case you haven’t done your Christmas shopping). So a dog was shipped out to Helena, but they discovered one problem. It had been trained in Hebrew. It only answered to Hebrew commands. And even phonetically, Montana’s Finest had trouble getting across their wishes. Not many folks in Tel Aviv speak Hebrew with a drawl.

So they enlisted the help of one of the three rabbis in the town (who also happens to be Orthodox and dresses in traditional 18th Century clothing). He’s now their canine translator and has also been put on retainer.

And that’s my show, dear readers. RABBI SCHLOMO RABINOWITZ: CRIME FIGHTER. It’s like NUMB3RS but with a Hasidic Jew. Every week he’ll walk the mean streets of Helena with his trusty bomb sniffing dog, Farfel. Hopefully there won’t be any crimes on Friday night or Saturday because that’s the Sabbath. But all other times, he is an in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, bad-ass dude.

Gotta go. I need to prepare my pitch and check Alan Arkin’s availability.

RABBI SCHLOMO RABINOWITZ: CRIME FIGHTER – Fridays at 10 (no wait, it can’t be on Friday night) Thursdays at 10 on CBS.

The Hour of Not Quite Rain

Here's another excerpt from my book about growing up in the 60s. It's 1967, the summer of love in Los Angeles.

In the spirit of freedom and “do your own thing” KHJ radio devised an ingenious contest. Listeners were invited to send in original song lyrics and the winning entry would be put to music and appear on the next Buffalo Springfield album. Every hour the Bossjocks read another finalist. Ohmygod, they were terrible! Sophomoric, overwrought, just loaded with pungent imagery that made zero sense. The jocks would read them very straight over sappy music. I would roar with laughter every hour. But what do you expect? These were 13-year-olds composing this stuff. And many followed the current trend of trying to simulate the free association of a drug trip, which I suppose gave them license to abandon coherent thoughts and poetry in favor of Mad Libs.

Micki Callen was the winner with her haunting if not mystifying ballad, “The Hour of Not Quite Rain”.

In the hour of not quite rain
When the fog was fingertip high
The moon hung suspended
In a singular sky

Deeply and beyond seeing
Not wishing to intrude
Bathed in its own reflection
The water mirrored the moon

The tumbling birds have now sobered
From the leaves of their nursery
Like shadowy, quiet children
Watching sleepily

What???

She beat out 15,000 entries. Micki, if you're out there, I'd love to hear your story on this.

Anyway, here it is. Take some acid and click play.