Sunday, January 31, 2010

Do I Know how to read women, or what???

A few years ago I went to see a rather unusual play called TAMARA. The theater is actually a mansion and the audience follows around the various cast members as they perform their scenes simultaneously in different rooms. The idea is to attend with a few people and each person follows someone else. Then at intermission you get together and catch everybody up. I know. It’s a lot of work. And the story is a complicated mess. But it’s an experience and they serve chocolate covered strawberries at intermission.

So I’m following the cute little chambermaid (me and about nineteen other guys). In one scene she goes up to her room to get ready for a date. We follow her and stand against the walls.

She turns to me and starts talking to herself, excited about this upcoming rendezvous. Bad writing but that’s not the point. She’s imagining being in his strong embrace and how she’ll melt in his arms. And all the while she’s looking directly into my eyes.

The vibe is clear. This chick likes me. The suggestive dialogue, her bedroom eyes locked onto mine. There’s no doubt. For whatever reason I turn her on. I had just had a pilot not picked up and was feeling somewhat inadequate so to have this smoking hot girl pick me out of a room full of men really boosted my bruised ego. The hell with CBS! I was a stud!

So I start making eyes back at her, letting her know the Fonz has received the message.

And then I realized…

I’m standing in front of a mirror. She wasn’t looking at me. She was looking through me. She was just playing the scene as if I weren’t even there. Talk about major shrinkage.

For the rest of the night I followed the Fascist Colonel.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Only in L.A.

We’ve come a long way since the LA TIMES’ Marc C. Bloom tire ads and J. C. Penney white sale announcements. Here in Los Angeles we have the LA WEEKLY. Check out some of these ads.

Dr. Pam Mirabaldi offers Vaginal Rejuvenation for only $2500! (Does one choose from various styles? Where can I get a catalog?)

On your next lunch break, instead of hitting Quiznos, stop by Epione for a “one hour face lift” only $3900. I imagine it’s a Joan Rivers daily ritual.

Or, you can spend your lunch hour getting a dental implant for only $699 thanks to Meir Agaki D.D.S. Before you say no just remember this: He’s a UCLA graduate.

Natural Beauty offers 25% discounts on Botox & Restylane injections. Prices like that would put a smile on your face if you could smile.

Mens Renaissance offer hair transplants, just $3 per graft. And there’s plasma TV’s in all rooms along with complimentary chauffer services.

But Crown Cosmetic Surgery allows you to get your hair back for just 67 cents each! Perfect if you only need say twenty hairs.

“Don’t be a gas-hole” proclaims the classy ad for Vespas.

Hey, there’s a Cosmoplast special over at Dr. Michael G. Franco’s. And it’s Zyplast season too! The good news gets even better. No skin test required!

No more unsightly vascular blemishes, gals! Starting for only $100 you can get rid of those Cherry Hemangiomas that have kept you home Saturday nights with that Rabbit Vibrator that everyone is talking about for only $99.

Depressed? Call the Schuster Medial Research Institute. You could even MAKE money – up to $320 for being in a study group. You could put that towards your vaginal reconstruction and really perk up your spirits.

Southwestern Research Inc. will pay up to $500 to depressives willing to be studied. But you have to be $170 MORE depressed than the Schuster groups.

“The Theraputic Power of Water” says the slogan. It’s for colon hydroptherapy. Also in the ad are illustrations of healthy and unhealthy colons so you can compare them to yours and see if you need their services.

DNA testing for Immigration is offered. Must use real hair, not the $3 grafts.

Livingreen store & gallery has Rainshow’r Filters “for softer hair, smoother skin, and healthier lungs”. Most respiratory problems can be traced back to shower nozzles.

Buy a mattress at Sit & Sleep and get free concert tickets.

At Pacific Support Services they say you can “get marijuana with this card”.

Star Strip Beverly Hills features the only shower stage in town. Hopefully they use the Rainshow’r Filters.

Eros Station gentleman’s club in Van Nuys says “If she’s not in your face, you’re in the wrong place.”

Meanwhile, 4Play boasts Tally Stevens who does flips in 9 inch heels! Hey, that one’s only five minutes from my house. I better start wrapping this up.

How could Marc C. Bloom compete with all that? Even if they were to advertise in the LA WEEKLY there’d be a competing ad that says, “Are your tires bald? Try our tread restoration treatment. Rubber grafts just $49.95 a tire. And whiten those white walls for only $69.95.”

My favorite album cover

Here’s what I miss most about vinyl records – album covers. Often the album cover design and artwork would be far better than the contents of the album. I worked in a record store in high school and saw thousands of them. Many people contend that SGT. PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND was the best album cover ever. I disagree. It was pretty great but this is the one that knocked me out. I can’t pass a can of Reddi-Whip without thinking of it. The model, by the way, was Delores Erickson – now a successful artist living in Seattle. God, I wish I were the costumer on this photo shoot.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The funniest car commercial I've ever seen

Back in the 60s, local car dealers were ever-present. In LA we had a guy named Ralph Williams. Johnny Carson used to make fun of him on the TONIGHT SHOW mercilessly. Before Ralph was in LA he had a car dealership in San Bruno, in Northern California. You talk about commercials "you'd like to see", this is greatest of them all. Chick Lambert is the eloquent pitchman.

Weekend recommendation

Boycott the Mel Gibson movie. Do anything else. Watch the Pro Bowl if you're really desperate. Even rent IT'S COMPLICATED -- that's how much I want you to avoid EDGE OF DARKNESS starring Jew hater/drunk/adulterer/medocre-actor-anyway Mel Gibson. Send a message that character and behavior counts -- even for celebrities. See EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES even if it's sappy and you know the ending. There's some Belgian cartoon opening. Those are always crowd pleasers.

Clean your storm drains, have elective surgery, even take Robert McKee's class. If you're really bored out of your mind listen to me co-host Car Talk on KABC radio Sunday morning. Just DON'T spend one hard-earned cent on Mel Gibson.

Hate him as much as he hates you.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

I got my first fashion question...EVER

Here are this week's Friday questions and questionable answers.

Paul has a fashion question (boy, did he come to the wrong place):

A style question for you...
Hip, Hollywood types (guys) -screenwriters,producers,agents-prefer a standard dress style: dark sport jacket,dress shirt, and jeans.
I'm curious about the sports jacket. Do you know where screenwriters and agents shop for their sport jackets?

Agents generally shop in expensive Beverly Hills haberdasheries. They tend to be seen and must make an impression. Unless we’re pitching somewhere, or having drinks at Bandara’s and hope to get lucky, we lean more to the casual. So where do we shop? I can’t speak for all writers but my circle tends to frequent Nordstrom Rack, Ross For Less, Costco (do they sell suits?), and stuff we can get on line.

One writer I know showed up at a network pitch wearing sweat pants. Your idea has to be really ultra-spectacular/groundbreaking to sell wearing sweat pants. In his case, it didn't, and was never invited back to pitch anything else.

Please let me know when the style changes again. For now I just monitor Jason Reitman and wear what he wears.

Stephen asks:

Last season, Susan Sarandon and Ernest Borgine guest starred in the same episode of ER. Ernest was listed as "Special Guest Star", while Susan was listed under "Special Appearance by". Why do shows make this distinction, and what in fact is the distinction?

If you’re 90 you get a “Special Guest Star” credit. Ernest Borgnine and Cher both qualify for that. But seriously, these “Special whatever” credits just are a way of giving the actor a little more distinction. It does become problematic though when several “special” worthy actors are on the same episode. Just once I’d love to see as the final credit… “And not too shabby in her own right…”

Larry wonders:

I have a great idea for a movie script (doesn't everybody?). The only problem is that it's based upon an article I read on an internet website. Do I have to get the author's permission to use the idea in a spec script? If I need to ask their, or their employer's, permission to use the idea, can they just say no and then create their own script? This biz is confusing.

If you hope to sell the script you do need permission. Yes, you do run the risk that they may say “Hey, I hadn’t thought about it before but yeah, that’s a great idea. I’ll just write the screenplay myself.

But here’s the thing. It is his article, his property. He’s entitled to adapt it.

One of my rules is never use a story from a writer unless he gives you his blessing. Especially if the story comes from an incident in the writer’s own life.

THE ODD COUPLE is based on Neil Simon’s brother Danny moving in with another divorcee. But until Danny said it was okay, Neil did not write that play. Writers should get first dibs on their own lives, don’t you think?

However, if you’re writing this spec and intend only to use it as a writing sample I guess that’s okay. But it seems silly to put in the time and effort if you’re not at least going to try to sell it.

And finally, from Raji Barbir :

At what point in your career as a writer do you know not to listen to someone whose advice or critique about your screenplay you disagree with? How do you differentiate that from being too cocky?

Especially in the beginning when every writer you're surrounded by hasn't been produced and doesn't have much more experience than you do, other than perhaps developing a greater sense of snobbery.

So when do you choose to say "Thanks for your input, but it's a pile of crap"?

I suppose it depends on whether you value the person’s opinion and whether you’re strongly attached to the material. When I write something on spec I still give it to three or four people I trust.

The notes themselves are a clue. If the reader is confused by something or has a real visceral reaction you need to pay attention to that. I never mind the note “I don’t understand this” because clearly I haven’t done my job in explaining or justifying it.

When friends are passing judgment on jokes or giving you notes in Robert McKee-speak, you’re generally wise to tune them out. If your friend's idea of a romantic comedy is HOSTEL, avoid him too.

A bigger problem than deciding what criticism to take is what accolades to believe. Friends generally are very complimentary, either because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or they have no fucking idea how to read a script.

But in general, I’d say give the script to people you trust and then take their suggestions very seriously. You’re never too big, too brilliant, too rich to receive constructive criticism. Be receptive. The result may be a great script that sells for millions instead of an okay one that is doomed to your coffee table forever.

What’s your question???

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why I can't see AVATAR

I still haven’t seen AVATAR. I’ve heard mixed reviews but the general consensus among my jaded circle of friends is that it’s basically a B-Western but the effects are extraordinary. And you must see it in 3-D.

Uh, that poses a problem for me.

Normally I can’t see in 3-D. Whatever the medical name is my eyes just won’t make that buy. In PC terms I guess I’m optic trickery challenged. This has scarred me for life. I’ve never gotten over the crushing disappointment of not being able to fully appreciate Michael Jackson in CAPTAIN EO at Disneyland.

So I guess I could see AVATAR in old fashioned 2-D (oh why couldn’t there have been that option for EO?). If it was showing on a big enough screen I still might catch the gist. Blue people are supposed to be coming right at me at this moment, right? Oooh, yes, I could see where that would be thrilling.

But my problem extends beyond that. I had minor eye surgery recently and although it was a complete success the surgery left me with an inflamed cornea. This is a temporary condition, corrected by time and six thousand eye drops applied in five thousand different schedules. I have to take one now but can’t remember which. So for the moment things are a lot blurrier on the left side of my world than my right. Hopefully this will clear up within a few weeks but in the meantime, do you know of any theater showing AVATAR in 1-D?

Oh well, even if I miss the theatrical release, I’m sure I can eventually catch it on my iPhone.

Now if James Cameron’s technical wizards could just devise 3-D audio. You don these special headphones in selected theaters and the dialogue suddenly sounds real. That process would work for me.

By the way, you’re welcome to leave comments that you had the same cornea thing and you’re now perfectly fine. But I will delete any comment that scares me. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TWO AND A HALF MEN -- Two restraining orders and a hit man

If you’re a showrunner it seems there’s always something. Either it’s meddling executives, or a rough cut that still needs work, or an actor arrested for assaulting his wife, or the most common nuisance – a actor thinking there’s a hit man out there to kill him.

Welcome to the happy set of TWO AND A HALF MEN. Charlie Sheen might have to miss a rehearsal or two for his domestic violence trial. It’s hard to set a production schedule when you don’t know how long your star will be cross examined. And a showrunner’s typical complaint – right in the middle of a runthrough the jury returns and his lead has to scamper back to the courthouse. They can’t return the damn verdict until after the restaurant scene??

And there are always the million little distractions. Do you have to record station promos this week? The studio still hasn’t secured music clearance for that song you want to use. Can Charlie’s restraining order be temporarily lifted so he can see his wife in the hospital?

Now Jon Cryer, he’s not exactly low maintenance either. He’s currently embroiled in an ugly divorce and custody battle that has apparently escalated to where Jon seriously believes his ex-wife had put a hit out on him (and I’m guessing wants him to pay for the hit man). This threat appeared real enough that last week they filmed the show on an empty stage sans the studio audience. Actors feed off the energy of live audiences and showrunners really hate it when assassins spoil that. Fortunately, Cryer now feels the threat has been abated so it’s safe once again to attend a filming of TWO AND A HALF MEN without worrying you’ll be whacked by a stray bullet.

Beyond that, it’s just dealing with all the tabloids, conferring with the FBI, and keeping an eye on the torrential rains that threaten everybody’s homes.

On the other hand...

because TWO AND A HALF MEN is such a hit they get very few network notes. So in the end, I’d still rather be the showrunner for that show than most of the others.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Big Kahuna

The Big Kahuna died on Sunday. For us kids who grew up in LA in the 60s, so did another sweet part of our youth. The Big Kahuna was really Chris Varez, 69, who played a larger-than-life character that was still not as large as he was in real life.

From my book about growing up in the 60s:

1966 was the “Summer of the Big Kahuna” – KHJ’s most creative and ambitious promotion yet. They created this mythical character, “The Big Kahuna” who legend had it had lost his precious stone in Los Angeles and was coming to find it. Along the way he’d be making personal appearances, giving away money, and be the centerpiece for several contests including a new car giveaway and a luau.

With great fanfare the Big Kahuna arrived at LAX. He was this large Hawaiian aborigine adorned in fur and beads and shells and feathers. In truth he was a crazy German whose father built the bunker Hitler died in.

LA kids went along with the conceit. We flocked to the Big Kahuna’s appearances. God knows what he was smoking in the back of the KHJ prize van at high schools but the Big Kahuna became a local sensation. We followed his exploits on the air, saw him when we could, hoped he’d give us free money and maybe a hit off those funny cigarettes, and scrambled to be the 9th caller when we heard the “Kahuna cockatoo”. Winners were entitled to attend the big beach luau, and here’s how different things were then: the invitations that KHJ sent out were actual coconuts. You were allowed to send full size coconuts through the U.S. Mail.

After the promotion ended Chris eloped with a KHJ secretary, split for the Virgin Island and wound up in jail for “Piracy on the High Seas”. He later returned to Hawaii where he became a fisherman until a fellow fisherman accidentally speared his foot. He had several wives (not all at one time) and several children.

Ron Jacobs, the program director of KHJ and mastermind of the whole inspired promotion, knew Mr. Varez well and writes about him on his blog.

It always feel a little weird to be so saddened by the passing of someone you didn’t really know, but for the joy he brought to me and millions of people in Southern California, I raise a glass – no, a hollowed coconut – to the man, the legend, the pirate, the father, the lover, the BIG Kahuna.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What I'd do with Conan's money

My dream was never to host THE TONIGHT SHOW. It was for someone to pay me 32 million dollars to go away. So I started thinking, if someone wrote me a check for $32 million to let Jay Leno take over my blog what would I do with the money? Here are some possibilities.

Of course I’d give to Haiti and other deserving causes of my choice (although I do that anyway).

I’d buy my daughter, Annie a teacup pig.

I'd buy enough Sham Wows to keep that guy off the air.

Get an apartment in Manhattan. My lovely wife is a native New Yorker and has always wanted a place in the city where she could go to escape from me.

Get a condo in Maui and finally pursue my dream of fire dancing at the Marriott Hotel luau.

Put a down payment on a new Apple “Tablet”.

Travel with the Dodgers. I do that now from time to time but I have to load and unload all the luggage and drive the team bus. It would be nice to have drinks on the flight instead of just serving them.

Let everybody take my SITCOM ROOM seminar for free.

Get a ’56 T-Bird convertible (white and turquoise of course) and drive around the country searching for hamburger joints that have car service.

Arrange to have a detailed family tree researched and have bobble heads made for each relative.

I’d reconstruct FRASIER’S living room in my house and even opt for the additional expense of a fourth wall.

Buy a theater in Branson, Missouri for Gary Lewis & the Playboys so fans can thrill to their music all year long!

When one of my kids gets married, even though I had already planned on paying for the wedding – have an open bar and not a no-host bar.

Fund the campaign of any politician who vows to get ALMOST PERFECT released on DVD.

Show up at my high school reunion with all the models from DEAL OR NO DEAL.

Visit Bhutan, and not just the tourist sections.

Still not renew my UCLA basketball tickets – not for what they plan on charging starting next year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

News flash: baby boomers don't prefer Leno. We're not THAT old

I read an article in Saturday’s LA Times by Neal Gabler that analyzed the whole Leno-Conan debacle. His basic point was that NBC made their decisions based on demographics. Conan was young and hip and drew the more desirable audience and Leno was old and stodgy and was the darling of the elder set. He ends by saying:

As O’Brien faded into the evening last night with bundles of cash and newfound martyrdom, the baby boomers have finally gotten some small measure of revenge, however old and dorky and undesirable they may be.

Gee thanks, Neal. Not many people are willing to come out and champion us old, washed up, bland, relics. You forgot to mention that we’re also too dumb to program DVRS.

If I may speak for a moment for the glue factory generation, there are many baby boomers – despite our now limited hearing and eyesight – that prefer Conan O’Brien over Jay Leno. It’s not so much a matter of hipness; it’s that we find O’Brien funnier and more original. Y’know, before we were museum pieces we boomers were the first “counter culture”. We fucking invented it. We created SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and it was groundbreaking then, not the 30th generation faint carbon copy it is today. What are today’s rock acts doing that is that much different from what we grey beards established in the 60s?

Yes, Jay Leno beat David Letterman in the ratings. And NBC was stupid for ever wanting to replace him. But how much of Jay’s success was as a result of (a) the generation that proceeds us, and (b) enough people of any age just don’t like Dave?

Leno’s return to THE TONIGHT SHOW was not a victory for baby boomers. It was a concession to conservatism and mediocrity. We baby boomers like Conan O’Brien, 30 ROCK, THE HANGOVER, Beyonce, THE DAILY SHOW, sushi, and even those computer things the kids today are all raving about.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interviewing for writing jobs

Here’s a Saturday question. It’s like a Friday question except the question itself is longer than the answer. As always, when I can't find an appropriate picture I feature Natalie Wood.

From Josh:

I'm writing to you because I've started to take some showrunner meetings/interviews for TV comedies and I find them perplexing. In the past, when you've given a young writer or writing team their first gig, what did you feel constituted a successful meeting? Do the ideas they have about the show matter? Is there any way to compensate for being totally green?

I guess I'm wondering what's expected of me in these meetings. They've read my scripts...liked them. I've met with the studio...the network. That's all fine, but I don't feel comfortable yet with the executive producers. Maybe there's an intimidation factor.

It’s much tougher for showrunners these days because generally they’re interviewing the newbie writer for a staff position. Back in the old days when dinosaurs ruled the earth (the 1980s and 90s) you could give a baby writer a freelance assignment and use that to determine whether they’re worthy of joining your staff. Now, the decision is based on a decent spec SCRUBS and interview.

Try not to be intimidated. Showrunners are just like regular people but luckier and more neurotic.

The first thing I look for is this: is this writer fucking strange? Does he creep me out? Does he have an Olsen Twins obsession? Does she dress like Lady Gaga?

Grooming is important. Remember, you’re going to spend a million hours locked in a room with this person. Has their hair been washed since New Year’s?

And then I just try to get a feel for who they are. Obviously, they’re a little nervous. Anything I can do to put them at ease helps us both. They’re less likely to have a stroke and I get a better idea of their real personality.

Just be yourself. Don’t try to dazzle by coming on like Mel Brooks on Red Bull. Be prepared. Know as much as you can about the show and the showrunner. Is he a huge Lakers fan? Maybe you talk a little hoops. If you were meeting with me you might slip into the conversation that you love Natalie Wood.

Be enthusiastic but not Richard Simmons. The showrunner will probably ask if you have any questions. Don’t ask about money. Don’t ask how late they usually work. Don’t ask what snacks they have. Ask thoughtful questions about the show, where it’s going, what their process is. And like I said, be yourself as best you can.

It’s an inexact science. You don’t know what to answer and they don’t know what to ask. Best of luck.

Oh… and show up on time.

Conan has a job offer!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First Stop L.A.

It's Friday questions day.

jose asks:

Hey Ken, where in LA do u think most first-year TV writers, and then show runners, tend live?

Wherever they can find something reasonable. And most recently, not underwater. There’s an area of West Hollywood that’s unofficially known as “First Stop L.A.”. It’s around Melrose and La Brea. There are older apartments and small houses and duplexes. And lots of young single people. The older single people (generally they go by the nickname “divorced”) hole up in the Oakwood Garden Apartments in the valley. So avoid that.

New Los Angeles arrivees also gravitate to the Silverlake district. It’s kind of artsy and bohemian and if you don’t mind the fact that it can also be a little dangerous you might consider roosting there.

Burbank is another haven. I’m sure some of my readers can suggest other neighborhoods for newbies.

From Paul Duca:

…And speaking of "off the top of your head", is that how you do those play by play voiceovers, or do you watch an actual game clip?

It depends. I’ve done it both ways. Usually there is no picture but I have to tailor the play-by-play to the screen because often a character will react to something on the TV so I have to time the commentary to fit. Most of the time I’ll be watching the scene while doing my spiel.

There have been times when we do see the action on the TV and then it’s a snap because I just call the play-by-play of what I see.

Sometimes I’m asked not to use actual names or teams. That’s a little trickier. It’s easy to make up names for the players (usually I just use members of the crew) but it’s hard to give the score when you can’t identify the teams. I’ll do something like “And the Good Guys lead 4-2.” Yeah, I know... pretty lame.

My favorite experience was for the show BROOKLYN BRIDGE. I got to call the 1955 World Series. I wonder if it’s too late to get a ring.

What’s your Friday question? Leave it in the comments section. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to answer but I try to get to most of them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My celebrated "hippie" period

Here's another excerpt from the book I'm currently writing about growing up in the 60s in the San Fernando Valley. I'd take pre-orders but I haven't finished it.

By 1967 I had been as far south as San Diego, far north as Santa Barbara, far east as Las Vegas, and far west as the end of the Santa Monica pier. But that was about to change. My dad announced that we were going up to San Francisco.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I had wanted to go to San Francisco more than anyplace else in the world. I was intrigued by all the buzz about the music scene there, Haight-Ashbury, the Summer of Love, and okay, I’ll be honest – I just wanted to see a Giants game at Candlestick Park.

As always, we drove. I still had not been inside an airplane. Our family trips tended to be on the frugal side. We stayed at a Travelodge motel on Lombard St. in the Marina district. We should have slept in the Impala. It had more room.

But I didn’t care. I was just thrilled to finally be there. We saw the sights, traveled the bridges, dined at Kans in Chinatown, hopped cable cars, slurped crab cocktails at Fisherman’s Wharf, and gawked at the basketball-sized bazooms on Carol Doda whose image was proudly and largely displayed at the topless Condor club in North Beach where she jiggled them three times nightly.

Side note: Carol had risen to prominence in 1964 when many delegates from the Republican National Convention went to see her act.

I also got my first glimpse of the Haight-Ashbury district. This was hippie Mecca, the epicenter of the counter-culture revolution. Love was free and the drugs were reasonable. With Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco” as their anthem, young people from all over the country migrated to the Haight. Harvard Professor Dr. Timothy Leary, the noted advocate of psychedelic drug research (LSD) coined the catchphrase: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. (That same year Leary would marry his third wife. Hard to tell whether the bride was really beautiful that day; all the guests were on acid.) This was a Utopian society, an oasis where you were free of the shackles of expectation and civilization. A haven for spiritual awakenings, creative inspiration, and yes, even consciousness expanding.

Haight-Ashbury looked exactly as you’ve seen it in documentaries and movies of the 60s. Loads of hippies in colorful garb (some with face paint) milling about, rolling joints, playing guitars and tambourines. Murals on the sides of buildings, head stores and ma & pa markets. And vivid kaleidoscopic color everywhere – from Tie Dyed clothes to rainbow store signs to a blue building with a yellow door. Imagine Jimi Hendrix as the art director of SESAME STREET. But it was festive and fun.

And as we drove through this idyllic world I thought to myself, “Ugggh! How the hell can anyone live here? It’s so dirty and crowded. What happens if you get sick? What kind of privacy would you get in one of these cramped apartments? How clean are the bathrooms? What’s the TV reception like?”

I had zero desire to turn, tune, drop, or whatever else was necessary to move to Haight-Ashbury and join this freaky scene.

It's one thing to be a hippie. It's another to give up creature comforts.

I keep thinking of "one more thing" to add on this Conan mess

So here's a bunch of "one more" things.

For all of Jay's nice guy image, remember this is the same guy who scabbed during the Writers' Strike and never gave breaks to new comics. Johnny always did. That's how comedians like, uh... Jay Leno were discovered.

Thanks to one of my commenters for the inside story on Conan's rally. Apparently Conan was out there shaking hands and buying pizzas. Glad to hear it. He's a class guy and that's what I would have expected. After all, he was a fellow SIMPSONS writer. But how stupid to not show that during the piece?

NBC was stupid on so many levels for asking Jay to step down in five years. The end result aside, why risk pissing off your TONIGHT SHOW host who was number one? Jay happened to be gracious (which was yet another blunder) but what if he wasn't? You really want a guy on the air unhappy for FIVE long years? Believe me, a pissed talk show host can make enough noise that eventually you yank him off the air. Then you've lost your number one guy long before you had to. And Jay goes across the street and beats the shit out of whoever you replace him with.

I had Joe Flint from the LA TIMES on my KABC radio show last night and he brought out a great point. All of Jeff Zucker's decisions are geared towards the "quick fix". Why develop new shows when you can just "Supersize" the ones you have? Why make a hard choice on who to keep -- Leno or Conan -- when you can just throw them both on the air? Let the chips and ratings fall where they may.

On Charlie Rose Mr. Zucker said it was up to the leader to make bold decisions and if they don't work to have the courage to reverse them. Uh, the decision was made because your affiliates were about to revolt and the merger with Comcast still wasn't complete. Not because of your strong leadership ability. That's like when ballplayers admit to steroid use and say they just needed to "come clean". Bullshit! They didn't come clean. They were caught. Big difference.

And if the leader makes a monumental mistake shouldn't he take the fall? Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little was fired for leaving a hall-of-fame pitcher in a game one batter too long.

The question I keep asking is: did the 10:00 show fail because it's just a bad idea or might it have worked (at least a little better) if someone else hosted it? What if THE DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT were in that slot? I'm sure the ratings wouldn't be great but they'd be better than Leno's and both shows are hip. NBC would draw a much younger audience. Maybe shows like THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK would finally get the decent numbers they deserve.

Another big question: Just where does Conan go? FOX is not a slam-dunk. Their affiliates do not want to give up an hour. It would take a lot of arm twisting. Might be done but it won't be easy. ABC has said they're happy with NIGHTLINE and Kimmell, and CBS obviously has no need. That leaves cable. HBO is not going to do a nightly show. Weekly, sure but not every night. Basic cable: he could follow Stewart and Colbert on COMEDY CENTRAL but that puts him at midnight again. If he wanted to go on at midnight he could have just stayed at NBC with ten times the audience. And networks like USA and BRAVO are owned by -- guess who -- NBC. So that's not to going to happen. Is there a syndicated deal out there? I'm sure Conan will back but maybe in a different format.

And finally, I take no relish in all of this. I spent most of my career working for NBC (between CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER). NBC stood for class (and the A-TEAM was entertaining). I was proud as a you-know-what to be associated with them. It breaks my heart to see what has become of such a once-stellar broadcasting network.

Okay. I'll stop. Wait... one more thing. I'm on 790 KABC again tonight from 6:30-10 Pacific. If you can't access it through their website you can go to itunes radio -- news, talk, scroll down and you'll find KABC. Or you can just go on about your life.

Now I'll stop.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Leno-Conan soap opera continues

So it’s pretty much official. Conan O’Brien departs the TONIGHT SHOW Friday night after seven months. Wow. Jerry Lester and Dagmar lasted longer in that seat. Some more thoughts on this whole debacle.

Jeff Zucker went on Charlie Rose and portrayed himself as the victim in this media brouhaha. Isn’t that kind of like the Menendez Brothers pleading for leniency for killing their parents by saying they’re now orphans? Zucker claims he’s received death threats. I don’t doubt that but really people, isn’t that where we cross the line? The man juggled his primetime and latenight line-ups, he didn’t cause the collapse of the economy or democracy.

A couple of days ago Conan supporters held a rally for him at Universal. He showed it on the program Monday. A few hundred people getting drenched in protest. Conan thanked them and called it “sweet”. “Sweet”? I don’t know why anyone is dumb enough to stand in the rain to show support of a television show but the least Conan could have done is gone out there and shook each and every one of their hands. And maybe given out autographed pictures of the masturbating bear.

Jay went on his show Monday night and addressed the issue, attempting a little damage control. His good guy image has been somewhat tarnished by millions of viewers now thinking he’s a backstabber and Indian giver. He claims NBC came to him recently, said the primetime show wasn’t working, and proposed he go back to 11:30 while Conan moves back to midnight. And Jay was assured that Conan was okay with this. What? A mis-calculation by the network? Is that possible? So he’s the victim.

Let’s review. Zucker is the victim. Jay is the victim. Conan is the victim. Who isn’t the victim?

Charlie Rose.

Nikki Finke will be my guest tonight...

...on Talkradio 790 KABC as I fill in for John Phillips. I’m on right now. You can hear it here.

Nikki will be a guest along with Joe Flint who covers the entertainment industry for the LA TIMES and national movie reviewer, Leonard Maltin.

Among the topics I plan to get to tonight:

The Conan-Leno debacle
Jeff Zucker’s death threats
Haiti relief efforts
The Golden Globes
Accepting awards
What's new for midseason
The state of TV comedy
The L.A. rains
AMERICAN IDOL losing Simon
A Hollywood theme park in Korea (I wonder if there will be a MASH ride?)
Seeing out of only one eye
Oscar predictions

God knows what I’ll be talking about the second hour. And worse yet, tomorrow night when I fill in again. Anyway, I'm on right now until 10:00 p.s.t. on Talkradio 790 KABC.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to hit on Margaret Colin

Guys, how’s this for a sure fire pick-up line?

Margaret Colin is a fine actress. You’ve seen her on many things I’m sure. Recently she had a recurring role on GOSSIP GIRL. She’s been in INDEPENDENCE DAY, THREE MEN AND A BABY, and SOMETHING WILD among other features. In the late 80s and early 90s she was very hot in television. She starred in such series as FOLEY SQUARE, LEG WORK, SIBS, and CHICAGO HOPE. Recently she was on LAW & ORDER (although that doesn't mean anything. Every New York actor is in LAW & ORDER.)

Her first series was FOLEY SQUARE, a comedy that aired on CBS in 1985 right after THE MARY SHOW, which was our series (and could have easily been entitled FOLLY SQUARE). Neither show fared well and by early ’86 they were both cancelled.

Flash forward a few months. I’m on vacation at the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara. Hanging out at the pool. And I see Margaret Colin. Actually, every guy saw Margaret Colin. On a scale of 1-10 she was a 52.

At one point we’re both in the pool. I swim up to her and with a panache that the Fonz himself would approve of, say, “Hi there. Y’know, you and I have something in common.” She rolls her eyes. Another schmuck. “What?” she asks warily.

I said, “You and I both killed Wednesday night for CBS”.

She was not expecting that. She laughed, I explained who I was and we had a nice chat bitching about the network.

A few years later she starred in SIBS for ABC and I did punch-up for that series. She told me that was the greatest pick-up line she had ever heard (and I’m sure she’s heard many).

So fellas, as a public service I offer the line to you. Best of luck with it. Let me know how it goes.

Khloe Kardashian was home schooled??

Rainy days and Mondays always get me thinking.

Some of our local movie theaters fill the pre-show time with slides of ads and filler like “Fun Facts”. Here’s one seen this weekend: Khloe Kardashian was home schooled. She graduated with honors. Don't ya love it? The only thing better would have been “Khloe Kardashian was home schooled. She finished second in her class.”

The Golden Globes are always held at the Beverly Hilton hotel, about a mile from my house. A few years ago, before smart phones and internet cards, the hotel would stick it to all the journalists, charging hundreds of dollars for internet access. I charged only $50 for access to my Wifi. But that included space on our kitchen table.

It’s pouring here in Los Angeles. Whenever there’s four drops of rain all the local TV stations snap to attention and begin “Storm Coverage 2010”. Full team coverage of hot looking Asian reporters in slickers getting soaked reporting the obvious from various Southern California locations. “It’s really coming down here in Woodland Hills! Now to Suzie Suh in Orange.” “It’s really coming down here in Orange!” I love the rainy season.

By the way, Channel 2 has a reporter named Amelia Earhart. She looks great for 113 years old, don’t you think? The fact that she's been missing for so long says something about Channel 2's News ratings.

For the first time the Golden Globes were televised live in Los Angeles. I always found it ironic that they would tape delay the show to the only city that gives a shit. I wonder if in this new age of Tweets and status updates and live blogging that networks can no longer get away with tape delaying. We’ll see when it’s time for the SAG awards.

In Jennifer Love Hewitt’s new dating book (a joke in itself) one of her tips is to glue shiny things on your vagina. It’s true! I know a lot of guys complain they can’t read down there. There’s a whole chapter on this.

Well, gotta go. Sharon Tay is live from Fullerton where it appears to be raining.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some holiday recommendations

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day everybody!!!!

From time to time I like to make recommendations. I get no kick-backs, happy endings, or any money from these endorsements. But if the subject matter interests you I think they're worth your consideration.I just finished a hilarious book called L.A. NUTS by Joe Dungan. It's a series of extremely funny essays about living in Los Angeles. Every page is filled with colorful characters and wry observations. You'll be laughing and taking notes on just who and what to avoid. Check it out here.

Here are a couple of internet radio stations I love. When I write usually I have one of them playing so if the posts are lame blame one of them.
GREAT BIG RADIO features nothing but kick-ass rock tunes from the 70's-90's along with an irreverent announcer. And from time to time they do special features. Recently they highlighted the music of 1972. Who knew there were so many truly terrible songs in 1972? The drug problem back then must've been much worse than I thought at the time. Hear GREAT BIG RADIO here.
And for you fellow boomers, there's RICHBRORADIO. This is an oldies station that digs deep. Reeeeeeeal deep. Songs from the 50's-70's that you haven't heard since, well the 50's-70's. Very different from your normal terrestrial oldies station that plays Pretty Woman, Respect, Hotel California, and that's it. With RICHBRORADIO you get great variety, vintage radio jingles, and special features as well -- salutes to Elvis, the Beatles, and Lesley Gore. When you're in the mood for the Way-Back Machine, here's your transport.

No Golden Globes review...

Because a) I never do, b) the Golden Globes are a joke, c) I'm on KABC so couldn't watch them until late, d) 24 premieres, and e) I've never even been nominated. And I once bought these foreign press members lunch!

The only things I'm sorry I'm missing -- Ricky Gervais (who I know will be hilarious) and the red carpet show watching all those stars get out of their limos in the rain.

Just remember -- Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How not to direct a show

Yesterday I featured the first episode I ever directed. I've since directed over fifty more but you never forget your first one. It was also a bitch. Here are the gory details. I know it's kind of long but what the hell? It's a long weekend.

The episode was called “Portrait of a Con Artist as a Young Man” (written by Jeff Richman & Joyce Gittlin). The premise was that addled mechanic Lowell (Tommy) makes these large twisted pieces of metal that a museum director considers art. Comedy ensues (despite my efforts). Tommy is a gifted comedian but he never reads a line the same way twice. (Maybe for Sam Raimi on SPIDERMAN but not me) Nor does he move the same way twice. Forget matching, I had no idea what the star of the show was going to say or do the entire week. Kind of hard to interject the patented “Levine Touch” when that’s the case.

The rest of the cast was lovely (and by that I mean “tolerant”). I had been a consultant and writer on the show since the pilot so we knew each other very well. But there comes a point in the run of a series where the cast feels they’ve got their characters down, they no longer need to rehearse that long, and well…they want to go home. This usually happens around season four. (On one show I directed it happened episode four). We were in season six. The cast didn’t want to just go home, they left their engines running. So we’d do a scene once. They’d walk through it. I’d be ready to say let’s go again and they would say, “We got it, let’s move on”. I, the director, the floor general, the man in control of the stage, would be thinking “you have WHAT?”

My first scene was in the airport terminal. Casey (Amy Yasbech) was celebrating her birthday. All of the other characters came in, one at a time, from different directions with presents. And they all gathered around a table where a birthday cake was perched. Nine characters, all stacked up, each with props, torn wrapping everywhere, delivering lines to each other in every possible combination. Time taken to rehearse that scene: a half an hour. “We got it. Let’s move on.” I had visions of adding little bits of comic business, working out any rough spots, fine tuning the pace so the script just crackled. No. By noon we had a runthrough. One of the cast members had to buy something at Adrays before going out to hit a bucket of balls so we had to move it along. Needless to say it was ragged. I didn’t win any points with the producers when cast members would come up to me and ask “I forget. Am I in this scene?”

The next two days were more of the same. But now Tommy got bored saying the same lines over and over (i.e. twice) so he started changing them…which is a nice way of saying KILLING them. My mantra became, “Please say the lines as written”.

Day four was camera blocking. First scene up, the party. Nine characters, ten pages. And you can plan your camera assignments in advance but if one assignment changes, let’s say Camera B can get a better single of Tim Daly than Camera C as you had envisioned, then the rest of your road map goes right out the window. That happened to me the second line of the show. Little wonder I was taking FOREVER to do this.

The cast was getting antsy. The first AD kept pointing to his watch. Every crew member I spotted was rolling his eyes. The camera coordinator started giving me suggestions to speed up the process. Then the DP started giving me suggestions. But often they were opposing suggestions, thus confusing me more. The camera coordinator told the DP to butt out, it was none of his business. The DP took exception with that. They almost came to blows. Yeah, I really ruled that stage with an iron hand. I think it took ten hours to complete camera blocking.

Show day. We rehearsed all afternoon, had a dress rehearsal at about 3:00 that lasted an hour. Then we were free until the filming began at 7:00. At 6:30 the audience was let in. At 6:35 I’m handed pages, the rewrite following the dress rehearsal.

They had written a BRAND NEW SCENE. What the fuck?!!

We couldn’t rehearse on the stage, the audience was now there. I ran backstage, gathered the actors and walked them through it. Then I went to the camera operators, told them there was a new scene, gave them assignments off the top of my head, said just do the best you can and after the audience goes home I’ll block and shoot it properly. All the while I’m sweating through my suit.

Filming begins. It starts with a thirty second pause then Tim Daly calling out, “Say ‘action’, Kenny!” Helen (Crystal Bernard) brings the birthday cake with lit candles to the table for Casey. It slips out of her hands and she drops it. Cut! Fire marshals run out to the set. It’s a twenty minute delay. Then Tommy decides to really improvise. I go out into the stage and tell him nicely to do the line as written. Take two. He does another line. I repeat my request. Take three. Yet a third line. I go out to the future Oscar nominee and tell him I will punch his fucking face in if he doesn’t say the line as written. He does the line right. No one can say I’m not an “actor’s director”.

Eventually we get to the new scene. I’m at the quad split, watching all four cameras. Huddled around me are the producers, studio executives, and network people. I call “action”, the scene begins, the cameras start moving and fishing and on the monitors it is utter chaos. People out of focus, shots of the wall, a close up of a nose. (like the last reel of AFTER THE FOX) And to make matters worse two cameras collide into each other. Now the network guy must be thinking this director is INSANE.

We finish the show. I spend the next two weeks in a fetal position. I get a call from the producers. They edited the show together (a Herculean task since nothing matched) and discovered it was short. So they wrote a new scene to be filmed after they get done filming this week’s show. That means I start rehearsing and blocking at around midnight. You can imagine the happy cast I had.

And the scene is a dream sequence…with effects. And props that need to be smashed. But there are only two breakaway props so we only have two chances to get it. The first take the actor smashed it at the wrong time – blaming of course, ME. Mercifully, we got the shot the next take, I finally yell “Wrap!” at about 2:00, and drive home muttering to myself that Steven Spielberg had it EASY directing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC.

To this day I thank the cast and the producers for their patience. Especially Crystal Bernard who called me at home to say what a great job she thought I had done. Likewise for Tony Shalhoub taking me aside, giving me a pep talk. That meant a lot.

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot a better, I’ve gotten a LOT faster but 70% of what I know about directing I learned from that first assignment. And 60% of it was what not to do.

My first directing assignment

Thanks to the producers of WINGS for giving a first-time director a shot. Special thanks to David Lee who patiently taught me camera blocking. I can watch this now without getting the sweats. Watch the show today and tomorrow I will fill you in on all the juicy details. Hint: Picture PROJECT GREENLIGHT but much more chaotic.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Conan update

Like I said, things are changing every minute. Here’s the latest:

It looks like NBC will settle with Conan for somewhere around $40million and he is free to go elsewhere. Conan, showing even more class, wants his staff to be taken care of too. They moved to LA from New York just seven months ago and now they’re out of jobs. Meanwhile, other NBC executives are bad mouthing Conan (more like trashing) to the New York Times. Dick Ebersole called his an "astounding failure". Yeah, like Jay was a huge success. It's getting a little silly.

Guys! Aren’t you the ones always saying it’s just business and never personal?

Conan’s last show could be January 22nd. Jay would ultimate reclaim his TONIGHT SHOW. But it will be under a huge cloud. The nice guy Jay Leno image may just take a permanent hit. America could view him as a villain. Or just not view him at all.

All this could happen as early as tomorrow. Thanks to Nikki Finke, who as always, has the scoop.

My take on Leno-Conan.

A lot of readers have asked my opinion of the Leno-Conan debacle. You mean, besides fire Jeff Zucker? Anyway, here’s what I think:

Jay was stupid five years ago agreeing to surrender THE TONIGHT SHOW. None of this would have happened if he didn’t say, “Hey, fuck you. I’m beating Letterman. Go away. I’ll leave when I’M ready to leave.”

Jeff Zucker has ruined everything hes touched at NBC. Under his stewardship they’ve gone from the number one network to somewhere below OXYGEN. His claim to fame is what, “supersize” episodes of JOEY?

Moving Jay to 10 and putting Conan in THE TONIGHT was the worst television decision in history. There’s nothing else that even comes close.

Making it worse, Zucker makes this bold move and obviously had no Plan B should it fail (despite everyone including people in foreign lands who don’t watch TV predicting it would).

Conan’s public letter was fucking brilliant. It showed conviction and class. Oh, and I agree with him.

Zucker compounded the damage by threatening legal action to keep Conan off the air if he doesn’t fulfill his contract. A) Good luck getting that past a judge, and B) Do you really want to put a guy on the air for an hour a night who doesn’t want to be there? For 3 1/2 years? How does this man keep his job???

This is such a fluid story that it’s hard to predict what will happen. But for my money, I say keep Conan where he is, hosting THE TONIGHT SHOW at 11:30. If he didn’t earn it before, he did this week with that letter. I’m guessing Johnny would be proud.

And Jay unfortunately becomes the odd man out. He’ll wind up at another network, make a gazillion dollars, and do just fine.

And when all the dust settles – Craig Ferguson will be the new king of late night.

That’s how I feel now. Come see me in ten minutes when everything changes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday questions

Here are some Friday questions for the long holiday weekend. For the first one I got some help from a producer of LOST.

Dan asks.

I'm getting ready to write a spec, but I've been having some issues deciding which one to choose.

Initially I wanted to write a 'Breaking Bad' episode, but now I'm a bit confused b/c like a lot of dramatic series these days, the show is serialized, not episodic. I guess my question is, when writing a spec for a show like 'BB' or 'Mad Men', do I pick up the story where it left off, or just try to write one that fits in somehow but isn't directly related to the storyline...does that make sense?

Or should I just go with something more self-contained?

I would do something more self-contained. Otherwise you're really shooting at a moving target. It's hard enough writing of these damn things. I can't imagine writing a spec LOST. A spec 24, maybe. Jack escapes death, Kim is kidnapped, there's a bomb that has to be defused, Jack yells at Chloe, and anyone who helps Jack dies.

I asked Adam Horowitz, one of the LOST executive producers what he thought the best spec to submit was. Here's what he said:

What I find myself telling writers these days is, rather than spec an exisiting show, write a pilot. Or spec a show AND write a pilot. When we read for the show, we always like to see an original voice because as well executed as someone's show spec may be, it really doesn't give an indication of whether they can write our show. The best indication for us has always been a strong original voice shown through an original piece of material be it a pilot or feature or play.

Great advice!

From David Bishop:

Just watched a 4th season episode called Der Tag and spotted Radar clutching a 1960s Marvel comic. Can you recall any other any unintended anachronistic blunders on the show?

Oh, there have been plenty. In the first MASH we wrote – “Out of Sight/Out of Mind” – the tag takes place in the nurses’ tent. Look closely. One of the nurses is reading JAWS.

Michael wonders:

Why didn't Julia Duffy get the role of Diane?

There were three finalists for Sam and Diane. The couples were paired for the deciding audition. Ted and Shelley happened to be paired. And although Julia was terrific, the combo of Ted and Shelley was just magic.

And finally, Ian Taylor has a query:

I see episodes of MASH where the characters show some talent, like Radar's impressions or Margaret singing. I was wondering if this is something that actors are always pushing for, a chance to show off their auxiliary talents, and do you have any cool stories about actors attempting to shoehorn talents that just don't fit the characters?

Not me personally but I know that on CYBIL, Cybil Shepherd forced the writers to give her scenes in which she could sing. And the irony of course, is that her singing was uh… not very good.

On the other hand, if we learn that one of our cast members has a particular tale
nt we’ll try to find a place to display it. Katey Sagal on THE MARY SHOW used to be a back-up singer for Bette Midler. She’s a fabulous singer. So we devised a reason for her to sing a number one week. For my money it was the best three minutes of the entire series.

Chip Zien on ALMOST PERFECT was in the original Broadway cast of INTO THE WOODS. If you can sing Sondheim you can sing anybody. We found a spot for him to sing as well.

Terry Ferrell was a model before becoming an actor. She did some topless layouts for European magazines. When she was on BECKER I lobbied hard to have her show off that talent. Sorry guys, they didn’t buy it.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. And thanks again to Adam Howoritz.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Design a condom package and you could win!!

More fun even than my word verification contest or my “you supply the headline” contest. The city of New York wants YOU, yes YOU to design its new condom package. For years the Big Apple has been distributing prophylactics (several hundred thousand for Elliot Spitzer and Alex Rodriguez alone). But they need a new design and instead of having Donald Trump’s APPRENTICE contestants do it, they’re taking it to the streets and inviting every resident of New York City to participate. This is worth moving there.

Warning to taggers: condom packages are small and don’t lend themselves easily to intricate designs in spray paint.

Deadline to submit is January 22nd. You must be 17 or older to play. No fair using Tiger Wood’s likeness in your design. Also, nothing sexually explicit. So be creative with your graphic design, just not too graphic.

A panel of artists, advertising professionals, health experts and social-marketing experts will announce the finalists in February, and residents will choose the winner through an online vote.

I’m not sure what the grand prize is. Certainly the satisfaction of seeing your design discarded in every waste basket in five boroughs. But who knows? It could launch a whole career. Next year Summer Eve’s might come calling.

Best of luck. And if you win, I don’t have to tell you what my finder’s fee is.

BETTER OFF TED -- best censored outtakes EVER

Warning: LOTS of swearing. I mean, LOTS of it. Seriously bad language. Spoken by beloved television characters. But Jesus, is it funny!

My review of AMERICAN IDOL

Back for another year of reviewing AMERICAN IDOL. Since this is Simon's last it's probably mine too. Maybe next year I'll focus on HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD 2.

Season 9 of IDOL began with an acknowledgment of all the changes. Paula left the series to pursue obscurity. We were told nine guest judges would appear on the audition rounds vying for Paula’s spot and they must’ve all done fantastic since Ellen DeGeneres got the job.

First up guest judgewise was painfully thin Victoria Beckham. My droll daughter Annie, who watched with me, shouted out, “Give her a sandwich! You’d think David Beckham could provide!”

Victoria’s musical credentials are impeccable. She was Posh in the Spice Girls. And now Ryan refers to her as a “Fashion Icon”. Oh really? I don’t think those doily-laced headbands are going to catch on other than for tying your garbage bags. Here’s an example of her expert assessment of a singer’s performance: “I love the jeans, the shirt.”

Posh offered nothing in the way of insight or personality, which still made her better than Kara. How the hell is she back for another year? Kara Dioguardi and Jeff Zucker – the two people who can’t get fired. I’m reminded of that great line – “Who do you have to fuck to get off this picture?”

Randy Jackson is also back – wearing more make-up than Kara, Victoria, and even Ryan. And what was with the Playskool watch? Did “Fashion Icon” Posh suggest that? Randy unveiled some exciting new meaningless catch-phrases for the season. “Doin’ it big!” and my personal favorite, “You’re a cool guy. Great hang!”

The show started out in Boston. 9000 delusional guttersnipes getting drenched in a pouring rain. And not one of them I’m sure could appreciate the metaphor.

They started right off with a classic nut. Some whacko girl who kept auditioning to the AMERICAN IDOL video game. And when the animated Simon said she was good enough she entered the real competition. She was horrendous. Annie said they should recall the game if it put her through. Her idea of rehearsing, by the way, was to practice jumping.

There was the obligatory parade of idiots – girls who dressed like Diablo Cody if Diablo Cody was blind and guys decked out like Michael Jackson, the Marlboro Man, and the Burger King. This year’s atrocious William Hung Asian kid massacred Eric Carman’s “All By Myself”. And we had two or three lunatics who mistook grand mal seizures for dance steps. One cretin actually still thought Paula was there.

All of the losers broke down crying. “Simon’s wrong!” “I’m a great singer, I know I am.” “I just took the steroids to heal faster.

There were heart-tugging stories galore – cancer and down syndrome and dying grandmothers with dementia. All of these contestants got through to Hollywood of course. You’re never going to hear, “Well, you have only one year to live and you can’t sing.”

Ryan said one contestant got a “One-way ticket to Hollywood.” Uh, does that mean he has to pay his own way home? I guess the economic crunch has even caught up to AMERICAN IDOL.

My favorite aspirants: the drummer who broke both wrists after falling out of a tree, some Clark Kent-looking guy who was pissed he had to wait all day (this really irked Kara who intimated that if you’re going to make it in the music industry you better have a talent for waiting), and finally – a blond stoner with horrible skin (I love my HD) who said he was going to try to sound like his idol, Chris Brown. Why Chris Brown? Because “he touches young kids all over the world.” Yeah, he sure touched young Rihanna. He beat the crap out of her. Stoner Boy was rejected but he was satisfied with his performance. As he said, “I did what I had to do. I hit really loud notes.”

More auditions tonight but I’m skipping those because, well it’s the same show as this one. Only the sob stories and costumes will change. Oh, and the guest judge. Not sure but I think it's Captain Beefheart.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My take on Mark McGwire

I made some notes on the Costas-McGwire interview.

McGwire got all emotional and cried several times.

He admitted to taking steroids but not for the purpose of cheating.

Although not as bad as Peter Gammons (Melissa Rivers asks tougher questions than the ones Gammons posed to Alex Rodriguez in a similar interview last year), Bob Costas didn’t hold McGwire’s feet to the fire. He didn’t really cross-examine him.

McGwire stated that he’s wanted to come clean for five years now.

McGwire couldn’t be more contrite and apologetic.

These were notes I took BEFORE the interview.

It was that predictable. And boring. Halfway through I thought, why don’t I just pop in my DVD of FROST/NIXON? At least that was somewhat entertaining and the acting was convincing. This was just an orchestrated damage control charade. Tom Hanks’ line in LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN was wrong. “There is nothing BUT crying in baseball.”

Poor Mark McGwire. Your heart has to go out to a guy who broke baseball’s most cherished record under false pretenses. He had to live with his guilt for five whole years. If he was so tortured by this why did he wait five years to come clean? Was it his conscience, his realization that he owed the world the truth? No. It’s because he accepted a job as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach and knew he would have to face the media.

So who gives a shit that he’s crying on MLB.TV? I’d rather they show a replay of the 1969 World Series or a winter league game from Venezuela.

McGwire cheated, knew he cheated, on the advice of his handlers denied that he cheated, and now wants forgiveness so he can get back in the game he disrespected and not have to play golf under an assumed name.

I’ll forgive him when Roger Maris does.

How ironic and sad that the only person who seems to be telling the truth in this whole steroid debacle is Jose Canseco.

AMERICAN IDOL review late tonight. I expect fewer tears than the McGwire interview.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My plan for saving AMERICAN IDOL without Simon

Okay. It’s official. This is Simon Cowell’s final season on AMERICAN IDOL. He signed a document right in front of the nations’ TV critics on Monday. No one bothered to check whether the document was real though. For all we know, he could have in fact signed a “Save BETTER OFF TED” petition but that’s besides the point. After nine years Simon is moving on to produce and star as a judge in his own show THE X-FACTOR next season. What are the chances Paula Abdul is throwing herself in front of his car at this very moment?

But the big question is – Can AMERICAN IDOL survive without Simon?

My answer is a resounding YES.

No less than F.X. Sillerman himself, the Chief Executive of the parent company that owns AI said, “Simon Cowell is a spectacular talent. Having said that, AMERICAN IDOL is much bigger than any one individual.” (This is in marked contrast to the statement given when Paula left. “You left some tap shoes in your dressing room. Could you have someone come pick them up?”)

Mr. Sillerman is right. The Chicago Bulls survived just fine when Michael Jordan retired. The PGA Tour will hardly even miss Tiger Woods. And Carly Simon now looks enough like Mick Jagger that she could easily replace him in the Rolling Stones and no one would notice.

So what should AMERICAN IDOL do? Yes, some changes will have to be made but they must be the right ones. This is no time for mis-steps. So these are my suggestions:

Change the title to AfterAMERICAN IDOL.

For Simon’s replacement, there is a way to save two networks at once – hire Conan O’Brien. (This is why I should be running a network and not Jeff Zucker.)

For celebrity mentors, instead of deadbeats like Paul Anka, rotate Jamie Farr, Harry Morgan, Rosalind Chao, and William Christopher. Hey, they’ll give better advice than Mariah Carey and know where they are.

Combine the results show with HOUSE.

And finally, don’t let the kids rehearse. You wanna take advantage of live TV? Give them the songs five minutes before airtime. Now you’ve got some suspense, America!

Implement these suggestions and AfterAMERICAN IDOL should run at least one year more.

You’re welcome.

I will be reviewing AMERICAN IDOL again this year. First recap late Tuesday night.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is the Mentalist really the Equalizer?

I’m on board with THE MENTALIST.

Yes, it’s a formula cop show. Yes, its “hook” (the star has extraordinary powers of observation and is eccentric) is the same as five other police series. And yes, at the end of the day you don’t really give a rat's ass who “did it”. But Simon Baker is fun to watch and at the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?

What sets him apart is this insouciant I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude he has that I find very refreshing. Especially since every other TV crime fighter is driven and earnest to a fault. Hey, lighten up guys. It’s only murder.

The Mentalist has the obligatory hot partner. In this case, Robin Tunney. Since it’s CBS the one requirement is that she’s a brunette (Les Moonves loves his brunettes. Check out the CBS schedule. It’s filled with them.) She’s the serious one. She questions all the suspects while Simon hangs back, bemused, and after five minutes of getting nowhere, Simon pops in with one offhanded query and the suspect pours out his most innermost secrets. You don’t have to be a mentalist to see it coming a mile away but it works. Baker pulls it off. Robin of course finds him exasperating but unlike the bitch in CASTLE she's more tolerant and even thanks him more than once a year.

Then there’s the mandatory police staff supporting drones – interchangeable from any procedural except one of the members of this group is that Asian guy from the cellphone commercials and I just hate him. He’s probably the world’s greatest person but he always plays smug assholes that you just want to slug.

Last week’s episode was particularly entertaining. They entered the world of a biker gang. Great scene where they went to a biker bar to question a suspect. All these angry looking tatted dudes and in steps Simon in a tweed jacket completely at ease. Fearless Robin is there too. (I love, by the way, that she always introduces herself by flashing her badge and snarling “CBI” as if anyone knows what the hell that means. For reference: California Bureau of Intelligence, which no longer exists in that form.) The biker gang leader is ready to turn the Mentalist into a hood ornament but is instantly disarmed when Simon perceptively tells him he came from a dysfunctional family and had childhood issues. Wow! How did he know??? This leads me to a possible spinoff idea. “Dr. Laura Schlessinger: Homicide”. I want part creator credit if this ever happens.

One of the purposes of the police staff is to do all the action sequences. Case in point in this particular episode – Robin and the hot young red head (I’m sure Moonves was told was she’s a light brunette) handled a thrilling car chase while Baker gave a suspect a driving lesson.

The fact that Baker would probably call for a stunt double if he has to get up from a dinner table quickly is precisely why I love this show. It reminds me of my other all-time favorite urban drama, THE EQUALIZER.

This mid-80s series starred British actor, Edward Woodward as a former secret agent who now lives in Manhattan and helps protect regular citizens from bullies or the Mafia or biker gangs. When he made this series Woodward was already in his mid-to-late fifties and looked like Winston Churchill with a hairpiece. Not what you’d call imposing. Still, he’d walk into those biker bars and instead of the Hells Angels yelling, “What the fuck do you want, grandpa?” they’d cower. Why I never knew but I loved loved loved it.

My favorite episode found The Equalizer and a dangerous thug locked in a tense showdown. Both held handguns at their sides. But then the Equalizer flicked his wrist, raising his gun just a few inches and the thug was so intimidated he dropped his weapon. Zowie!! You just can’t choreograph action like that!

The older I get the more I appreciate these series. If that’s all it took to thwart vicious criminals than hey, I could still be James Bond!

Simon Baker is still a few years away from that but I have a feeling THE MENTALIST could last long enough to where he might not have the flexibility and dexterity he has now. And I’ll still be watching. Oh, and by the way, it did not go unnoticed that all the commercials on the show last week were for drugs and ointments.