Sunday, February 28, 2010

The time I rewrote Neil Simon

First off, let me just say that Neil Simon is one of my comedy Gods. I’ve devoured all of his plays, used them as a study guide. There was a period in the 80s and 90s that his new plays and musicals would open first here in Los Angeles before going on to Broadway (we were New Haven with palm trees). I would see them three or four times, watching to see how he revised and polished them… and often times marveling at the craft and ingenuity of the fixes. (And amazingly, he did it without the invaluable help of network notes.)

He has two autobiographies. I strongly recommend them both; especially the first one. The process of turning around THE ODD COUPLE is classic.

For awhile, several years ago, Neil used to workout at my gym. He was approachable and very gracious. Like I said, one of my comedy titans.

But I rewrote him.

Here’s the story. Probably close to ten years ago my daughter Annie was trying to get into the drama club at her high school. She was expected to deliver a comedy monologue. The one she chose was a long speech from a character in Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE. It might have been the mother trying to coax her daughter out of the bathroom on her wedding day; I don’t recall exactly.

The audition could be no longer than 3 minutes. Annie rehearsed it with me and I timed it. She was long by about 40 seconds. Speeding up the pace wouldn’t have helped. So I took a deep breath, said “give me the script”, and thinned out the monologue.

Even as I was doing it I was thinking, “Oh, I am surely going to hell for this!” You don’t take Moses’ tablets and say, “I think there’s a better way to phrase commandment six.” But I did. I found trims. I found some repetitions. I did not spontaneously combust.

Annie rehearsed the revised monologue and bingo! It was right on time. She used it for her audition, was accepted into the club, and no one knew the speech had been doctored with.

Why am I telling you this? Do I like looking over my shoulder for fear of being struck dead by lightening. No. I’m telling you this to make a point.

There are ALWAYS trims in big speeches. Whenever my partner and I finish a draft we always go back, re-examine any long speech and invariably find some cuts.

Long speeches are a bitch to write. You’re often including multiple thoughts. Usually the best way to attack them is let it flow. Just get it all on paper. Don’t go on to sentence two only after sentence one is absolutely perfect. Once you’ve said everything you want to say, even if you’ve said it five times, then go back and trim and eliminate and shape. At some point you will be satisfied that the speech is just where you want it and every word is absolutely necessary.

Then go back in a few days and take out another 10%.

I bet if he doesn’t sue me, Neil Simon would agree.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How to get Tom Hanks to star in your movie

This is a true “Hollywood” story of how my writing partner and I got Tom Hanks to star in our 1985 movie, VOLUNTEERS.

We wrote the first draft five years earlier (so far this is a typical Hollywood story). The movie centers around a preppy Yalie who ducks a gambling debt and winds up in the Peace Corps. Hilarity ensues (at least on the page). Sergeant Shriver, then the head of the Peace Corp, read it and said it was like spiting on the flag. I knew we were onto something.

The producer asked whom we thought might be good to star and we suggested this guy who at the time was in BOSOM BUDDIES on ABC – Tom Hanks. The producer scoffed. Tom Hanks couldn’t get a movie made.

We were at the same agency as Tom so for grins and giggles we sent him the script anyway. He loved it but reluctantly agreed the producer was right.

Flash forward a few years. VOLUNTEERS has gone through two studios, two directors, and nine drafts. HBO/Tristar greenlights it. Time to look for stars.

Tom had just done SPLASH. It was a huge hit. He was the Will Ferrell-of-the-month. Offered every project in town. He couldn’t find anything he liked (even BACHELOR PARTY II). So he said to his agent he had read a project about the Peace Corps several years back. What about that one? The agent said he would try to track it down but without even knowing the title it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

ONE HOUR LATER the agent gets a call from our producer. Would Tom be interested in a Peace Corps movie? The agent almost fell on the floor. He said to messenger it right away. We did. Tom skimmed it, recognized a Margaret Dumont joke we had in there, said “Yep, this is the one” and a half hour later the deal was closed.

Pretty cool, huh?

The person really responsible for making this deal happen was Cupid because it was on VOLUNTEERS that Tom met his wife, Rita Wilson.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Woody Allen shot a moose once

A few days ago I mentioned that when my partner, David Isaacs and I were starting out we used to listen to the Woody Allen stand-up comedy album for inspiration.

Thanks to reader of the blog, blogward, for alerting me to this. Here's one of Woody Allen's classic stand-up routines from the mid 60s. Saturdays are becoming the comedy barometer day. You've seen a classic Honeymooner scene from the 50s, a memorable David Hyde Pierce set piece from FRASIER, a CHEERS episode, and now Woody Allen before he became an artiste. So what do you think?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The night Mickey Mouse entered CHEERS

Here’s a show-and-tell Friday question. I'm being spammed so leave your question but I'm moderating them to keep out the riff-raff.

From Wally:

One day, while falling down the rabbit hole of the Internet I discovered this clip, titled "Mickey Goes to Cheers."

What can you tell us about it, good sir?

This was a special for the Wide World of Disney, aired November 13, 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday. It was done in a combination live-action/animation format a la WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (which the Disney studio also produced).

Due to some magic spell or something Mickey is transported into real life (if you can call sitcoms real life) and no one recognizes him. He enters the world of FAMILY TIES and CHEERS.

Some writers from Disney wrote the CHEERS scene and it was God awful. They didn’t even write Mickey well. Even Disney CEO, Michael Eisner recognized that. He called James Burrow and asked, as a favor, if we CHEERS writers would take a pass at it?

So a group of about six of us banged out the new scene. Eisner was delighted, Mickey was pleased for the most part, and that was the scene that was shot.

None of us were paid for it, but it was payment enough just to throw out that original scene.

About a week later a messenger from Disney arrived at the office and gave each one of us a giant tote bag crammed with Disney goodies. There were VHS copies of Disney classics, shirts, a letterman jacket, Mickey phone, stuffed animals, a watch, cards, magnetic desk toy, mouse ears, bubble bath, and God knows what else.

All of us had young children at the time and this was the greatest gift ever! If they had paid us, our fee would have probably been a couple grand a person and I’m guestimating each bag was worth maybe $500. But so what? There’s not one of us who wouldn’t’ve preferred the bag.

Seeing the scene again for the first time in over twenty years, it wasn’t our best work. But I remember we were very restricted in what we could and couldn’t do. Anyway, here it is. And to answer your next question: I still have the phone and jacket.



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Symbolism in MASH: now it can be told

Every so often I’ll read an article or term paper or passage in a book that references a MASH episode my partner and I wrote. The piece is most always complimentary; sometimes overly so. But invariably the authors will analyze the episode. They’ll identify the symbolism, how when Hawkeye hangs up his laundry he’s really representing the Anti-Christ, and they’ll find all kinds of mythological parallel, subliminal messages, and odes to other works of literature. They’ll compare Klinger to Jane Austin, find significance in jeep license plate numbers, and detect hidden codes in Radar’s dialogue.

I’d like to be able to shrug my shoulders and say yes, all of that is in there. David and I write on many levels. Our scripts are challenging intellectual puzzles to be solved by only the most advanced sophisticated minds. Thanks for noticing.

I’d like to say that but it’s all bullshit! There’s no symbolism in our MASH scripts. There’s no attempt to send covert messages in Hawkeye’s Groucho routine. Sorry, we’re not that deep. We were just trying to write a funny show with substance and heart. Our goal was to entertain. Period. Even the Viet Nam comparisons to Korea – we never pointed to that. We didn’t have to.

There are series that do consciously employ symbolism. LOST for example. MAD MEN for another. Pay attention because every detail has added importance. I love both of those shows. And I’m always thrilled when I catch one of these symbolic nuggets. But don’t go looking for them in MASH, at least in our years. They’re just not there, folks. We used names of ballplayers, former girlfriends, and my family dog, but that’s about it.

People have deemed MASH a television classic and I’m humbled and grateful but at the time we were making the show we never for a moment thought we were writing a “classic”. We probably would have been paralyzed if we had. Or, at the very least, pretentious as hell.

And it makes me wonder -- all through school our teachers have analyzed and interpreted the crap out of great works of literature. We’re tested on intent and correct meaning. Well, what if the teacher has no fucking clue what she’s talking about? What if she has no idea what the author was trying to say? Or worse yet, has grossly misinterpreted it? If my personal experience has taught me anything it’s that books and plays and scripts and Billy Joel records may in fact be just what they seem.

I imagine if you asked Shakespeare about the ambiguity of HAMLET he might say, “Yeah, about that. I was really slammed for time. I figured I’d just clarify during rehearsals but something came up. The Globe needed some repairs and I had to interview a few contractors. Jesus, those guys will soak you. But people seem okay with the play as it is, so what the hell? Plus, I’m working on my next and that bad boy just does not want to fall into place.”

The next time you watch one of our MASH’s, trust me, I will be more than pleased if you just laugh at the jokes and enjoy the story. There’s something wrong when the viewer spends more time analyzing a script than the writer.

Update: Check out the comments section. There's a lively discussion on whether writers include symbolism even when they don't realize it.

Update 2: Now included in the comments is a note from John Rappaport who oversaw the writing of MASH for the last four seasons.

AMERICAN IDOL: the Pearly Dozen

Is AMERICAN IDOL sponsored by Crest Whitestrips Teeth Whitening Systems this season? Jesus, every girl but one had blinding white teeth. And the only reason she made the top 24 was because the producers felt they needed diversity.

This was the first performance week. Girls on Tuesday. Guys on Wednesday. Bobsledding and alpine events on Thursday. I won’t be reviewing the guys. Based on the quick-cuts preview they look like eleven Billy Elliotts and Fat Albert.

Hey there! Play the AMERICAN IDOL drinking game! Down a shot every time someone says “dream”, “surreal”, or “journey”. You’ll be drunker than Rip Torn in a bank by 1-800-IDOLS-03.

Ellen was disappointing. She liked everything and wasn’t funny. Was she upset about something? Did someone take another little dog away from her? Come on, Ell. Don’t leave the comedy burden to Kara.

But the big surprise was Randy. He actually gave good, knowledgeable critiques. Where were the “yo’s” and “dawgs” and “mad vocals”? Maybe it wasn’t Randy. Maybe it was Smokey Robinson in Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor fat suit.

Now to the performances themselves. Helping me this week is the Princess of Snark, my daughter Annie. Hope I get the names right. They all have unusual spellings.

KrisTall was so impressive the judges liked her even though her teeth could not light Times Square. She sang well and played two instruments – the guitar and harmonica. When she launched into her harmonica riff the audience went wild. You’d think she was playing a zither with her feet. But she’s one to watch. And maybe with Zoom in-office bleaching treatments she could make the top 12.

For some reason the judges all loved Paiyj. Why? This was just another boring belter. Same with Ashleigh and Mischeyll. If this was season two we might’ve been thrilled by them. But it’s season nine. They have to hold a final note for three minutes and deliver a baby on stage for us to be excited.

Janell is one of my favorites. She has a lovely tonal quality to her voice that… aw, who’m I kidding? I think she looks hot.

Lillleee (pictured above) is one of the few originals. She’s the only one who looks like Tracey Ullman in a gray wig. She sang “Fixin a Hole” by the Beatles; an odd choice but one that paid off.

Kaytlynne stepped center stage sporting a huge flock of curly hair. Annie said she looked like Tippi Hendren in THE BIRDS. Especially with some black thing sticking out of her hair that made it look like she was being attacked. She did “Oh, Darling”.

And then 16-year-old, Haellei, dressed as Bo Peep, sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which prompted my sweet child to say, “Beatles Rock Band comes out and everyone’s a fucking singer!”

Layzcheey didn’t make the top 24 last year but thanks to Aquafresh Whitening Dental Gum she did this season. She looks like a young punk rocker Vicki Lawrence. Her version of “Landslide” was so bad even Ellen hated it.

Deedi managed to sing her entire song without crying.

Kaytea is 17 going on 40. The judges didn’t like her song selection, “Feeling Good”, complaining it was too old for her. What do they want her to sing, the theme from “That’s My Raven”? It's not like she did Sondheim's "I'm Still Here". I thought Kaytea sounded great. Big voice and a real maturity.

But my favorite girl this year is Siobhan. She’s one of the more interesting and original contestants ever, and by that I mean WEIRD. She’s got an incredible voice, tremendous range, and takes chances. You never know what she’s going to do or what that tattoo on her arm means. When she’s not singing she’s a glass blower apprentice, causing Ryan to make a lame blowjob joke so fast you’d think he was in the cast of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

I think Layzcheey, Ashleigh, and Deedi are in trouble. Two will go home. The rest will live to floss another day.

Line of the night (at my house at least): Kara, who proved last night she should never go sleeveless, criticized Kaytlynne’s look. When Ryan asked Kaytlynne what was the thought bubble over her head in reaction to Kara, Kara mouthed “bitch” and Annie said, “That’s the thought bubble over everyone’s head when you talk.”

My darling daughter has fangs. And they’re very white, by the way.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Ice Dancing

I can’t believe I sat through thirty hours of Olympic ice dancing. (Well, actually two hours of actual performances and 28 watching the Americans rehearse backstage.) I’d be in awe of all these couples if the NBC analyst, Tracy Wilson didn’t point out that their Twizzles were lacking, or the audience wasn’t drawn in by their storytelling, or the Indian dirge they were dancing to lacked whimsy. She generally offered commentary during routines only to criticize something. What we thought were dazzling spins? Nah, those aren't hard. Really? They are to ME.

At least four or five times she would pick apart a couple’s performance only to have the judges give them a sensationally high score. At least Simon Cowell likes the hot blonds.

This is my judging criteria:

They didn’t fall. Give them a 10.

They didn’t crash into the walls. Give them a 10.

He swung her over his head and didn’t get sliced to death by her skates. Another 10.

They didn’t dance to a Celine Dion song. Give them a 10.

It’s okay by me if there are multiple Gold Medal winners. And hey, it’s not like there’s any suspense. If you live on the west coast you know the results before the show starts. Thank you, NBC.

The U.S. papers today are all crying that Davis & White got jobbed. I dunno. Virtue & Moir were pretty damn good, even if they were the hometown favorites.

As for the choreography, my daughter Annie yelled out a good suggestion to the screen. “More flippy things!”

Tom Hammond did a solid job of calling the event and Tracy Wilson is lucky she wasn't assigned to hockey. She’d never make it to her car after the game.

By the way, with all the numbers and scores and times you see flashed on the screen, there’s one number you should know: 100,000. That’s the number of condoms that have been distributed to the Olympic athletes, coaches, and trainers. Each one receives about 14. And officials are hoping those will suffice. 70,000 were issued in the Sydney summer games and they found they weren't enough. Yikes! Screw the games! The real athletics are in the Olympic village!

Meanwhile, the Channel 4 local news in Los Angeles broke in with the big stories they were covering at 11: What skaters made the best fashion statement? And an interview with “Vicki”, a real housewife from Orange County. This is NEWS????

I’ll be reviewing AMERICAN IDOL late tonight. Yes, I’m missing more figure skating but I’ll also be missing more “Phantom of the Opera” music. And Tracy Wilson.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How my partner and I met: Part two

Part one was yesterday.

Following summer camp, David and I went back to our respective jobs… although his was still waiting for him. During my two-week stint keeping America safe the radio station changed program directors. I came back. The new guy hated me. I was gone. That’s the thanks I get for keeping the Viet Cong out of Colorado.

So I moved back in with my parents in Marina Del Rey and sent around tapes trying to get another disc jockey job. Turns out a lot of program directors hated me.

But in the interim I called David and said I wanted to try writing a script. Would he want to write it with me? I’ll never forget his answer: “Who is this again?”

We met the next night at the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset (still there amazingly) and decided to give it a try.

There was only one problem. Neither of us had a fucking clue what to do. I had to go to a bookstore in Hollywood and buy an old ODD COUPLE script off their remainder table for $2 and use that as our guide. I didn’t even know the format. Int. Madison Apartment – Day… oh, that’s how they do it.

We had an idea to write a pilot about two kids in a dorm, thus drawing upon the only life experience either of us had had up to that point.

We’d meet on the weekends at David’s apartment on Arch Drive in Studio City (don’t look for a shrine or anything). To get us revved up, first we listened to a side of the Woody Allen stand-up album (still one of the most brilliant comedy albums EVER). Then we’d sit down at the kitchen table to write. No outline. Nothing. We didn’t know from outlines. Or structure. Or technique.

But so what? We were having a blast.

David took down the script in longhand in a college binder. I was the typist when it was finished.

After several weeks of writing I said to David, “What page do you think we’re on here?” David leafed through the binder and guestimated about 35. I held up the ODD COUPLE script and said, “Y’know, they start wrapping it up pretty quick.”

This gave us pause. We stopped writing, came up with an ending that would have cost $10,000,000 in 1973 money, wrote it in about ten minutes and that was that. We were officially writers. Ten minutes later we were in El Toritos’ pounding down tequila.

To the surprise of no one but us at the time, the script didn’t sell. But we had a great time writing it. And equally important – we made each other laugh.

There were a few funny things in the script. Enough that we decided to keep writing together.

Next installment (coming soon): then what?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How my partner and I met

A dear reader asked how I met my partner, David Isaacs and it occurred to me, I’ve never shared that story on this blog. Too busy reviewing HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD I guess.

Anyway, here’s how we met. Summer 1973. Jack in the Box rolled out their first Breakfast Jacks. DEEP THROAT was charming theatergoers. SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS debuted on NBC. It was a great time to be alive.

David had recently moved to Los Angeles from South Florida where he had dreams of being in the industry. Doing what he didn’t know but he felt there were more entertainment opportunities in Hollywood than Ft. Lauderdale.

After the usual litany of odd jobs (security guard, etc.) he finally landed at ABC – in the film shipping department. He would send out film cans of shows to Hawaii and other network outposts. This is a department that no longer exists in any form. But that’s due to technology, not David.

I was a Top 40 disc jockey doing the all-night show at KMEN in San Bernardino. I was on from midnight to six every goddamn night trying to be funny after every record even though my only listeners were ten 7-11 clerks and half of them were tied up in the back after being robbed.

And for good measure, every other day I would get a memo from the program director saying, “JUST SHUT UP AND PLAY THE RECORDS. YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. JUST PLAY THE GODDAMN HITS!”

Neither of us had a bright future.

I was in an Armed Forces Radio Reserve unit back then. My draft number was 4, which meant if eligible I’d be drafted in one nanosecond. So I managed to get into this unit, although it meant a commitment of six full years.

After completing regular Basic Training and Advanced Training my obligation was 16 hours a month and two weeks every summer. It was during one of those summer camps that I first met Pvt. Isaacs.

Through a friend of his he was able to transfer into the unit upon his arrival to California. He had no broadcast training nor any desire to become a broadcaster but this was the army, so he was approved immediately by the unit. It’s amazing they didn’t try to recruit him.

So now I’m in Ft. Carson, Colorado, in the barracks, enjoying my first Breakfast Jack and hoping to see DEEP THROAT for a third time when I notice a guy reading the biography of George S. Kaufman (famous comedy playwright from the 20s-50s). Kaufman was an idol of mine (read MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU) and I was surprised to see someone reading it on an army base. Actually, I was surprised to see anybody on an army base reading any book.

So I introduced myself, we seemed to hit it off, and we discovered we both had this love for comedy.

Tomorrow: How we decided to team up and become a writing team. There may be a HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD 2. If so, I’ll drop whatever I’m writing and report on that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movie Theater Etiquette

This is me ranting about the little things in movie theaters that PISS ME OFF!!!

It’s not enough to just turn your cellphone on silent . PUT IT THE FUCK AWAY. Don’t look at it during the movie. It’s like someone turning on a flashlight in a dark room. It’s distracting. Don’t do it! And don’t text message.

Don’t bring a baby. EVER. Can’t get a sitter? STAY HOME. I also blame theater owners for this one. Don’t allow babies. A young cretin couple brings their one year old to see HOSTEL and you sell them tickets, you should be the one dipped in a boiling vat of canola oil.

Don’t wear a hat. Unless you’re Diana Ross or Don King. This goes for baseball caps. Just because you’re balding doesn’t mean you can annoy other people.

In a fairly empty theater don’t take a seat right in front of me. Especially when there are twenty seats on either side you could choose instead.

Realize when you buy those nachos with the plastic cheese sauce that you are repulsing everyone within two rows.

Put your sweater on or keep it off. Don’t keep changing your mind during the film.

Don’t throw your big honking coat over the back of your seat so that it’s completely in my lap.

Don’t yell, “Turn it up!” during the THX announcement. It’s not funny… and hasn’t been funny for ten years.

If you’re still yelling “Focus!” in the middle of the movie, it’s YOU!

Don’t save fifteen seats for your stupid late friends.

When you come in late and the movie has already started, don’t yell the name of your friend…over …and over…and over.

Scream in your boyfriend’s ear, not mine.

When you drape your feet over the row in front of you, you are kicking the seats of everyone in that row.

Don’t pay for one Goddamn box of Milk Duds with a credit card.

Don’t talk back to the screen. This may come as a shock to your morons but THE ACTORS CAN’T HEAR YOU.

I’m sure you have others. Have at it in the comments section.

Friday, February 19, 2010

CHEERS -- Jumping Jerks

After the two recent comedy tests I'm kind of hesitant to show one of our shows. But it's the flip side of those tests. In both cases the scenes were considered classic but were met with some indifference. When he wrote this CHEERS episode we thought it was okay; one of those episodes to fill out the season. But the reaction was surprisingly positive. People loved it.

Believe me, I'm not complaining. And it does have one of my favorite act breaks. See what you think.

It's called Jumping Jerks and the premise is the guys go skydiving. No, we did not try these stunts ourselves to see if they worked.





Thursday, February 18, 2010

The problem with guys wearing dresses

Here are some Friday questions to take your mind off the six feet of snow you have to shovel.

Ref wants to know:

Mine is more general. Are actors who gain success in a certain role usually typecast by their own choice (Comedy's easy for me, so I'll stick with them) or is it done to them ?

An actor never chooses to be typecast. Being a breakout character can be a blessing and a curse, especially for a character actor. Jamie Farr is so identified with Klinger it’s hard to imagine him not in a dress.

Some actors have a schtick and are able to keep getting part after part doing the same thing. Paul Lynde springs to mind. So does Ben Stein.

There’s also the problem that some actors just don’t have much range. It’s all the more reason I admire Ted Danson. After CHEERS he decided he didn’t want to forever play that Sam Malone character. He took the part of Becker precisely because it was so different from Sam. The actor always runs the risk that (a) he won’t have the chops to pull it off, and (b) the audience won’t accept him in a role that’s such a departure. Ted took that gamble and it paid off handsomely. He was fabulous as Becker. And recently as a villain on DAMAGES he was equally surprising and riveting.

From Jim:

Is there an etiquette among scriptwriters, both inside and out of the writers' room, of how to let your colleagues know that you don't get the joke, or even worse that you get it but you think that it stinks? Or does everyone else just quietly move on and let you work it out for yourself? And is there a further etiquette for when you think that you've just come up with the funniest line ever, all these other fools want to move on but you refuse to give up so easily?

Each showrunner is different of course, but I’ve always tried to be as diplomatic I can when rejecting a pitch. I’ll say stuff like, “Yeah, it’s getting there” and “it’s funny but I’m not sure it’s right.” If you really shoot the writer down you run the risk he’ll clam up and then he’s worthless to you. On the other hand, I know showrunners who rule strictly by fear. You pitch something he doesn’t like and he’ll take your head off. You might say, don’t they realize they’re only stifling creativity and shooting themselves in the foot? And I would say, yes, but they’re assholes. I’m lucky. I’ve worked for showrunners who had their quirks and I wanted to kill them but I’ve never served under one of these tyrants.

There was a showrunner who would say, “How the fuck is that funny? Explain to me how anyone is going to laugh at that.” Needless to say the writers’ testicles retreated so far up his body he needed tweezers to find them.

Comedy writers need to develop a thick skin and often times showrunners are under tremendous pressure so they may not be as gracious as you would like. But I’ve always felt one of the showrunner’s jobs was to create a safe fun environment in the room so every writer could produce his best. To me it’s a complete win-win.

As for the second part of the question, this is more than etiquette. This is pretty much a RULE.

If you pitch a joke, even if you think it's the greatest joke ever conceived, if it’s rejected the DROP IT. It makes no difference if you’re right. The fastest way to get yourself fired from a show is to belabor joke pitches. You get one shot. If it doesn’t go in then move on. Don’t pout, don’t bring it up a half hour later, don’t say “we’d be home by now if you went with my joke”. And for godsakes, if the line that did go in didn’t work on the stage DO NOT say your joke would have killed.

And finally, from willieb:

This will probably be addressed in that book you're writing, but I can't wait: how did you make the transition from radio DJ to TV writer?

This answer requires a little more space. Next week I’ll do a couple of posts on just how David and I met and how we got started. I know. I’m a big tease.

What's your question?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Netflix pick of the month: GRAND THEFT AUTO

Oh sure Ron Howard is a major Oscar winning director now. He works on prestigious projects with only the most recognizable stars in Hollywood like Tom Hanks and that English guy who played David Frost. But once upon a time Mr. Howard directed a much more modest effort – 1977’s GRAND THEFT AUTO. The producer was Roger Corman. Not exactly Brian Grazer but he had better hair.

And Mr. Howard was not content to just direct. He also starred and co-wrote the screenplay with his father, Rance. Mr. Corman admired and encouraged auteurs – he had great respect for any artist who would do three jobs for one salary.

The plot is deceptively simple: Sam (Opie) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) need to elope because her rich parents are vehemently opposed to this union. So they steal her daddy’s Rolls Royce and flee to Vegas. Daddy gets wind of this and offers a reward to anyone who can stop them. This sets off wild car chases that results in multiple crashes, collisions, explosions, and clarity.

One can see from the playful byplay between Sam and Paula as rednecks try to force them off the road a foreshadowing of the relationship between Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A BEAUTIFUL MIND. And when Paula’s rich jilted doofus beau, Collins Hedgeworth calls TenQ radio and alerts disc jockey Curly Q. Brown of the reward, the scene between actors Paul Linke and the Real Don Steele was pretty much duplicated by Tom Hanks and Ian MacKellem in THE DA VINCI CODE.

The Real Don Steele, by the way, gave perhaps his finest screen performance in this film – a tip of the cap to Mr. Howard’s ability to work with actors.

The action sequences are spectacular and obviously gave Mr. Howard the experience and confidence he needed to pull off some of those intricate stunts in COCOON.

And who can watch the damaged space capsule in APOLLO 13 and not think immediately of the smashed up Rolls Royce in GRAND THEFT AUTO?

The media circus surrounding the chase undoubtedly was the inspiration for not only THE PAPER but FROST/NIXON, EDTV and maybe even THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS.

I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say it’s far and away better than FAR AND AWAY.

GRAND THEFT AUTO. Rent it. Study it. Send it back.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL: Judgment Week

Okay, let’s do the math. 71 contestants left, each performing a final number for the judges. At 3 minutes a song that’s 213 minutes of music. AMERICAN IDOL Judgment night was two hours minus the commercials. So ultimately 46 minutes. Seems to me there’d be enough singing to really put together a dynamite show. Instead, we saw snippets of a few songs (some snippets even repeated) and two hours of contestants anxiously waiting, more crying than Gandhi’s funeral, and endless ENDLESS recaps. At times we saw recaps of things that happened two minutes before. I mean, even the guy from MEMENTO would be saying, “Right. They’re separated into three groups and only two go through. I get it!”

If the AMERICAN IDOL producers were writing this review this next paragraph would start “so 71 contestants were left, each performing a final number for the judges. That’s 213 minutes of music if you figured 3 minutes a song.”

So instead of a potentially gangbusters show, we were treated to two tiresome hours of trumped up emotion and boredom. Not to mention trumped up emotion and boredom. There were many scenes where the contestants were sitting in rooms for eight hours just waiting to be called. I thought, “Now you know how I feel watching this snoozefest.”

It’s a SINGING SHOW!! Can we please just watch talented kids SING?! I don’t care what they look like eating breakfast or hugging boyfriends who clearly just escaped from prison. And I certainly don’t care seeing them eat breakfast and hugging boyfriends who clearly just escaped from prison.

Those few seconds of performances we did graciously get to see were by and large terrific. This may be one of the most talented groups of singers they’ve ever had, at least judging by the sixteen bars I heard.

Once the exercise of weeding out one of the three groups was completed they advanced to the “final judgment”. 24 finalists will be selected from the 46 remaining basket cases. Those 24 will begin singing next week for America’s consideration. So 22 will be eliminated. Out of 46. Leaving only 24. To sing next week. Out of 46.

Usually they do this next section in a big drafty mansion. One by one the contestants face the judges to learn their fate. But Flavor Flav must’ve booked it for the latest edition of FLAVOR OF LOVE so IDOL had to hold these waterboarding trials at the Kodak Theatre.

Each contestant entered the back of the theatre, walked down the aisle and climbed onto the stage where their jury was waiting for them.

Randy kept asking the kids, “long walk, huh?” Jesus, it’s not like they had to walk from Port Hueneme. They had to pass 50 rows of seats. Although for Randy I could see where that might require additional oxygen.

Let’s be real. The top 24 is not selected strictly for their singing ability. They’re “cast”. Singing is a factor, but so is their look, backstory, personality, age, ethnicity, and most important – they must have distinctive names with distinctive spelling. Todrick and Katelyn and Didi. One girl had a meltdown when told she was rejected. “Why?” she pleaded. I yelled back at the screen, “Because your friggin’ name is Jessica!” Come back next year as Jess-EE-ka. Or better yet, Persephone.

And after all that, two hours and seven Fox promos for PAST LIFE (as if that’s going to help), they still have to announce 17 of the 24 finalists. Who will perform next week for America. Out of the 71 that started. And not the 7 who have already been selected. From the original 46.

Oh, I forgot. The BIG news. They announced that the judges had new cups this year. Sorry I buried the lead.

If you missed any of this show just tune in tonight. I’d be willing to bet there will be a recap.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Winter Olympics

...So for fun I called NBC Friday outraged that they took off my beloved Jay Leno Show for some ski competition. What the hell is going on over that at that stupid network?!

I got voicemail.

The Winter Olympics are here again! If you’re a U.S. viewer you can watch them live… except on the West Coast. We have the great misfortune of living in the actual time zone they’re being played in. So we see them delayed while folks in Greenland get them live. The opening ceremony got huge ratings for NBC (do I smell a series???) which surprises me just a little. You people in the East and South and Midwest want to see MORE snow and winter?

But it’s the one time in four years that all us closet curling fans have our day. Join me in signing the petition to get our own curling channel on cable. If the NFL has one, why shouldn’t we?

My second favorite sport is ski jumping. If only Glenn Beck would take it up.

Third favorite is the one where people ski with rifles and shoot things. This is a sport originated by Claudine Longet.

Thank goodness for Lindsey Vonn. She’s the U.S. skier who’s also a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED bikini model. Now I can cheer on a hot American athlete and not feel like a pervert. At least once during the ice skating events I see a skater, think “wow, she’s cute” and then realize she’s like 10. Lindsey has a sore shin, by the way. I couldn’t tell you the status of one other athlete.

Some of the skiing events were postponed on Saturday due to bad weather. Uh, there’s ALWAYS bad weather during the Winter Olympics.

Johnny Weir is the Lady Gaga of Men’s Figure Skating. Check out his outfits.

I imagine the best known athelete in the US is Apolo Anton Ohno because he won on DANCING WITH THE STARS. I was always hoping he’d do a Tango on the show wearing blades.

I notice that John Tesh is not among the commentators this year. He must be too busy promoting his piano gospel dance DVD.

The luge always looked silly to me. Now it looks tragic.

Whatever happened to Moira Kelly who starred in that figure skating movie, THE CUTTING EDGE?

Mike Emrick is a great hockey announcer. Nice job by Canada over the weekend beating Slovakia 18-0. I can understand if there were 150 shots on goal. But if there were only 19...

I didn't see the opening ceremony but are these Mounties goose-stepping? When I was a little kid and watched my first Winter Olympics I thought there was some mistake. The United States was losing. In everything. How could that possibly be???

Best of luck to all the athletes, even the “foreigners”, and please – if there’s a God – may Lindsey Vonn’s shin heal.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My worst birthday EVER

This is an absolute true story.

I was just about to turn 55 (which is traumatic enough). It was 11:15 at night. I was watching this documentary series on HBO about the Porn industry. Hey, it just happened to be on.

They were asking various porn stars a series of questions. One of the questions was “What WON’T you do?”

One by one they listed all manner of depraved acts. No double-penetration. No triple-penetration. No groups more than ten. No animals. No S & M. No vegetables. They were rattling off kinky and disgusting acts I didn’t even know were possible. The most humiliating, degrading sexual requests you could ever imagine.

Finally, they get to one girl who says, “Hey, whatever. They’re paying me. I’ll do just about anything…” and then she added, “As long as it’s not with a guy who’s like 55.”

That was it. My life was over. Torture was fine. Goats were fine. But sex with a 55 year old, that’s where you draw the line.

I spent that birthday in a fetal position under my desk familiarizing myself with what benefits I was entitled to under Medicare.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Most guys don’t love Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday designed to trap them. If you’re dating more than one woman, you’re dead. If you get the wrong gift, you’re dead. If the gift is too cheap or too elaborate, you’re dead. If you get her a humorous card with Bush on the front you’re dead (although in that case you deserve to be).

Or worse, they love the gift and card too much. Then you’re REALLY dead.

My problem with Valentine’s Day is that it’s also my birthday. Try going out to a nice celebration dinner when every restaurant is packed, all the prices are jacked way up, and everyone is trying so hard to create a “romantic atmosphere” that when their date isn’t looking they’re popping Lexapros like Tic Tacs.

Still, not to be a cynic I would like to offer an explanation for what love really is. It comes from that font of romance -- an episode of TAXI (written by Ken Estin).

Louie is trying to win back his girlfriend, Zena. He asks if she loves him. She says she doesn’t know what love is. He tells her she’s in luck because he does. And he’s the only person alive who can say that. He’s read what everyone else says love is and they’re always wrong. She finally asks him what it is, and Louie says:

“Love is the end of happiness!

The end. Because one day all a guy’s got to do to be happy is to watch the Mets. The next day you gotta have Zena in the room watching the Mets with you. You don’t know why. They’re the same Mets, it’s the same room…but you gotta have Zena there.”

That to me expresses more heartfelt love than any bouquet or bling or blowout dinner. Maybe you should change your plans and just get together in her apartment. Especially since I still don't have dinner reservations and would prefer not celebrating my birthday at Taco Bell.

Thank you and happy Valentine’s Day.

The inside story of the Niles silent scene

David Lee, the co-creator of FRASIER was nice enough to share the whole backstory of the DHP scene used as Comedy Test Part 2. For those who don't read the comments, I thought I'd repost it so everyone can see.

Thanks much, David.

Several thoughts from David Lee.

Prize goes to the poster who said it reminded him/her of Mr. Bean. I had recently been introduced to his work and loved a lot of it. I told DHP that I would like to do something like that for him on the show. Couldn't really come up with anything for a while (we didn't want to crib the "turkey on the head" bit,though that wasn't a concern of another sit-com on the air at the time. I do remember in the room having trouble breaking a Valentine story and hitting upon the idea of doing three short stories instead. Two of them involved every character except Niles, so the idea of something for him alone came up. Then the Mr. Bean thought, and then the fire idea. I remember distinctly that once we hit upon that, the details of it came together very, very quickly in the room.

Because of safety concerns, the scene was filmed without the usual studio audience. ( It was played to a studio audience later, and those are the laughs you hear). It also had to be done in bits and pieces. The problem is, when there is only one person on stage, what do you cut to? That's where the dog came in--not out of an attempt to be cutsie--but rather to be able to piece it all together.

And of course, as many have said, none of it would have worked without the brilliance of DHP. A wonder he is.

And to the poster who wondered who would make all those mistakes with an iron, fire extinguisher and cleaning materials: how about someone who never or seldom uses them?
A side note now that my memory has been shaken: This was the episode that caused a showdown with the network. We had been complaining that they were giving away plot points and great jokes in their promos for quite awhile, and we knew that every promo would for this episode would be nothing but flames galore. So we did not deliver this piece of it until the day of broadcast. Apoplectic, they were. Lawsuits threatened, even. But they finally came up with a better promo that said something like "The producers of Frasier think this episode is so special, they won't even let us see it."

Now back to my couch.

Once again, thanks to David Lee for posting this originally in the comments section. Check out the comments, folks. They're often times better than the posts.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Comedy test: Part 2

Okay, now I happen to think this is one of the most hilarious set pieces in sitcom history. For the record, I did not write it. This is David Hyde Pierce at his brilliant best. Two questions: Do you agree (you don't have to, y'know), and if you do, how do you think it will be received in forty years? Will viewers unfamiliar with FRASIER and the Niles character appreciate the bit or find it boring, mildly amusing, obvious, cliche ridden, and derivative of things they've seen thousands of times in the 2030's and 2040's? (I think you see what I'm doing here.)

Give me your answer and then check back in forty years to see if you're right. Thanks.

another weekend of me on the wireless

I'll be on 790 KABC radio (and streaming on the net at KABC.COM and itunes radio/KABC) tonight from 7-10 pacific. Since it's the Valentine's Day weekend I'll be discussing love and romance -- two subjects I know even less about than cars.

Sunday I'm hosting my regular sportstalk show from 5-8 (what better way to celebrate my birthday than discuss Dodger pitching concerns?). And Monday night I'm on again from 7-10. I have no clue what I'll be talking about.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hey Hawkeye, who are all those people laughing? I don't see anybody.

What better way to kick off the Presidents Day weekend than with a few Friday questions?

Rob starts it off:

Why has reality TV lasted so long? Is the amount of money that can be made from the show really that much more than what could be made off the Simpsons, MASH, or heck, even According to Jim?

Reality shows are CHEAP to produce and people are watching them. But you’re right that they have a very short shelf life. Sitcoms play much better in reruns. There are cable channels replaying reality shows but in general they don’t draw good numbers. Even mega hits like AMERICAN IDOL, who’s going to watch old Bucky Covington performances?

But in this day and age, CHEAP is a big selling point to networks.

I do feel that the novelty of the genre has worn off and there is the danger of over-saturation. Already we can see that scripted shows are starting to make a comeback. Let’s hope that trend continues.

From LeeFranke:

Your thought on this pearl of wisdom from the internet. "Multi-cam and single cam sitcoms are very different formats. Single cams feel weird with laugh tracks, but multi-cams feel weirder without."

Single camera shows do feel weird with laugh tracks. Where are the people coming from? That was always my beef on MASH. Were there bleachers on the chopper pad? You destroy the reality when you add disembodied voices laughing.

Multi-camera shows are shot in front of a studio audience. They’re more like plays. So the laughter is coming from real people. Without that laughter the shows would feel very hollow.

There are some multi-camera shows that block-and-shoot, which means no studio audience. You do miss something without the audience but usually those shows have so many scenes that a studio audience would go batshit having to sit through all them. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is an example. So it’s a trade-off. They’re able to tell better stories without the restrictions an audience imposes but they sacrifice the spontaneity and energy a group of people can offer the actors.

SEINFELD did a mixture of block-and-tape and scenes shot in front of an audience.

Most multi-camera shows will pre-shoot tricky or outside scenes and show them back to the audience on filming night. And those scenes usually don’t get a great audience reaction. On BECKER there were a few times when I had to do car scenes and instead of showing the pre-shoot, we just put the actors in chairs and told the crowd it’s a simulation of the scene. Invariably those scenes would play better than pre-shoots to the audience because they were live. Or the chairs were funny.

And finally, Steve B. asks:

Here's my question, Ken: How do you do this? To me, your level of output on this blog is pretty amazing, especially during baseball season when you have so many other responsibilities. How hard is it for you to switch hats, and how much time do you devote to the blog? Do you treat this like a hobby, or more like a full-time commitment?

I view this blog as stretching exercises for writers. It usually takes me between a half hour to an hour to write a daily post. I also try to have a few in the bank in case I’m actually required to do something that day. The hardest part is coming up with ideas for entries. And it depends on what’s going on. There are some weeks when there’s so much happening I post more than once a day; other times I’m going through my files seeing if there’s a scene from our TORTELLIS episode I could re-print.

But it’s fun (mostly) and I love having an outlet, although I’m forever amazed that anybody gives a shit what I think about anything.

Update: There's another major point I want to make about the comedy test. Check back later this evening for that. Thanks.

My reaction to YOUR reactions

Thanks so much to all of you for your feedback on THE HONEYMOONERS scene. Your comments collectively were better than any post I could write on changing tastes of comedy and just how subjective humor is. I also found your explanations fascinating and in many cases very insightful.

Some people were a little dismissive but I guess that’s to be expected. I would hope you at least recognize that at one time this scene was (and for many people still “is”) a classic.

Thanks again. It’s always nice when the teacher learns from the students.

And of course, more comments are welcome.

Update: There's another major point I want to make with this test. Check back Friday evening for that. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Comedy test: Do you find this funny?

In the past I've raved about THE HONEYMOONERS. This was a sitcom from the early days of television starring Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. Usually the comments I receive on this show vary from "this show is a classic" to "what's the big deal over this crap?"

So today I thought I'd try one of my little experiments. Here's a short scene from one of the episodes. Norton (Carney) tries to teach Ralph (Gleason) how to play golf.

I've seen it a thousand times, maybe two. It still makes me laugh. But how about you? Is this truly funny or a product of its time? LOL or lame? I'd love reactions from all ages, especially younger reader (Generation X through Super Bowl XXX). So if you wouldn't mind taking a couple of minutes, could you please check this out, and let me know what you think? Many thanks. There are no right answers. As always, I have nothing to give away. I'm a cheap blog. But together we may just unlock the secret of comedy. Or not and I move on to something else tomorrow.

Thanks again. And awayyyyyyyy weee go!

Update: There's another major point I want to make with this test. Check back Friday evening for that. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL starring Ellen DeGeneres

It was Hollywood Week – 181 inbred poodles in a box all vying for one Air Kong Squeaker Fetch Stick. This is where we get to see the dreams of157 young people dashed and beauty shots of the Griffith Park Observatory.

But that’s not the big story. Excuse me, the BIG story!!

According to Ryan, this was the moment all of America has been waiting for. The suspense has been killing us! Just how would Ellen DeGeneres do replacing Paula Abdul? It's amazing any work got done at all the last few months.

Well breathe easy, America. She did fine. She’s got a brain. She’s got ears. She says funny things sometimes. Considering the caliber of American Idol judges (other than Simon) that makes her Mozart. And now that there finally is someone on the panel who has something to offer, Kara really disappears into the woodwork; confirming what we all knew – she’s as useless as cufflinks on pants.

The Ryan Seacrest hyperbole was flying. Adding to the pressure, Ryan said the kids were performing on “the most hi-profile stage in the world – the Kodak Theatre.” Uh, what about Carnegie Hall? Or the Kennedy Center? Or London Palladium? Or any other major venue that was built before 2001? Yes, they hold the Academy Awards there but also the Vanilla Ice concert.

By and large there are some terrific singers this go-round, although there were the usual band of idiots, probably selected more for their ability to cry than sing.

Poor Vanessa. She’s the country girl from Tennessee who had never been on an aero-plane. She flamed out. The movie of her life will not be A STAR IS BORN. It will be DELIVERANCE.

One guy sang while his wife was in labor. He made it through. Several girls sang like they were in labor. They did not make it through.

But the ones who were good and didn’t have moronic names like Skibowski were very good.

Andrew Garcia, a likable lug in Lew Wasserman glasses did an acoustic version of “Straight Up” that was far better than the original. So not only was Ellen DeGeneres better than Paula Abdul. Andrew Garcia was too.

Didi Benami, a waitress from Los Angeles, made a Kara-written song sound good, which puts her on a plane with the guy who created fuel out of manure.

Crystal Bowersox did “Natural Woman” better than thirty-five other Idol contestants but not as good as sixteen more.

I really liked Janell Wheeler, a country singer with a nice tone. I forget if she was the one with nine brothers, nine kids, or survived a wood chipper accident.

Another favorite was Lilly Scott although I have this sneaking suspicion it’s really Tracey Ullman in a silver wig.

Tonight is “Group Night”. Let me just review it now. There will be ten meltdowns, two girls who turn into psycho bitches, one who bounces from group to group, two guys who are tired and go to bed early, three groups that forget the words, one group that is horrible but advances anyway, two singers who have laryngitis, and now that Paula’s no longer on the show, six guys who sleep with her. Tell me if I'm right. I'll be watching MODERN FAMILY.

My thoughts on the Super Bowl beating the laast MASH

A lot of people have asked me what I thought of Sunday’s Super Bowl eclipsing the final MASH as the most watched television show of all-time. A little like the 72 Dolphins actually. Even though I had left MASH by then (the last episode my partner and I wrote was GOODBYE RADAR for season 8) it was nice to know that I was associated with such an esteemed record.

Damn!

If only the WHO had guested on our final episode! If only we could have slipped in an anti-abortion ad right after the scene where the Korean woman chokes the child! If only we had done the show live! If only Peyton Manning had played Hawkeye! Or the Korean woman!

Oh well. At least we lost out to the Super Bowl… and not say THE HILLS episode when Heidi Montag returns for the first time after her plastic surgery.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Jesus! Now I have to compete with Julienne Moore too?

Last week I talked about how hard it is to land a pilot if you’re starting from the bottom (and again, best of luck to you hearty souls). Today I want to focus on the other extreme – those actors who view pilots as a come-down. In other words, movie stars, or to be more precise -- former movie stars.

Networks are completely enamored by movie stars. On the food chain of entertainment it goes like this: Movies, Television, Street Performing, Radio. Movies look down at television. Television looks up at movies with awe. Forget that more money is made in television; the movie parties are cooler, the vacation spots more European, and no one blames you for SO YOU WANT TO BE IN A JAPANESE GAME SHOW.

But for movie stars, television is an admission that you’re no longer hot. Poor Candace Bergen, she had to do a series. Meanwhile, Candace Bergen got crazy rich, was seen and loved by millions of people weekly, and got to perform better material than what was out there for her in features. It’s a dirty little secret but in success, television is the best! Never do you have to spend ten grueling months on location making SAHARA.

My partner and I used to have a saying when we were toiling in TV: “They’ll all come to us eventually.” Whoopi, Faye Dunaway, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Charlie Sheen, James Woods, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Perkins, Kiefer Sutherland, Don Sutherland, Glenn Close, the Little Mermaid – the list is endless. Then there’s the roll call of former TV stars who left the little box for movies and then returned. David Caruso, everyone from FRIENDS but Jennifer, Mary Tyler Moore, Chevy and every third SNL alum.

I understand the attraction from the networks’ perspective. Movie stars (even those now relegated to Jonas Brothers movies) bring recognition, a ready-made fan base, and many are truly great actors. They achieved their big screen success for a reason.

And you always want the girl who says “no”.

We TV producers would receive confidential lists every year of the (former) movie stars who might be ready to surrender to riches and greater fame than they’ve ever had. Next to their names would be comments. “Still a year away”, “Will consider if show is built around her,” “Must have a series commitment”, “Must have firm offer”, “Needs January off to ski”. My favorite was a C-list actress at best – this woman never starred in a movie in her heyday, who said she “Would meet with A-list writers ONLY.” Two years later she was reading for parts.

But every year a new crop of movie stars succumbs. And we’re delighted to have them (unless they’re monsters but that’s another story). This year we welcome Julianne Moore, Laura Linney, and Matthew Broderick. And we welcome back Thomas Hayden Church. Their names attached to projects automatically give them a big leg up. And that’s fine if you – working actor – happen to get cast in one of their pilots. It’s not so fine if you’re in the pilot competing against Matthew Broderick’s.

But here’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve observed. Let’s say you’re a (former) movie star. The networks will romance you like crazy. They’ll wine and dine you, invite you to fly on the company jet, give you front row tickets to the Super Bowl or World Series or (only if you’ve won an Oscar) Lakers tickets. They’ll treat you like royalty – y’know, the way you used to be treated. They’ll fawn all over you during the making of the pilot. You’ll get muffin baskets just for scratching your ass. You’ll be saying, why didn’t I do this before I spent the last three years making AMERICAN PIE 6, 7, and 8?

But once the pilot is made and in the can, all bets are off. If they like it, great. You’re on the air. More muffins. But if they don’t, suddenly your (former) movie star power disappears. The project and you are quickly discarded. You’re saying, “Hey, wait a minute. You said I would be the face of the network. You said you would build your whole fall campaign around me. There’d be a billboard in Times Square. I could host the Rose Parade. I could sing a duet with Garth Brooks at the launch party. And now you’re saying I have to be out of the hotel by noon and pay for my own flight home?”

Yep.

But fear not because there are four networks, four company jets, and numerous cable outlets. Sooner or later you will get on television. Hopefully sooner because Kate Hudson, Jack Black, the Rock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sean William Scott, Vin Diesel, Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hillary Duff, Anna Paquin, Aaron Eckhart, Nicole Kidman, Mike Myers, and the current governor of California can’t be too far behind.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

SUPERBOWL XXLVIIXXLVVI

Has there been a more satisfying Super Bowl ever! What a great night for the city of New Orleans! 31-17 the final over the Colts. The celebration in the French Quarter should start winding down in June. Wish I were there to vomit in the streets with the rest of you.

Some random thoughts on the game and the telecast.

I have to say I’m pleased for many reasons. I still hate the Colts for the chicken-shit way they left Baltimore – sneaking out of town under the cover of darkness. You may know them as the Indianapolis Colts. To me they’re the Oz Lions.

Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest food consumption day in the U.S. Tied for first – every Jewish holiday.

We Americans consume 4 million pounds of fat from potato chips alone. The third leading killer of American males: Doritos.

Jim Nantz did a fine job but I still think Dick Enberg should call the Super Bowl. Jim Nantz should join of the cast of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. He was hilarious Monday night.

CBS has taken a lot of heat for allowing an anti-abortion commercial and refusing a pro-Gay spot. Here’s how they could have solved that problem. Do the same anti-abortion ad but instead of featuring Tim Tebow and his mom, just use Richard Simmons and his mom. That way everyone will be happy.

Were there any groups protesting that the game was held in Sun Life Stadium. Where were the Moon Life zealots?

Since CBS allowed the ad, why not go all the way and include it in the billboard. “The 1st quarter is brought to you by Cars.com, E-Trade, and outlaw abortions.”

My favorite commercial was the Snickers ad featuring Betty White and Abe Vigoda playing football and getting clotheslined. My second favorite: I had no second favorite.

Analyst Phil Simms is Al Gore in a coma.

Don’t you hate it when you buy two squares for the first quarter pool and get the numbers 2 and 5?

It’s time to do away with the Roman Numerals already. We’re at the point where only Spartacus can figure them out.

But if the NFL insists on the practice then I say all players’ numbers on the back of their jerseys should be in Roman Numerals too.

Oh please! Peyton Manning was misty over Queen Latifa singing America the Beautiful. Is he hoping to become Sarah Palin’s running mate?

Carrie Underwood sang the National Anthem wearing one of Elvis’ old jumpsuits. She was terrific until that last note and then yeow!!!

I hate it when the weather’s great. Much more fun to see all those CEO’s and other bailout beneficiaries getting drenched in their 50 yard line seats.

The Super Bowl is the one program where people fast forward through the show to get to the commercials.

New Orleans went to their favorite weapon to put the game away – a turnover. They’ve been scoring big points doing that all year.

Quick: name the two teams in last year’s Super Bowl?

NO MORE TALKING BABIES!!!! EVER!!!!!!

In every Super Bowl party there’s always one insufferable idiot who comments after every commercial. That would be me.

How fucked up is NBC when even Jay Leno is doing promos for David Letterman?

The Who looked ancient. I thought I was watching the Abe Vigoda commercial again.

I imagine for anyone under 60 they were the “Why?”

At this rate Little Anthony & the Imperials will be performing at next year’s Super Bowl.

Quarterback Drew Brees deserves a lot of kudos but let’s not forget Garrett Hartley and his three lonnnnng field goals, and the interception/touchdown by Tracy Porter.

I’m tired of the Clydesdales. Used to love ‘em but enough! I don’t need my heart to be tugged. I have Peyton Manning for that.

Since Pete Townsend of the Who is a registered sex offender (he was arrested in 2003 in a pedophilia sting in the UK), child abuse organizers flooded the area around the stadium with warning fliers and postcards. The fliers should have warned everybody about Carrie Underwood’s final note.

Wow! The Saints started the second half with an on-side kick. And pulled it off. The only thing that would have been more surprising is if one of the Bud Lite commercials had been funny.

A lot of anger towards girlfriends in this year’s commercials. Those bitches won’t let us buy mobile TV’s or drive Dodge Chargers!

Excitementwise, you can’t ask for much more than going into the 4th quarter with a one point difference.

The Saints’ 4th quarter challenge resulted in a reversed call and two points. See that baseball? It’s more important to get the call right than stubbornly stick to tradition.

It would have been nice had the anti-abortion spot gone right up against the Go-Daddy commercial, don't you think?

Again, congratulations to the city and citizens of New Orleans (who I’m sure are completely plastered). And what a perfect metaphor for Katrina – the Saints were down 10-0 and came back to win it all. Come on. Even you Colt fans have to admit it’s a wonderful story. Okay, well… maybe not.

Thanks to ESPN and TMZ for the photos.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

My Super Bowl tradition: The lost CHEERS

Every year on Super Bowl Sunday I present the "Lost scene of CHEERS". ( Tomorrow I'll review this year's Super Bowl.)

My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote those scene, it was seen by EIGHTY MILLION people, (almost
double the audience of the final episode of CHEERS)… then never shown again.. I may have tracked down a copy of the scene and when I do I'll post it. In the meantime, after being buried for over twenty years, here’s the lost script of that scene.

Backstory: People forget but Cheers wasn’t always an enormous hit. The first season’s ratings (1982-83) were terrible…as in “dead last”. In today’s world both the CW and Univision would kick our ass. In an effort to get better exposure NBC asked if we’d do a special scene to be aired sometime during the Superbowl pre game show. Pete Axthelm (pictured), the distinguished sports columnist for Newsweek and gambling tout for the Peacock agreed to appear. David and I banged out the scene. NBC aired it…right before kick-off. Talk about a good time slot.


Enjoy, trivia buffs:


FADE IN:

INT. BAR – EARLY AFTERNOON

CARLA, CLIFF AND NORM ARE AT THE TABLE WATCHING TELEVISION. SAM IS AT THE BAR. DIANE ENTERS.

DIANE
Morning everyone.

EVERYONE AD LIBS HELLO’S.

DIANE
You boys are here early today.

NORM
Superbowl Sunday, Diane. The only reason for living…not found in a mug.

CLIFF
We’re early because we gotta catch all twelve hours of the Superbowl pre-game show.

CARLA
Started off this morning with the Superbowl Mass. Moved right into NFL ’82.

SAM
The next hour they’re going to trace the family tree of every player on both sides.

DIANE
Ah, the big game. An American tradition. These athletes will test themselves for all they’re worth. They’ll spit farther than they’ve ever spat before. They’ll scratch in places no man has ever dared to scratch. That is entertainment.

CLIFF
Yeah. Superbowl Seventeen. Or as the French would say it, (IN JOHN’S UNIQUE FRENCH ACCENT) “Superbowl Seventeen”.

PETE AXTHELM ENTERS AND APPROACHES THE BAR.

PETE
(TO SAM) Excuse me. Do you have a phone here? I’ve got the only bookmaker on the planet that I can’t get in touch with on Superbowl Sunday.

SAM
Yeah, it’s down the hall.

CARLA
Hey, you’re Pete Axthelm.

PETE
That depends on whether you want to thank me or hit me for my selections this year.

SAM
Welcome to Cheers.

EVERYONE EXCEPT DIANE ACKNOWLEDGES HIM.

CLIFF
Hey, how come you’re not out there in Pasadena?

PETE
I should be. It’s the last time I book a flight through Jimmy the Greek’s travel agency.

DIANE
Excuse me my ignorance, but I don’t know this gentleman. Will you introduce us?

SAM
This is Pete Axthelm. Pete’s the NBC house tout. Picks all the big games. He’s even right every now and then.

PETE
Actually I’m always right. It’s the players and referees that screw it up.

DIANE
Oh, I see. You predict football games.

PETE
That’s right.

DIANE
Oh what a worthy profession. I hope they pay you more than scientists and judges.

EVERYONE REACTS TO DIANE: “HEY, THAT ISN’T FAIR”, “LIGHTEN UP”, “COME ON, DIANE”, ETC.

DIANE
Pardon me, but it just seems ridiculous how you people place so much importance on the outcome of one silly little football game.

THEY CHIDE HER AGAIN: “AW, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND”, etc.

NORM
So Pete, forget about her, tell us who you like.

PETE
Well, I’m still feeding it all into my delicate computer – it’s a tough one, but I gotta start with that great Miami defense…

DIANE
Miami?! Are you crazy?! That Thiesman person will pick them apart. You call him a prophet?

EVERYONE STARTS TAKING SIDES. A GIANT ARGUMENT ENSUES ON WHO’S GOING TO WIN.

PETE
What’s going on?

NO REACTION.

PETE
Hey, what’s the name of this place?

EVERYONE
Cheers.

THEY ALL GO BACK TO THEIR ARGUMENT.

PETE
(INTO CAMERA) Lots of abuse. I love it. My kind of place. You only find true peace at racetracks and saloons.

FADE OUT.

Me on KABC

I'll be filling in tomorrow morning from 8-11 co-hosting the car talk show on the "flame thrower", the mighty 790 KABC and KABC.COM. I know nothing about cars so unless your question is "should I get a red one?" my co-host, Lance Kaplan, automotive expert, will be answering it. I'm there to give out the phone number.

No Sunday Sports Final this week. What sports fan in his right mind is going to listen to us when he can watch or listen to the Super Bowl instead?

But I will be filling in for John Phillips from 7-10 PM PST Monday and Friday night, talking entertainment, pop culture, and general interest stuff.

And this year Dodger Talk will be streamed live on the net (KABC.COM and iTunes radio/KABC). And as all real baseball fans know, much more fun than listening to the game is listening to callers bitch about the game.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Amanda Seyfried's Breasts Predict The Snow

I love the HuffingtonPost. I’m a contributing writer. But I am forever amused at their headlines. What follows are word-for-word actual headlines in Friday’s edition (along with a thought or two from me).

Amanda Seyfried's Breasts Predict The Snow When the witch's tit gets reeeally cold...

Anne Hathaway Strips, Talks Angelina Jolie's Kissing Angelina is the only actress with lips big enough for Anne.

Keira Knightley Reacts To Being Called A S*** Actress S*** must mean "starved".

Brittany Murphy's Husband: She Didn't Seem That Sick And poor Brittany thought he was a doctor.

NBC's Black History Month Menu: Fried Chicken & Collard Greens And repeats of DIFFERENT STROKES.

Sarah Silverman's Mom Saw Her Sex Spanking Bruise And mistook it for a tattoo.

Colin Firth: I'm Part Of Hollywood's Gay Problem I didn't know Hollywood had one but okay.

Wing Bowl Winner Eats 238 Wings In Half Hour Brittany Murphy's husband thought he didn't look too sick.

Rush: 'I Love The Women's Movement, Especially When I'm Walking Behind It' Which is as close as you'll come.

Candy Crowley: Would I Have Gotten 'State Of The Union' If I Didn't Lose Weight? Rush Limbaugh said the same thing.

Steve Phillips Out Of Sex Rehab, Going On 'Today' Show He's available again, gals.

Nick Jonas: Bob Dylan Can't Sing And who knows better than a fucking Jonas Brother?

Porn Star Unhappy With 'Tiger Woods Mistress' Golf Balls All her other boyfriends pay her real money.

Mel Gibson Calls Interviewer 'Asshole' Code for "Jew".

And there's no way to top this so I'm not even gonna try.

Joy Behar Asks Andrew Young: What's Rielle Hunter's Vagina Like?