Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Real Don Steele

The Real Don Steele would have been 74 on April 1st. You've probably heard me talk of him before. He's one of my idols (American or otherwise).

He passed away on August 5, 1997. For thirty years The Real Don Steele ruled the Los Angeles airwaves, most notably on 93/KHJ “Boss Radio” in the 60’s and 70’s. Outrageous, electrifying, thrilling – that was Real on…and OFF the air. If you want to hear the greatest cookin’ jock to ever crack a mike in the heyday of top 40. You can check him out here.

Real also appeared in some highly prestigious films such as EATING RAOUL, DEATH RACE 2000 (starring Sylvester Stallone), ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and Ron Howard’s first directing effort, GRAND THEFT AUTO. Television credits are equally as impressive: TALES FROM THE CRYPT and HERE COMES THE BRIDES.

I had the pleasure of working with him at two radio stations, K100 and TenQ in LA in the 70’s. He also fell off my couch stinking drunk one night and my wife still invited him to dinner again.

His catch phrase was “Tina Delgado is alive, ALIVE!” shouted by some unknown frenzied girl. No one ever knew the story behind it. Who Tina Degado was. How he came to use it. Even what the hell it meant. But it didn’t matter. It was all part of the excitement this larger-than-life personality created for “the magnificent megalopolis of Boss Angeles” three hours every day…and especially on “Fractious Fridays”.

Every year on his birthday, April 1st, I wish that maybe his passing is just an April’s Fool joke. That would be so like him. And at 3:00 I could turn on the radio, “Devil with a Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder would come blazing out of my speaker and I would hear “The Real Don Steele is alive, ALIVE!”

He is in my heart. And always will be.

AMERICAN WHITEL

It was “Soul and R&B” week on “American Idol” as performed by the New Christy Minstrels. A high school girl from Middlebury, Connecticut taking on Aretha; another high schooler getting down with Bill Withers. I’m surprised the celebrity mentor wasn’t R&B legend, Kristin Chenoweth.

The mentor they did use, Usher, gave some really good advice – when he wasn’t staring at the kids in disbelief. The one tip he forgot to impart was always lock your car when you have over a million dollars of jewelry in it. Big Mike said Usher is “one of the greatest performers they’ve ever had” to which my daughter Annie chimed in, “Big deal! The only other one was Miley Cyrus!”

In general I wasn’t thrilled with the song selection. There are so many incredible soul and R&B tunes to choose from. How could no one do “the Oogum Boogum Song” or “Papa Oom-Mow-Mow” or at least “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman”? Who’s guiding these people?

Siobhan Magnus got it started. She always looks so cute in rehearsal with her big mousy glasses and tousled hair. But then on show night she transforms into that strange girl in school only the foreign exchange student will speak to. Last night she was Boy George. Siobhan had an off-week with “Through the Fire”. And that last screechy note is overkill on the level of an Oliver Stone movie.

Smilin’ Casey James did Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming”. In rehearsal smilin' Casey had a tough time remembering the words. But he was a champ on show night and nailed it, even getting the ultra tricky: “Hold on, I’m coming. Hold on, I’m a coming”.

Big Mike Lynche sang a beautiful rendition of “Ready For Love”. Randy was impressed that Mike “showed his sensitive side.” Huh? What other side does Mike have???

Didi Benami tried a Joan Osbourne version of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”. Her performance reminded me of that “Sopranos” episode where they shot Phil Leotardo to death and then crushed his skull under a tire.

Tim Urban wasn’t much better. I used to think it was amazing that cockroaches could survive a nuclear blast but Tim has them beat.

Andrew Garcia did well singing “Forever”. But then Simon said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re boring.” Uh, what exactly is the right way to take “you’re boring”? Simon, don’t take this the wrong way but you’re an egotistical asshole. Oh, wait… he would find that a compliment.

Little Katie Stevens tackled Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”. She’s got a strong voice but come on. When she sang the line, “For five long years you were my man” I thought, “So, like what? He’s been your man since you were twelve?”

The best was saved for last (except for Aaron). Lee Dewyze kicked ass on “Treat Her Like a Lady”, and for my money the performance of the night was Crystal Bowersox singing “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Wow. Last night she proved that not only could she sing without a guitar, she could sing while wearing stilettos! Crystal is starting to distance herself from the pack.

Rachael Maddow doppelganger, Aaron Kelly wrapped up the night with Bill Withers' “Anal Sunshine When You’re Gone”, or at least that’s what it sounded like he was singing.

The overall problem was that none of these kids were in their element this week. Let them have “Afterschool Rock” week and see how they blow the doors down.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The worst, most appalling attempt at a joke EVER

A local anchor on WMUR in New Hampshire said this on a recent newscast: “A Democratic State Representative from Manchester is under fire for posting a comment on Facebook that could be deemed as insensitive towards the Japanese heritage.”

Rep. Nick Levasseur posted: "Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn't enough," on Facebook.”

Uh, COULD be deemed as insensitive? You mean if looked at in just the right light saying more people should have been nuked because of a cartoon art form is inappropriate? HOLY SHIT!!

I’m going to go waaaaay out on a limb here and say yes, that was an incredibly asinine hateful and even insensitive remark. And even though I’m a Democrat, if all you Republicans want to pile on this blithering idiot be my guest.

Levasseur claims he said it in jest and posted it only to his private Facebook friends. Well, first of all, a brief lesson in comedy: The letter K: funny. Mass extermination of foreign cultures: not funny. If you cannot distinguish between these two examples never try to get a laugh again.

And by the way, what’s wrong with Anime? I like Anime. What did Pokemon ever do to you?

The other point, and this goes for everyone out there – when you post something on Facebook or Twitter, even if it’s to your private collection of friends, you are BROADCASTING IT TO THE WHOLE WORLD!! Be smart. Do not say something even Mel Gibson would find offensive. Do not rip your boss, your company, or your fellow employees. Do not upload photos of any body parts Xeroxed the night of the Christmas party. It gets back to management. Every time.

Another example is Chicago White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen’s son Oney. He had to resign from working in the team’s video department for Tweets such as: "I hope the dorks aren't running the organization or else were fucked. 3 geeks who never played baseball a day in there [sic] life telling experts what to do." The dorks took issue.

Oney (who names their kid Oney?) isn’t the first huckleberry to lose his job because of tweets and status updates that are too candid. And it goes beyond that. I know an unfortunate guy who lost his job because a fellow employee tore someone at work a new asshole and he merely clicked “I like this”.

You never know who’s out there.

And while I’m on the subject of Facebook, is this horrible etiquette? I get twenty requests a day to join clubs, attend events, sign up for causes, or become a “fan” of someone. I click no to practically all of them. Why would I want to become a fan of some radio station in New Mexico I’ve never heard of? Why would I want to join a club that collects Denny’s menus? Who thinks I’d fly to Cleveland to attend Andrew Dice Clay’s one night performance at the Laff Loft (knowing full well he’ll do the anime nuke joke)? I certainly don’t mean to offend my “friends” who are kind enough to send me these invitations but I don’t have the time and I don’t care. Fergie has enough fans. I don’t save toilet paper rolls.

As for Twitter, just like there’s a limit on the number of words you can use for a single tweet, there should be a limit on the number of times you can tweet during any 24-hour period. No one is interesting enough to hear from fifty times a day. Even celebrities. Especially celebrities. When you sign up for my Twitter account (and please do!!) I promise never to tell you when I got up, what I had for breakfast, or what mood I’m in. Okay, I will report when I take my Pred Forte eye drops but that’s something you want to know.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

David Mamet's brilliant memo on drama

I discovered this extraordinary memo from David Mamet to the writers of THE UNIT, a series he created a few semesters back for CBS. (The origination of the memo seems to have come from Ink Canada. I discovered it through Movie Line.)

It is a simply brilliant essay on drama and writing in general. In fact, it’s pretty much all you need to know about writing drama. Excuse that it’s written in caps. I didn’t want to change a single letter.
“TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE - THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who needs France when you have Las Vegas?

This was my travelogue from a few years ago when a bunch of us idiots went to Vegas for the first week of March Madness. I highly recommend it -- the experience not the travelogue.
March Madness has arrived again -- the NCAA basketball tournament. Thus the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for me and three of my middle aged sports nerd television executive buddies. Slater, the Banger, and Mr. Syracuse. Slater brought his girlfriend (who goes by either Karen or Valerie -- long story) thus increasing his chances of "getting lucky" by maybe 1%. Mr. Syracuse brought his wife thus decreasing his chances. My son, Matt flew in from Boston. He's now 21 so what better way to see Las Vegas for the first time than with his dad and three guys who look like the Pep Boys?

We stayed this year at the Paris Hotel. The theme is French hospitality (an oxymoron). I'm sure I would have been given a nicer room if I registered as Himmler. The casino features a low ceiling that is painted to look like the sky, a la the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. It's an odd shade of blue however, one that suggests nuclear winter. There are cobblestone streets and carpeting. A replica LePont Alendre III bridge overlooks the nickel slot machines, and there is an Eiffel Tower that is fifty stories high. Tours are offered. There is a sign at the entrance that reads "No food, beverages, smoking, weddings" (true story).

I don't know why these hotels opt for these elaborate themes. The truth is: NO ONE CARES. People schlepp around in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops. If I ever put up a hotel in Las Vegas I would use as my theme the HOME DEPOT.

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

Matt and I went to Le Cafe for breakfast. They said "inside or outside?" What??? Outside of course meant under the sky painted ceiling. We chanced that it wouldn't rain and took the outside.

The in-house cable had a channel that spelled out emergency exit procedures. Leave it the French to provide a surrender strategy.

Remember when Frank Sinatra used to play Vegas? This weekend it was Carrot Top and (at the Riviera) "America's Tribute to Neil Diamond". Not even the real Neil Diamond, an impersonator. In two weeks the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (true) will be appearing. I'd love to see Shecky Green open for them.

Of course you could always pay a gazillion dollars to see Celine Dion screech out five songs a night. Or is that just a Barbra Streisand impersonator??

The Paris had "Arabian Nights Spectacular", something else to make the Jews feel comfortable.

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

Somewhere in the great beyond Bugsy Siegal is saying “If this is what I ultimately created I deserved to be shot.”

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

Then it was on to the Bellagio, where Matt and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!"

One thing you can say about Vegas, it has the most amazingly beautiful women in the world. And so where did we spend 90% of our time? At the Sportsbook, the one place that none of them would ever be caught dead in. There were 48 games in four days. At times four were going on simultaneously. I'm betting on teams I've never heard of. The place was packed with rowdy men and good old boys chugging long neck beers. We ordered White Russians, Tequila Sunrises, and Rusty Nails. No one fucked with us!

One hazard: you see the same commercial seventeen thousand times. Especially the one for "Cialis", designed to keep a man ready for 36 hours. Too bad I'm not single. One of those magic pills would be perfect for me. 35 1/2 hours to find a woman then a half hour to perform.

The Banger bet on exhibition baseball. Even Pete Rose never did that.

In keeping with the theme, French accordion music came out of the urinals. Finally, the correct venue for that music.

Elegant dining = no Keno boards.

Slater's girlfriend Valerie/Karen is vegan, which means there are only six things she can eat and she's allergic to four of them. She and Slater are the two nicest people on the planet but I have dubbed them "America's Waiter Killer Couple". Slater switches every table and sends back every order while Valerie/Karen has the kitchen prepare items not on the menu every meal. I’m afraid to eat with them. The cook or waiter might spit in my food.

Valerie/Karen's back was bothering her so she toted around a pillow to make sitting more comfortable. But a hot girl walking through the casino with a pillow -- she looked like a hooker who advertised.

You're not allowed to use your cellphone in the Sportsbook. And I so wanted to make reservations for the “Curt Kobain on Ice” show at the Aladdin.

Featured at the Paris Hotel: drinks in plastic Eiffel Tower glasses. $12.50 (true). There was a line. I wonder how many of those people thought they were buying the "actual" Eiffel Tower?

What is Pai Gow poker???

At the end of the weekend all of us either made a little money or broke even, Stanford and Kentucky got eliminated, and the waiters at the Paris hotel got together and paid for Slater's cab to the airport. It was great great fun. And I picked up a new name:

Kenny "the OTHER gambler" Levine

Friday, March 26, 2010

My objective take on Sandra Bullock and her scumbag husband

At least she won her Oscar. Jesus, poor Sandra Bullock. Almost before she finished her acceptance speech word came out that her husband Jesse James was having an affair. And then by the Governor’s Ball it turned into two affairs. By the time she gave back the borrowed gown and jewelry that number had risen to three. Now it’s four and by the time Sandra is a presenter at next year’s Oscarcast it should be up to sixty-nine.

And she only has herself to blame. Shame on her for not getting tattoos over 90% of her body. How does she expect her husband to find her attractive if she doesn’t have a giant fire breathing dragon on her back, a hissing rattle snake wrapped three times around her neck and the Oakland Raiders “Committed to Excellence” logo just above her hooha?

Yes, it might be hard to find work in anything other than circus films but that's a small price to pay for wedded bliss.

Seriously though, I do feel bad for Sandra Bullock. In a town of divas and phonies she truly is a lovely very genuine person who is dedicated to her craft. Writers love her. Crew members love her. It’s just unfortunate that she got suckered in by this sleezeball. James has a history of sexual harassment charges and a couple of years ago had to shell out $700,000 to settle one. To put that in perspective: that’s fourteen years of hookers for Charlie Sheen.

Now that we’ve tired of the Tiger Woods scandal this sordid affair is front and center. Nutty stories are appearing left and right. A current headline in the HuffPost proclaims: “Janine Lindemulder, Jesse James' Porn Star Ex Wants To Be Best Friends With Sandra Bullock”. And another screams out: “Jesse James' Second Mistress Seeks Sugardaddy Aged 30-90.” I shudder to think what the New York Post is saying.

Even attention whore Gloria Allred is representing one of James’ mistresses/bimbos. I guess Octomom isn’t getting enough screen time so Gloria has to move on.

This should be the happiest time in Sandra Bullock’s life. She just won a friggin' Academy Award. Instead it’s a nightmare. Please Tiger Woods, if you have any humanity left, even a shred of empathy in your cold heart -- get caught with some tranny so Sandra Bullock can go on about her life and career in peace.

24 is cancelled

Fox says the show is too expensive to make. I for one am going to miss it. Yes, it’s implausible, they’ve gone through every villain except Glenn Beck, and can get anywhere in Manhattan and Los Angeles in only ten minutes. But it was also rollicking fun. And I marvel at how they can keep the suspense up hour after hour. Plus, they always seem to come up with new twists. I’m sure this season we’re going to discover that Dana Walsh is a man. Jack Bauer isn’t that masculine.

There is some initial talk of a 24 movie but that’s still a ways away and I wonder if theater owners would balk at a movie lasting 24 hours.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of this season. I hope that when Jack saves the world yet again that at least this time someone says thank you and maybe buys him a goddamn appetizer at the Olive Garden.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Will there be a CHEERS reunion?

For you new readers: every Friday I answer your questions. And if I don't know the answers I'll either seek out someone who does or just make something up. Leave yours in the comments section. Thanks. One thing I ask: please use a name. Don't be Anonymous.

Anonymous wonders:

Hey Ken, have you heard anything about the Cheers reunion rumors?

I hadn’t heard but I can say this – not a chance. (I wonder if Anonymous is really Cliff Clavin???) And I’m glad. Reunion shows are always sad. Much better to remember the characters for who they were… and what they weighed.

Plus, good luck getting NBC to put on a series (ANY series) starring a cast of 60 year-olds. You’ll see Conan back there first.

From Dawn Marie:

I was lucky enough to see Harriet Harris recently in 'Present Laughter' in New York, and was wondering how her character of Frasier's agent Bebe came about. Was it written especially for her? Those were some of my favorite episodes. Thank you!

First off, I LOVE Harriet Harris. I was not in on any of those FRASIER decisions, so again I turn to series co-creator and this blog’s best friend, David Lee who graciously fills in the details.

No it wasn't written specifically for Harriet. We just wrote the part of a piranha-like agent and held a usual casting session. I had seen the play JEFFREY in NYC the year before and had thought Harriet was terrific. As it happened, at the time we were casting the part it was playing at the Westwood Playhouse (now the Geffen) here in LA, and Jeff Greenberg had her in to read. She of course was perfect and knocked it out of the park as you baseball folk say. She scored so well that we just kept bringing her back again and again.

As a side note, we used almost the entire cast of JEFFREY that first year on "Frasier." There was something about the style of actor needed for the Paul Rudnick play that seemed to mesh perfectly with our show. Harriet, Edward Hibbert (Gil, the restaurant critic), Richard Poe (Chopper Dave), Patrick Kerr (Noel Shemsky) and John Michael Higgins( a guest spot that eludes my memory) were all in that play. I think Bryan Batt was the only one who somehow escaped us.

Thanks again, David. Note: If you're in LA, David directed a brilliant production of FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM for the Reprise program at UCLA. Go see it.

DrBoodleQuakers asks:

On MASH, how did you guys come up with all those brilliant "Potterisms"? Were they pulled out of the ether? Researched?

No matter how many times I hear them, I'll never get tired of lines like "sufferin sheepdip!" or "What in the name of Sweet Fanny Adams!"

Most of them we made up. I believe Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum created that character trait for Potter, and I suspect some of the original ones were old time expressions or bastardizations of old time expressions. Those two gentlemen had such an ear for Americana, colorful slang, and euphemisms for shit.

And finally, from DwWashburn:

I notice that some of your daily posts gets scores of comments while others may only get 5 or so. Do you ever get upset or feel like you didn't "reach" the audience when the number of comments are low?

I never equate the popularity of a post to the number of comments it receives. Certain topics will generate more comments than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better topics. If I wanted a ton of comments every day I would just make daily mention of Patty Heaton.

Sometimes comments are generated by the threads you guys start. I often feel like a hockey referee. I just drop the puck and let the teams play… although I do reserve the right to send any of you to the penalty box if you get out of hand. No personal attacks or high sticking.

But I invite you to read the comments and comment yourself. Sometimes they’re more entertaining than the posts themselves. I both love and hate that.

What’s your question???

Oh no! MTV has cancelled THE HILLS

Say it ain't so! You mean I won’t be able to watch the vainest most narcissistic pretty people Los Angeles eating at sidewalk cafes anymore?

I think we’ve told the story of struggle and of finding yourself in L.A.,” creator Adam DiVello said to Entertainment Weekly. Boy, I’ll say. The heartbreak of someone not quickly returning your text message. The agony of cloudy days when you want to tan. The anguish of Fred Segal closing before you could decide on a top. The torment on tables not right by the window.

THE HILLS provided a real public service – a cautionary tale to any young gorgeous person thinking about moving to the mean streets of Beverly Hills.

We’re going to miss Heidi and Spencer and Lauren and Holly and Whitney and all the others who have become so much a part of our lives. We wish them well in their noble search for vacuous ness.

And maybe, just maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll see them again on CELEBRITY REHAB. God speed you brave perfect specimens.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the Ken Levine celebrity autograph and nostalgia show

Last month there was an autograph and nostalgia show in Burbank. They hold these every few months. Fans can get autographs and signatures with former stars and celebrities. They ranged from Jane Russell to the cast of the TERMINATOR (minus the governor of California). There are always a lot of former child stars and the guy who played Mini Me in AUSTIN POWERS. Also former BAYWATCH babes who haven’t ballooned to 320.

These once-notables often charge $20 a signature and another $20 if you want a picture with them. These showcases offer the celebs the chance to be recognized and adored once again, which is very nice. On the other hand, selling your autograph… for $20? Isn’t that more than a little sad?

I want to go to one, just for the cheese factor. There’s probably a funny post in it. But I know I’ll be too depressed to write it.

So instead I thought, if I were booking this, who would I like to see? What do you think?

Former child stars are always a big draw. How about Brian Bonsall, that cute cute kid from FAMILY TIES? Imagine the sighs of envy from all your relatives when you send out Christmas cards of you and Brian.Paula Abdul would qualify. In only two months she’s become an afterthought.

Rip Torn – one of my favorite actors/bank robbers. It’s clearly worth twenty bucks to get your picture taken next to him.And who wouldn’t want to chat up MacKenzie Phillips? I know I’m curious about a few things.

Nick Nolte could recreate his memorable character in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS.

I’d have every AMERICAN IDOL but Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood although I worry that not enough people would remember them.

Reunions are popular. Let’s bring back the Enron board of directors to pose for pictures with your kids.

Heidi Montag and Tara Reid but they’ve had so much work done they might now look each other.

And besides, who needs them when you could see hot babe extraordinaire – Tawny Kitaen?
Assuming he remembers how to spell his own name, former President George W. Bush would be a good get. And every $20 counts when no one is willing to fund your presidential library.

Heidi Fleiss could explain how she commanded $1000 a night as a call girl.

I think it's a great idea. And the good news is all of these people are available (except maybe Rip Torn if he’s convicted of armed bank robbery)! We’ll see you next week at Ed’s Kozy Kort just off Highway 8 in Yuma.

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 11

When it comes to truly great vocal teachers, there are really only two masters – Barbara Cook and Miley Cyrus. One has 80 years of life experience and is an expert in song interpretation; the other can pole dance. So it was a real coup for "American Idol" to get Miley Cyrus to be the celebrity mentor this week and share the wisdom of her 17 years.

Sadly, the fact that the Top 11 contestants were by and large awful really says how bad this year’s crop is. Because if Miley Cyrus can’t coax an extraordinary performance out of them then they are obviously hopeless.

And that’s what we have this season. Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus and nine backup singers for H.R. Puffnstuf.

This week’s theme was Billboard Number One Hits, meaning they could choose any song but "Jimmy Crack Corn." And still, a number of the contestants found the theme too restrictive.

As usual, the two-hour show had more padding than Eddie Murphy’s fat suit in “The Nutty Professor”. It was 8:10 before the first song was sung. The interim was filled with grand entrances by the judges and Ryan, a mystifying standing ovation for Ryan (Standing O’s used to be reserved for bravura performances; now they go to a guy whose sole talent is reminding us that “standard text rates do apply”.), more introductions of the people already introduced, and searing questions to the judges like, “Why is tonight so important?”

Lee Dewyze started the night singing “The Letter”. He did the Joe Cocker version, but Joe Cocker after massive doses of electro convulsive therapy. I bet Miley Cyrus has no idea who Joe Cocker is. Ellen compared Lee’s performance to her favorite pen. What the hell is she doing there???

Paige Miles massacred “Against All Odds”. She sounded absolutely petrified. Thelma Houston meets Barney Fife. I’m sure Miley Cyrus has never heard of either of them.

By now it was 8:30. Six minutes of singing in a half an hour. But we did hear about Ellen's favorite pen and how it sometimes dries up but then begins working again. There's no other judge they could have found?

Tim Urban – Teen heartthrob/Judges' punching bag – gave his best "Tom Cruise in 'Risky Business'" dance routine while attemption Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. In his session with Miley Cyrus, she said, “I don’t think you’re boring at all”, to which he gushed, “Wow! That means a lot.”

More risky business. Andrew Garcia was told by preeminent musicologist Miley Cyrus to take the bold step of performing without his guitar. Yeah, like that’s the problem. Barbara Cook might have observed that he just can’t sing!

My guess is Barbara Cook in general would have given better advice but not looked as good in those short shorts as Miley Cyrus.

Aaron Kelly had laryngitis and tonsillitis and still sang better than practically anyone else. Astro Boy is the real deal.

Jesus, Kara is annoying. Even when she makes perceptive points (which she does frequently), she’s just so whiny and insufferable that I envy how Elvis would take out a loaded revolver and shoot the television. "I don't think you know who you are as an artist and I..." BAM BAM BAM!

Crystal Bowersox can do no wrong. Even though she sang an on-the-nose cover version of Janis Joplin’s “Me & Bobby McGee” the judges all plotzed. Kara whined that she needs to show more personality. BAM BAM BAM! My question: uh, WHAT personality? Crystal promises to show us a whole new side of her next week. Instead of singing Janis Joplin she'll be singing Leadbelly.

Big Mike Lynche chose Percy Sledge’s overplayed-to-death oldie, “When A Man Loves a Woman”. I love his falsetto.

Katie Stevens really benefited from fellow 17-year-old Miley Cyrus’s advice. She gave Katie some good pointers on how to stand on stage and where to go for the best fake ID.

Casey James mimicked Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love”. Ellen thought it was the best vocal of the night. Seriously. What the fuck is she doing on that show? Miley saw him as a real talent. He saw her as jailbait.

Didi Benami has a baby doll voice that makes every song, no matter how dark or sultry sound like “Munchkin Land”.

The pimp spot went Siobhan Magnus, now a member of Flock of Seagulls judging by her new do. She belted Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. She’s still my favorite. I still love her. But enough of that loud piercing final note already. Yes, it’s thrilling but save it for appropriate songs like the National Anthem or “The First Time Ever I Saw Your FAAAAAACCCCE!!!!!!!!!!!”

Paige, Tim, or Andrew is going home tonight. And Miley Cyrus is going to perform. If she’s smart she’ll ask Siobhan for a singing lesson. And a pole.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Should you attend your high school reunion?

A lot of people I know have been invited recently to their various high school reunions. They all wonder whether they should go. And if the hair plugs will look natural in the next two months. It’s a hard question to answer, whether to go. I guess you have to ask yourself – how much do you want to see these people again? There’s always a risk. That cheerleader who snubbed you might not weigh more than a Ram Charger and the prom king may not be homeless. Romy & Michele might actually be doing better than you.

I’ve been to a couple of my reunions (Go Taft!!). The last one I attended was my 25th. Interesting dynamic. The statute of limitations on harboring feelings apparently expires sometime around twenty years. It was okay to admit, after all these years, that you had a crush on someone. If you admitted that to a girl back in the day you left yourself open for a devastating rejection. But now you probably make her night.

The years play tricks on your memory. I encountered one girl who said she so remembers fondly that period we were going out together. Only problem is – we never went out. I asked her but she blew me off. Big time. I have a VERY good memory when it comes to girls who had nothing to do with me.

But this put me in a very odd position. She must have thought she actually did go out with me. Why else would she leave herself open to me saying, “What are you talking about? You treated me like shit!”? So I figured she probably saw my name on TV and told people she knew me in high school. And that evolved into we were friends and eventually we were a couple.

I decided to just be gracious and agree that it was a wonderful time.

Still, as I walked away I thought, there had to be a better more pithy response than that. A few minutes later I had it but of course it was too late.

And then, an hour later, the exact same thing happened with another girl! This time I was ready. I just smiled and nodded when she told her friends what a blast we had together, how funny I always was on our dates. The only time she really laughed was when I asked her out. So I listened patiently and finally I clasped her hands in mine and said, “You know, you were only the second girl I ever slept with.” That jarred her memory. You should have seen the look of puzzlement and horror on her face. Mission accomplished, I kissed her on the cheek, wished her well, and moved on.

Sure you should go to your reunion. Where else are you gonna find moments like that?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Women: Do not shave and drive

Back from a whirlwind trip to New York to speak on a panel at the Talkers convention, a symposium for talk radio sponsored by Talkers magazine and Michael Harrison. I accepted the invitation immediately and was thrilled to learn my panel was not “Talk radio frauds”. It was great fun and I got to hang with my two BFF’S – Stephanie Miller and G. Gordon Liddy.

This is one of the few traditional industry conventions left, complete with exhibits, liquor, award banquets, liquor, keynote speeches, and liquor. And as a special bonus this year, Sean Hannity hosted an ice cream party for all the Obama Haters! I was kind of hoping the rest of us could go over to Randi Rhodes’ for kugel but that was not to be.

What would a symposium about radio be like without the New Jersey Nets dancing girls? Screw Lou Dobbs and his First Amendment speech!

I missed the first day’s program. I was en route. But day two was highly entertaining. It started with KFI’s popular morning man, Bill Handel giving a stirring keynote address telling us that local radio was dead. This was a lovely lead-in for the first panel of the morning – “The Case for Local Radio”.

That was followed by a great session called “The Rumble”. Here a variety of highly opinionated talkshow hosts debated the hot button topics of the day. Anytime Randi Rhodes or Bill Press or any Democrat made a statement it was met with polite applause. Anytime one of the Conservatives made a point the house went wild. Phil Hendrie was his usual irreverent self, syndicated host Neal Boortz kept steering us away from Health Care and the War in Iraq to the more important story of a woman in Florida who was in a car accident because she was shaving while driving. Wow. Talk about multi-tasking.

High and low light of the session was panel member, Steve Malzberg from WOR, New York. This guy is a complete utter fucking moron. And if anyone comments to say he’s really just a patriotic American than you are a fucking moron too. Hey, it turns out Barack Obama and his entire administration is made up of Communists and Marxists. Oh no! Get to those fallout shelters! The Commies are coming!! We better stop Obama NOW before all we’re all eating borscht! Thank goodness for Errol Louis from WWRL, New York, who provided the voice of reason and calm and perspective before Malzberg could reopen the McCarthy hearings.

Moderator Allan Colmes invited questions from the audience. This bird-like woman who has a syndicated relationship show based on the teachings of Ayn Rand asked an Ayn Rand related question and when the panel dismissed it she completely wigged out, screaming the Ayn Rand prophecy until she almost had to be restrained. It was great theater.

A surprisingly lavish buffet lunch followed. I was seated next to a delightful sex therapist from Trenton, New Jersey. She told me about a marvelous Swingers Club in L.A. See? These confabs are instructional.

For the rest of the afternoon I just munched on Sean Hannity cookies. I wonder if money from his Freedom Concerts went to providing the icing.

My session was at 3:30. By then the auditorium was only half full. Either folks were getting weary of all the panel discussions or there was a Communist meeting at the Russian Tea Room.

Our topic was “Managing a Talk Radio Career”. Those who weren’t texting, tweeting, reading their email, surfing the web, or playing Free Cell on their phones seemed to really enjoy it. “Managing a Talk Radio Career” is another way of saying, “Tell us the many ways you were fired”. Everyone on the panel, including moderator Dr. Joy Brown of WOR (the station Kruschev has vowed to bury) has been canned numerous times. Panel member, Lionel had the misfortune of working recently for Air America. Lionel, by the way, was far and away the funniest panelist of the conference. And that’s all you need to know about radio. The most entertaining personality in the room is out of work.

Thanks again to Michael Harrison for staging this event. Whether it was challenges to our future or the debate over endorsing colon blow, the sessions were lively and thought provoking. I was there with several of my KABC colleagues – John Phillips, Doug McIntyre, and Nathan Baker. John files his own recap of the convention on LA Radio People.

One question that still haunts me though: Is a Communists or that woman who shaved while driving a bigger Pink Menace?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What is the best way to write a pilot?

Here's a question I'm often asked: What is the best way to write a pilot? I can’t speak for dramatic pilots since I’ve never written one but here are some thoughts from the trenches on comedy.

First off, there is no easy answer. But here are some pointers:

Make the premise simple – something you can pitch in one or two sentences. If you have to say

“it’s about two brothers who were separated at birth and now find out they had a sister by another mother who has a diner that she wants to convert into a pizza place but needs help running it because she’s also an actress at night and is raising five kids, three of them orphans from Africa”

then your pilot is dead and you’re dead because you’ve killed yourself trying to write this unwieldy mess.

Make the show about something – I put that in bold because it's important. You know me -- I don't put things in bold haphazardly. Have a theme, a reason for being. Example: THE OFFICE. Trying to survive and find some happiness in a go-nowhere career.

Remember: You have to set up your premise, introduce your characters, establish the tone, and be funny all in the first five minutes. It’s a bitch. Don’t make things harder on yourself by overloading the show with too many characters, too much exposition, a Byzantine story harder to follow than THE BIG SLEEP, or a part for Jim Belushi.

Don't give the girls boys' names and the boys girl' names. It's confusing enough remembering who all the characters are without Sam being a girl and Jan being a guy. And every pilot seems to have a "Kevin". Even if it's set in ancient Rome.

The most common mistake most young pilot writers make is that they over-reach.

“It’s part romantic comedy, part workplace comedy, set in a foreign country with its own language and customs. Kinda like ENCHANTED meets THE WIRE”.

Trust me, by page five you're throwing yourself in front of buses.

When Studio and network people read pilots they ask themselves these questions: Do they like the premise? Does the show make them laugh? Do they get a sense of what the series is about and where it’s going?

Where it’s going is especially key. I once helped out a night on a pilot. It was about midnight and we were bogged down in the story. I said to the creator, “What is episode two of this show?” to which he blurted out, “There is no episode two! Who are we kidding? This show will never get picked up!”

He was right. When you’re developing your show ask yourself: Are there five years worth of stories with this? Don’t write FADE IN until the answer is yes. On the other hand, you don’t need to know all five years worth of stories. We once pitched a pilot and the network president said, “What’s the first show of season seven?” How the hell are we supposed to know that? I said, “The Clip Show because if we’re in season seven we’re a fuckin’ HIT!” And we would’ve been too…if only he didn’t pass on the pilot.

Best of luck with yours.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Better than any AMERICAN IDOL open audtion...

From a Carnival Cruise "talent" show. It really gets good around 1:20 in. Man the lifeboats!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Help! I'm stuck on a bad show!

Off for a quick two-day trip to Gotham to speak at the Talkers radio convention. Meanwhile, here are some Friday Q’s for yous.

From SimoSSimonhammon:

We all know that you've had the good fortune to work on quite a few classic sitcoms, but I'm sure you've probably done or have known other talented writers who have worked on shows that didn't work. How, as a writer who knows they're good at their craft, do you or they deal with a situation where no matter how hard they work on it, what ends up on screen will ultimately be a flop?

First, check your bank account. Food on the table is always a good incentive for staying on a bad show. It’s a tough situation, especially now since there are not many really good sitcoms out there. There are not many sitcoms out there period so you have to feel fortunate just having any job. But if you want to trade up , here are a couple of suggestions.

I would write a spec of a good show. Leave your ego at the door. Don’t think, “Well, I’m on a show. I don’t have to write specs anymore.” Yes you do. Casey & Lee went from THE JEFFERSONS to CHEERS based on CHEERS spec. And they were showrunning THE JEFFERSONS at the time.

Also, I would suggest writing a spec feature or play or novel or just anything that’s your own and reflects your sensibility. Alan Ball was an unhappy staffer on CYBIL and to keep his sanity banged out a spec screenplay when he came home at night. That screenplay was AMERICAN BEAUTY.

You just have to prove that you're better than the show you're on.

Mike wonders:

I've read one of Bea Arthur's beefs with the Golden Girls writers was that they'd put too many timely cultural references into the scripts, which would therefore hurt it in reruns (i.e., jokes about Miami Vice or Hunter or Ronald Reagan, etc). As a writer, how much did you think about things like that?

I think about it a lot. Current references can kill a show’s long term prospects. The classic example is MURPHY BROWN. Dan Quayle jokes? Phil Rosenthal, creator of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND had much better foresight. He made sure that there were no topical references in his series. I think RAYMOND reruns will be around forever. (It also helps that it’s a great show.)

I think one of Bea Arthur’s GOLDEN GIRL complaints was that not only were there too many modern references, seven-out-of-ten were Willard Scott jokes.

On CHEERS we sort of straddled the line. As a contemporary show we needed to pay some heed to the world around us but not be so specific that the gags would become anachronistic by June.

But it’s a double-edged sword. What makes some shows seem fresh and edgy is that their humor is up to date and topical. 30 ROCK springs to mind. But there may be a price later.

Meanwhile, on MASH we constantly sprinkled in references to 50s pop culture but what the hell? They just gave the show a richer texture and sense of time & place. Plus, who wouldn’t howl at a good Adolphe Menjou joke?

From dougR:

I assume you came up with the "Cheers" name for the bar and the show. So who owns the "Cheers" logo? Do you have a piece of it? Do you (or DID you) get revenue every time it was reproduced?

I did not come up with the “Cheers” name. Glen & Les Charles and James Burrows did. I don’t know what the royalty situation is but I suspect they and Paramount Television own the license and logo. I wanted to call the bar “Shit Face”. In hindsight they were right to pick the name they did, although it took me years to realize it.

David (not Isaacs) asks:

Who's the most beautiful actress you`ve written for as (a) a series regular and (b) a recurring character?

Are you kidding me? How suicidal do you think I am?

Please leave your questions (that I can answer without getting in massive trouble) in the comments section. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Me & Tom Brokaw

Here's another snippet from the memoir I'm writing about growing up in the 60s. It's 1968. I'm a student at UCLA spending most of my time at the campus radio station, KLA.

In November, KLA utilized all its resources to cover election night. They sent people out to the various campaign headquarters. That was the sum total of their resources. I was assigned to the Biltmore Hotel downtown where both Hubert Humphrey’s and Senator Allan Cranston’s camps were housed. This was very exciting. I had a real press credential and could enter any restricted ballroom and watch volunteers blow up balloons. The presidential race was way too close to call, even hours after the west coast polls closed. So most of the time we media folk just raided buffet tables and schmoozed. One local reporter who was very nice and chatted with me for close to an hour was Channel 4’s Tom Brokaw. Who knew that years later we would both write books about the 60s and he would sell his?

At around midnight, the senator’s race was over and Cranston had won. We gathered in his ballroom for the victory speech. I was standing just off the stage. Cranston entered followed by his staff. His campaign manager was Jesse Unruh, rumored to be running for California governor in two years. He was standing right next to me. So after Cranston completed his speech I turned to Unruh, held out my microphone and asked if he was planning to run. He dodged the question, saying it was senator Cranston’s night. But I was young and brash and in college and didn’t give a shit. I began goading him. “Come on, you know you’re going to. What’s the big deal? Why can’t you just say it? It’s not like it’s a big secret.” I was the first Stuttering John. Unruh continued to duck me and eventually slipped away. When I got home late that night there was a message that my aunt from Louisville had called. Apparently my whole exchange with Jesse Unruh had been carried live on ABC. I probably got more national exposure that election night than Tom Brokaw.

Jesse Unruh did run for governor two years later. He lost.

By the next morning it was official. Richard Milhous Nixon was elected the 37th President of the United States over Hubert Humphrey in one of the closest elections in history. (The closest was when Al Gore actually won but George Bush became President.) Nixon vowed to reunite the country. It took years but he succeeded as the entire nation banded together to finally force him out of office.

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 2 + 10

“American Idol” is like the Academy Awards this year – a plethora of nominees but only two real contenders. It’s Siobhan Magnus vs. Crystal Bowersox. (Why does my spellcheck flag me for “Bowersox” but think that “Siobhan” is a real word?) The rest are just fish chum. I’d be happy if Crystal wins but I LOVE Siobhan. She’s got an amazing voice, a real sense of theater, and let’s just say it – she is so fucking weird! She takes wild risks – from brave song choices to last week trying to wear heels. But she’s always fascinating, always original. If the theme one week is lullabies I wouldn’t be surprised to see her pop out of a coffin.

Now that we’ve reached the Top 12 we’re back to the garish Idoldome. What’s with the judges and Ryan now making entrances? My daughter Annie said, “It’s Sunday Night Football!”

The theme this week was music of the Rolling Stones. They showed a tribute montage of the band at the top of the show, and at first I thought, why? Everyone knows the Rolling Stones. But then I realized, Mick Jagger was already 80 when Katie Stevens was born, so maybe not everybody is that familiar with them.

Attention Idol producers: Please, please, PLEASE stop showing footage of the contestants’ background.

NO
ONE
CARES

It’s just one long sappy stew of small towns, religious parents, hardships, gaggles of siblings, crippled relatives, toothless baby pictures, and near death experiences. “The Brady Bunch” meets “the Grapes of Wrath”. Just let the kids sing!

Highlight of the night was Ryan getting right up in Simon’s grill and Simon backpedaling away. Change his last name from Cowell to Cower.

Michael Lynche – the big kid with the canned ham biceps -- got things started with “Miss You”. I like him. Despite his menacing presence he’s very sweet. Michael won’t become the next American Idol but he’ll be close. And by close I mean he’ll be the next American Idol’s bodyguard.

The judges liked Didi Benami more than I did. She sang the dark “Playing with Fire”. Imagine being threatened by the Rose Queen. At least she didn’t cry though. More appropriate for her would have been “19th Nervous Breakdown”.

And what show were the judges watching when Lacey Brown massacred “Ruby Tuesday”? She was God awful! Every note was a clunker. Simon had no problem with the vocals. Really?? I bet when he watches the show back, (if he ever releases the pause button once his close up fills the screen) he’ll realize she sounded like a cat with it’s tail caught in a mop squeezer.

Casey James sang “It’s All Over Now”. Wordsmith Randy called it “bluesy, folksy, and rocksy”, thus comparing Casey to three of his favorite dwarfs.

Ellen finally got off a couple of great line when she said to Casey, “For most women, their hearts are going to start racing just looking at you. But then for people like me… blonds…”

Very funny. But then Ellen destroyed all credibility and proved she knows nothing about music by saying that Andrew Garcia’s performance was his best ever. Maybe earlier she should have said, “But then for people like me… deaf…” Andrew warbled “Gimme Shelter”. Kara took him to task for not sufficiently conveying the song’s message of war. She was clearly trying to show off her knowledge of music. On the other hand, I bet she couldn’t tell you which war.

Lee Dewyze crooned “Beast of Burden”. Randy said he sounded like Rob Thomas or Dave Matthews. I thought he sounded like Dean Martin.

Katie Stevens wore her prom dress to Rolling Stones night. In her profile puff piece she revealed that one of her goals was to “put Connecticut on the map”. Katie sang “Wild Horses”. She’s certainly not bad; it’s just that others are better.

Lowlight of the night was Tim Urban’s stupifying Reggae version of “Under My Thumb”. If only he had done it as a Polka. More apropos song selections for Tim would have been “The Last Time”, “Out of Time”, “It’s All Over Now”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”.

Siobhan Magnus, wearing a black party dress that really showed off her arm tattoo, gave the performance of the night with “Paint It Black”. She combines the best of Adam Lambert and Elvira.

Paige Miles, wearing what looked like a Boy Scout uniform, did a respectable rendition of “Honky Tonk Woman", especially since she has laryngitis. So Paige has a free pass this week. No one is going to vote off someone with laryngitis. Well, maybe Tim.

Aaron Kelly was next. He sang “Angie’ (which is really THE song to do if you have laryngitis. Jagger himself sounds like he’s being asphyxiated when he sings it.) Aaron sang it very well ; controlled and heartfelt. My only quibble is that his new hairstyle makes him now look like Astro Boy.

Crystal Bowersox got the pimp spot and without breaking a sweat delivered a knockout version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Simon worried that she might be getting a little complacent. He’s right. This is the trap singers fall into when they’re not released from the hospital the morning of their performance.

Not sure which contestant is going home, but it makes no difference. The ultimate winner will either be “Crystal Locker” or “Siobhantar”.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ron Lundy 1934-2010

He wasn’t particularly funny on the air. He was certainly not what you’d call “hip”. I can’t imagine him dropping acid with Mick Jagger or Janis Joplin. But he was always one of my favorite D.J.’s.

Ron Lundy passed away.

For most of the 60s and 70s he was the midday man on 77WABC in New York. From there he spent a couple of decades handling that same shift on Stereo 101 WCBS-FM in New York.

What Ron Lundy was was infectious. He was so warm, so friendly, so enthusiastic, so genuine that you just felt good listening to him. And if you were down, you just felt better listening to him. It’s hard to describe “Southern Charm” because few people besides ex-presidents have it anymore, but he did.

Ron’s appeal crossed over to all ages. Teens and parents alike thought he was talking directly to them. He was your bud, your kindly uncle, that nice neighbor who paid attention to you when your deadbeat husband didn’t. If Ron Lundy had been on WABC during the MAD MEN era Betty might not have resorted to banging that politician to fill her emotional void.

As a broadcaster he was impeccable. Blessed with a rich deep voice he could read copy so convincingly that even I wanted to shop at Korvette’s.

I never met Ron Lundy. Didn’t even in live in New York. And yet I feel a huge personal loss.

He died too young. He should have at least been 77. Or better yet, 101.

So long, Luv.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The 119 words you can't say on radio

Randy Michaels is the CEO of the Tribune Company. Once a major broadcasting and publishing giant (Chicago Tribune, LA Times, etc.), it is now crumbling like a sand castle. And Michaels, who in a similar role with Clear Channel Communication, laid the groundwork for that empire to collapse. So it’s understandable why Tribune would hire a non-newspaper man to oversee their operation in it's most dire time.

Anyway, recently he issued an edict to the news director of WGN radio listing 119 words or phrases WGN newscasters were no longer allowed to say. WGN, Chicago is one of the most respected radio stations in America. I can just see it --
"Mr. Michaels, the editor of the Los Angeles Times is on line one. He can't meet payroll." "Call them back! I'm busy with something far more important! Let me see... "pedestrian". We can't have our newscasters say pedestrian."

The absurdity continues as Michaels instructed WGN staffers to snitch on each other if they hear one of these dastardly words aired. "Dan, I know you hired me and rescued my family from financial ruin but you said "at risk" on the 5:30 cast so I just sent a text to Randy Michaels." Oh, the morale must be sky high.

So here is the complete list. And then to help guide the WGN news staff I've written a couple of examples of how news stories should now sound. What can I say? I'm a giver.

“Flee” meaning “run away”
“Good” or “bad” news
“Laud” meaning “praise”
“Seek” meaning “look for”
“Some” meaning “about”
“Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
“Yesterday” in a lead sentence
“Youth” meaning “child”
5 a.m. in the morning
After the break
After these commercial messages
Aftermath
All of you
Allegations
Alleged
Area residents
As expected
At risk
At this point in time
Authorities
Auto accident
Bare naked
Behind bars
Behind closed doors
Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
Best kept secret
Campaign trail
Clash with police
Close proximity
Complete surprise
Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
Death toll
Definitely possible
Diva
Down in (location)
Down there
Dubbaya when you mean double you
Everybody (when referring to the audience)
Eye Rack or Eye Ran
False pretenses
Famed
Fatal death
Fled on foot
Folks
Giving 110%
Going forward
Gunman, especially lone gunman
Guys
Hunnert when you mean hundred
Icon
In a surprise move
In harm’s way
In other news
In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
Incarcerated
Informed sources say . . .
Killing spree
Legendary
Lend a helping hand
Literally
Lucky to be alive
Manhunt
Marred
Medical hospital
Mother of all (anything)
Motorist
Mute point. (It’s moot point, but don’t say that either)
Near miss
No brainer
Officials
Our top story tonight
Out in (location)
Out there
Over in
Pedestrian
Perfect storm
Perished
Perpetrator
Plagued
Really
Reeling
Reportedly
Seek
Senseless murder
Shots rang out
Shower activity
Sketchy details
Some (meaning about)
Some of you
Sources say . . .
Speaking out
Stay tuned
The fact of the matter
Those of you
Thus
Time for a break
To be fair
Torrential rain
Touch base
Under fire
Under siege
Underwent surgery
Undisclosed
Undocumented alien
Unrest
Untimely death
Up in (location)
Up there
Utilize (you mean use)
Vehicle
We’ll be right back
Welcome back
Welcome back everybody
We’ll be back
Went terribly wrong
We’re back
White stuff
World class
You folks

So here are two news stories told CORRECTLY:

In other bummer news today, President John Kennedy was shot and is believed dead but not fatally. He underwent that thing that doctors do when they cut you open and the results were not awesome. The gang-of-one armed homo sapien they think did it – Lee Harvey Oswald – tore ass out of the adjacent book depository as men in blue uniforms with responsibility ran after him, giving it somewhere between 109 and 111%. At the moment we have crude pencil doodle details but the innocent-until-proven-guilty murderer is still in close propinquity. According to reliable no-name people with knowledge, the FBI is lending that appendage with an opposable thumb. Mrs. Kennedy, the mammy of all her children is submerged in the dumps as a result of her husband being untimely whacked. You can drain the lizard for two minutes because I won’t be reading any more news until then.

-o-

Reports from the U.N. in Ee-Ran have Dee-termined U-ranium eff-orts Bee-lieved U-seable are ex-traneous. Meanwhile, fighting has become explosive and by that I mean things have actually gone boom. For retreating Ee-ranian soldiers, their boot heels have been a wandering since they are car and truckless. Many people were in harm’s crosshairs. The corpse count continues to climb but one non-military looky-loo who survived a near-hit said he’s lucky to still be pre-deceased. The end to the bloodshed is possibly definite but for now army guys with fruit salad on their uniforms say bombers will maintain their over fire. Coming up after you flog your bishop Marcie will have weekend weather including details on what could be an ideal storm.

-o-

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reporting from the Cactus League

Back from a short trip to Phoenix to perform some Dodger duties. Having covered spring training in both Arizona and Florida I greatly prefer the “Valley of the Radio Shack on every corner”. More teams in closer proximity. You can spend your vacation going to ballgames not driving hundreds of miles just to see some split squad game or getting lost in “Deliverance” country.

And the fact that it hailed the first day, that could happen anywhere.

Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Glendale. The couple in the next room took the word “express” literally. Who says Phoenix has no great theater? A crackling hate-filled performance of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” played nightly in Room 301. (I sided with her, by the way. He doesn’t spend enough time with the kids.)

Hooked up with a few buddies – Howard from LA and Mike & Bob from New York. Middle-aged Jews don’t hunt. They go to spring training games and eat less sensibly. Which you pretty much have to since Phoenix is the land of bar food. I don’t think there’s a place in town that doesn’t serve buffalo wings including sushi bars and vegan cafes. There are also gift shops in every restaurant. This is very strange to me. But you can enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Cracker Barrel and still pick out that perfect wedding gift for sis!

We dined our first night at the Saddle Ranch Chop House. What really sold us on the place was the d├ęcor. They had a mechanical bull! Add attractive women and beers from many lands and there’s no greater entertainment in the west! “Suburban Cowboy”. For middle-aged Jewish guys this was Hooters without the guilt.

The Chop House was just one of many fine establishments in the Westgate City Center. It’s as if a developer said, “You know what would look good on this empty field in the middle of friggin’ nowhere? Times Square! And just to give it that real authentic desert touch, let’s put a hockey arena in it!” All that was missing was a guy playing Three Card Monty and another urinating on your shoes and you’d think you were back in the greatest city in the world!

Warning: There are freeway cameras that capture you speeding. The fine is a hefty $161.00. I’m told the way to fight it is to claim the person in the photo is not you. Not sure that works in Phoenix. It does in Beverly Hills where most women have different faces then they did two months ago.

Good ribs at Famous Dave’s.

On Wednesday I got to announce the Dodger game from their spring mecca, Camelback Ranch. It was seen on Prime Ticket in southern California and just my luck, nationwide on the MLB network. What a train wreck… and by that I mean mostly me. First off, I still have an inflamed cornea so I really just have one good eye. I was fine as long as no one hit a ball to left field. I was counting on watching the monitor but because of the glare of the sun I couldn’t see it. They’d be flashing starting line ups on the screen and I’d be merrily talking about something else. Eight years major league experience and viewers must’ve thought I was there because I’d won an auction.

Then someone batted out of turn. Well, to be more specific – three players batted out of turn. This never happens. My daughter, Annie said, “How could they screw that up? Isn’t baseball like the only thing they do?”

So now I’m on coast-to-coast TV completely confused. Then all the substitutions began and it was like Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory and those chocolates just kept coming down the conveyor belt faster and faster. I may have called a Diamondback pinch runner Diablo Cody, I’m not sure.

Steve Lyons, my partner, said in fourteen years of broadcasting this was the hardest game he’s ever had to call. It was surely not my finest hour but still I had a blast. Thanks again to Steve for never saying on the air, “What the hell are you talking about? and the Dodgers for the chance. I look forward to doing another game when runners pass each other on the base paths and a meteor lands on the field.

If you do come out for spring training make sure you catch a game at Camelback. Tickets are affordable and new this year: free parking. Would you call that a “fee nix”? That’s maybe the only stupid thing I didn’t say during the telecast.

Happy Hour” has two meanings in Phoenix. The standard one (that I took advantage of, downing six drinks in rapid succession after the game) and it’s also code for “Early Bird Specials”. The old people who aren’t filed away in Florida are in the Valley of the Sun. And they love their early dinner specials! So if you stop off at a local eatery looking to wet your whistle and order the “Happy Hour” special don’t be surprised if they bring you boiled chicken.

But you don’t have to be 80 to feel old. Howard and I asked the young desk clerk at the hotel where might we go for a good breakfast (and decorative soaps) and she said at the Westgate there was the “Jimmy Boo-fay”. What she meant of course was Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Face it, folks; we’re all “wasting away”.

During the flight attendant’s safety instructions on my Southwest trip home she warned that there was no smoking in the lavatories and added, “The fine is $2200. And I’m sure if you were willing to blow that kind of money you would’ve flown Delta.”

Later on the flight when they were taking drink orders, the skeesix a row ahead of me actually asked for an Arnold Palmer. I know that’s unbelievable but I saw it with my own one-and-a-half eyes.

Now you may think that all I did in Phoenix was eat, drink, and make a jackass of myself on television. Not true. There was so much more! I rented a car, I hosted Dodger Talk, and I got vigorously patted down. What a jealous boyfriend! I was just taking a picture of her on the mechanical bull.