Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day then staff work begins

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, and trashing reality shows. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, recommend apps for your iPad and iPhone, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scattershot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.

Week two you’ll come in and the show runner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.

Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that Mac, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books on your nightstand, caught up on my archives, and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.

The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them. And so it begins.

Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".

Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's nice to be the next Preston Sturges

This is a typical story. In the mid 80’s my partner and I had a pretty good movie career going along with our TV work. (I think this was that honeymoon period between the time VOLUNTEERS was made and actually released…because that window was pretty short as I recall.) Disney wanted to meet us.

We trooped down to Burbank, appropriately entered the Dopey Building and met with this very nice energetic young executive. If we had any movie ideas he wanted us to bring them to Disney first. Because of our work on CHEERS we were the perfect writers for them. They were looking to do sophisticated romantic comedies with with and heart, and smart crackling dialogue. Very few people could do that but we could and that’s what they wanted. We were the next Preston Sturges (master of the screwball comedy). We were obviously very flattered and said when we came up with something we would call them. He then said, “Listen, while you’re here, we do have one project that’s open, and we think you guys would be perfect for it. EARNEST GOES TO JAIL.”

We graciously passed. We could write sophisticated comedy but we weren’t Noel Coward.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gary Coleman

So sorry to hear about Gary Coleman’s passing. What a sad and all-too-brief life he led.

When I heard the news of his death I have to admit that one of my thoughts was what are they going to do now on AVENUE Q? AVENUE Q is the Tony winning Broadway musical that is essentially the R-rated version of SESAME STREET. One of the characters in the musical is supposed to be Gary Coleman. And he’s the punchline to a big song in the first act. The song is “It Sucks to be Me” and features all of the Muppet-like puppets trying to top each other with how bad their life is. This is how it ends:

PRINCETON (one of the Muppets)
Well, I started at Avenue A,
but so far everything is out
of my price range. But this
neighborhood looks a lot cheaper!
Oh, and look - a "For Rent" sign!

BRIAN
You need to talk to
the superintendent.
Let me get him.

PRINCETON
Great, thanks!

BRIAN
Yo, Gary!

GARY COLEMAN
I'm comin'! I'm comin'!

PRINCETON
Oh my God!
It's Gary Coleman!

GARY COLEMAN
Yes I am!
I'm Gary Coleman
From TV's
Diff'rent Strokes
I made a lotta money
That got stolen
By my folks!
Now I'm broke and
I'm the butt
Of everyone's jokes,
But I'm here -
The Superintendent!
On Avenue Q -

ALL
It sucks to be you.

KATE MONSTER
You win!

Gary also takes the lead in the song “Schadenfreude!” (the German word for "happiness at the misfortune of others!")

Jeff Marx, who conceived AVENUE Q said lines were being changed that were now not appropriate, and after last night's performance a tribute to Gary was held.

Reports are that the real Gary Coleman was not very pleased with how he was portrayed in the show. But he came off as a real good sport. And it just reinforced what we always knew -- Gary Coleman was a wonderful guy. He handled success and fame with humility and gratitude and suffered enormous adversity with grace and humor. He was a great role model, a gifted comic actor, and at the end of the day -- a very big man.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The questions LOST neglected to answer

Other than these I'd say the show wrapped up everything.



Bottom line though: who cares? Wasn't it fun just following a wildly imaginative story?

How to become a recurring character

Happy Memorial weekend Friday question day. What's yours?

Steve starts us off:

I'm curious about recurring characters. Do writers have any say over who comes back when, or is it the producers/someone else? Take Colonel Flagg on M*A*S*H as an example. Could you just write him into an episode, or are you instead told, "Hey, we want Colonel Flagg back. Write a story for him."?

Characters become recurring because they really score. The showrunners make those decisions but they’re usually easy ones. The good news for the writer whose script introduced a character who becomes recurring is that they get royalties. We got one for Eddie LeBec. Some great examples of characters who went from day player to recurring or even joining the regular cast are – Klinger on MASH, Reverend Jim on TAXI, Lilith on CHEERS, Bebe and Bulldog on FRASIER, and Bob on BECKER.

Here’s my favorite story: Judith Lowry really scored as Mother Dexter on PHYLLIS. So much so that MTM (the company that produced the show) offered her a ten-year contract. She laughed. Judith Lowry was 88 at the time.

It’s a gift from the Gods when a guest star scores big. Most producers will happily rewrite future scripts to include them.

From David:

What's currently a typical day / week for you? Are you still consulting, meeting with execs, agents, etc.? Does announcing take up all of your time and you just relax in the other hours? How much prep work does announcing take?

Doing Dodger Talk does take up a good chunk of the day. If we have a 7:00 home game I’m at Dodger Stadium around 4:00 and depending on the length of the game, leave around 11:30. I’m there so early so I can talk to players, managers, and of course, rake the infield. I read a lot of stuff online – newspapers and blogs to keep up to date baseballwise but I don’t consider that work. It’s what I’d be doing even if I didn’t have a radio show.

David and I are talking about some future projects and I’m planning on staging my play next winter so I’m meeting with my director, producer, and currently doing a rewrite of the play. Casting begins in the fall and I’m already putting together lists.

I’m also writing that 60s book so usually my mornings are spent in front of my computer either writing that or blog posts. I also write late at night. Most of the jobs I’ve ever had – either in broadcasting , staff writing, or gigaloing – required I work nights so I’m used to the late hours.

When my partner David and I have a project we’ll get together around 10 and write until 1:00 or 2:00. Then we’ll meet the next day appalled at what we wrote the day before.

The rest of the time is spent is spent going to the gym and eye doctors. I lead a very full life.

david russell asks:

Do you find it harder to stay focused on writing now that the pesky Internet is here to distract you with, say, reading blogs? Do you have tricks, like working on a stand-alone, non-web connected computer or are you just that disciplined?

I’ve developed discipline from working in television where you’re always on deadline. So that helps. Once I start writing I generally stay with it, although it’s important to take breaks. The breaks should not last longer than the actual writing intervals however. I check my email too much. I will admit that.

Sometimes for some real concentrated writing I’ll take my laptop to UCLA and roost in one of those cubbyholes in the library. It’s quiet, no distractions, yet there are people around. I don’t feel like I’ve been sent to solitary confinement.

A couple of times when my partner and I had a screenplay that needed to get done quickly we’d drive down to San Diego and lock ourselves in a hotel room for three days. A good portion of VOLUNTEERS was written at the Town & Country hotel in beautiful Mission Valley.

Here comes a short answer to a long question. It’s from Jkessler:

Ken, a question regarding classifying sitcoms. There seem to be three or four general categories: family comedy, office comedy, friends/singles comedy, odd couple relationship.

Most sitcoms fall under at least one of these general categories. But what about a show like "My Name Is Earl?"

None of these categories seem like a good fit. I guess you could argue it's a family comedy, but that's really reaching. Is it a unique genre of sitcom? Redemption comedy? Redneck comedy?

Anthology comedy. (Told ya it was short)

Happy Memorial Day. Drive safely.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Watch this woman go insane when Lee wins IDOL

You gotta love America.

The AMERICAN IDOL finale

If you just tuned in to AMERICAN IDOL for the first time this season because it was the finale (the way a casual sports fan might watch baseball only during the World Series and porn stars only catch the Masters when Tiger is playing) I wonder if you’d look at the two finalists – Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze and say “Out of 100,000 applicants, THESE are the best two they could find?” That pretty much sums up this season in a nutshell.

They both can sing but midway through the show when Christina Aguilera grabbed a mic and you realize neither of them can carry her Chloraseptic spray.

I’m a little surprised that Lee won but I shouldn’t be. The safer choice usually gets the nod. The fact that Crystal has been compared to Janis Joplin, she might as well have been in the Manson family as far as God fearing America is concerned. Lee is much more their idea of a rock star -- a live Build-a-Bear.

Crystal can take comfort however in knowing the only difference between winning and losing is an appearance on THE TONIGHT SHOW. A number of losers have had much bigger careers than winners. Just ask Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. To put it in more perspective – runner-up Elliott Yamin sang the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. American Idol Jordin Sparks sang it at the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Glendale, Arizona.

Some thoughts on the finale:

Maybe the most jaw dropping production number ever was the Top 10 all in Catholic School uniforms singing “School’s Out” with Alice Cooper (who now looks like Ted Danson in clown make up). And then the final shot with the camera looking right up Siobhan Magnus’ crotch. Holy shit! If she had worn that outfit and struck that pose during the competition she might be the American Idol today. Or Mrs. Jesse James.

Joe Cocker has turned into Fred Sanford.

Dane Cook remains an enemy of comedy. Paula Abdul did a better stand-up routine. (More on the Divine Ms. P. later.)

Is Alanis Morisette now black?

Finally! A true inspirational moment. Not the usual trumped up Idol schmaltz sob story of a contestant who was so poor he grew up in a Maytag box or a contestant who has been a mother since she was eleven. Bret Michaels, who only one month ago suffered a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage appeared on the show and electrified the crowd. I expect thirty hopefuls next season to fake grand mal seizures just before they audition (and the judges to mistake the seizures FOR the auditions).

Janet Jackson sang in a black gown with slits all the way up to her armpits. I imagine that’s what she wore to Michael’s funeral.

The Simon sendoff video pieces were lame, but his little farewell speech was typically smart and succinct.

A few words about why this is my last season reviewing IDOL (and by the way, where was the big sendoff tribute to me? Shots of me at twelve reviewing my Jr. High Spring Sing. Shots of me mugging for the camera. Shots of me being yelled at by Diana DeGarmo’s mother.) AMERICAN IDOL used to be a nationwide shared experience. People actually did talk about it around the water cooler. It was fun to write about something everyone had an opinion about. I enjoyed your comments more than watching the show.

But now the zeitgeist has "Gleefully" moved on. AMERICAN IDOL is no longer a phenomenon; it’s a franchise that Fox will keep alive at all costs. To them it’s the golden goose; to me it’s Terry Schaivo.

The show’s become routine, formula, tedious. Hey, nine years of anything, even POLICE ACADEMY movies gets old. The contestants are now cookie cutter types. And without Simon Cowell there quite frankly is no show. Love him or hate him he was compelling… while the rest of the judges were just gristle you cut around to get to the steak.

Dumping Paula Abdul was a big mistake. At least she was insane or drunk or on drugs. Whether it was critiquing a contestant for a song he hadn’t sung yet or uttering pearls like “I will never forget my humble beginnings as a Laker Girl”, Paula always came through. We need a National Joke and Sarah Palin is just not cutting it as her successor (at least not yet). It was so good to see Paula again last night. She looked elegantly inappropriate in her hot pink prom mini-skirt. Listening to her drone on semi-incoherently I realized exactly what I’ve always loved about her. She’s just as surprised at what comes out of her mouth as we are.

Another mistake was hiring Kara. Who cares if she has music credentials? She’s just not likable. It also doesn’t help that she looks like Cruella Deville after a horrible tanning booth accident.

You need someone unique and surprising and fun… which is why I was very excited when Ellen DeGeneres was hired. But boy, has she been a colossal disappointment. She knows nothing about music, can’t string together a complete sentence, and the kid in your 4th grade class who stuck walnuts up his nose was funnier. Drop her. And here’s the thing -- I swear, no one will notice.

So congratulations to Lee. I hope he and all the contestants have successful careers, a few even in music. May Alice Cooper continue to play championship caliber golf, and will someone please tell Joe Cocker where he is.

Simon had a great line (as usual). You have to know when to leave the party. It’s time. Where is that damn valet with my car?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When AMERICAN IDOL was fun

As I mentioned before, this is the last year I’ll review AMERICAN IDOL. Tonight’s finale will be my finale as well. But to help get you in the mood, here’s my blog version of a clip show. Some random snarky observations from the last four seasons' worth of reviews.

Adam Lambert is the illegitimate love child of Freddy Mercury and Liza Minelli. He sang “Ring of Fire” but in the more traditional pre-Hitler Berlin cabaret style.

Allison Irahets is a 40-year-old divorced mother of Mickey Rourke’s twins living in the body of a 16-year-old. When all her friends are watching High School Musical she must be watching Hud.

Danny Noriega is the contestant most likely to become one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes. He sang “Superstar” for 70s week but who are we kidding? He should have sung “My Girl Bill”.

Is there one part of Diana Ross’ face and body that she has not had redone… at least twice? She is now officially the world’s weirdest Chia Pet. And when she was hugging Sanjaya I could swear she whispered, “I love you, Michael.” The ick meter was pegging the red.

Who knew? Amanda Overmyer is a “book worm”. What does she read? English literature? Russian novels? No. Rock star biographies. That still makes her the intellectual of this bunch. With the wild streaks in her hair and zebra slacks I thought she was joining the cast of CATS.

Could they pad the show any more? Christ! It was so long Paula’s drugs were wearing off.

Then came Jason Castro. Imagine Lisa Edelstein with dreadlocks.

In the getting-to-know-you segment with Jason Castro we learned that he’s an idiot and takes pride in it. Bullwinkle could have done a better job answering simple questions. Maybe after the show he and Paula can collect string.

Paris Bennett will play Gary Coleman in the touring company of AVENUE Q.

Megan Joy sported a Connie Stevens hairdo and bludgeoned “For Once In My Life”. I imagine she made the same sounds when they were burning the tattoos into her arm.

Michael Sarver sang “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” all the while pickin’ and a-grinnin’. I guess when a boy from Jasper, Texas pleads to a girl to not dump him he smiles because if she doesn’t comply he can just tie her ankles and throw her in a sack.

Phil Stacey could easily win AMERICAN SERIAL KILLER.

As always, they saved the best for last. David Archuleta sang a fabulous interpretation of “Imagine’. The judges were knocked out by the originality. And they should be. When Eva Cassidy first sang it that way years ago on one of her albums it was quite extraordinary. Much better than Archuleta’s original cover.

Now that the kids not attractive enough for FOX have been weeded out we can get down to business. This was Country Night and the guest mentor was Randy Travis (or, for you non Country fans: Thomas Hayden Church).

I would LOVE to see Bob Dylan as the guest star one week. He would coach the kids and they would all say, “What?” “Huh?” “Could you repeat that?” “What did he say?”

And since Paula can only parrot what the guest says, it would be fun to hear her say to a finalist, “Like Bob said I think, you were either great or terrible.”

When the judges were telling Haley they thought her song was safe what they were really saying was, “Go back to the halter top!!!”

Of all the bizarre looking contestants that have tried out for AMERICAN IDOL this season none have even come close to guest judge Carole Bayer Sager. Yikes! She looked like a trampoline with eyes.

Last week the guest dead weight was Jewel. She could not have looked more uncomfortable if she were sitting with the Menendez Brothers and O.J. Simpson. Favorite moment: when she mumbled to a contestant that he had no personality.

Katherine McPhee will join the Johnny Mann Singers and be heard on KRTH jingles. Will try to make a niche for herself in the standards market. Will discover there is no standards market. Will marry, have kids, and be forever bitter that Linda Eder has her career.

Now that Sanjaya has been voted off, AMERICAN IDOL turned to another charity, the fight against poverty. It was AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK week. Similar to the Jerry Lewis telethon except it only lasted one hour not nineteen, and Paula had all the jewelry not Wayne Newton. It was a worthy cause and a lovely gesture but an “historic event in television?” I don't think so. That would be the night Randy had an original thought. We’re still waiting for that historic night.

And while we’re on the subject of overstatement – Ryan asking viewers to vote saying “it’s the most important call you could ever make.” Let’s see? 911 emergency or voting for Jordin so Newscorp will donate ten cents?

Please please please Fox, don’t look at the huge ratings Wednesday and decide the Africa footage could be a great spin off.

It was a tough night for the judges because how do you tell someone singing a “life anthem” that he sucked?

Unlike the Chabad telethon, at least they didn’t have a running crawl -- Morris Fishbine, Brentwood, $18 in memory of Sophie Fishbine… Nosh n’ Lox Deli, Encino, $18, in honor of pastrami month where all sandwiches come with soup…

STOP CRYING!!!!

This is AMERICAN IDOL not DARK VICTORY. This is not a Meredith Baxter Birney Lifetime MOW where she comes down with whatever disease killed the last patient on HOUSE. This is not LOVE STORY. This is not OLD YELLER!!

This is a bunch of cute looking kids who all sound like Aretha Franklin or Michael Bolton vying for a chance to be on television every week. It’s not, “Ohmygod, I can walk. I CAN WALK!”

The worst was this boy who lives in his car and looks like Kellie Pickler. Jesus! I’m sooo glad he was finally eliminated. He cries so much he probably needs windshield wipers on the inside of that car.

First up was Kristy Lee Cook. She sold her horse to fly from Portland to Philadelphia to audition for the show. There were also auditions in San Diego, which is closer. She could have just sold her cat.


Alaina Whittaker followed. She’s 16, blond, and has that Lauren Hutton space between her two front teeth that make her seem wise beyond her years.

Listening to Chris Richardson sing through his nose I thought this guy could do his number while drinking a glass of water. He may have to do that next week if he even survives this one.

New Coke cups this week. Cut to little girl crying.

I’m still having nightmares over Carole Bayer Sager. Imagine a slingshot that’s been stretched for four blocks.

Ann Marie Boskovich was the 247th contestant to sing “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”. She came in 200th.

Tatiana Nicole Del Toro – Completely nuts. Easily the most annoying contestant ever. The only time I want to see Tatiana on Fox is when Jack Bauer is torturing her. And even if she tells him what he wants to know he still doesn’t stop.

Matt Breitzke – Welder. Some contestants play their own instruments. He builds his own sets.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My review of the last 24

SPOILER ALERT!!!
Jack Bauer, wounded, bloodied, with no ID or money has been asked to slip out of the country and disappear. I’ll say this for America, we sure know how to thank and honor our heroes. All the guy has done is routinely and single-handedly saved millions of lives, exposed major plots to subvert this nation, and thwarted every sinister villain not assigned to James Bond. Okay, he only works maybe one day every two years but those are full days. You’d think at least he’d get a commendation or something. They’d let him throw out the first pitch at a Nationals game. Show him in the audience of AMERICAN IDOL sitting next to Jane Lynch. Anything!

But no, for all his sacrifice and overtime, he’s told to scram. Such was the final episode of 24. No white light to walk towards for this Jack. No reuniting with his wife Terry or Renee Walker or President Palmer or Edgar or Michelle or Buchanan or the 400 other people close to him who are now dead. No, this Jack must carry on, alone, bleeding, and emotionally bankrupt. This may be the last time we ever see him again… unless he comes back in a movie of 24 or returns to television as THE FUGITIVE.

But it was a great ride. How the writers kept the suspense going non-stop for 24 hour periods is totally beyond me. How many traps can Jack extricate himself from? How many nuclear, biological, chemical, political attacks can there be? How many global conspiracies are there? The show ran for 192 episodes plus a two-hour movie. Remarkable.

For the first few years 24 was great escapist fare. It got better and better until one year the show and Kiefer Sutherland won Emmys.

Then it struggled. Dropping a nuclear bomb on Valencia was a bit of a buzz kill. Kim Raver as charmless love interest Audrey was another. And that mistake was compounded because they inexplicably brought her back. Did no 24 writer ever read a blog???

Torture was a big issue. Well, it became a big issue with Guantanamo Bay. So the producers modified it. Instead of just straight torture there was torture and debate. And Jack only tortured the bad guys… most of the time. In one episode he tortured Audrey. I think that's what won him the Emmy.

What the show generally had going for it was great villains. Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight, Powers Booth, Penny Johnson Jerald, lots of Arabs. But the greatest villain of them all was Gregory Itzin (pictured: right) as sniveling, conniving President Nixon… I mean, Logan. He was the key to the Emmy winning year and this season was spinning its wheels until he re-appeared.

They tried to shake things up last year by moving the series to Washington D.C. and this year it was set in New York. And the change of scenery helped but by that time I started watching the show differently.

The first few years I was really invested in the plots. I was shocked when they killed his wife at the end of season one. The message was received loud and clear – anybody was expendable. So the suspense heightened. These people really were in jeopardy.

Sure, there was the suspension of belief. In one episode Jack got from downtown LA to Simi Valley in twenty minutes during rush hour. If he was strapped to a Convair X-11 Atlas missile he couldn’t get there that fast.

And Jack seemed to heal very quickly. There was one hour where his heart literally stopped and fifteen minutes later he’s beating the shit out of a street gang in a parking lot. ICU is for sissies.

I just sort of accepted that every year his annoying daughter Kim would be kidnapped. It got to where she brought her own rope.

But I didn’t mind. This was a thrill ride.

After that one really bad season though I started watching the show differently. All the absurdities I had ignored, I now embraced. That became part of the fun.

My daughter Annie and I would have a rollicking good time pointing out these gaping plot holes. CTU hires Dana Walsh to be their chief systems analyst handing the most sensitive matters and their security check didn’t reveal she was using an alias and had been in prison? Really?? Meanwhile, an ex-boyfriend does figure it out. And in the midst of a national crisis she slips out to help him pull a heist? You gotta love it!

And this year I imagine the producers said, “what the hell? Let’s just go for it.” Two hours ago Jack was wearing a Robocop outfit shooting up a presidential motorcade. Yeah! Jack was crazed because the woman he decided he loved an hour before was killed. Turns out the President of Russia PERSONALLY put the hit out on her, as if the President of Russia even knew who she was. Genius! Torture is one thing but now Jack was cutting a guy’s stomach open to retrieve a sin-card. If you loved that scene in SAW you loved it in 24!

So thanks for the thrills. Thanks for the laughs, even if they were unintended. And most of all, thanks for Chloe O'Brien. As portrayed by Mary Lynn Rajskub, who knew that exasperation and eye rolling could be so endearing? The girl you hated in school is the one you loved on 24.

How fitting then that the final moment should be between Jack and Chloe? It ended on just the right note. Jack thanking her for everything was surprisingly touching. And when a tear rolled down her blank face well...I was misting up myself.

I will miss you, Jack Bauer. Thanks for saving the nation. Twenty times. I’d say you’re welcome to come over and hide out at my house but everyone you’ve ever helped winds up dead so I’ll just say farewell, thanks again, and you really should have that six inch gushing knife wound looked at.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My review of the last LOST

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!
So after six years and all the twists and turns and time travel and coincidences and mythology, we learn that LOST is just a retelling of the story of Christ. Jack is the chosen leader, saves the world, dies for our sins, is reunited with his “Father” (whose name happens to be “Christian” as opposed to say Schlomo or Habib) and the “Christian Shepherd” leads everyone happily into the light.

So depending on your personal beliefs you either found that ending enormously satisfying or the conclusion of the world’s longest shaggy dog story.

It certainly was a feel-good ending (even though everyone was dead – hey, at least the party had a theme) and the lead-up to it was LOST storytelling at its very best. The action sequences were thrilling, mysteries were solved, but by far the best part of the episode was the romantic reunions. Call me a softy but I got choked up at the Sawyer-Juliet scene. And is that true that if you unplug a vending machine the candy will come out? Or is that only in the after-life?

The Sun-Jin scene was beautiful (I’d like to think that seeing flashes of their life on the island is what caused them to instantly learn English; that it wasn’t the result of the Sonogram), and I was so happy for Charlie and Claire after all they’d been through. The Sayid and Shannon hook-up was a little weird though. I thought the love of his life was Nadya. But no matter, each scene melted my heart. And at the end of the day I cared so much more about the characters’ fate than the island’s. Besides, you don’t need a mysterious force to blow up the island. Just let BP come in and start drilling offshore.

A few random observations:

I was hoping Richard would be real excited taking his first plane flight. “Hey, look at these little trays that come down from the back of these seats!”

Also, good luck getting through Customs, Richard. Saying you’re from the Canary Islands in the 14th century is not going to get you into America, buddy.

So I guess we’re saying that Ben’s going to hell? At the end of the day he’s the one person who didn’t join “the others”? Or maybe he didn’t want to go in there because in the six year run of the series every person in that room had beaten the crap out of him at least twice.

How did they get the giant tree trunk off of Ben? They seemed to be having some trouble with it. Maybe Superboy did it and they can wrap up SMALLVILLE too.

At least the show didn't end with the screen going black.

When the plane flew over the island one last time weren’t you hoping they’d look out the window and see “Goodbye Hawkeye”?

In the church scene – other than Rose, not a lot of people of color. Where was Michael and Walt? How come Penny was there and Mr. Eko wasn’t? Penny never was even on the island.

And how come Clair’s baby was there and not Sun & Jin’s? If these were supposed to be the most important people in their lives wouldn’t their kids qualify over say, Boone? But of course, that bothered me from the episode a few weeks ago when Sun was trapped in the sinking submarine and drowning and Jin elected to stay with her and die. Why didn’t Sun say, “We have a daughter, you idiot! Do you want her to be an orphan? Go back and…glug glug… raise your… glug… daughter!”?

Ultimately, I thought they did a sensational job of wrapping up all the characters. I especially loved that Hurley became the new island protector. I assume he’s still rich from winning that lottery so boxes of food from Spagos can be airlifted to him instead of Dharma Project supplies falling out of the sky.

The thing I appreciated and admired the most about LOST was that in six years, every single episode, I could never out-guess them. The level of imagination was second-to-none. On the one hand I feel a much needed sense of closure now but on the other I will miss the show terribly. My thanks to the staff for a great great ride.

LOST definitely was a groundbreaking television show. I’m sure people will be enjoying the DVDs for years. And this concluding episode is sure to become a Christmas and Easter tradition.

Tomorrow: My review of the last 24. I guarantee they won't make that Jack a Christ figure.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Getting you ready for the last LOST

My favorite show, LOST concludes tonight. I’ll have my review and final thoughts tomorrow. LOST is an ongoing serialized adventure set on a tropical island. If you haven't been watching you might be a little, well...lost. So allow me to get you up to speed.

CHARACTERS:

JACK (Matthew Fox) - A handsome doctor who the castaways look up to, not because of his leadership ability but because the actor has a feature career. He's verrrry serious. A joint the size of a piƱata would do him a world of good.

KATE (Evangeline Lilly) -- Hot brunette. Killed her boyfriend. I would still date her in a second, even if she wants to go to a gun show.

JOHN (Terry O'Quinn) – Dead but not really. Here’s where it starts getting weird – there were two brothers who have been guardians of the island for centuries. He’s the bad one but now taking the form of John who is dead. That’s what happens when you kill off a main character without checking the contract to see that you still have to pay him for two more years.

SAWYER (Josh Holloway) - The good looking bad boy. Edgy. Dangerous. Defiant. Every girl wants him when he's 20. When he's 50 and living in a trailer park, he's lucky if Bea Arthur gives him a second look.

SAYID (Naveen Andrews) - The one terrorist who tests well. Now dead, not that that means anything.

HURLEY (Jorge Garcia) - Fat guy/comic relief/castaway mascot. Keeps things loose 'round camp when people are kidnapped or eaten by animals.

SUN (Yunjin Kim) - Korean married to Jin. Can speak in English or Korean subtitles. Drowned in sinking submarine so for LOST, she died of natural causes.

JIN (Daniel Dae Kim) - Korean married to Sun. Died with Sun but through network reincarnation returns next season on CBS in HAWAII 5-0.

CHARLIE (Dominic Monaghan) - Dead. I’m starting to realize, maybe the series already concluded. No one seems to still be alive.

CLAIRE (Emilie de Ravin) - Had a baby on the island. Still better than a Kaiser hospital. Is really Jack's sister. Should they ever have a romance and get married the island will be renamed West Virginia.

DESMOND (Henry Ian Cusick) – The most interesting character on the show. Has a Scottish accent. Calls everyone "brother." Has premonitions. Likes the Lakers over the Suns but says "take the points, brother."

BENJAMIN (Michael Emerson) - The Emmy winning leader of "the Others" (another group of island inhabitants. They resent the castaways for calling them "the Others" when they were there first. As a result, want to kill everyone.) If Harold from Harold & Maude grew up, moved to the tropics, and went off his meds he'd be Ben.

JULIET (Elizabeth Mitchell) - Fertility doctor from Portland, Oregon, recruited by the Others. Once she got to the island she realized, "Hey, this isn't the Mayo Clinic!" Still not the worst career move she's made. She played Mrs. Clause to Tim Allen in the last two installments of the Santa Claus trilogy. Dead of course but renewed – her current series V was picked up.

PLOT

It’s simple really. A plane crashed and a group of strangers who really know each other but don’t is stranded on this mysterious island inhabited by polar bears, a smoke monster, residential tract homes, a hatch, a group called “the Others”, giant foot statue, clipper ship and a plane in trees, temple, force fields, a lighthouse, golden pond, a hydrogen bomb, and this great little cove for fishing.

Except…

maybe they didn’t crash at all, in which case they’re different but still know each other even though they don’t.

Some of the characters are dead. One character who is dead has come back as another character. There is time travel involved. The island can disappear. It might actually be underwater. There are two Godlike puppet masters. One character who never ages. People have flashbacks, flash forwards, and flash sideways.

And in the two-hour finale all of this will make sense.

There. You’re now completely caught up. Enjoy.

On another topic, still time to weigh in your thoughts on yesterday’s Comedy Test. Thanks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Another comedy test

You weighed in on the HONEYMOONERS and FRASIER and Woody Allen's stand up. Now I've got a classic scene from TAXI. I fell on the floor when I first saw this. Does it still stand up? Drugged-out burnout Jim is applying for a driver's license. This was written by Glen & Les Charles and directed by James Burrows.

My scorecard

One additional Friday question:

LarNdc asks:

When I go to ballgames I love to keep score. What does your scorecard look like?

Good luck deciphering it. Here is a typical scoresheet. No two people in the world have the same scoring system. But it doesn't matter. As long as YOU know it means that's all the counts. My system has been revised over the years, but here are the basics:

I circle all outs. A dot in the box indicates an RBI. And I keep track of all balls and strikes. The hash marks on the side are balls, the hash marks below the box are strikes. Players' positions are represented by numbers. Pitcher-1, catcher-2, first baseman-3, second baseman-4, third baseman-5, shortstop-6, left fielder-7, center fielder-8, and right fielder-9.

Anyway, here it is. It might be easier to crack Navajo codes but good luck.

How does a regular Joe Schmo pitch a pilot to a network?

Here are some more Friday questions and answers sent in by you, the loyal or occasional readers.

Heidi Germanaus starts us off:

Ken, I have a pretty damn good idea for a t.v. show. How does a regular Joe Shmo get in a position to pitch something like that?

Heidi, I wish I could be more encouraging but the truth is unless you have a track record it’s almost impossible to get a network to hear your pitch. They’re more concerned with who’s going to execute the show than who brings in the best ideas. Generally you have to be on staff of a show for a few years or have a screenplay credit or two (and even then they’d want you paired up with an established show runner).

You might take your idea to a studio or producer but the best you can hope for is that they’ll buy you out – give you a nominal sum and politely ask you scram. If the project doesn’t go forward you still have a few thousand bucks. But if the project does go forward and becomes FRIENDS everyone winds up a billionaire but you.

I suppose you could make the pilot yourself and put it on Youtube and if it becomes a huge viral hit a network might take notice but that’s the longest of longshots.

In any event, write your pilot and use it as a sample. Maybe it will get you on staff of a show and two years later the networks will be coming to you asking “what ya got?”

Best of luck. I know it’s hard and frustrating.

From Dana Gabbard:

I just caught the pilot for Cheers which reminded me of a question I have long had. John Ratzenberger's Cliff during the first season or so seems to have a much more pronounced New England accent. Is the change to being less nasal deliberate?

It sort of evolved. Part of the problem with a pronounced NE accent is that it’s sometimes hard to decipher and that can be death for jokes.

Same on MASH. David Ogden Stiers originally wanted to do a thick Boston accent. We expressed our concern and he said, “Okay, how about this then?” He backed off of it just a smidge and it was perfect. For his entire run on the show he kept that accent at that exact same level. He’s amazing.


Stephen wonders:

Do commercial breaks ever irritate you as a writer? Like,"Okay no matter what's going on with the story we have to get it to a mini-cliffhanger by the act break so the audience will come back!". I watch a lot of BBC shows where there are no breaks so the stories can develop at their own pace and I would imagine it is far more freeing for the writer.

The breaks bother me in that they take the audience out of the show. No one wants to be interrupted when engrossed in a story.

But if you have to have breaks, I don’t mind the two-act formula where there’s a spot break in the middle (we’re talking sitcoms here). You build to an act break at the midway point then set about resolving the story in the second half. That’s good storytelling, commercials or not.

I’m less enthusiastic about the three-act formula, which networks are insisting on more and more. Then you’re just going through hoops. A lot of shows deal with it by not worrying about building to an act break. They just tell their story and break along the way. It depends on the story obviously but I think dramatically the two-act structure is preferable.

For hour dramas it used to be a four-act structure and now it seems they have long first acts to get you sucked in then a bunch of breaks the second half hour. That’s got to be maddening, even for Jack Bauer.

And finally, from sophomorecritic:

Ken, my question is with pushing daisies, dollhouse, firefly, my name is earl, arrested development, commander-in-chief, aliens in america, ugly betty, and a number of others being cancelled so early in their run when they're clearly good shows, it's hard not to admit that the entire system is broken.

Why doesn't it discourage smart people to enter TV when the good shows don't get rewarded?

Unfortunately, those shows you cited all had disappointing ratings. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game.

But smart people keep coming back because some good shows do get rewarded. LOST, MODERN FAMILY, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, DEXTER, DAMAGES, GLEE – these are just a few of the good shows that have captured the audiences’ imagination. It’s hard. And it usually requires cable or a SOPRANOS credit. But it can be done.

Also, you can make a lot of money in television so that keeps smart people coming back because they like to eat.

One more question, which I'll post later today. Some photography is involved. What’s your question??? Leave it in the comments section. As always, thanks!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Robert W. Morgan

I’m often asked (just last week actually) who were my comic influences? Aside from the usual – Nat Hiken, Joan Davis, and Pinky Lee – I’d have to put at the top of my list Robert W. Morgan. For almost thirty years Morgan ruled the morning airwaves in Los Angeles (and briefly in Chicago).

He passed away twelve years ago today.

I still miss him. I still look at something I’ve written and wonder, “what would Robert W. think?” He was never shy in telling me. We worked together briefly in 1974 at a station called K100. (I say briefly because I was fired long before he was.) Robert W. could be a tough critic on you (if you call threatening to come down to the station and beat the shit out of you tough). But he also could inspire you to new heights if he believed you had it in you. There was no middle ground in his eyes. You had the potential to be great or you were Judy Tenuta.

Morgan himself on the air was truly amazing. Hilariously funny, wickedly subversive, a master of comic timing, and ALWAYS spontaneous. In the moment. One “morgan” (you never said “morning”, you said “morgan” . If I pronounced my name Le-Veen and did a night time shift I'd be on from 6-10 in the E-veeng. Fortunately for all concerned, I'm not ) when he was on KMPC he had to do a live phone interview with Ray Malavasi, the head coach of the Rams. He asked his first question and Malavasi fell asleep. Instead of trying to wake him, and without missing a beat, Morgan just kept asking him questions and pausing while Malavasi snored.

There is a Robert W. Morgan tribute website well worth checking out containing this and many other classic bits. Comedy on the radio is a lost art. Robert W. Morgan was one of its great artists. Morgan also was blessed with a gorgeous voice. Rich, mellow, and warm (as if I wasn’t envious enough of his talent). In 1969 while at KHJ he narrated a 48 hour radio special – THE HISTORY OF ROCK N’ ROLL. This epic work painstakingly traced the roots and trends of rock music and to this day is considered a masterpiece. (back in the days when the only hits Phil Spector was known for were records)

Over the years it has been revised and redone but the original, voiced by Robert W. Morgan, only aired once and none of the subsequent versions even came close.

Robert W. was only 61 when he passed away. Way too young. Lung cancer. DON'T SMOKE!! He should still be around, probably writing biting comments in this blog.

Behaving abnormally

Here's another extended snippet from my "growing up in the 60s" book. I'm a student at UCLA and it just turned 1969.

By now the “Generation Gap” had been trivialized to where ABC had a prime time game show with that theme. ABC also had THE MOD SQUAD, a group of hippie crime fighters.

1969 meant a new year, new quarter, and new language. Obviously I couldn’t make it through two more sessions of Hebrew. Even non-Jews got better grades. And no one said I had to take three quarters of the same language. So I switched to Italian.

I had heard it was easy. And it was… until the scandal broke out the second week.

Apparently several teachers’ assistants had been sleeping with female students and giving them A’s. Their justification that it was a romance language didn’t wash. The result: Outrage by the department with a vow to make Italian the hardest language in the history of academia. By week three I would have slept with the TA’s for even just a passing grade.

I also took “Abnormal Psychology”, which proved helpful years later in dealing with actors. One of the assignments was to do some inappropriate behavior in public and study everyone’s reaction. I went to the Corbin Bowl, a place that held so many wistful memories for me. Ann Jillian and I had had a couple of bowling dates there in the 8th grade. Don’t laugh. I got to see her with her shoes off.

My abnormal behavior was this: I’d step to the line, ready to roll, and then at the last second I would move laterally a few feet and bowl in the next person’s lane. At first they were very nice. The experiment ended after four times when they tried to wedge my head in the ball return.

One classmate chose to urinate on the front steps of the administration building. He said people just walked by as if it were normal. I always thought as a snapshot of campus life in the late 60s that was the perfect image.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BOBblehead HOPE

On Tuesday night's Dodger Talk on 790 KABC (and KABC.COM on the net) we got into a discussion on what's the most unusual Dodger bobblehead anyone has? It was a nice break from "when are we going to trade for a new starting pitcher?"

This is mine and I had to post it because my partner Josh Suchon and most of the listeners didn't believe me. But as you can see, it's for real. For some utterly inexplicable reason the club made a Bob Hope Dodger Bobblehead. I happened to be walking by a gift shop in the stadium and saw it in a display case. And of course I had to have it.

You know why he's so happy? They never made one for Crosby.

Impressive but useless talents

There’s a guy who imitates baseball players’ batting stances. I saw him at Dodger Stadium last night. He’s uncanny at it but it got me thinking – how the hell do you make a living imitating Nomar Garciaparra’s batting stance?

And then I starting wondering – how many other gifted people are blessed with a talent that ultimately does them no good?

There’s a guy in San Francisco I once saw who did amazing reproductions of great works of art in chalk on sidewalks. Very impressive but THAT’S his calling? Of all mediums why select chalk?

A few years ago at the Hollywood Bowl an incredible mimic did the Danny Kaye Dodger song and you could swear it was Danny Kaye. How do you support your family as a Danny Kaye impersonator?

Here are a few other artists that only Broadway Danny Rose would consider representing:

There’s a guy who can snap his fingers the fastest. I guess he's the world's fastest hipster. Another can hold the most eggs in his hand. Who’s going to pay good money in Vegas to see that?

Someone claims to be the fastest texter (besides my daughter). Another is the fastest clapper. I feel sorry for the second fastest clapper because the first fastest has to be starving.

There’s a gentleman who can draw a perfect circle. Other than getting chicks I don’t see the point.

I’m sure there are others. What do baton champions do? What kind of legacy can gingerbread house makers have?

Meanwhile, Gallagher makes a handsome living smashing watermelons and Vanna White is rich from turning over vowels.

My heart goes out to these talented individuals. Oh, I just thought of another talent that yields no discernable profit.

Blogging.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Upfronts week!

This is Upfronts Presentation Week, when each of the networks roll out their new fall schedules. Whether your show gets ordered or not, the response is the same. “Oh shit!”

If you did get a pick-up you realize you’re already behind. And in many cases today, show orders come with tiny addendums like… recast half the parts, reshoot the whole pilot, you must hire this show runner to be over you, or these writers you don’t know to your staff.

And if your show didn’t get picked up you’re now one of those show runners hoping to be forced on someone.

So for the victors I say enjoy the hell out of this week. Go to all the cocktail parties. Collect all the SWAG. If there’s a network dinner order the prime rib. Be at the Upfronts presentation. Kvell as you hear your show touted as the best pilot to come along since ER (although the president of NBC at the time hated the ER pilot and had to be talked into putting the show on the air). You know it’s all bullshit. That guy on stage calling your show groundbreaking will be on the phone to you in two weeks ordering you to make it more mainstream.

Agents will be fawning all over you, asking you questions like “how was your weekend” as they gave a flying shit.

You’ll be getting texts and tweets of congratulation, and some will even be from people who don’t want a job. Okay… maybe three.

Tale the Laker tickets if the actors they offered them to first decline.

Relish it all. You deserve it.

The truth is, getting a show on the air is a Herculean feat (unless you’re Chuck Lorre, J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer, or Dick Wolf). Think of all the pitches, all the scripts that came in, all the pilots that were produced – many starring bigger names than you had – and for you to emerge with one of those few coveted spots is nothing short of sensational. You made it through countless script notes, casting battles, testing, and executive screenings. So allow yourself to savor this accomplishment. Believe that your show got on because it’s really good, not cause the other candidates were even worse.

Next week the real work begins. So live it up now.

Congratulations!

Oh shit!

Best screenwriting advice I could give













The hardest screenplay we ever had to write came as a result of the easiest, quickest pitch we ever made. It also taught us a very important lesson about screenwriting.

Fall 1988. I had just finished my first year of minor league play-by-play, calling the action for the mighty Syracuse Chiefs. I had kept a journal but didn’t know what to do with it. My agent suggested instead of submitting it for publication I should pitch it as a movie. TV comedy writer goes off to announce minor league baseball. He reminded me that I’d make a whole lot more money selling it as a movie rather than a book. That appealed to the “artist” in me.

My partner David Isaacs and I had just turned in a movie to Columbia and they loved it. (Not enough to make but still.) We were the “flavors of the month”. So we set up a pitch meeting with them first. The meeting lasted three minutes… and that was including the pleasantries. Here’s how it went:

Me: This is what we want to do – “GOOD MORNING VIET NAM meets BULL DURHAM”.

Them: "Sold!"

And that was it. Ten minutes later we’re in the Smokehouse restaurant toasting each other. And then something occurred to me. I asked the fatal question:

Me: "So, what exactly is the story?"

That was the end of the celebration. What WAS the story? We couldn’t do what really happened. My family moved to Syracuse, I broadcast the games, the team lost more games than they won, and the season ended. Not exactly riveting stuff.

We had to create a whole new scenario. First thing we did was make the writer single so we could concoct a love story. My wife said, “What?! I do all the work, raise two small kids in an unfamiliar city that’s either 100 degrees or pouring rain and I’m not even in the damn movie?!” She had a legitimate beef.

We had to create stakes for the writer, a plotline that was dramatic and funny, and dream up some theme so the movie was about something. I'd tell you what they were but they all changed twenty times. I don't even remember half of them.

Thus began a series of drafts, each different, each a bitch to write. I think we finally got it, but that was after years of dead ends. The writer/announcer saves baseball in the small town and provides it with an identity and hope. He learns lessons, matures as a person, and of course gets the girl.

Ultimately the movie was never made. By the time we solved it the regime that bought it was long gone. The regime that followed them was long gone.

But the moral is this: Always have the story FIRST. Without that you’re just wandering in the wilderness. And breaking the story is the hardest part so your natural inclination is to say, “let’s just sell it first and then deal with that”. Beware!!

Same is true if you’re writing a spec. More so actually because you don’t want to work your ass off for six months only to come to the sad realization once you’re institutionalized that you have nothing.

For us there's a happy ending. We learned our lesson and did not come in a few years later and pitch MY DINNER WITH ANDRE meets BARRY LYNDON.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Attention-Deficit-Blogging












Welcome to Attention-Deficit-Blogging – my random thoughts, rants, questions, and musings about nothing and everything.

Since when did LBJ mean LeBron James and not Lyndon Baines Johnson?

How come not one Supreme Court Justice got his/her degree from the “University of Honolulu School of Law” in Modesto, California?

Since practically all of them went to Harvard or Yale at some point, I often wonder how many Supreme Court Justices could also write for THE SIMPSONS?

Whenever I do a post criticizing an actress I always get blasted. Yet, the time I praised an actress (Patty Heaton) I got blasted worse. And I’m guessing that just by mentioning her name I’m going to get a raft of shit again.

My favorite recent HuffPost headline: Russell Brand: Why I Put A Barbie In My Rectum

Interleague play begins this week. Oh boy! Kansas City hosts Colorado!!!

What is the point of Facebook "pokes"? Who likes to be poked under any circumstances?

This is the last year I’m reviewing AMERICAN IDOL. There’s a sameness to it now. I feel like every single week I’m reviewing the same movie. And that movie is GROUNDHOG DAY. Plus, next year Simon will be gone so why even bother doing the show? I’m reminded of when Red Foxx and Demond Wilson left SANFORD & SONS and they renamed it THE SANFORD ARMS and some writer quipped, “NBC just renewed the set”.

Heidi Klum and Seal have renewed their wedding vows… for the SIXTH time. But this time they’re reasonably sure.

Speaking of great marriages, Larry King supposedly had a three-year affair with his wife’s sister while she had an affair with her kid’s baseball coach. But the good news is the kid can now throw.

Thanks to all of you who have wondered when my book about growing up in the 60s will be out. Hard to give an actual date because I don’t have a publisher and haven’t finished writing it yet. But I’m close. Well… close-ish. In all likelihood I will self-publish it… if the author doesn’t prove to be a giant pain in the ass.

Wow, the Matthew Broderick pilot must’ve really been a mess to not get on the air. Networks have been begging him to do a series for decades.

Why are people so upset that NBC cancelled LAW & ORDER? There are still twelve L&O offshoots including a new one (LAW & ORDER LOS ANGELES)? And the original L&O may move to TNT so there will still be new episodes made. This is like Starbucks closing a branch.

Another great thing about Twitter: when you accidentally give an incorrect fact (like I did last Sunday), people you don’t even know Re-Tweet the gaffe and spread the word to thousands of new people that you’re an idiot.

I’m usually not in favor of the death penalty but the BP CEO said the Gulf spill is “relatively tiny”. Boiling him in oil would be my execution of choice.

Who’s a bigger attention whore? Al Sharpton? Jesse Jackson? Gloria Allred?

So when you go to a fast food place that offers free refills on fountain drinks, why order any size other than 'small'?

Psychic James Van Praagh is all excited, going around claiming that he predicted Barbara Walters’ heart problem. He is absolutely ASTOUNDING! Who knew an 80 year-old woman could have health issues?

I’m very excited about the upcoming conclusion of LOST. Now we’ll finally know the truth. Did the writers really have a grand plan or was every story conference preceded with the words: “Okay, now what do we do?”

And if you think LOST is confusing just try to figure out the Yankees announcer rotation on the YES network.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Enjoying penis a little bit more...

Leave it to this local New Orleans news anchor to clarify things.

Me and computers

Okay, first of all, this is a re-post... from February 2006. I'm guessing you haven't read it. But it's one of my favorite rants so I'm sharing it again.

I admit it. When it comes to computers I’m a retard. Someone explains how to run a program, I nod, it all makes sense, then the minute he leaves I’m the guy from MEMENTO. I’m completely helpless over a skill that every 14 year old in America has mastered. And I can work a TIVO so I’m still ahead of most of my friends (you’d think those Masters degrees and Doctorates would account for something). But even if I knew the first thing about using Pro Tools or how to log onto a porn site without getting a raft of spam, I still contend computers are just too complicated.

Case in point: I switched internet providers this week. I’d been having terrible trouble with my DSL provider. In fairness, the culprit was really the phone company (You can call it Verizon now but it’s still General Telephone – the string-and-two-Dixie-cups of telecommunications). But my internet was down every two nights and finally I decided to switch to cable.

I know a lot of internet providers will provide you with a box of equipment and instructions. To me that’s like buying a car from Ikea. A big box arrives on your front lawn that says Toyota. So I of course opted for the installation package. It took this guy (a “trained” professional) two hours at which time he had managed to completely screw up every computer in the house, the router, and my microwave is now on the fritz. He threw up his hands and left, I had to call my computer guy (at “you need a loan” hourly prices), and it took him another two hours to fix things. And there’s still a problem with my email that he says can only be rectified if I upgrade my entire system (which would be a whole day, the cost of a year’s college tuition, and would probably wipe out my Tetris high score results). For a good part of the afternoon this guy (who really knows his shit), recalibrated, reconfigured, pulled down menus and pop up boxes I never knew existed, hooked things up from modems to bay stations to power outlets, typed in IP addresses, user names, passwords, codes, clicked yes and no to thousands of options, and still had to call tech support twice. When I asked if the tech support guys were helpful he said the second guy was. Jesus, even the tech support people don’t know what they’re doing.

There has to be a simpler way. They can invent ipods and blue tooth and instant messaging complete with video – there has to be a computer even I can use. In the meantime, there’s a guy with a perpetual runny nose, lazy eye, and thinning hair at 22, toting around Natalie Portman stills from STAR WARS – and I’m his bitch.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

James Taylor & Carole King

I was on the fence as to whether to write a review of the recent James Taylor/Carole King concert at the Hollywood Bowl because I thought a lot of my readers might just see them as old geezers. But in light of the current mass hysteria for Betty White, Taylor and King are mere pups.

To love the concert as much as I did considering the ordeal to get there, really says something about how special the evening was.

First off, they sang their hits. I’ve read some reviews that knocked them for not presenting new material and not exploring the current themes we boomers are facing. Who wants that? I spent an hour standing on the 405 Freeway so I could sit under the stars and hear tunes about ageism, downsizing, and caring for parents? No. I want to hear “the Loco-Motion” and “Mexico”.

Yes, the evening was steeped in nostalgia but so what? The music was great then and it’s great now. Name me one Kara DioCuardi song that has the depth and haunting melody of “It’s Too Late” or “Fire & Rain”… or even “the Loco-Motion”.

James Taylor has an absolutely amazing voice. At one time he must’ve swallowed a Stradivarius. He sings as well today as he did thirty years ago. And everything is effortless.

I’ve always loved Carole King. Her vocals weren’t as good but that’s okay because a) the songs themselves were so good, b) the nostalgia factor, and c) who are we kidding? She was never a great singer. Unfortunately, that becomes all the more apparent singing duets with James Taylor.

It was a long show – 2 1/2 hours – but could have been 2 hours longer. They each have such large catalogs. There were favorites that they didn’t get to but maybe they’ll come back next year and do “He Hit Me/It Felt Like a Kiss” (written by Carole King).

The band and singers behind them were, as you’d expect, top of the line. It’s always fun to see Leland Sklar. The way I view the passing of the years is by how much his beard grows from appearance to appearance.

And still an added plus – James Taylor’s wry sense of humor.

If they come through your town treat yourself. The music, the memories – it’s all there. In fact, the only thing missing was the giant cloud of marijuana. Maybe we are getting old.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My comedy influences

Time for some more Friday questions. Leave yours in the comments section. Thanks.

From Sally creeping down the alley:

My Friday Question is about influences, when it comes to writing, who were you influenced by and when did you realize they influenced you?

I have always been interested in comedy. My initial influences were disc jockeys. Dick Whittington, Robert W. Morgan, Gary Owens, Lohman & Barkley, and the greatest of them all – Dan Ingram.

I loved THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW as a kid, both for the writing and the lifestyle Rob Petrie led. I thought, if you could get a girl like Laura Petrie by being a comedy writer then where do I sign up? That’s when I first started paying attention to credits. And it always seemed like the best, funniest episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW were written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson so I became big fans even though I had no idea who they were at the time.

I began to read plays in high school and really admired George Kaufman & Moss Hart and Neil Simon. But the play that really knocked me out was A THOUSAND CLOWNS by Herb Gardner.

In 1969 I first saw TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and was blown away. Woody Allen became my idol. I then devoured everything he wrote and did.

There was a real golden period of TV comedy in the early 70s and I became huge fans of Jim Brooks and the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW writers and Larry Gelbart who wrote MASH.

Other influences along the way: Bob & Ray, P. G. Wodehouse, Elayne Boosler, Monty Python, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Bob Crane, Richard Pryor, Billy Wilder, S. J. Perelman, Preston Sturgess, the National Lampoon, and MAD magazine.

unkystan wonders:

I haven't seen "Wings" in years and got season 1 from Netflix and saw the name Roz Doyle as producer (I never noticed that before) and made me wonder, other than using friends and family, how do writers come up with the 'perfect' character names?

Roz Doyle was the line producer on WINGS who unfortunately passed away. To honor her memory Casey, Lee & Angell used her name for a character in FRASIER.

Sometimes we would use names of buddies and old girlfriends. Radar’s love interest in “Goodbye Radar” was Patty Haven, a former flame of mine. The soldier whose eyes we saw through in the “Point of View” episode of MASH was Bobby Rich, a close radio friend. And the blind patient in the first MASH we ever wrote was Tom Straw, another close friend.

One year on MASH for all the patients and nurses and extraneous others we used the 1978 Dodger roster. You’ll find Rau and Hooten and Cey and Garvey, et al.

Most of the time I just look for interesting names. I have a file with lists of names and will refer to that from time to time. And every so often I’ll come across a name and write it down for further use. There really is an Evelyn Dorkaspig.

And finally, from Todd:

What are your feelings about "table writing" vs. having a single writer complete as much of the script as possible (I'm talking specifically about 1/2 hour comedy here)?

Just curious, with all your years of experience, where your philosophy ended up.

I prefer writers doing individual drafts. Table writing is joke writing. I want my staff to exercise more skills -- storytelling, and character development. Writers are much more invested in their work if they write the entire script.

I understand the time constraints and the need for room writing scripts but what you get are always good solid serviceable drafts. When an individual writer turns in a script there’s the chance for brilliance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"There's a bus that's broken down on the 405" -- hey, wait, that's OURS!

The Hollywood Bowl has a nice offer. You can take buses to the bowl on concert nights. Mrs. L. and I had tickets for the James Taylor/Carole King concert last night. And before you say anything, we were still the youngest couple there. Hopped on a 5:00 bus in Westwood for a 7:30 show. Plenty of time to get there, leisurely buy dinner, enjoy a picnic under the stars.

Things were going fine until our bus broke down on the 405 Freeway during the height of rush hour. The driver managed to get us to the side of the road. Meanwhile, the Bowl buses behind us just roared by and the passengers waved. We wondered why our driver wasn't calling anybody. She forgot her phone. Forty people offered her theirs.

Since it was 100 degrees in the bus we all got out and waited on the freeway. Turns out it's really loud and smoggy on the 405 Freeway at 6:00. I passed the time by Tweeting. One lovely follower, EduHJencareli, said he'd pick us up if he wasn't 9000 miles away.

The irony of course is this was my one night off from Dodger baseball. And as part of the pre-game show on KABC I normally do two traffic reports.

Standing by the road, all I could think was this was LOST on a bus.

First a tow truck arrived and snapped into action. The driver put little plastic caution triangles behind the bus. The California Highway Patrol was Johnny-on-the-spot, pulling up a half hour after we were stranded. This would have made such a great episode of CHiPS.

Finally after an hour a replacement bus arrived and the Oceanic 40 continued its journey in stop-and-go traffic. We didn't get to the Bowl until 7:25 and 100 yards before the entrance the bus driver stopped. Someone was using the bathroom on the bus and apparently that's not allowed. (Why is it there then?) So we had to wait until the person came out. By now the passengers were mutinous. And the driver started screaming back at them.
Ten more minutes to get in the Bowl, negotiating through a crush of people, five minutes to buy dinner and the mandatory bottle of wine ($28 bucks and it comes in a big plastic cup), and five more minutes to find our seats. But we were there at last. And happily the concert didn't start yet. James Taylor must've read my Tweet.

It was a total nightmare but the concert itself turned out to be fabulous, and as you can see, we had front row seats.

When Carole King sang "So Far Away" I thought she was going to dedicate it to us.

The bus ride home was without incident... except our turnoff was closed for construction and we had to go three miles out of our way. But thanks to that second bottle/plastic cup of wine we didn't give a shit... about that or anything.