Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My botched attempt at a summer romance

More from my growing up in the 60s in LA book. Take the Way-back machine to the summer of 69.

I started going out with Rhonda. She lived in Philadelphia and was just out here staying with relatives, one of whom was my friend Jay. Might this be one of those “summer romances” where you meet, fall madly in love, she goes home in September, you’re heartbroken, you remember her always, she forgets you the minute she enters the jetway? But you get laid so she may injure you like no woman ever has but screw it, you got what you wanted.

For date #1, I suggested we see EASY RIDER, a movie that had been getting a lot of buzz. The saga of two hippies (starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) traveling across America had struck a real chord. The ending where rednecks shoot and kill them stunned and startled young audiences. It was the one “You’ve got to see this movie” movie of the summer. But Rhonda had no interest. So we saw her choice instead -- CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG starring Dick Van Dyke.

I got a goodnight kiss.

Since I knew that time was of the essence I decided to just pull out the stops for date #2. I offered to take her to Disneyland. That should be good for at least some hands-inside-the-sweater action. She didn’t want to go to Disneyland. She had already been there.

But she did want to go to Japanese Village and Deer Park.

What the fuck?!

L.A. had a number of animal-themed attractions back then. Jungleland was way out in Thousand Oaks. The most bizarre was Lion Country Safari. You’d drive around slowly while jungle animals roamed freely around you. Good idea to keep your windows up so the lions wouldn’t stick their heads in your car and eat your children.

In Buena Park, not far from Disneyland, was Japanese Village and Deer Park. This featured a Japanese-themed tranquil Zen-like atmosphere with gardens and koi ponds, and a tea house, and dove pavilion. Deer were allowed to wander. You can’t believe how crushingly boring this place was.

Another goodnight kiss.

For date #3 I suggested Lion Country Safari figuring I would roll down the window on Rhonda’s side of the car. But she wasn’t interested so there was no date #3.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is it too weird to mourn the closing of a restaurant?

It’s not like you could argue that “it’s all for the best and it’s now gone to a better place”. If there is such a thing as heaven I imagine it’s pretty crowded already without closed restaurants and Montgomery Wards and muffler shops.

But it’s sad just the same.

Anna’s Italian restaurant on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles closed Sunday after 37 years of operation. The owners, Tony and Andy sold it to someone who is converting it to something else. I wish Tony and Andy both a long happy prosperous retirement. And at least they sold it and made a nice profit. Tony Soprano didn’t have to burn it down.

Anna’s was very much your neighborhood Italian joint. Homey red leather booths, caricatures of the waiters (many of whom have been there for over twenty years), the horrible Sinatra duets album playing (by that point I don’t think he even knew who the artists were he was singing with), and reasonable prices. Oh, and the food was delicious. They had a minestrone soup that was thick and unlike any other. Great sauces, great pizza, an anti pasta assortment in big wooden compartmentalized plates – what more could you want for God sakes?

When my partner David and I were on MASH, Alan Alda joined us one night for a rewrite. We got done about 8:30. David and I were diving for the Excedrin bottle but Alan was all revved up. So he suggested we go out to dinner at Annas’, which was about a mile from the studio. Anna’s had a good wine selection too (I learned that night).

Shortly thereafter TV GUIDE did a profile on Alan. In it he mentions that rewrite night and dinner at Anna’s. A few weeks later when the issue came out, Tony and Andy were blown away that their little restaurant was mentioned by name in a national magazine. From that day on I was like a God over there.

I’d walk in, Tony would greet me, remember my name, immediately show me to a table, and come around from time to time just to make sure everything was perfect. If you’re Jack Nicholson, that must happen to you in every restaurant you ever enter (except in Boston). For me, it was just this one.

Partly I guess I’m mourning just another reminder of the passage of time. Things we take for granted that will always be there suddenly are gone. I’m sure where you live a favorite haunt or store has gone away. I’m not a big believer in the afterlife – especially when it comes to commercial businesses. But someday, somewhere, I hope to order minestrone soup, take one sip, glance up to the heavens, and know that somewhere in the Great Beyond Anna’s is indeed there, watching over me, wanting to know if I want extra cheese.

Anna’s restaurant 1973-2010 Close in Peace,

Monday, June 28, 2010

the Ken Levine STAND IN LINE FOR YOU service!!

Today’s blog post is sponsored by… me.

Announcing the….


For only $1000 I will provide someone to stand in line for you. Just think – the next time Apple comes out with new ear buds you won’t have to stand in line from 4:00 AM just to buy them the first day! You’ve seen all those lines last week at Apple stores for the new iPhone. They stretched out for miles. Maybe you were in one. What a drag! Who needs it? I imagine after the first six hours it started to get boring.

Or you were one of those people who saw the news stories and said, “look at those idiots” and then in the next breath, “I wish I had a new iPhone”.

Well now you can! Now you stand in line while you sleep. Oh, you may say, “Why would I pay $1000 to get a $400 item?” And I would say to you, “Why stand in line for seven hours when you could wait a couple of weeks and just walk in at your leisure and buy one?”

This offer extends to movie lines. Sure, it’s a little steep to shell out a grand for a twelve dollar movie ticket but if you HAVE to see ECLIPSE the very first showing and it’s so important that you line up two days ahead, so what if you have to cash in your Savings Bonds and dip into your college fund? And we’re talking a movie here. Those things are apt to change from showing to showing. So if you waited say three days and went to a noon matinee when the theater would be completely empty God knows what you’d see? It’s not like a concert where they have a set song list written down on a piece of a paper.

Tired of those long TSA security lines at the airport? For a thousand bucks we inch along for an hour and you just slide in when you reach the front. Special introductory airport bonus: We’ll stand in the Starbucks line too!

And for a limited time only – join our ON LINE VIP CLUB. For only $50,000 we’ll stand in every line you encounter for one calendar year! The Post Office, checkout counters, McDonalds, flu shots (for an extra $2000 we’ll even take the shot for you), concession stands (you want a hot dog but your beloved Pittsburgh Pirates might score a run this inning!). We'll get to the OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE early and put your name down. We'll wait in line for the AMERICAN IDOL open auditions and if they stick a camera in our representative's face he'll yell, "Whoooo! My client will be the next American Idol!"

Hey, it’s worth the fifty grand alone just for Costco!

So sign up today! The only thing is I don’t have Pay Pal or a way for you to order on line or through the mail. You’re going to have sign-up in person. The address is 118753 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. Doors open at 9 AM tomorrow and there are only limited spots. So if you want one, you might want to get over there now. And bring a blanket. It gets cold on that pavement at night.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Auteur! Auteur!

I've directed shows I've co-written but this is the only episode I both wrote and directed myself. And it's just a short leap from an episode of BECKER to THE SEVENTH SEAL. So enjoy some of my "early" work.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You had to be there and I was

This is a historic weekend at Dodger Stadium. Thanks to interleague play the New York Yankees are in town to the play the Dodgers. Joe Torre is facing the team he took to the playoffs twelve straight years and was basically showed the door. And some of the players on both teams were actually alive when the Dodgers & Yankees met last in the World Series in 1981. It's a circus, there's no question, but also great to say you were there to witness a possible milestone.

On the other hand, I’ve already been on hand to see some of the great moments of major league baseball.

I was in Anaheim Stadium the day Seattle outfielder, Kevin Mitchell (pictured left) ate a chili dog during a game and threw up in the dugout so violently that he went on the disabled list for two weeks with strained ribs.

I was in the Kingdome when Mariner pitcher, Eric Gunderson, made an illegal move to first base and a balk was called. Except there was no runner on first. He was on second. So he was balked to third where he scored on a fly ball to win the game.

I was at Dodger Stadium this year when Arizona pitcher Esmerling Vasquez balked in the winning run.

I was in Tiger Stadium when Omar Visquel bunted into a triple-play.

I was at the LA Coliseum when Leo Durocher kicked umpire Jocko Conlin in the shin.

I was at Dodger Stadium the night Cincinnati pitcher, Pedro Borbon got so mad that during a bench clearing brawl he started swinging at his own teammates.

I was at the LA Coliseum two years ago when the Dodgers played the Red Sox and a Boston player was caught stealing 2-8 (catcher to centerfielder).

I was in Olympic Stadium in Montreal the night their paid attendance was higher than 3,000.

I was at Dodger Stadium on “Casey Stengel Night” when a foul ball hit his wife.

I was at Citifield when Erin Andrews was hit by a foul ball.

I was at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore when the Queen of England attended a game and declined my offer to read the Esskay Out of Town scoreboard in the third inning of our Orioles broadcast.

And I was in Yankee Stadium the day a fan fell out of the upper deck.

Oh…wait. I forgot. I was also at Dodger Stadium the night Kirk Gibson hit the game winning home run in the opener of the 1988 World Series. It’s not Kevin Mitchell upchucking on his teammates shoes but it was pretty cool.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What to avoid in an agent

It’s Friday Question Day. I’m thinking of starting a restaurant -- TGIFridayQD. What do you think?

Dana Gabbard gets us started:

What should a newcomer look for in an agent? And what should raise alarm bells to avoid one?

I’ll answer the second part first. It’s hard for new writers to be choosy. Getting any agent is not easy. But if the agent wants money from you up front, if the agent wants you to take off your clothes, if the agent says he has an in on THE MUNSTERS, if his mailing address is Chino prison, or he’s not a WGA signatory I would avoid him.

Assuming you’re in the lucky position that more than one agent wants to represent you, see which one seems more eager, more willing to work for you. See which agent is more connected in the business, has the most contacts. See how many other clients he has. How much time will he have for you?

Get out your bullshit detector. Try to determine which agent is being more honest. Are his promises realistic? “I can get you in a room with the story editor of MODERN FAMILY” is realistic. “I can get you in a room with Spielberg” is not.

From David (not Isaacs):

Do you have a favorite Cheers season as a whole? One you think is the strongest from the first to last episode?

The first season. I would put the first season of CHEERS up against the best season of any sitcom. It’s rare that a first season would be the best. Usually a sitcom needs a season or two to really find its groove. But CHEERS had such great texture, sexual chemistry, and inspired writing by the Charles Brothers that it came out of the gate blazing.

Also, Shelley was amazing that season.

I remember being on the stage the night we shot the season finale – the episode where Sam & Diane finally kiss. The audience went absolutely insane. I turned to my partner David and said, “We’ve peaked. There’s nothing we can ever do with these characters that will elicit that kind of reaction again.”

I was right.

Some of the funniest and best individual episodes of the series took place in subsequent seasons but on the whole, nothing compared with year one. And of course, our ratings were never worse than they were year one.

Ironically, another show that I thought had its best season right at the very beginning of its long run was FRASIER.

Dawn Marie wants to know:

Have you ever done any DVD commentary tracks for any of your shows? And of course, if so which ones so I can rent them? Also, do you ever listen to DVD commentaries? What do you think of them, in general (given that the quality does vary)?

Yes, David and I did commentary tracks on our two SIMPSONS episodes – “Dancin’ Homer” and “Saturdays of Thunder”. Both are rent or buyable.

I listen to DVD commentaries sometimes but rarely find them insightful. Usually they’re just directors pointing out exactly what you’re seeing. “There I thought he should duck behind that car.” Wow! Who needs film school? Actor tracks tend to be the worst. They just joke around with each other, offering nothing, and you making you feel excluded.

You guys tell me, what are some great director commentary tracks?

And finally, two questions from Timothy:

First, whats the deal with the unseen announcer on MASH? Why wasn't it a regular character (like Radar or Klinger)? They even had those characters doing announcements from time to time.

The concept was taken from the movie. I think it just added to the strangeness of the place. I liked it actually.

My second question goes along with your failures theater. I recently stumbled across "The Fighting Nightingales", but could only find some archived reviews from obscure websites that told very little. Do you know anything more about it?

It was CBS and 20th’s attempt to do a female MASH. Sort of the like THE GIRL FROM UNCLE but with the Korean War. The Fighting Nightingales were MASH nurses. It starred large-breasted Adrienne Barbeau. Don’t remember her name on the show but if Alan Alda was “Hawkeye” she could have been “Twin Peaks”.

The pilot aired once and was a casualty of television war.

What’s your question?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Yesterday I discussed the process David Isaacs and I employed to come up with the story for our MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW spec. This is what we arrived at:

In the first scene we’re in the WJM newsroom. We establish that Murray is unhappy and unappreciated. Things get worse when Lou comes out of his office and chews Murray out for something. Things escalate. An uncomfortable Mary is in the middle trying to be the peacemaker. Laughs ensue. Murray mentions that a rival channel has an opening and Lou tells hi fine, go for it.

Murray comes in the next day and hands in his resignation. He got the job. Mary is sad to see him go. Murray takes the opportunity to let Ted have it.

A few days later. Lou is interviewing candidates for Murray’s job. Fun with goofy applicants. Mary meanwhile, is trying to do her job and Murray’s job and is frazzled. We give Mary a chance to really show off her physical comedy chops.

We go to Mary’s apartment that night. Murray enters. We learn he’s miserable in the new job. Act break.

Act Two: Continuous. Mary’s apartment. Murray wants his old job back but felt he burned his brdge with Lou. Asks Mary to talk to Lou for him. Mary is uncomfortable being in that position but agrees to accompany Murray.

Next day. Lou is in his office. A sheepish Murray enters the newsroom. Mary knocks on Lou’s door. He says come in and they enter to find both Lou and Ted. So now Murray has to try get his job back in front of Ted to make things even more humiliating. Murray is tongue-tied and Mary winds up doing most of the talking. It results in negotiations and Mary becomes a tough bargainer on behalf of Murray. He keeps wanting to say I’ll take it but she says no, hold out. It’s ultimately resolved and everybody’s happy. Some tag I now forget and that’s it.

It felt like a good story for them. It centered on their characters and put Mary in the middle. We tried to construct it so that the jokes could come out of the characters and the tough situations we put them in.

A couple of months later we saw that they did a similar story. Murray was unhappy and decided to leave. But here’s what they did different: Instead of going to a rival station, Murray went to work for Sue Ann. There’s a scene where Mary and Lou go down to Sue Ann’s set and see first-hand that this new job is sheer hilarity hell. (Great moment where Lou punches out a puppet.) Mary then helps Murray get his newswriting job back and the story again resembled ours.

But we learned a great lesson. They took the same premise and did it better. They SHOWED Murray in the nightmarish new job. We just had him talk about it. Always better to see rather than to have off-camera exposition.

Our UCLA experimental school writing teacher Crazy Ron had a MARY TYLER MOORE night. Four of us had MTM specs and he read them all aloud. Two were God awful, ours and one other were very well received. We asked the girl who wrote the other good one how long it took her to write it. Two years. Okay, she was no competition.

So armed with a script that had been well-received (by fifteen writing students) we set out to conquer Hollywood. Stay tuned for future installments.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing our first real script

Here’s another chapter on how David Isaacs and I began our ersatz career. In the last installment I explained how we wrote a pilot together despite neither of us having the faintest idea how to do that. You can read that post here. To the surprise of no one (even us) the pilot didn’t sell.

But it did attract the attention of an agent at a very small firm. Okay, it was just her and a telephone. And okay, it attracted her attention because David knew her daughter. But she agreed to take us on and claimed she knew people in the business. We didn’t bother asking who. It’s not like we had any other options.

We decided to take a writing class at UCLA extension. Wait, it was the UCLA experimental school, which is probably one step down from extension. Our teacher was a real character. We’ll call him Ron. He claimed he had written for BARNEY MILLER and quite a few variety shows. He was particularly proud of his comedic contribution to CHER. Those were the days before imdb. Years later when we did check all the BARNEY MILLER credits and his name wasn’t listed he said he ghost wrote the episodes. Uh huh. The thing is – if you’re going to lie, why lie and say you wrote for Cher?

Anyway, he really made his living playing in a high-stakes weekly celebrity poker game.

But his class was very valuable. We learned we had to write spec scripts from existing shows. David and I were both huge fans of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW so that’s the one we decided to write.

Ron wasn’t big on really “teaching”. If you had a spec script he would read it aloud and then we’d all critique it, which was valuable… but only up to a point.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was on CBS Saturday nights at 9. Believe it or not, Saturday night used to be a big night for television. Now it’s a dumping ground for reruns or burning off UGLY BETTY episodes.

Since David and I basically had no social life we got together every Saturday night, held a small microphone up to the TV and recorded on a Radio Shack cassette recorder that night’s episode of MTM. We’d then replay it several times, analyze it as best we could, and write a detailed outline. We did that maybe eight weeks in a row. And eventually patterns emerged. We figured out how they approached a story, how many scenes, the types of stories, the tone, etc.

We came up with a story of our own and were ready to write. Tomorrow: that story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My trip to Boston: Manny Happy Returns

My long weekend in Boston actually began Thursday night in Los Angeles. The Lakers just beat the Celtics to win the NBA Finals and those classy Laker fans celebrated by setting cars on fire, running onto the freeway, and climbing up to the Metroline rails (those last two activities I approve of; fewer Laker fans for next time). So the freeway leading to the airport was snarled at 10:30 at night. I took the Redeye to Boston. Not that I can sleep on planes anyway but the flight was filled with drunks wearing Laker jerseys and Dodger caps. I hope they all left suicide notes. Jet Blue now charges $7.00 for blankets. And they were so flimsy you couldn't smother anybody!

Lots of intrigue on this trip – it was the first time once-beloved Bosox, Manny Ramirez had returned since quitting on the team and forcing their hand to trade him in 2008. And it was the first revisit of Joe Torre, the former Yankees skipper. So much to hate and now New England had the Lakers! Here’s how bad it was: Red Sox fans were chanting “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” earlier in the week when the Sox were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Personally, I had the added treat of hooking up with my son, Matt for the Father’s Day Weekend. How often can a father and son share a love for the game and root for opposite teams?

The Boston weather was absolutely glorious the first two days. 80 degrees, sunny, no snow. By day three there was 1000% humidity and ferocious thunderstorms but that still didn’t deter 37,430 Red Sox faithful from coming out and being Fenway’s 591st straight sellout. That’s impressive, especially since their promotion was “Lightening Night”.

But when the weather is nice Boston is a sensational walking city, which was very fortuitous since the two-mile trip from my hotel to Fenway Park was $15.80 by cab.

The reaction to Manny the first night was more cheers than boo’s (but this is the home of CHEERS after all). However, as the night wore on and alcohol levels increased the boos got decidedly louder. Had the game gone extra innings, by the 12th they would have booed Nelson Mandela.

And when all these plastered tosspots get in their cars and pull onto the highway there’s a gigantic sign right at the entrance imploring them to buy guns. The billboard is actually a joke but when you’re totally shit-faced I imagine the irony is somewhat lost on you.

My hotel was the Inter-Continental. It was quite lovely with first-class accommodations, but I don’t think I’ll stay there again. Way too far to walk to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. At least two blocks or $12 by cab.

Yes, I have pedestrian tastes but I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to Finagle-a-Bagel.

The wildly popular Duck tours originated here. Boston is the only city where the majority of its buses float.

I passed by the Cheers bar several times and I always get a little choked up. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, they’ve made a lot of money off me.”

On Saturday my son and I took a tour inside the Green Monster (that large wall in leftfield in Fenway Park). It was like stepping into a scene from PAPILLON. A dank dark passageway with the back of the metal scoreboard on one side and antiquated concrete walls and pillars on the other. Two guys operate the lowest tech scoreboard since the Christians & the lions. They slide aluminum panels through slots. Amazingly, these two guys haven’t come out from inside that scoreboard since 1995. Leftfielders bring them food. Visitors are invited to sign the wall. All the greats from the game of baseball have lent their signatures. I signed right under Rachel Maddow.

In the Saturday game, Manny Ramirez hit a home run over the storied Green Monster and received the same reaction audiences have been giving THE A-TEAM.

After the tilt, Dodger owner Frank McCourt threw a fabulous party for the staff, players, and crashing Dodger Talk hosts. I mean, there I was, hob knobbing with Vin Scully I just wish I wasn’t holding that stupid blue drink in the cosmo glass at the time. Manny even showed up. Did I mention there was free food?

I brought some of the little pizzas they were serving to the scoreboard guys the next day. They were very excited and were going to store them for winter.

Father’s Day brunch was a delightful affair out in suburban Natick, home of New England’s biggest mall and Doug Flutie. Met Matt’s future in-laws and managed not to horrify them. I even refrained from doing my hilarious impression of Mary Tyler Moore throwing a baby in the air instead of a hat. Natick was so lush and green. I imagined it in the autumn with all the leaves turning vivid reds and golds and oranges, and witches been torched outside the Whole Food Market and I could really see the attraction for living out there. And there’s that mall!

The team charter left Boston at 1:30 in the morning following our third loss Sunday night. But we were first in line to take off, the pilot proudly announced. Yeah, well, who else has flights leaving at 1:30 Monday morning? It was a long flight – 6 1/2 hours. Fortunately they showed a couple of episodes of THE GOOD WIFE and that kept the players enthralled. I couldn’t sleep. The Flintones Ambien had no effect. By the time I finally staggered home it was 6 a.m./9 a.m body time. I had stayed up longer than Jack Bauer. Seriously, how did he last 24 hours without using the bathroom once? I don’t care if I’m in the middle of diffusing a nuclear bomb – if I gotta go, I gotta go.

All in all, it was a memorable Father’s Day trip. The only thing that could have made it better was if (a) I was with both my kids (Annie is so sweet: she bought me the latest NATIONAL EXAMINER with the headline demanding they re-open the Natalie Wood case now!), (b) I didn’t get drenched in a thunderstorm that heralded in the beginning of summer and Armageddon, and (c) the Dodgers had won even one of the three games. Just one!

It’s always emotional having to part with Matt. We really enjoy each other’s company and the separation is always hard. Well, harder this time for me. Matt was laughing his ass off. One goddamn game!

Oh well. At least we still have Manny. And no Laker fan set my car on fire while I was gone.

Monday, June 21, 2010

For the first time in 27 years: Watch the Lost CHEERS

Flew home on the redeye with the Dodgers after the Sunday night ESPN game in Boston. So as you read this I’ll be asleep (even if you don’t get to it until Thursday).

For several years I've been talking about the "Lost" CHEERS scene. David and I wrote it for the 1983 Super Bowl Pre-game show to promote our fledgling series. They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people. Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVD's. It just disappeared.

Until now.

Sportswriter supreme, Joe Resnick has taped every Super Bowl including that one. And since the scene aired so close to the game it was on the tape. Thanks to friend of the blog, Howard Hoffman, he was able to digitize it and post it on YouTube.

So here it is. The Super Bowl is next. And here's the text of the script.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

On this Father’s Day (the most sacred holiday of the year) I’d like to wish a happy one to my dad, who also happens to be my hero, mentor, and best friend. I love you, dad. I'm spending this Father's Day at Fenway Park with my son. How cool is that?

Here are some pithy Father’s Day quotes:

“To be a successful father… there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.” -- Ernest Hemingway

“A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.” -- Bill Cosby

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” -- William Shakespeare (especially if the mother is Anna Nicole)

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." – Mark Twain

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong.” -- Charles Wadsworth

And finally, a salute to Screaming Jay Hawkins. Screaming Jay was a r&b/blues singer. His big hit was “I Put a Spell on You” in which he came out of a coffin. The man was a crowd pleaser. And also a lady pleaser it seems. Upon his death when it was time to divvy up the estate it was discovered he had 57 children. Screaming Jay will not be saluted on Planned Parenthood day.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Note to wives and daughters: Dad wants tickets to the ballgame today, not a lovely brunch.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mr. Special Effects

Here’s a Friday question on Saturday. Joe Pontillo wonders:

Does David Isaacs have a blog? And if not, why don't we ever hear from him in guest posts on this blog?

David doesn’t have a blog. Trust me, he’d be telling you the exact same crap that I am. But he has guest blogged and it’s worth a reprise. He wrote one of my favorite posts of all-time, Mr. Special Effects. Here's the set up and David's "memo".

Once again it's time for a memo from Mr. Special Effects.

Now more than ever, showrunners are implored to KEEP THE BUDGET DOWN! Like that's
ever been easy in Hollywood. This town is notorious for huge mark ups, studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost. Here is an example, in the form of a memo.

And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.


Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojack.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday questions

Hello from Boston where I survived the Redeye and I’m with the Dodgers for their big weekend series with the Red Sox. Manny Ramirez says hello to everybody, by the way. Here are some Friday questions from the home of Cheers.

LouOCNY gets it started.

My question is this: I recently saw a BECKER episode you directed where Gilbert Gottfried played a doctor even MORE obnoxious than Becker. The question that the whole world wants answered is: what is Gilbert REALLY like?? Is there a time where he is 'off', and fairly normal?

Gilbert was a lovely guy, surprisingly shy and low key. He even tended to underplay his character and I had to keep telling him to be more like “Gilbert”. He was too normal. One thing is certain though, he’s funny.

Anonymous wants to know:

There are the Archives of American Television which slowly manage to do interviews even with writers on some level. Ken, how come you haven't done one of these interviews yet?

Uh… no one’s asked me. And I’m sitting here in makeup.

From Stephen:

What does a show-runner do when there are too many regulars on a series? I look at shows like Will & Grace, which had 4 regulars through its entire run, and at shows like Grey's Anatomy, which at last count has 13 regulars. Can even the best writer in your experience serve every actor every week?

That’s a very sticky problem and there are two schools of thought on how you handle it. One is to service everybody every week, even if it’s with just a few lines. That’s why you see a lot of “B” stories in sitcoms. You’re looking for ways to wedge everybody in even if they don’t figure in the main story.

The other philosophy is to say to your cast “You’re not going to be heavy in every episode, you might not even be in every episode, but we will make you the centerpiece of several episodes so you just have to be patient and you just have to be a team player.”

This is even true in sitcoms. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND only did one storyline per episode and had only five regulars and they still didn’t use everybody every week.

Personally, I’m in the second camp. You only have so much time and it’s hard enough to tell a good story without having to shoehorn lines in for actors who aren’t directly involved.

Anonymous has another question. PLEASE use your name.

A followup on the producer question -- what are the non-writing producers who aren't the line producer doing on the show?

They’ll tell you they’re shielding you from the network and studio and allowing you to devote your time to creative matters. But the truth is, for the most part, they do nothing but provide another level of obstruction, another layer of notes, and a partner you didn’t ask for to share some of your hard earned backend profits.

Here’s the bottom line: If you can do the show without them you don’t need them. And for years writers have been doing the show very nicely without them.

What is your question?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I hate Redeyes!

I’m one of those unlucky people who can’t sleep on planes. So I avoid Redeye flights whenever I can. Tonight, however I have to take one to Boston. There are no evening flights out of Los Angeles that don’t ask you to change planes in Dallas, Chicago, and Bogotá. You leave six hours earlier but still arrive two hours later and your luggage catches up to you Thursday.

So I’m on the Redeye. Fortunately, it’s JetBlue and they have those TV monitors at every seat. But it’s the middle of the night. There’s nothing on but informercials and the eighth repeat of Sportscenter. And you can't use your phone so I can't even ring up Miss Cleo's Psychic Hotline (I would like to know how the Dodgers are going to do against the Red Sox).

I can try to read but that’s still hard with my recovering eye. And I don’t have a Kindle or iPad yet and I find it’s hard to adjust the font size of actual books.

So I’ll twist and turn and try to sleep. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear ‘em. I dunno. Maybe I'll just get one of those masks to cover your eyes like the pilots use.

Should hour shows qualify for the Best Comedy Emmy?

This is the Emmy screener time of the year, when Academy members get sent DVDs of shows for “our consideration”. In many cases it’s a colossal waste of money and packaging. A few years ago TILL DEATH sent out screeners. Like that had a real chance.

But many of the series are legitimate contenders. And it’s been nice catching up on highly touted new shows I had never seen like THE GOOD WIFE. Although I must be honest and say I open the envelopes and I've never heard of half of these shows.

But there seems to be some question as to what qualifies as a “comedy”. Some contend that that category should be confined to half hour series only while others feel the new breed of lighter hours have as much right to qualify as anything else.

Here’s how I stand on the subject. First of all, when a show bills itself a “dramady” that doesn’t mean it’s both a drama and a comedy, it means it’s neither.

But my criteria for qualifying for Best Comedy is simple: Is the show funny enough? Whether it’s a half-hour or hour, who gives a shit if you're laughing? There were half-hour shows like WONDER YEARS that were lovely little character studies, but they weren’t funny. Meanwhile, a show like GLEE has more laughs than most sitcoms. And is there a funnier actress on TV today than Jane Lynch?

You could also ask the question does the Best Comedy have to be scripted? What about shows like CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM or ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA that rely on some improvisation? Again, if those shows are funnier than standard scripted fare why not recognize them?

I don’t believe there needs to be rules in place. If you don’t think hour shows qualify as comedies then don’t nominate them. And if one becomes a nominee don’t vote for it. But with television looking to push the envelope and develop new forms of comedy it seems to me we need to broaden our thinking when it comes to awards too.

All that said, for my money, the best comedy of this year IS a half hour. MODERN FAMILY. Nothing else comes close whatever the damn format.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Come as you are, but stay in your car

Here's another taste of my book I'm writing about growing up in the 60s in the San Fernando Valley. It's 1967. I'm in high school. I'm going out with Eleanor, but I'm not getting very far with her. And trust me, it's not for lack of trying.

I didn’t fare much better at the Drive-In either. Drive-In theatres were big in the 60s. Gigantic parking lots with a huge movie screen. The novelty here was being able to watch movies in your car. In 1967 if someone opened a medical clinic where you could get gall bladder operations in your car people would flock to it. Usually B-movies booked into Drive-Ins – cheesy horror flicks or Jerry Lewis comedies.

Drive-Ins are highly romanticized but I never really got it. The sound was always atrocious. You would attach these clunky portable metal speakers to the driver’s side window. Everything sounded muffled and distorted. You were always going, “What did that mad professor say?” Today’s teen would last exactly two seconds with that fidelity.

There was usually one snack bar, a bunker that was a half-day ride on a bicycle from wherever you parked. Someone from your car would go to the snack bar and you’d see him again at the ten-year reunion.

The big attraction of course was privacy… well, semi-privacy. You could smoke dope or make-out unseen except for all the lost souls walking by, tapping on your window, asking where the snack bar was. Eleanor was too self conscious to let me do anything more than kiss her. Besides, she was very engrossed in the movie. How could you not when THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND was playing?

And in the overnight headlines...

,,,from the HuffingtonPost...

Marion Cotillard Talks About The People Living Inside Her

M.I.A.: Death Threats To My Baby Inspired New Album

Cheater Eddie Cibrian Complains About His Ex-Wife Talking

Happy Victors: World Cup Win Leads To SURGE In Condom Sales

Katy Perry Likes Rubber Dresses, Volkswagen

One Alleged Tiger Mistress Accuses Another Of Porn Shoot Thievery

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This is the kind of crap I tweet....

What responsible parent lets their sixteen-year-old daughter sail around the world by herself? Answer: parents who had a reality show deal in place.

I wouldn’t let my daughter Annie do that and she’s in her 20’s. And as you can see from her letter to me, she's really passionate about this:

Dear Dad,

As you well know, it has been my dream to sail around the world by myself ever since you brought it up yesterday. It is so unfair that you won’t let me. All of my friends are sailing around the world by themselves, and their parents don’t mind! It can’t be that difficult. Cartoon characters manage to sail all the time. Besides, sailing around the world isn't about sailing around the world. It's about independence. Becoming a self-sufficient woman. If you won't let me do this, why not just buy me a chastity belt or sell me off to the neighbor’s son? I insist that you let me carry out my two-day old dream and be the somewhere-within-the-top-100-youngest person to sail around the world. If you refuse, I will have no choice but to give you the silent treatment for quite a few days.

Okay, I have to admit, she makes some very good points.

Expect Arizona to rethink their controversial new immigration bill. Was it the many angry protests and threats of boycotts that did the trick? Not a chance. Those did nothing. But Hall & Oates just cancelled their concert at a Diamondbacks game. Now we got their attention!

Is Nate Robinson and other Celtics wearing those long white sleeves to cover their tattoos during the NBA Finals? Jesus, isn’t it enough the league won’t let players bring loaded handguns to the crowded arenas anymore? Whatever happened to free expression, motherfuckers?

If the Lakers didn’t get into the Finals Dyan Cannon would have no career at all.

How many bolts do you think there are in the Boston Gardens’ parquet floor? You should not rest until you find out.

Sorry Jews but Stephen Strasburg is Christian. You still have Koufax though, and Lou Piniella’s favorite pitcher, Steve Stone.

My eye is slowly improving. Thanks to those of you who have inquired. Here’s where I am: I can see Nate Robinson but not to where he’d have to wear a sleeve.

January Jones (Betty from MAD MEN) allegedly slammed into three parked cars and left the scene over the weekend. She fled after saying, "I can't deal with this commotion." I know. You have to talk to real people and exchange insurance information and apologize and pretend that you care about others. Ick ick ick. Who can be bothered?

Kobe Bryant is the only basketball player I know who takes a helicopter to home games. Hey January, you should look into that.

Had a reunion lunch with the ALMOST PERFECT writers yesterday. Everybody still looks great. It was so much fun to get together and trash everyone in show business just like the old days. There was a moment when we were ripping apart CELEBRITY REHAB that sentimentality overwhelmed me and I thought, "I really do love you people".

Still hard to get excited about the World Cup when 1-0 is considered a blowout.

Some quick thoughts on the Tonys. Yeah, I’m a day late but so what? Nobody watched them anyway.

I don’t care that Catherine Zeta-Jones won. Her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” was maybe the worst EVER. Overwrought, amateurish, and completely without irony. Roseanne could have done better.

How come in their “In Memoriam” tribute Gary Coleman wasn’t included?

Lea Michele is no Barbra Streisand.

Composers and lyricists don’t even warrant prime time Tonys? So if Stephen Sondheim had an original musical this year his award would be lumped in with the costume and lighting guys? Oh well. More screen time for the grand dame of Broadway, Paula Abdul.

Watching the production number from Green Day’s AMERICAN IDIOT I guess Broadway now must have one obligatory SPRING AWAKENING show per season. Next year it’s the Foxboro Hot Tubs’ turn.

Denzel, take a moment from loving yourself to learn just who the organization is that is bestowing you with a Tony.

Great seeing Barbara Cook and Angela Lansbury. Not so great seeing some creature they claimed was Rachel Welsh.

I miss Neil Patrick Harris.

The Tonys are the only award show where no one thanks their wives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who REEALLY came up with the NEWHART finale

I posted the final NEWHART scene last week and also featured and interview with Bob Newhart where he says his wife Ginny came up with the idea for the big twist (SPOILER ALERT: the whole series was all just a dream of Bob’s character from his first series).

I since have heard from several writers of the NEWHART show saying that wasn’t true. According to numerous sources, that final scene was the brainchild of writer Dan O’Shannon. I contacted Dan and he confirmed but did say it’s quite possible Mrs. Newhart thought of it independently. Still, the sense I get from the staff is that they worked off Dan’s idea.

So here’s yet another example of a writer not getting credit because he’s invisible. They rarely do TV interviews with writers. And if they do it’s so the writers can talk about the actors.

When Fox put together that two-hour MASH anniversary program a few years ago we writers were invited to participate. They assembled us in a room, asked questions, and filmed it. The session lasted almost two hours and along the way there were some wonderful observations and terrific anecdotes. When the show aired they used maybe a minute of it. I was on for five seconds. Meanwhile, what you saw for most of the program was the cast sitting around on a set just rambling. If they got to one of our episodes it’s only because a cast member said, “Hey, remember that one where we…?”

Believe me, we weren’t as photogenic but you would have learned a lot more about MASH listening to us. At least Larry Gelbart was on the panel with the actors. But then, and I mean this with no disrespect, why have Jamie Farr explain the objective of this or that when Larry is sitting right there?

Was I bitter? No. I laughed. It was so expected. I was shocked they even wanted to talk to us the writers in the first place.

This isn’t going to change, despite any outrage from writers. If your ultimate goal is to become famous you’re in the wrong profession. But writers at least should get CREDIT for what they create. The NEWHART finale is a classic. It has a place in the history of television. Shouldn’t the writer who actually devised it at least get mentioned?

I love Bob Newhart. He’s a lovely man. And I guarantee he wasn’t slighting a writer on purpose. I’m sure he honestly believes his wife came up with the ending. And again, maybe she did – independently.

But for me, it’s all the more reason to have this forum. I love that from time to time I can shine a spotlight on a writer who deserves recognition. So congratulations Dan O’Shannon for dreaming up an inspired TV finale.

The only problem is – if I were an actor with a blog I’d have 200 times the hits.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Back in the 70’s and 80’s when we had “Failure Theatre” networks would air their unsold pilots. Here are just a few. Some are included because they’re particularly wacky, others are intriguing, and a few sound downright great.

A DOG’S LIFE – People dressed as dogs. Starring Barney Martin (SEINFELD) and Charles Martin Smith (AMERICAN GRAFFITI). No actors were injured in the making of this pilot.

DUFFY – A dog with human qualities. Dogs were in back then. I guess penguins are the new dogs.

DINER – Barry Levinson who wrote and directed the movie, wrote and directed the pilot as well. With Paul Reiser and James Spader (BOSTON LEGAL).

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT – MR. ED with very wide master shots. Starring Todd Sussman who, during that period, starred in fifteen or twenty failed pilots. Ethel’s career never recovered from this project.

THE FESS PARKER SHOW – The man who played Davy Crockett starred in a comedy.

– You loved them in the Beach Party movies and wondered how long could they remain a couple before they finally had sex? According to this pilot, twelve years and counting.

FRAUD SQUAD – from Jack Webb productions. Frank Sinatra Jr. as the head of the LAPD Fraud Squad. Not intended to be a comedy but ohhh mannn…

FROM CLEVELAND – Featuring Bob & Ray and the brilliant cast of SCTV.

GHOST OF A CHANCE – Shelley Long, pre-CHEERS, as a zany ghost.

GOOBER & THE TRUCKERS’ PARADISE – The title alone should have warranted a pick-up. This is a spin-off of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and marks the very first appearance of Gomer Pyle.

GOOD PENNY – Billed as a comedy about an emotionally disturbed woman (that must’ve been a helluva pitch). Well cast with Rene Taylor in the starring role.

GREAT DAY – another premise chock full of comedic possibilities. Skid row derelicts in Los Angeles. Featured Al Molinaro (HAPPY DAYS) and as “Jabbo “– Spo-De-Odee.

HARRY’S BATTLES – Dick Van Dyke and Connie Stevens did not have the magic of Dick and Mary Tyler Moore, or even Dick and Hope Lange.

HIGH SCHOOL USA – After his “Garden Party-take-me-seriously-as-an-artist” period Rick Nelson starred as the principal in a series that featured a ton of 50’s and 60’s family sitcom cast members including Harriet Nelson, Jerry Mathers, Ken Osmond, Paul Peterson, Dick York, and Barbara Billingsley. Also Crystal Bernard (WINGS) who must’ve been 9 then.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING – Adaptation of the Broadway smash. Written by Abe Burrows. NOT directed by James Burrows.

HUMAN FEELINGS – Billy Crystal playing an angel.

IF I LOVED YOU AM I TRAPPED FOREVER? Not only is that a great title, it was written by Larry Gelbart (MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD). This is one I’d really like to see.

KANGAROO IN THE KITCHEN – A Greenwich Village apartment overrun with animals. To me the real show would have been the poor people in the apartment directly below.

LOVEBIRDS – Eugene Levy in a sitcom.

ME & MRS. C. – Another comic goldmine premise: A widow living on Social Security. Starred Doris Roberts (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

MR. & MRS. DRACULA – After 618 years of marriage they move to America. Bats out of water. Written by Robert Klane (WHERE’S PAPA, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) so it was probably damn funny.

NEWMAN’S DRUGSTORE – A Brooklyn diner during the Depression. God, I’d love to go in to Fox and pitch that today.

OFF CAMPUS – Coed rooming house starring Marilu Henner (TAXI) written by Marshall Brickman (ANNIE HALL, JERSEY BOYS). This is one of about seventy college dorm/sorority/coed rooming house pilots done during that era. Another one featured Michelle Pheiffer.

SITCOM – A spoof of the genre, following the Gooseberry family. Created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). I read this script. HILARIOUS! And while we’re on the subject of Tom & Jay…

THE CHOPPED LIVER BROTHERS – Patchett & Tarses wrote and starred as two struggling stand-up comics. Add 50 years to them and you have…

THE SUNSHINE BOYS – Neil Simon wrote the pilot from his play, this time starring Red Buttons and Lionel Stander. I wonder if the network gave him notes.

I’m sorry but I would rather see any of these over the schlock reality shows that are being jammed down our gullets this summer. Bring back “Failure Theatre”!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I will read and critique your script

As part of the Dodgers' Think Cure charity for cancer research I have agreed to read and critque someone's script. If you're interested, you can bid here. The auction closes Monday. And it's for a great cause. Check out some of the other items up for bid too. Thanks.

Yet another comedy test

These have been great fun (at least for me). What holds up? What doesn't? Once again I'm going way back to the 50s. This is a classic scene from THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW. Personally, I think Silvers' Sgt. Bilko is one of the great comic inventions of all-time. But you might not. I'm curious as to what you think.

This scene is pretty self-explanatory.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday questions

Thanks as always for your Friday questions. Here are some answers:

Mel starts us off:

Just curious what you think of shows like South Park and Family Guy that seem to exist solely to push the envelope of taste.

I like them both but I’m more a fan of FAMILY GUY. I must be honest and say part of my problem with SOUTH PARK is I just don’t like the animation. I know it’s stylized that way on purpose and I know it allows them to bang out shows very quickly and be super topical (which is unheard of in series animation) but after five minutes if I’m not laughing I’m gone.

FAMILY GUY tends to be inconsistent but they have a pretty high batting average. Usually I can count on getting at least two or three big laughs every episode and every so often they’ll have an episode that just hits it out of the park.

I love that FAMILY GUY pushes the envelope. When I have a problem with the show it’s never because they were too audacious. It’s because at times they will belabor a joke to fucking death. I don’t know why they do that but it drives me bonkers. Otherwise, I love the show.

Fitch is…

Curious about tv producers.

How many are also writers? How many are "executive" producers, how they differ, from non-executive producers, for lack of a better term, and how they interact with showrunners.

Most producers are writers. Beyond that the titles don’t mean much. It has more to do with promotions and money. Entry level staff writers tend to get the credit “story editors”. After a season or two they are promoted to “producer” and get a bump in salary.

To be eligible to win an Emmy if your show is named Best Comedy or Drama you need to be a producer. Now however, the size of staffs has grown so ridiculously that the ATAS has put a limit on the number of eligible producers.

But if you have a large staff of say ten writers (not uncommon) you could have ten producer credits. And to distinguish seniority more than anything else these titles can be producer, supervising producer, co-supervising producer, co-executive producer, executive producer. But everybody does the same thing regardless of title. It’s not like the co-supervising producer answers to the co-executive producer.

Then there are the non-writing producers. Since they generally have a “production company” they tend to share executive producer credit with the show runner. Personally, I believe that if you’re not in the writing room until 2 a.m. with the rest of the staff you don’t deserve an executive producer credit. The problem with that is – most of the time you don’t WANT non-writing producers in the room. There’s nothing worse than a non-writer who thinks he’s funny and pitches jokes in the writers room.

The only other producer is the line producer (with the credit “produced by”) and that’s the only REAL producer. That’s the person who hires the crew and supervises post production and the million other details that go into mounting a show.

Dan in Missouri asks:

Why did the Eddie LeBec character get dumped from Cheers? Jay Thomas talks about this often on his radio show. I'd love to hear your version of the story.

I did an entire post about that that you can find here
. I encourage you guys to rummage through the archives. Every so often you’ll find a good one.

And finally, Nat G has a Cliff query:

In the early Cheers, Cliff was a bore who knew a lot of accurate information. Later, he was a bore who made up a lot of stuff. I've always wondered if this was a conscious change, or whether some later writers just never picked up on the fact that Cliff had known what he was talking about.

Actually, Cliff was always a complete gasbag. Every so often he got facts right but that’s the same principle as if you put a monkey in a room with a typewriter eventually he’ll type a word.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I can see... sorta

So they took the patch off this morning and the doctor was very pleased with how it looks. And once the swelling goes down and things aren't blurry so will I. But I'm on seven different new eyedrops (different from the ten that I have been on at one time or another) and one pill so the prognosis is good for (a) a full recovery and (b) personally keeping the optical pharmacutical industry going.

Thanks again to everyone for your good wishes. They mean a lot.

Where's Dick Cheney? I feel like a little huntin'!

The porn industry has gone too far!!

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anybody that the porn industry exploits its performers. Many impressionable young people with stars in their eyes arrive in LA every day and realize all too soon that this is a hard town, an unforgiving town. And for whatever reason wind up doing porn. Your heart goes out to them (more the girls but still).

There is a new trend in Adult Entertainment that I find disturbing. Companies are beginning to produce XXX parodies of popular sitcoms (like THE BRADY BUNCH, COSBY, and CHEERS). I have no problem with that. If you only knew some of the stuff we all pitched in the room that didn’t get in I guarantee it was rougher than those parodies.

But here’s my problem. It’s one thing to ask these porn “stars” to do degrading acts like have sex with animals or five guys or to be ravaged while shackled and chained. It’s quite another to ask them to be funny.

I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere. When a girl agrees to do oral that doesn’t mean bar schtick. When a guy says he’ll go down on you he doesn’t mean a pratfall. Allow these people some dignity.

You’re putting them in an impossible situation. Those comedy scenes will live on and haunt them the rest of their lives. How will they explain them to their kids?

So I implore the porn industry – don’t let this situation get so out of hand that Congress has to step in.

My other concern is that in short order these companies will run out of long running sitcoms to parody. And I for sure do not want to see the XXX version of THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Post Op update

I'm writing this so I must've made it. So far, so good. Wearing a big patch over my eye. My friend Kevin, through a little photoshop, gives you an idea of what I look like at the moment. Tomorrow the patch comes off and I'll see what I see. Will let you know sometime tomorrow evening. Don't want to delay my post tomorrow on the porn industry. There are some things more important than health.

Thanks SO MUCH to all of you for your notes and best wishes.

Aaargh, matey!

Can't come to the phone right now, I'm in surgery

I’m going in this morning for another eye operation. I debated whether to mention it because I hate blogs that just fill space sharing the mundane trivial events of the bloggers’ lives. But you may wonder why I don’t respond promptly to reader comments this morning and that’s the reason. I’ll be in surgery.

This has been a long ordeal that began way back in January when I developed complications from a cataract surgery. I’ve since had corneal swelling and a viral infection. Today’s procedure should really put me back on track to full restoration of my sight. I hope. Of course, that’s what they said the last time when I proved to be one of the 2% who have problems.

Minor surgery is only minor when it happens to YOU not me. But I’m in great hands and am optimistic.

It’s quite amazing really. I go in at 6:30 (based on previous experience). I change into a hospital gown (not a good look for me, by the way), lie down on a gurney in a pre-op ward where a nurse checks my vitals, puts some drops in my eye and starts an IV. A few minutes later I’m wheeled into surgery. I’ll be under local anesthetic as I was during the cataract procedures. I asked my nurse last time -- since I’m going to be awake can I bring a book? She didn’t get it. Note to self: don’t joke with the nurses.

If all goes well the operation should take about a half hour. I’m then wheeled back into the ward where I rest for about twenty minutes before getting dressed and going home. Cost of this whole thing is probably equivalent to a McMansion but the eye drops are included. Thank God for insurance. On the other hand, if there were no insurance and people had to actually pay for everything I wonder whether the prices would still be so absurdly high? Q-Tips: $100.

Again, I’m told the recovery is fairly easy. I’ll have a patch and tape on my eye today and the doctor will remove it tomorrow. I’m planning on returning to work on Friday. Last time I went to lunch with this patch on. The waiter didn’t acknowledge it at all, was very matter-of-fact about serving a customer who looked like a victim in a slasher movie. I purposely sat with my back to the room. If the Johnny Rocket patrons were going to get sick I wanted it to be from the food, not me.

I must say the sophistication of this process is extraordinary. You can’t believe the tests they now have. Sonograms, measuring the circulation in the eye (you’re given some fluorescent dye and for two days you glow), pictures of the eye from behind the eye (I don’t know how they do that but I bet in a year there’ll be an iPhone app), and they can count the number of cells in your cornea. And you say to yourself, if they can do this how come they still can’t figure out how many people are watching a damn television show?

So that’s what I’m doing this morning. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if it worked. Oh, and since I'll be in surgery anyway, like Heidi Montag I think I'll get a mini-brow lift, lipo on my neck, waist, hips, and thighs, a chin reduction, an ear job, fat injections in my cheeks, nasalobial folds and lips, rhinoplasty, Botox injections in my forehead, and buttocks augmentation. I won't get breast implants tough. That's just crazy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The scene that saved our lives

Here it is -- the fateful scene we wrote that morning in Les Charles' office. (See yesterday's post for explanation.) The episode is "Never Love a Goalie Part 1". As I watched it again last night, memories of that morning flooded back -- the feeling of blessed relief. I think more impressive than remembering how to write a joke was that I recalled all that Harry Harlow shit from my UCLA Psychology classes. Anyway, enjoy.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The time I thought my career was over

Every writer has doubts. Some mild, some nagging, and for me in one case – crippling. This might surprise you since I seem fairly prolific – banging out a new post every day (a few even decent). And my list of credits is rather lengthy (more than you know -- imdb doesn’t even include our classic BRAM & ALICE). But there was one point in my career when I seriously thought I was done. The well had run dry. It was fun while it lasted. That’s all she wrote (actually “he”).

It was 1986. My partner David Isaacs and I had created and produced MARY, the comeback series for Mary Tyler Moore (actually comeback two of four). It was an exhausting, grueling experience. The specifics are for another post. But suffice it to say a typical day was writing from 10 AM to 5 AM, getting two hours of sleep, and heading back to the office to repeat the process. Yes, I’m exaggerating; there was one night we finished at 4.

But after six months of that, when we finally completed the order, we were completely fried.

I had lost 35 pounds. I couldn’t write a grocery list much less a script. David wasn’t much better.

We decided to just take time off. “How much time?” our agent wondered. We didn’t know. Maybe a few months. Maybe a year. Maybe forever. We were that burned out.

For the next few weeks I just sort wandered around in a haze, eating stuffed potatoes in malls just to get my weight back up above Nicole Richie’s. Usually ideas for pilots or movies will pop into my head when I’m just out doing something else. But now – nothing.

I seriously started contemplating what I could do besides writing to make a living? That’s what drove me to the upper deck of Dodger Stadium to try to learn baseball broadcasting. Drawing caricatures on the Redondo Pier was another option I was seriously exploring. Not a lot of money there but no pressure – just drawing big ears all day.

After about three months we got a call from the Charles Brothers. They had an idea for a CHEERS story and wondered if we’d like to write the script. We were still gun shy but our agent implored us to give it a try.

So we met with the brothers, the story fell into place rather easily. So easily that it became a two-parter. Normally when that happens you’re thrilled. Double the script, double the fee. To us it just meant extra pressure. But we forced smiles throughout the story conferences. We didn’t want them to surmise they were giving an assignment to two basket cases.

The way David and I write scripts is we dictate them to a writers’ assistant (once upon a time called a secretary). Since we weren’t working on a show we asked if we could use one of the CHEEERS writers’ assistants. They said sure and we could use Les Charles’ office.

We planned to begin the script on Monday morning. Driving to Paramount I was literally sweating. Could I do this again? How embarrassing would it be if David and I just stared at each other for eight hours while a writers’ assistant sat there wondering “what the fuck?!” If that happened I was prepared to go back to the Charles Brothers and say, “You know what? We just can’t do it. But can I draw you?"

We convened at 10, our assistant Barry introduced himself and got out the steno pad.

This was it.

I was so afraid of prolonged deadly silence that I just started pitching. And somehow, amazingly, my mind began to work again. Some jokes were coming out. Same thing for David. One or two of them even keepers! Slowly we got back into a rhythm and things picked up.

I can’t begin to tell you the relief. Not to compare myself to the Man of Steel but it was like Superman when Lois got rid of the Kryptonite. I could feel my comedic powers returning. By lunch I knew – “We were BACK!”

This gift (and it is indeed a gift) was there all the time. You don’t just lose it. You may need to step away, take some time and recharge your batteries, but your ability doesn’t desert you. You may someday face a crisis like this yourself. The real lesson here is to just relax. Don’t lose your confidence. Just roll with it knowing in time you will once again be fine. Don’t be like me. Don’t make things worse by making yourself nuts. Don’t waste money on an easel.

(Tomorrow: that scene we wrote that morning; the scene that may just be the most important one we’ve ever written.)