Saturday, July 31, 2010

I've been saving the best for last!

Okay people. You've been enjoying this fine entertainment all day but have you picked up that computer and clicked on my Twitter link? No! What the fuck!! Do you think is easy? Do you think I like posting some new piece of shit entertainment every two hours? I haven't slept in three days!! What am I asking for here people? One click? One simple fucking goddman click? Are the people you are following so much more fucking interesting than me? "Saw INCEPTION". Pretty cool." Wow!! That guy is sure worth following. My tweets couldn't nearly be as entertaining as that!

We're winding down. I have no tote board but trust me, I'm hopelessly behind. I had been saving the best for last. More as a way of thanking you folks. But now I don't know. I don't know if you deserve him.

Oh well, he's here. And Jesus, if this guy doesn't knock your socks off then I don't know what the fuck to do. So I'm going to let him come out. But again. I better see you joining my Twitter community.

Alright. Christ I'm pissed! Sorry, wait, let me settle down a moment. Okay. I'm better.

Ladies and gentleman, I'll just say two words. SINATRA!!! JUNIOR!!!!

How do I keep coming up with such stupendous entertainment?

My Twitter telethon continues. Hoping to get another 5,000 followers... this hour. Or at least gaining more people than I lose. Come on people. It's for a great cause -- me maybe getting something out of it. Just go here.

In the meantime, the AMAZING entertainment continues!!!! Oh, will you laugh!! Here she is, funny lady extraordinaire!!! The high priestess of hilarity, Jessica Glassberg.

My Twitter telethon presents another spectacular act

It's hard to believe there can be so much sizzling entertainment on one blog but all these incredible performers have come together for this oh-so worthy cause -- me gaining more Twitter followers. I especially thank the ones who are no longer alive (performers, not new followers).

Like this incredible late entertainer. Give it up ladies and gentleman to the incomparable SENOR WENCES!!

You gotta have a plate spinner!!

Maybe this will finally entice people to follow me on Twitter. That's what this is all about. That's why all these great entertainers have lent their time and talent. I need more Twitter followers so I can maybe get a goddamn book deal. The staple of any telethon is the plate spinner. Ah, but this guy is not just ANY plate spinner. As astounding as it may seem, he can also build a small table! Right there on stage!! You've got to see it to believe it!

The spectacular entertainment continues

Unfortunately, Ed McMahon is not around so there's no reason to have a tote board. But we're falling behind people. I've had actually more people drop out. This is the first telethon that lost money. Is that even possible?

I'm trying to get enough new Twitter followers to at least be as popular as the guy who tweets knock-knock jokes.

And while you're signing up, enjoy our fine entertainment. You'll want to sing along with this one. The actual Eurovision winner in 1969, here's Lulu singing the haunting "Boom Bang-a-Bang".

More stars than are in the heavens!!

Okay, I'm sure these telethons take awhile to really get going and I should not be discouraged that I've only added three new Twitter followers. But the dazzling entertainment continues. As blog reader Mark correctly proclaimed, there is no telethon without Joey Heatherton!! So here she is fellas, singing her greatest hit and using her greatest prop! You can sign up here.

My telethon begins!!!

So I hear if you have a gazillion followers on Twitter you can get a book deal. And since I'm writing a book, I thought "hey, what can I do to attract new followers?" The answer is a simple. The blog equivalent to a Jerry Lewis telethon. So throughout the day I'll be chiming in with shameless pleas, pathetic begging, and browbeating. But I'll also be providing you with the kind of spectacular entertainment you can only find on a telethon.

So click on the Twitter icon or just click right here, tell all your friends. Let's get me a book deal while I'm still young enough to know what that is.

Thanks. You're all beautiful human beings.

So let's get things started with a bang. Here he is! Mr. Dynamite. TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Some things you wanted to know about CHEERS

A theme for today’s Friday questions: CHEERS.

Steve asks a multi-parter:

Many, many shows struggle with the issue of how to keep sexual tension between the leads without alienating fans annoyed with the "when will they do it?"question, or what to do once they finally do it.

All these years later, what's your take on how Cheers handled the Sam & Diane relationship? What do you think would or should have happened if Shelley Long stayed on the show? And what did you think of the Sam and Rebecca relationship? Finally, any general thoughts about how to handle this difficult but common issue?

I think it’s much harder to sustain sexual chemistry now because couples in real life hook up much sooner. It just isn’t real for a TV couple to be playing cat and mouse with each other for two full seasons, or even one. They start to act like grown ups still in Junior High.

I don’t know how the Sam & Diane relationship would have evolved had Shelley remained on the show. I sort of felt we were treading water her last two seasons.

Sam and Rebecca were never meant to have sexual chemistry. But the actual relationship between them kept changing as Rebecca’s character kept changing. At first she was a real martinet. But that didn’t work. Once she became an emotional disaster area then she was comic gold.

One season our arc was that Sam was going to try to get into her pants. For the entire year he resorted to one unconscionable ploy after another.

NBC tested the show that season and Sam tested the highest. Why? Because the audience found him sympathetic, with high morals, and very protective of everyone at the bar. Huh??? What fucking show were THEY watching? Sam did everything but slip her a roofie.

In Splat’s own words:

I have some rather anal questions about the "Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience" announcement.

a) What prompted it?
b) Was there some rule about which actor would introduce each episode?

We were getting complaints from viewers who thought we were leaning on the laugh track too hard. They didn’t believe that the laughs were real (which they were). So the decision was made to tell the viewers that the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Of course the complaints continued. People still didn’t believe that the laughs were genuine (which they were).

There was no rule as to which actor voiced it from week to week. They all recorded the disclaimer and the post production guys just rotated them I guess.

Anonymous (please leave a name) wonders…

… if any of the other Cheers writers have blogs/websites or plan on getting them in the future.

Earl Pomerantz has a fabulous blog. Tom Leopold has a website. Rob Long does a weekly commentary on KCRW that is a must. Sam Simon is on Twitter. @simonsam. You might want to follow him. A number of CHEERS scribes have Facebook pages but they’d have to confirm you as a friend. And I’m trying to get my partner to start his own religious cult.

Been falling a little behind on the questions. Will try to sprinkle in a few more question days throughout the next few weeks. So keep ‘em coming. As always, THANKS!

Now tomorrow I'm experimenting. Join me for my blog telethon. It's for a GREAT cause and I've lined up some unbelievable talent. That's tomorrow. Many posts. All day. I better get some sleep now.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steve McPherson out at ABC -- what it me

With the announcement Tuesday that Steve McPherson would be stepping down as head of the ABC Entertainment Group I got a few emails from friends asking how this would affect me? To answer, I’d have to go back through my history with ABC.

The last time David and I sold a pilot to the alphabet network it was 1981. We’ve done two pilots for ABC. Neither was shot. One was a family comedy. They were also developing a family comedy that year for Erma Bombeck. We were told they were greenlighting hers, not ours because they had a deal with her. “But if it’s any consolation,” they said, “Yours was much better.” Yeah, GREAT consolation.

We also rewrote a pilot for ABC that did get made but we didn’t get screen credit. And the pilot was never picked up. That was in 1979.

Interestingly, throughout our very lengthy (and lucky) career we’ve done very little for ABC. Our first staff job was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for ABC but we left to go to MASH, we’ve written episodes for a few short-lived series, and I’ve directed a number of shows for ABC including DHARMA & GREG. It’s just that the long running series we were involved with seemed to be on every network but ABC.

And yet, you’d think in almost thirty years we could have sold one goddamn pilot there. We used to joke that we couldn’t sell the Super Bowl to ABC.

In fairness, ABC has always been lovely. We certainly can’t blame one or two individuals and say it was anything personal. We must’ve pitched to 200 different regimes. Two of the buildings that we pitched in have now been torn down. Some of the executives we pitched to are dead, or worse -- out of the business.

But ABC has always been receptive to us bringing in ideas. The meetings are always respectful and I always get the impression they will buy an idea if they like it. But it’s us. We just never bring them anything they seem to like. I’d say at least 50% of the pilots we sold elsewhere were originally passed on by ABC. We started going there first because we felt it was like a practice pitch. They’d never buy of course (we could pitch DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) but at least we got to give our presentation a test spin.

Here’s how not-in-the-cards it was for us. When ALMOST PERFECT premiered we got a extremely nice call from the then-head of ABC saying how much he loved the show and wondered why we didn’t bring it to them. I told him we did plan to go to ABC first but they called the day before and wanted to postpone the meeting for three weeks. So we took it to CBS the next day and sold it in the room. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Meanwhile, we helped out on other peoples’ ABC pilots. Quite a few of those. Although, come to think of it, very few of those ever got picked up. I’m telling you, it’s US.

But that’s just for writing, directing, and producing. In terms of ACTING, ABC is our home. David and I have had cameos in two episodes of shows we wrote – OPEN ALL NIGHT and THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and both of those series were on ABC. We can’t sell a show but we are the face of the network. That’s more consolation than the Erma Bombeck incident.

Anyway, back to the original question – will Steve McPherson’s exit have much of an effect on me, I say no. Paul Lee has been named to succeed him, not my dad. And even if my dad were named President of the ABC Group, he’d still say he liked our idea but already bought something similar from my brother.

That said, I'm sure Paul will do a great job. My best to him and everyone at ABC.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Me & the Hells Angels

Here’s another chapter in my early checkered radio career. The first installment is here.

1971 and I’m doing weeekends at KERN in Bakersfield. I was five at the time. (All TV writers older than twenty who hope to work lie about their age.) As mentioned before, the station was this shack out in the middle of nowhere. And since Bakersfield itself is in the middle of nowhere, the station is really REALLY in the middle of nowhere.

It was my second week. I was holding down the coveted Saturday 6-midnight shift. At about 10:00 the doorbell rings. Who would be coming to call at this hour? Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses work late in this town. I put a record on and like an idiot went to the front lobby and opened the door.

There was a full gang of Hell Angels – probably thirty of the scariest leather clad, chain wielding, tattoo sporting (before it was fashionable), chopper riding, engine revving, ass kicking (and in my mind, Jew hating) dudes you’ve ever seen. And their girlfriends who could beat the shit out of me.

So I’m Jello in a windstorm. Picture Ralph Kramden as the “Chef of the Future”. “Hummina hummina hummina” The leader (at least I thought he was the leader. I didn’t ask for ID.), growls, “You the fucking guy on the radio?”

“Hummina hummina”.


“HUMMINA hummina hummina.”

I’m thinking, “What offensive thing did I say that is going to get me killed?” And “This will be a good indication of how many people are actually listening to KERN. Let’s see how long it takes for someone to discover my body."

Mr. Leader of the Pack says, “Do you have Sweet Cream Ladies?” (A late 60s moderate hit by the Box Tops)

A request? That’s why they’re there? To make a song request?

Somewhat relieved I mumble “Sure.”

He signals to the others and they roar off to terrorize someone else. I lock the door, check my underwear, and go to the record library PRAYING that it's in there.

There is a God! They had it.

I run back to the studio and cue it up. It’s my next record. I completely break format but who gives a shit! I could be dead by the time the format says to play an oldie.

A half hour later the doorbell rings again. What to do? They know I’m in there. And they all smoke so they all have matches. Any one of them could set the building on fire. I could just see them dismantling the tower and welding it into more bikes.

I reluctantly open the door. There they are again. The leader hands me a beer and says, “Thanks, man.” They drive off.

Usually I don’t drink beer while on the air but not that night. Anything to settle my jangled nerves.

The next week, same thing. At about 10:00 they're at the front door to request Sweet Cream Ladies. A half hour later they return with a beer as thanks for playing it.

The following week I just play the song at 10:00 and at 10:30 receive my reward.

Thus began a ritual that lasted almost a year. And it really proved to be a Godsend on Halloween.

Houses get T.P.ed, and cars get egged and vandalized on Halloween in Bakersfield. It’s a proud tradition. And my car is alone in a lot next to the shack in a dark empty field. I figured I’d get off of work and there would be nothing left but a drive shaft and maybe one hub cap. Instead, the car was completely untouched. Guess word got around that I was BFF with the local Hells Angels.

Sorry to say me and the gang haven’t stayed in touch. Especially during network note meetings.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scenes from Comic Con

Comic-Con, the destination for everyone who ever got beaten up in high school. Or Day Care. One of my spies took these pictures this weekend. Thought you might enjoy this glimpse into the Apocalypse.
"Yes, I feel I'm very qualified to run for the senate. I was an intern for Barbara Boxer, I vaporized North Korea, and unlike my opponent, I can relate to the common man."
Fuel Pump Man is back and is pissed!
This is how the Jewish Orthodox will dress in the future.
Imagine coming to the convention dressed in this sad costume?
This is what happens when sports team mascots go bad.
"Up against the wall, maternal anthropoid biped fornicator!"
"Oh, Superman, thank God you're here! For the life of me I don't know how get Final Draft to open."
Lady Gaga's parents stopped by to say hello.
"What do you mean, what part did I play in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS?"
Trash Can Man and the Jaundiced Lantern meet to compare notes.
Behold the greatest pizza delivery man in the galaxy!
As always future scribes, you're welcome to suggest your own captions.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I hate Betty Draper!

I didn’t used to.

She was one of my favorite MAD MEN characters season one. I loved that she shot the neighbors pigeons, and how ingeniously she got back at Don for being in cahoots with her therapist. (I’d say what that was but I’d get a hundred spoiler alert complaints even though it was three seasons ago. Netflix the DVD’s people!)

I also felt sorry for her. She was this trapped 60s housewife dependent on a man who cheated on her constantly. Bohemian women, her kids’ teacher, even a Jew! Yes, she flirted with a nine-year-old creepy neighbor boy but that’s still not sleeping with a Red Sea Pedestrian. Her father had dementia and she had to constantly look at really bad wallpaper in the breakfast nook – so the woman did have heavy crosses to bear.

But starting last season when she took Don back (“She took Don back? Damn! Why don’t you have spoiler alerts?!”) she has morphed into an insufferable frigid bitch. It's hard to get it up when you're afraid it's going to break off.

At first I tried. Every character in MAD MEN is deliciously complex. There are flaws, ugly traits, and weaknesses in all of them. Sometimes the big surprise is when you learn they have good qualities.

But Betty has gone from classic tragic figure to Ann Coulter. Now granted my feelings have been colored by the actress herself who plays Betty Draper. When January Jones allegedly slammed into three parked cars last June and fled the scene, saying, "I can't deal with this commotion" that took away some of her girlish charm for me.

And maybe series creator Matt Weiner wants me to now hate her. If so, he’s done a great job because Betty has become Mary Tyler Moore in ORDINARY PEOPLE but without the warmth and whimsy of that character.

You just KNOW that Betty’s kids – especially Sally – are going to hate her forever. They will both be in therapy for the rest of their natural Lexapro guzzling lives. What does it say about how fucked up a family is when Don Draper (who’s assuming the identity of a dead man) is the most well adjusted? Sally is destined for every eating disorder possible.

Side trip: Pat McCormick, one of the funniest and sickest human beings of all time once told this joke: “Just got back from the Bulimic’s Convention. The highlight was when the cake came out of the girl.” But I digress…

Now Betty’s making someone else’s life miserable. It’s only a matter of time before he’s in bed with a shana meydele.

And all that’s fine except… I don’t want to see it. Whenever the show goes away from Don or the agency to a Betty scene I zone out. Sorry but I’d rather watch the preview for the new RUBICON series or even the BMW commercial than follow the Wicked Witch of Westchester County. I don’t care anymore. I don’t care that she’s unhappy. I don’t care that she’s unfulfilled. I just want her to wake up one morning, look in the mirror and there is Bette Davis from HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE staring back at her.

I will say this though, she does serve a function. With Betty Draper around you now KNOW why the men are mad.

Let's see more of Don or Roger or Pete or Peggy or Joan or Trudy. Hell, Trudy can bring along some of her friends from COMMUNITY, I don't care. Anyone but Betty!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jon Miller

The Hall-of-Fame just got funnier. My former partner in Baltimore, Jon Miller gets inducted into Cooperstown today. Jon is currently the voice of the San Francisco Giants and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Yes, Vin Scully is the ultimate baseball broadcaster but Jon Miller is the best of anyone under 82.

And the funniest.

Not that there’s a whole lot of competition in that category. Especially today. Baseball announcers used to have distinct personalities, regional accents, wry wits. Today they’ve largely been replaced by polished generic professionals who all sound alike and bombard you with statistics. Now you’d hear, “Two outs, bottom of the ninth, here’s Eugnio Velez. He’s been struggling, batting .197 with an on base percentage of .384 and with men in scoring position hitting only .178.” Harry Caray would’ve just said, “Here’s Eugenio Velez. Stay tuned for the post game show coming right up.”

Baseball announcing is a lost art. Very few today are master storytellers. Very few really bring the game “alive”.

Thank God for Jon Miller.

Blessed with a gorgeous baritone voice (I sounded like Minnie Mouse compared to him, the bastard), Jon is a throwback to the days when announcers not steroids made ballplayers seem larger-than-life.

I was privileged to share the booth with him in the early 90s in Baltimore. Every night I marveled at his preparation, knowledge of the game, descriptions worthy of John Updike, passion, and more than anything else – ability to entertain.

Like I said, Jon is funny. There were nights we’d be riffing on the air and I’d have trouble keeping up with him. (Don’t you hate it when someone just in passing does something as good as you when you’ve been doing it for twenty years?) I’m convinced, if Jon had gone into television writing instead of baseball he’d be in Comedy Writers Hall-of-Fame (if there were such a thing. And if there were, I guarantee you it wouldn’t be in Cleveland.)

We did lots of zany stuff together on the air. We imitated Wolf Blitzer giving rain delay updates, tried out ridiculous home run calls, a discussion of hockey prompted us to roll our chairs and body check each other while calling the play-by-play.

But my personal favorite bit is this. And it was all Jon’s brainchild. I left Baltimore for the Seattle Mariners. Our first trip into Baltimore Jon asked, for old time’s sake if I could come over and do an inning with him? I said sure. But here’s the thing: he would introduce me as if I were still calling Orioles games. No fanfare, no “nice to have you back”, nothing.

So we come out of the commercial break, Jon says, “Now as we go to the 3rd, here’s Ken”. I say, “Thanks Jon, 3-1 O’s and leading off for Seattle is… “ During the inning we discussed past Orioles games that season as if I had seen them, I did all the commercial drop-ins, and talked about all the giveaways for future homestands that I was looking forward to. After the inning I came back on and said, “Now to the 4th, let’s get back to Jon.” He said, “Thanks, Ken…” and that was that. Apparently the station switchboard was going nuts with confused fans. Was I back? Had I been there all along? Were they just having a horrible dream?

Wish I could be with Jon today in Cooperstown. He now becomes my fourth broadcast partner to enter the Hall (Dave Niehaus, Chuck Thompson, and Jerry Coleman being the other deserving three). “I would rather listen to Jon Miller call a baseball game than see the game myself.” I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

Either that or I’d say, “On to the Hall, here’s Jon.” Knowing Jon, he’d probably like that intro better.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer in the "Nutmeg State"

Four years ago this summer I spent July and August in Connecticut. In case you're thinking of vacationing there, here's my travelogue.

Back from five weeks in East Haddam, Ct. and nearby Chester, Ct. where the musical I’ve co-written, THE 60’s PROJECT (pictured above) is in production. My eternal gratitude to Michael Price and the super folks at the Goodspeed Theatre for their hospitality. support, and bug balm. I’ve never worked with a classier, more professional bunch.

If you love Americana (which I do more than just about anything other than money), the “Nutmeg State” is for you. And Sourtheastern Connecticut was particularly beautiful and affectionately goofy.

Stayed at a lovely apartment. Very tastefully furnished. Naked drawings and statues throughout. Even the drinking glasses featured topless women. It’s like I was in my own house.

A local pet store sells reptiles and “critters”. And if you buy a cage they’ll give you two free “long haired dwarf mice.”

Roadside sign spotted: SCENIC ROUTE, NEXT 0.3 MILES.

A fork in the road -- one sign points to Camp Beth El, the other to Christian camps.

There are few Cajun places in the south as good as the New Orleans restaurant in Old Saybrook. Their noontime special is a FAT ASS LUNCH. I qualified.

“Casual” is another name for “fried” when it comes to funky fun seafood restaurants. Lenny & Joe’s is the best.

People could not be nicer.

Keep a can of OFF with you at all times.

If there’s a ten minute thunderstorm anywhere in Connecticut, power and cable goes off for the entire state. Usually for 24-30 hours. The state symbol should be a flashlight.

As green and lush and gorgeous as this place is in the summer I bet the fall is even better. With all the salt in the Connecticut River the red and gold colors of autumn must be extra striking and vivid.

If you go to Killingworth, take a drive down Roast Meat Hill Road. I’m not kidding. There’s really a Roast Meat Hill Road.

The Merchant House on US 154 sells Vera Bradley apparel (e.g. purses) and fireworks. Ideal for milady terrorist.

The local East Haddam liquor store closes at 8. And all day Sunday. Blue laws are still in effect. You don’t see a lot of Yale students here.

My 60’s PROJECT writing partner, Janet, got a manicure where the top coat was hoof veneer. Beware any beauty parlor where their celebrity clientele includes Secretariat.

Take I-84 to New York. The highway is smooth as glass. The second you cross into New York state you hit potholes.

Boy, they love Nathan Hale. One good quote (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”) and the guy is a God. Attractions include his house, his school house, his barbershop, the Dairy Queen where he used to make Blizzards.

Connecticut is also the birthplace of Anika Noni Rose who will become a big star after DREAMGIRLS is released.

The Tylerville convenience store sells worms in the freezer section between Ben & Jerry ice cream and tater tots. There’s something terribly wrong when worms are more expensive than long haired dwarf mice.

Towns have colorful names like Moodus and Old Lyme (the actual home of Lyme Disease).

I felt like I was in Twin Peaks. And come to think of it, after the first week, I never saw Laura Palmer. Hmmmm?

At the local Bank of America drive-thru ATM I waited in line behind a motorcycle gang. Guess they needed some extra cash for new chains.

Good morning! The menu at a Middletown diner leads off with “Breakfast Cocktails.” If you go out for pancakes, better have a designated driver.

Do not pass a market without stocking up on bug spray.

Most restaurants close on Monday nights. Every one that is open sells pizza.

Big tourist attraction in East Haddam is the Gillette castle. I can just picture their knights, all using swords with the patented four blades for a smoother, closer kill.

There is not yet a Starbucks in every small town. This might not be true by the time you read this.

Sign in Centerbrook: CALIMARI RECYCLING. From what TO what???

The ambience is very New England. By that I mean a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. And their coffee is FAR better than Starbucks.

All you see are people on motorcycles. What you never see are motorcycle helmets. They should rename one of the more treacherous streets Motorcycle Meat Hill Road.

If you bought a house here in 1792 you could sell it today for at least double what you paid for it.

There is better cellphone service in Antarctica than Southeastern Connecticut.

Had lunch at the Griswold Inn in Essex, which claims to be the oldest Inn in America – serving since 1776. There must be a hundred old Inns on the East Coast making that same claim. This one had the very first hand blower in their bathroom. But at the time it was just a guy who blew onto your hands.

If you’re hungry, haven’t eaten in four days and only have one dollar, spend it on mosquito netting.

Larry, Darryl, & Darryl are alive and work at every gas station in the state.

There are wonderful hiking trails. You can see nature at its finest and discover Laura Palmer’s body.

A lot of these small towns look like movie sets. If you like bed & breakfasts, Laura Ashley-like dress shops, tchochkes, and cemeteries this is your heaven.

Some big Indian casinos nearby. For you history buffs, Tony Orlando is appearing frequently.

Based on the number of sightings, I’m beginning to think Connecticut is an Indian word for road kill.

There is a Goodspeed airport in East Haddam. One Cessna, a red shack that says 42B on the roof (no running through long terminals trying to make connections.) and a burned out Quonset hut (the “Admirals Club”). It still takes two hours to get through security. Only airport employee is Grizzly Adams on a tractor demanding $5 landing fees.

In Deep River the ice cream parlor is next door to the tattoo parlor. Perfect for the motorcycle gang that has a sweet tooth.

Only passed through New Haven. Wanted to stop by that venerable jewel of the Ivy League, Yale and tell the students to stop trying to be comedy writers. Go into law or politics for Christsakes! You’re at Yale!

And never got to Hartford. Didn’t want to fight all the tourists stampeding to the Insurance Capital of the World.

But in five lovely weeks I’m sure I saw all the major attractions of the Nutmeg State…except, now that I think about it, nutmeg.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Angie Dickinson: Good enough for JFK not CBS

Good grief! It’s Friday question day. Leave yours in the comment section. Thanks.

YEKIMI gets us started:

Was there ever anyone you wanted to use as a "guest star" on MASH [or other shows] but decided against it or the network decided against it because they felt they had been "overexposed"? [i.e.: too many apperances on other shows, etc.]

Not that I can recall. Generally we try to avoid that ourselves. There have been times when an actor has been suggested and we’ll say, “Jesus, haven’t we seen him enough already?” But those are usually character actors. We’d be thrilled to use Ted Danson in any project we ever do, even if there’s no part for him.

The big double-edged sword for character actors is landing a long running commercial. It’s great money but they can become typecast. I hope for her sake that the Progressive Insurance chick is making a bundle. And good luck to Jack from Jack in the Box if he ever wants to guest on LAW & ORDER.

Networks love “stunt casting” – bringing in a guest star with celebrity value that would attract a larger audience. Movie stars are preferred (duh!). And that’s fine when you’re a big hit show and it’s cool to be on it. Julia Roberts does a FRIENDS. Madonna does a WILL & GRACE. But if you’re just a struggling show (and need the audience boost the most) it’s extremely hard to snare one of those people unless someone on the shows knows a big star personally and is willing to call in a favor. I’m sure you could get Lindsay Lohan to guest on TIL DEATH if you could break her out of jail for five days.

When we were doing ALMOST PERFECT and CBS was hounding us for more stunt casting, we were unable to scrounge up any Oscar winners (living or dead). But we had what I thought was a fun idea. Since our show was set in the writing room of a TV cop show, we thought it would be fun for one episode to bring back all the classic crime fighters from years gone by. Angie Dickinson, Mike Connors, Jim Garner, etc.

We could have said, “We’d like to do a Manson Family reunion” – that’s the level of enthusiasm we received from the network.

So we settled for Marie Osmond (who was terrific by the way).

Barefoot Billy Aloha, who I assume is from Mississippi, asks:

How did you guys decide on top billing? Straws? Grenades?

We go in alphabetical order and neither one of us can spell.

Seriously though, I got top billing at first because I called David to see if he wanted to work together. Once we started selling scripts I offered to alternate billing every year and David said, “No, let’s just leave it this way. My relatives know where to look to see the credit and it’s up there so briefly that to switch every year would just confuse them.”

But within the industry we’re known as both. Either Levine & Isaacs (pronounced correctly – Lee Vine) or Isaacs & LaVeen.

From Bob Gassel:

When it came to deciding what happened to the old gang at Cheers (ie: Rebecca's divorce), were you free to do whatever you wanted, or did it have to go thru several channels?

You’re referring I assume to the FRASIER episode we wrote where Sam Malone guested. You can read the script here.

As I recall, David and I came up with the various scenarios of where the CHEERS characters were then and ran them by the FRASIER staff, which included three former CHEERS producers in Casey, Lee, & Angell. I don’t think they ran our ideas past the Charles Brothers but they might have. We were never told. And none of our ideas were vetoed.

We tried to make them funny and very character-specific. We didn’t want to do anything really crazy with them. Norm is now a big porn star, Cliff is the Secretary of State – that sort of thing (although both ideas are very plausible).

And finally, MIkeN wonders:

DO the cast while filming an episode ever say this part of the script makes no sense?

Only all the time. It pains me to say they’re usually right. But most of the time they’re polite and respectful about it. Not like Orson Welles. I’ll leave you with this recording session for a commercial Mr. Welles was asked to do. Yikes!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blog spelling and punctuatio, or lack of same

When I can't think of an appropriate picture I always just use one of Natalie Wood.

These posts would be so much eazier to write if I didn’t have to worry about spelling and punktuation. That was always one of the beauties of riting dialog. People don’t talk in grammatically correct sentences and who cares about the spellling because the audience is just hereing the words and not seeing dem. (Shit. That last sentence is in fact a question. I forgot the question mark.)

After having proper grammar drummed into my head in school it was difficult at first to not write dialogue stilted but correct. Eventually you learn that flow and writing conversationally is the key. Then its (or it’s) fun. All bets are off.

Until you have to write prose again (or FRASIER).

(This is the punctuation that is the screenwriter’s best friend -- … Use it to represent any pause. Believe me, it… works!)

It’s (or its) amazing how much grammar you forget. And part of the problem – at least for me --, is that if you (or in my case, me) tend to write quickly, you’re trying to get your ideas on the page while their in your head and I can’t do that when your stopping midthoughtwse to ponder whether there’s a comma here or this participle is dangling or there is no such word as midthoughtwise. (That last sentence may or may not be a question. I’m not sure.)

Back to script writing, you see this in rewrite sessions. There are monitors in the room allowing the writers to see the script as the assistant is typing it. Someone pitches a joke, everyone laughs, the assistant starts transcribing it, and there’s always one asshole who sees himself as the Grammar Police barking out that there should be a comma there, or that’s a semi-colon. That shit is “Proofer’s challenge”. Let whoever proofs the script deal with that. Don’t slow down the process by blurting out that dad needs to be capitalized.

Back to prose: Spellcheck and grammar programs help somewhat. A wiggly green line will appear under something the computer doesn’t feel is right. Half the time it’s (or its) useful and half the time I’m thinking, “what the hell is wrong with this?” Or, “the computer just doesn’t get me.”

Same with spell check – it catches a lot of mistakes but misses others. If a word can be spelled correctly two ways or if you write in the wrong word but it’s an actual word -- : that too won’t get caught. Sometimes I remember the little hints we got in school. Principle or principal – the principal is your “pal”. But as I get older my brain is beginning to fill up with the Infield Fly Rule and where I put my keys and those little tips are fading from memory.

I actually do know the difference between it’s and its (it’s is only used as a contraction for it is) but there are others that I’ll admit, I’m guessin’.

And there are certain words I just don’t know how to spell. So I type in some approximation and let Spell Check correct it. If I ever have to write a letter in longhand I am so screwed. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

The point is… from time to time… you will see grammatical mistakes, misspelled words, made up words, tenses changing, inconsistencies, italics for no reason, and other egregious clerical errors. I do try to proof these posts but things still slip by. So I beg your indulgence. I don’t have an editor. And even one of those doesn’t guarantee (that’s one of the words I always struggle with) 100% accuracy. When I got the galley proof for my book IT’S GONE… NO, WAIT A MINUTE (notice the ….?) this is what it said on the cover:


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the anniversary of Man landing on the moon...

Here's another taste of the book I'm writing on growing up in the 60s. It's July of 69. This is an event so monumental CBS pre-empted GREEN ACRES for it.

There was even more reason to feel pride about being an American later that summer. We landed a man on the moon. Even Walter Cronkite choked up on CBS reporting it. The weekend of July 20th the entire nation was glued to their televisions. President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 that we would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade was about to take place.

I watched at home in Woodland Hills with my family and grandparents. Americans had become used to space coverage. There was really nothing to see. Shots of Mission Control in Houston, maps, and anchors at desks. We would hear the communication between Houston and the astronauts. By the Apollo missions we sometimes got to see live fuzzy video of the crew, usually only for a few seconds. But an astronaut would always let go of an apple or hammer and you’d see it float in weightlessness. This trick killed us every time.

I honestly don’t remember whether we saw video or just heard audio when Neil Armstrong made his historic first step. You’d think that would be indelibly imprinted in my brain but it’s not. I’ve seen the video so many times since but that first time – I just can’t tell ya.

What I do know is this: 450 million people around the world heard it. And they heard it at the same time. For the first time in history the entire planet shared a monumental moment together. A moment of awe and disbelief. All the hardships of the world, the various wars, famines, poverty, social injustice, discrimination -- they were all put on hold, as if God pushed a pause button. What was more profound – man setting foot on the moon or that moment of absolute global unity?

And Neil Armstrong – what a great line to mark the occasion: “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He wanted to say “one small step for A man” but inadvertently left out the A. It does sorta make more sense that way. But still, as a memorable line it sure has more punch than today’s equivalent – “THIS is American Idol!”

My grandfather had tears in his eyes. He was a teenager when he first heard that some huckleberries in Iowa invented a contraption that actually flew in the air. And to go from that to a man landing on the moon all in his lifetime was completely overwhelming.

And it’s an even greater accomplishment than we realized. The more sophisticated our computers have become the more we’ve begun to appreciate just how rudimentary and archaic the data and technology was back then. What we thought was state-of-the-art back in 1969 was really the Flintstones build a rocket ship. And we blasted three human beings into outer space in that thing. Yikes!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slipping inside jokes into shows

A reader’s question will sometimes spark an entire post and that’s the case today. Richard Y. wanted to know about inside references and jokes writers slip into shows. Did we do it on purpose? How often did we do it, etc.? He perceptively noticed that on an episode of WINGS, Steven Weber walks by a magazine rack that features an ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY with his likeness and real name on the cover.

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone but I’d imagine that all writers slip these little nuggets in from time to time. What good is writing a show for 30,000,000 people if you can’t have a joke or two aimed at only six?

In some cases, writers do this to reward the audience for paying strict attention. I think LOST did that 500 times an episode. There are historical, literate, and spiritual references galore. We didn’t do that on ALMOST PERFECT. But any time Nancy Travis or any character was watching TV they were always watching CHEERS.

Hey, I’ll be honest. We do it for our own amusement. We do it because we can.

There’s a very famous episode of BIG WAVE DAVE’S where Adam Arkin keeps commuting back and forth between Hawaii and Chicago. I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. Well, we show him on a plane four or five times and every time he’s reading my book, “It’s Gone…No, Wait a Minute!” (This did not result in the huge spike in sales I was counting on, however.)

Animated shows are perfect vehicles for slipping in private jokes. The “Dancin’ Homer” episode of THE SIMPSONS that David Isaacs and I wrote is chock-full of names of actual people I encountered broadcasting baseball in the minor leagues. I play the Springfield Isotopes announcer, “Dan Hoard”. Dan was my partner in Syracuse and is a prominent sportscaster today.

There are often cartoon character likenesses of the writers that show up in THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY. You’d think they’d be more flattering.

It’s always a pain-in-the-ass coming up with names for characters. But this is an ideal way to slip in names of people you know. A lot of my former girlfriends show up as nurses on MASH. One became Charles’ sister, “Honoria”. Yes, I went out with a Honoria. It seems that anytime 24 needed a villain who wasn’t Russian or Persian (so that means twice in nine years) they used the name of a Fox network or studio executive.

Growing up, our family dog was named Babette. My mother named her. Can’t say I was ever crazy about the name. So in an episode of MASH that we wrote, Radar loses his hamster, which he named Babette. Then throughout the show everyone gave him a raft of shit for naming her that. After the episode aired my mom called and said, “Very funny.” But again, what’s the point of producing a primetime network television show if you can’t use it expressly to needle your mother?

Anytime I directed a show and there was a scene in a nice restaurant my dad became the maitre ‘d. That turned into a regular gig on ALMOST PERFECT when the show got picked up and “Annie’s” (named for my daughter) became a permanent set.

I used to love in MAD magazine there were sometimes cartoon panels that were just loaded with little bonus gags in the margins and background. Let’s just say there’s a lot of MAD in MASH.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let Steve Jobs determine YOUR sexual preference!!

Along with finding nearby Ethiopian restaurants and local weather you can now determine your sexual compatibility thanks to a nifty new app for iPhones, iPods, iPads, iAnything that starts with a P.

The app is called BOINK (a term originated on CHEERS by the way. That and “pond scum” thank you very much.)

You fill out a very detailed sexual survey then bump devices (already that sounds sordid) with your potential partner. And it will compare answers and determine whether you two are right for each other in the sack.

Boy, I wish I had this back in my early dating days. All these tedious first dates listening to her yammer on endlessly about how much fun quilting is and trying to glean from that whether she likes reverse cowgirl or is willing to perform oral sex on the freeway. And how much money would I have saved? Should I buy that second bottle of wine for $37? A quick bump would let me know I could pour 100 gallons of Merlot down her gullet and I still wouldn’t get into her pants.

There are some bug with this app though. (Like with the new iPhone4 Steve Jobs might want to give out free protective cases – in this instance to prevent unwanted pregnancies). First off, everybody lies in sex surveys. Yes, I have sex 30 times a week. Yes, I love to cuddle. Guys in particular probably check off “yes” to everything.

And then of course, both parties must be Apple users. What happens when you’re attracted to a super hot guy but he’s got an Evo? Or the woman of your dreams uses a Kindle? Do you really want to mate out of your species?

And are people really going to act or not act based on the results? You’re telling me a priest is going to leave some alter boy alone because their profiles just don’t perfectly jibe?

Also, how accurate can this app be? Seems to me if two people have both filled out detailed sex surveys and are willing to compare them, they’ve already got one hand on each others genitals.

And here’s the creepiest feature of all. BOINK lets you share your experiences with the world. It has the option to share "boinks" with friends through email, Facebook or Twitter. Yikes! Am I the only one who thinks that’s a certain invasion of privacy? I mean, I’m happy for my friend that he found a fellow electric wine enema fetishist but I really don’t want to get a Tweet about it. And again, isn’t the church in enough trouble?

My other big fear: What if you fill out the questionnaire and your iPhone determines you’re not even sexually compatible to yourself? How much Apple Care will you need to overcome that psychic blow?

On the other hand, this app does have its merits. Besides the ones I've already mentioned, Al Gore might be in a lot less trouble today if he bumped with that masseuse. And I bet Oksana Grigorieva would have saved herself a lot of grief if Mel had just checked off “yes” to “liking to give my partner verbal, physical, and emotional abuse and call her the C-Word continuously.

But really? Do you need a phone app to determine that Courtney Love is not right for you?

Still, the app is free so what the hell? I just wonder how you bring it up in conversation. I imagine if you say to a girl “Do you have BOINK?” she’s going to think you’re Latka from TAXI.

If you do have this app and use it and it works I would love to hear about it. Maybe BOINK will become a big sensation. Here’s how we’ll know: There will be one of those Mac/PC commercials. The PC guy will boast that the PC has the most memory of any computer and the Mac guy will counter that he gets blowjobs.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The story behind the CHEERS Bar War episodes

I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.

Did we purposely plan for the Cheers gang to lose every time?

Yes. Except for the last one. Frustration is much funnier than victory. The trick however, was to find different ways for them to lose – or screw themselves. Guess I grew up watching too many Road Runner cartoons.

What about the last Bar Wars in the final season?

Ultimately, we decided to not only let Cheers win but to demolish Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern once and for all. We’re nothing if not vengeful. Trivia note: That is the only episode of CHEERS that I appear in. I’m sitting at the bar in an early scene.

Who played Gary?

The answer is: which time? We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. The first time the character appeared, Joe Polis played him in a 1985 episode called “From Beer to Eternity”. When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode Joe wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary. For Bar Wars II we went back to Joe Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in INCEPTION.

What is your favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars V. My partner came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer.

What is your least favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars VI. The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the BIG SLEEP of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened.

Was it hard to plot these episodes?

Yes. Very. These episodes were a bitch to conceive and then hard to write because there was always so much story. By nature, exposition and set ups are not inherently funny and entertaining. We had to pull a lot of jokes out of nowhere.

What was your favorite gag?

Filling Rebecca’s office with sheep. That’s the power of being a writer. You come up with a goofy idea. And voila, there are fifty sheep being herded onto the set. I’m sure the guy who came up with snakes on the plane had the same heady feeling.There are some Bar Wars type episodes not called Bar Wars. How come?

Those were episodes not originally designed to be bar wars but evolved into them. Or they were competitions not practical joke wars, per se. In other words, I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out BAR WARS II.

And finally, are you that diabolical?

Let’s just say I hope you’re not allergic to sheep.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

For FRASIER script fans...

Here's another of our scripts that has shown up on line. It's the FRASIER episode where Sam Malone from CHEERS visits. Also notable, the part of Sheila was played by Tea Leoni.

You can access it here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Answering your TV questions... I do every Friday.

Let’s start with Matt:

I have quite a few MASH scripts in my collection and in reading through them, none of writers indicate Stage 9 vs. Fox Ranch locations. How did the production staff decide which location to shoot scenes (aside from the obvious: EXT. CHOPPER PAD - DAY).

The key factor was “time of year”. We could shoot exteriors of the Swamp and Mess Tent right on the stage if we had to (they didn’t look as good but we occasionally did it). I wanted to have helicopters landing in Stage 9 but no one was willing to build the giant removable sunroof that would require.

In the summer when it was light from 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. we shot one day for every episode at the Malibu Ranch location. But in planning the scripts we knew that meant a maximum of eight pages. So we laid out the stories accordingly.

And once we went of Daylight Savings Time that was it for location shooting the rest of the season.

If there was an episode that contained mostly interiors (say a poker game show), we held it back. If you have the MASH DVD’s you’ll see a lot more actual exterior scenes in the first half of each season.

sophomorecritic has a question:

When I first saw Mark Feuerstein in Conrad Bloom, I found him to be a likeable actor. Then the show got cancelled and I don't remember seeing him again until Royal Pains where he's really found a niche.
You have any comments or reflections on his circuitous route to stardom? I also thought Conrad Bloom was a good show, what went wrong?

Mark has done a lot of things. I first worked with him before CONRAD BLOOM on FIRED UP where he was a regular.

For some reason he has had the misfortune of being in quite a few series that never took off. In addition to the two I’ve already mentioned there was THE HEART DEPARTMENT (I don’t even remember that one), GOOD MORNING MIAMI, and 3 LBS.

He’s also been in movies with scumbag Mel Gibson and sweetheart Sandra Bullock. I also saw him on stage starring in a Neil LaBute play last year and he was riveting.

As you said, Mark has an incredibly likable quality. He’s also very real. And having directed him numerous times I can tell you he’s a complete gentleman and professional.

I’m happy ROYAL PAINS is starting to catch on. Mark is really one of the good guys. And off the subject, but his wife Dana is equally terrific.

It’s hard to say just why CONRAD BLOOM didn’t work. Probably my directing.

But seriously, it had some good people and good writers. My guess is it came along the year there was such a glut of sitcoms (or as I like to call it – “the Golden Age when we all could make our car payments”) that it got lost in the shuffle.

Aw, who we kidding? It was my directing.

From Vermonter17032 :

Ken, your desire to be Hawkeye raises an interesting question: Is Hawkeye Pierce the coolest TV sitcom character ever?

No. I would have to say the Fonz and maybe Daryl from Larry, Daryl, and Daryl. Not that Daryl. The other Daryl.

Brian Phillips wonders:

Up until the 1990's, I could tell the difference between videotaped shows and filmed shows. Video shows usually looked bright, like news and sports shows, while the filmed shows' colors and lighting are subtler. Are all sitcoms all on film now or have some merely converted to a high quality of videotape?

To my knowledge, all sitcoms – single and multiple camera – are taped in High Def now. With the proper lightening, you can pretty much simulate that softer film look. If only it could make the jokes funnier.

And finally, from Ed Blonski:

Kelsey Grammer just tweeted a show idea about the Crane brothers' sons with guest appearances of Frasier characters.

I'm wondering what you think of the idea and if you would write for such a show?

First off, it depends on who writes it. If it’s Peter Casey & David Lee or the Charles Brothers then I would certainly entertain it. Otherwise, I highly doubt I'd get involved. And I can’t speak for those four gentleman obviously, but my stab-in-the-dark guess is you’d have to put a loaded gun to their heads to get them to consider it. And even then I dunno.

This idea sounds like the MUPPET BABIES but with FRASIER, which brings to mind an idea I always had – CHEERS BABIES. See baby Norm and baby Cliff at the bar drinking beers. I think it would be a delightful show for the kiddies.What's your question???

Thursday, July 15, 2010

If Letterman's extortionist wins an Emmy, here's his speech

How does David Letterman feel? He was passed over for an Emmy and yet today comes word that Joe Halderman – the man who tried to extort him – is nominated.

Halderman’s nominated for producing a segment of 48 HOURS.

If he wins, I hope they let him out of prison for the night to accept the award and that he gets to give the speech. This is what I think it should be:

Wow! I wasn’t expecting this. Thank you. Other than being imprisoned on felony charges this has been some great year. Lots of people to thank. The TV Academy, everyone at CBS, Warden Sommers for allowing me to be here tonight, especially since this is the night I work the back sink Certainly my crew. You guys are the best. A couple have even visited me. Hey, when I get out I’ve got some real ringers for our softball team.

I’d like to thank Amanda Knox. This courageous woman was falsely accused of murder and proven to be innocent. We at 48 HOURS were proud to tell her story. I hope to thank her personally. We now have the same lawyer.

This statue means a lot to me, both because it’s from my peers and secondly because it’s heavy. With this baby in my mitt maybe once I’ll be able to take a shower without six uninvited guys washing my back.

Believe me, I’ll cherish this forever. There are not enough carton of cigarettes in the world that would tempt me to trade it.

Well, my ankle bracelet is beeping, guess it’s time to go. Again, thank you. And to all inmates everywhere – never give up that dream!!!

How to get back at the network censor

I applaud the Appeals Court for overturning the FCC's "Indecency" rule this week. So while this is a hot topic...

Battles between show runners and network Standards & Practices (i.e. Censors – despite what their business cards say) are common. Personally, I never had a major run-in with them. They have been annoying and at times infuriating but that’s just part of the process. Most of the time you can work things out. They tend to be reasonable.

But we had an incident in the mid 80s when we were doing MARY (the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle) that at least gave us a chance to get back at them… in some small, admittedly immature, but mirth provoking way.

Our S&P person was a middle-aged spinster. Picture: Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. In one episode we had Mary innocently say “yin yang” in a speech. Aunt Bea called and said we’d have to lose that. Why? She said it was a euphemism for penis. Well first off, I had never heard it used in that context and secondly, we weren’t using it in a suggestive manner. “Yin yang” is the Chinese symbol for opposites. Plus, Mary Tyler Moore was saying it. We were not going to have America's sweetheart do a dick joke.

Still Aunt Bea was adamant. She had a list of euphemisms for penis and none of those words were allowed.

She had a list? An actual list?

I got an idea. I said to her it would be very helpful to hear the list so we’d know in the future what words to avoid. Would she please read them aloud to me?

I then put her on speaker phone so the entire writing staff could hear as Aunt Bea went down the list. Just imagine your dear sweet grandmother saying, “willy. wang, dong, baloney pony, Captain Winkie”.

We were dying.

She was clearly uncomfortable too. But when she finished I asked if there was a list for breasts. As a matter-of-fact there was. I had her recite that list to the gang. “Hooters, kazonkas, sweater meat”.

She reeeeally wanted to hang up after that list. But there was yet another list we really needed to hear. “What about vagina?” I asked.

She took a deep breath. And then from “cha-cha” to “hoo-hoo” with every “man in the boat” in between, she rattled off the terms. Dropping the “C-bomb” and a few that were so ugly that I could only picture Mel Gibson saying them.

I thanked her, she hung up, and we howled for twenty minutes.

We got very few S&P notes after that. And to be fair, we always tried to take the high road on that show anyway. We weren’t looking to slip in dick jokes. .

Here’s how far television has come: For a full list of those CBS euphemisms for “penis” watch any three episodes of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My review of the All-Star Game

The Rally Monkey is off their back. In Angel Stadium, home of Rally Monkeys, thunder sticks, Splash Mountain fountains and other features that just wreak with baseball tradition, the National League beat the American League 3-1 for the first time since 1996. How long ago was that? The Ozone Layer was still fine. Blur was a big hit group. ALMOST PERFECT was even still on the air.

But it was the big Midsummer Classic – a chance to see the best second-tier players in all of baseball after most of the real All-Stars canceled due to injury or disqualification.

Utility man Omar Infante of the Braves made it even though he’s not good enough to start on his own team. And since every club must have at least one representative we saw Michael Bourn of the Astros, hitting a stout .255 with one home run.

Meanwhile, the only player the American League didn’t use was Alex Rodriguez. Huh???

Having one player from every team was fine when you never saw these guys. But now every game of every team is on TV, your computer, and your phone. Plus, there are now 30 teams, not 16 like the old days. It’s especially tough for the American League since they also have to work in the obligatory ten Yankees and ten Red Sox.

The big story of the night of course was the passing of George Steinbrenner. Even in death "the Boss" knew how to grab the headlines. So we were treated to florid tributes of this man who did so much for baseball he was banned from the game twice. What he was was a brilliant businessman. He bought the Yankees in 1973 for $8.7 million and now with the combination of the club and the YES network its value is close to $3.2 billion. I wish he had bought America instead in 1973.

The host Angels can call themselves “Los Angeles” all they want. As Fox announcer Joe Buck said repeatedly, the game was played in Anaheim. There’s a difference. It’s like George Lazenby calling himself James Bond.

Now that the All-Star game COUNTS I noticed a much greater intensity on the part of the Kansas City Royal and Pittsburgh Pirate players for that coveted home field advantage in the World Series.

In the pre-game show, wasn’t that “All-Stars Among Us” feature lovely and touching? Okay, be honest. You fast-forwarded through it, didn’t you? Yeah, so did I. But I would have been moved I’m sure.

Monday was the annual Home Run Derby. I never know how that works. The rules seem to change during the competition. Some guy could hit 30 in a row and lose. Maybe they explain it but truthfully, I never watch. Why? Chris Berman. He’s the ooga horn of sportscasters.

Glad that Big Papi won. His acknowledgment of the late Jose Lima was a classy gesture.

More people watch the Home Run Derby than divisional playoff games (this is true).

Best home run derby moment was a few years ago when Barry Bonds stepped up to the plate and the Astros bullpen catcher signaled for an intentional walk.

Amber Riley from GLEE sang some improvisational power ballad that vaguely resembled the National Anthem.

Nice to see Rod Carew throw out the first pitch; probably the only Jew the Angels ever had.

As usual, Joe Buck did a fine job. But Tim McCarver? First of all, why do you even need an analyst on an All-Star game? It’s not like there’s any strategy in these affairs. No one has bunted since 1946. So what we’re left with is incessant yammering about nothing and vital statistics like Guerrero “has the most RBI’s and home runs for any player who changed teams”. WOW!!!!

Kudos to Atlanta’s Brian McCann, named the MVP for his bases-clearing game-winning double. Chris Rose from Fox handled the postgame interviews and proved to be as good at it and prepared as Melissa Rivers at the Oscars. Chris to Brian McCann: “So in 1996 you were like three. What do you remember about that game?” A) What three-year-old remembers an All-Star game? and B) McCann said he was eight. Undaunted, Melissa asked him where his big hit ranks in his career? What’s the answer to that? Ninth. No wait, eleventh. Fortunately, they cut away before Ms. Rivers could ask if he still bit his nails?

Fox is so committed to baseball they ran a promo proclaiming, “It’s time to get back to FOOTBALL – The NFL on Fox”.

Does anybody in their right mind keep score of an All-Star game?

I love Derek Jeter. In tribute to Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankees P.A. announcer who passed away Sunday at 99, he used Sheppard’s introduction of him whenever he came to bat. And will continue to for the rest of his career. Unlike “the Boss”, when you say wonderful things about Bob Sheppard, you mean them.

The All-Star game is the only time a member of the San Diego Padres is ever on national television… even though they’re leading their division.

For the first five innings I thought I was watching the World Cup. 0-0. Zzzzzz.

How utterly insipid was that “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” feature Fox ran when Vladimir Guerrero was up at bat? This is the fucking All-Star Game, not DORA THE EXPLORER!

Here's what I'd REALLY like to see in an All-Star game -- a benches clearing brawl. Would guys get suspended from future All-Star games? Would Yankees and Red Sox start wailing on each other even though they're on the same team?

Some real “Diamond Gems”. A terrific diving catch by Ryan Braun (who statistically is an even worse outfielder than Manny Ramirez and he ranks below Betty White), and a heads-up play by Marlon Byrd to turn a single into a force out in the 9th inning.

At least there is defense in a baseball All-Star game. Were it played like its NBA counterpart (or in Colorado) the final score would be 69-58.

During one commercial break Fox segued from an ad for Walt Disney into one for Las Vegas.

The All-Star Game is a lot like the Academy Awards. It never lives up to the hype, you don’t recognize half the stars, the interviews are inane, and it’s usually too long, but every year you gotta be there. See you next summer in Arizona (unless they move it because of Senate Bill 1070. Or, like the Angels, they can play the game in San Francisco and just say it's Arizona.)

Photos compliments of the L.A. TIMES.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My first radio job

I’m starting a new on-going series – tales from my early radio days. Along with Netflix picks, travelogues, Friday questions, excerpts from my 60s book, award reviews, movie previews, early tales of my writing career, and eulogies I’ll be sprinkling these chestnuts in from time to time.

I always contend that the only way I got respect in radio was by getting out of it. There was no Billboard Disc Jockey of the Year award for me in the early 70s. Most of the time there were no jobs.

I can’t say my aspirations upon graduating from UCLA were all that high back then. I wanted to play the hits. My ultimate goal was to do nights in San Diego. Not even Los Angeles or San Francisco. I thought with my voice even San Diego was unrealistic.

And of course, when you just get out of college your career planning is not really long range. It never occurred to me that introducing Cher records four hours a night for fifty years might not be the best use of my time or talent. I just wanted to land at a station with a good jingle package. (Another job well done by a faculty career counselor.)

My first real on-air job came while I was still in college. A friend, John was a disc jockey/chief engineer at the number two rock station in Bakersfield. KERN 1410. (Note: Any AM station 1300 or higher on the dial has the signal range of your WIFI router.) He called to say they had an opening – Saturday nights from 6-midnight for $2.50 an hour!! I gasped at my good fortune. Quickly I called the program director (who was on the air at the time... playing "Gypsies Tramps and Thieves"). He said send a tape. I had one ready to go. It was a composite of shows I had done at the UCLA campus station.

I asked if I could drive up there and play it for him. With such a plum assignment as six hours a week on a station no one listened to in the middle of nowhere in sweltering summer heat for minimum wage I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

So on the 4th of July in Africa-hot heat I drove the 90 miles up to Bakersfield -- the Jewel of the Central Valley.

The station itself was a shack surrounded by three towers in a giant empty field. The previous tenant was probably the Unibomber. I met the program director, your standard long-haired hippy freak/radio executive who took me into the production studio, which was the size of the bathroom in a Greyhound bus. I was very proud of this tape. It must've taken me twenty hours to assemble. He wound it on the old machine, and hit play. “It’s 6:00 on…” He shut it off. “Yeah, you’re fine. You start Saturday”.

I was ecstatic.

He asked me what name I wanted to use. This threw me a little. Couldn’t I just use Ken Levine? “I dunno, “ he said, “That sounds almost Jewish.” (Almost Jewish???) He suggested instead “R.K. Olsen”. (RKO owned a lot of big stations back then like KHJ, KFRC, and WOR. It was an inside joke for six people on the planet). We settled on Ken Stevens. Who knew I’d be going through Ellis Island in Bakersfield?

Still, this was unbelievable. Our campus station only went to the dorms. This station I could hear in my car! At least for the first six minutes driving back home at midnight.

For three months I commuted every weekend to Bakersfield. My radiator blew twice, my car overheated numerous times, I got a flat tire, snapped three fan belts, and one weekend I received two speeding tickets from the same cop at the same spot coming and going.

But it was worth every dollar I had to borrow to keep this glorious job.

And then they gave me Sundays from noon to six to go along my Saturday night shift. I did that for about a year, sleeping every Saturday night on John's threadbare couch.

At first I was terrible on the air. No tapes exist. But eventually I got comfortable. In other words, I started doing more comedy (LOTS more comedy). The program director left, replaced ironically by my friend, John. He really whipped the station into shape. And the next summer when the ratings came out (they only came out once a year in Bakersfield) KERN amazingly beat the longtime powerhouse KAFY despite their massive signal and better jingles.

And my ratings on Sunday afternoons: a staggering 49 share. Believe me, I owe it all to the comedy. Otherwise I had no pipes and no real style. Still I wonder – if I had gone by the name Ken Levine, would my share have been slightly lower? Maybe 40? Or 8?

More radio tales in the weeks to come. Here’s a hint: “Just shut up and play the records. Stop trying to be funny. You’re not!”