Sunday, October 31, 2010

Amazing Alan Alda impression

From Bill Hader on last night's SNL...

My idea for a really cool slasher movie!

I must admit I never got into those slasher movies. Seems to me they’re all the same story. The popular kids who were too good to ever go out with you in high school all frolic off to a cabin for some holiday and some disfigured skeesix in a goalie’s mask terrorizes and one-by-one graphically slices them up. Yes, it’s grizzly and horrible but isn’t that sorta what they deserve? Would it kill them to agree to dance with us just once??

Then there’s a sequel where the ones that survived go BACK to the cabin. You’d think maybe they’d hit the MTV beach house the next winter break instead?

And there’s always the backstory explaining how the psychopath became a killer…such as he was a bed wetter or flunked out of Benhinana Chef school.

I have what I believe is a great idea for a slasher movie. I’m sharing it because I’ve had it registered (in other words, you can’t steal it!!!). But it seems to me the key to this genre is creating a truly terrifying slasher. My idea is to hire Gordon from SESAME STREET as the psychopath. Can you imagine how disturbing THAT would be to anyone who grew up with that show?

“You didn’t eat your vegetables!” “AAAAAAAA!!!” Slice! Hack!

“Can you spell ‘help’?” “H-E-L-AAAAAAAAAAA!!” Stab! Slit!

“One of these limbs is not like the others!” Chop!

“Today I’m brought to you by the letters D.O.A.!!”

I can hear the screams now. Freddie and Jason and Chucky, eat (or cut) your hearts out. Plus, I’ve got the sequel all storyboarded. Only this time it’s Maria.

Happy Halloween, kids.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Katey Sagal sings

Here's an episode of the MARY series that David Isaacs and I created for Mary Tyler Moore in 1985.  Thanks to reader Benson for posting it on YouTube.    This is the episode that features Katey Sagal singing.   We knew she was a terrific singer (she was one of Bette Midler's Harlettes) but the character she played in the show was a real curmudgeon, not the kind of person who would just break into song. 

So we constructed a story to justify it.  The episode was directed by Ellen Falcon, written by me and David, and Richard Gilliland was the guest-star. 



Merrill Markoe's Book of Genesis

Finally, some actual PROOF of the Book of Genesis, compliments of esteemed theologian, Merrill Markoe.

How a baseball is made

As the World Series continues, I'm always looking for baseball posts for people who don't give a crap about baseball. Here's one for anyone just curious or that entrepreneur looking to start his own sweat shop. How a baseball is made. This is from the Discovery Channel and it's pretty fascinating. Before you can "play ball" you gotta "make ball".

Friday, October 29, 2010

What is the best spec to write?

Working through these Friday questions as fast as I can. Here are a bunch more.

Ajjjj asks:

What show do you recommend to spec? You’ve mentioned 30 Rock, but since it's in its fifth season, is it maybe getting long in the tooth?


Is it wiser to write for a young show with promise (Raising Hope, Modern Family) or to write for a show that might be too stale in a year or so (Always Sunny, 30 Rock?)


Thanks, and I'll take my answer off the air.

If possible, write specs for shows that are hot or on the way up. The problem with writing a spec 30 ROCK now is that there are already a gazillion of them out there.  Producers are tired of reading them.

That said, the most important factor is what show do you feel would best show off your talents?  That's the show you should target. If you really don’t get MODERN FAMILY or like MODERN FAMILY then don’t spec one. On the other hand, if you are Barney, then HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is your "quid pro bro".

Among the preferred specs to write these days – and I’m just guessing here but I’d say MODERN FAMILY, PARKS & RECREATION, COMMUNITY, BIG BANG THEORY, maybe BORED TO DEATH.

I’d give the freshmen comedies a few more weeks before tackling one of them.  I wouldn't put too much time into plotting out a spec RUNNING WILDE.

And if you have a great GARY UNMARRIED, sorry but junk it.

Here’s one from Richard Carpenter (I assume not the one who was Karen’s brother since he’s from Milwaukee):

Do writers for a series have a list of special talents of the actors, or do they ask around when they need something special for a scene?


There was an episode of Modern Family that centered around Cameron playing drums, an episode for which the actor really had to know how to play, and not just fake his way through it. I can't imagine even starting such a script before you knew it was possible to pull off.


Were there any cases in your shows where you used such a special talent, and if so how did that come to be?

Not a list per se but usually on actors’ resumes they will list their “skills”. I always check that because I am forever amused at what they consider to be “talents”. Bicycling, suitcase packing, stenciling, old lady impersonation, can throw a spiral, cook tacos, look good in shorts.

Normally you don’t have to ask actors what their special skills are. They’re happy to volunteer that info. And sometimes we’ll try to work those skills into shows. Eric Stonestreet really was a clown in his past life.  MODERN FAMILY parlayed that knowledge into Emmys.    On that Mary Tyler Moore show David and I did where we gave Katey Sagal her first job, we knew she could sing (she was once one of Bette Midler’s Harletts) and found a way to have her sing in an episode.

And then there’s Jane Leeves.

In the first year of FRASIER there was an episode where they needed her to play pool. Jane had never played pool so a tutor was enlisted to hastily teach her the fundamentals. After two days she was making trick shots. The tutor said he had never met anybody who picked it up faster and was as naturally talented at pool as Jane. He said she could be a professional after three days. Sometimes these people are just brimming with gifts. (I also understand that Jane is good at stenciling.)

Jim Miller wonders:

Why don't TV writers ever use the wisdom of the crowds by publishing and taking comments on a script before the script was shot? Fans could even vote on which jokes worked.

Jim, that’s an honest question but I can tell you there is NOTHING in the world, the universe that would piss off a comedy writer more than people voting on his jokes.


My post yesterday dealt with this to a certain extent. Audiences vote with their laughter.

And finally, from Eduardo Jencarelli:

Regarding those Simpsons episodes you wrote, did you and David get paid extra for creating the Capital City Goofball on Dancin' Homer and Ronnie Beck on Saturdays of Thunder?

No. Maybe we could have made an issue of it but we didn’t. The thing about the Capital City Goofball that I’m most proud about is that I also designed the character. I’m an amateur cartoonist and offered sketches of what I thought the Goof could look like. Much to my delight, they were accepted. I still have my original sketches. And just the fact that a character I designed was used on THE SIMPSONS is worth waaay more than a few dollars residuals. Of course David might not feel that way.

What’s your question?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One of the true idiots I've ever worked with

Early in my directing career I did a couple of episodes of ASK HARRIET for FOX. It actually was not a bad show and I worked with some wonderful actors like Willie Garson, Ed Asner, and Julie Benz. But one of the producers was maybe the worst writer I’ve ever encountered in the business. And he really stuck out because the rest of the staff was terrific.

For purposes of this piece let’s call him Shecky because he pretty much embodied the lowest of the borscht belt comics. Loud, lascivious, dyed his hair and eyebrows with shoe polish, always hustling and creeping-out the extras. He was the uncle your parents always kept you away from when you were little.

Shecky only cared about jokes. Usually old, usually off color. Supposedly when he was on staff of an earlier series whenever it was time to break a story he fell asleep.

One week we had an act break joke that was just a vile gratuitous slam on gays. I called and said the cast and I were all extremely uncomfortable with the line. He said he wanted to see it at runthrough. Okay. Fair enough.

I rehearsed the scene and told the cast not to purposely tank the line. They didn’t need to first of all, and secondly, we didn’t want to give Skecky any ammunition for keeping the line.

So the writers all came down, we did the scene, and predictably the joke bombed… except for Shecky laughing hysterically. And this was the conversation that followed, almost verbatim, between me and the Sheckster.

Me: Well, it didn’t work. We could really use something else here.


Shecky: What are you talking about? It worked great!


Me: Huh?   It did? No one laughed.


Shecky: I laughed.


Me: Yes, but not one of your other writers.


Shecky: Well, of course they didn’t laugh. They’re comedy writers.


Me: Excuse me??


Shecky: They’re comedy writers. But real people will laugh at that.   Writers are jaundiced.

Me: Wait a minute. Isn’t the fact that they’re professional comedy writers mean they’re watching the material to determine whether an audience of real people will find it funny? Their job is not to be entertained themselves. Their job is to best determine what others will like. Otherwise, what’s the point of even having a runthrough?


Shecky: To support the actors. Look, the joke stays.

I was just the freelance director. I walked away in utter disbelief. They did the joke on show night and not only did it not get a laugh, it got gasps from the audience.

Later that night Shecky said he was putting in a new line in the scene we were about to shoot. It was an office party scene and one character was trying to impress a co-worker he had eyes on. So another character suggests Xeroxing his ass. Why this would charm a woman I do not know. But there was some lame line of justification. Shecky wanted to change it. When the one character was reluctant to Xerox his ass the other was now to say, “Look, everyone knows the way to a girl’s heart is through the butt.”

Me: No, really.


Shecky: That’s the line.


Me: You’re not serious, are you? I mean, you’re not actually proposing that line, right?


Shecky: Why not? What’s wrong with it?


Me: What's wrong with it?   Really?  Uh… well, for starters -- it’s tasteless and offense and not remotely funny.


Shecky: Well, fuck you! That’s the line.


I refused to give that line to the cast. If he wanted it in he would have to do it. He cursed me out again and stormed onto the stage. Two minutes later he returned.


Shecky: (begrudgingly) Alright, we’ll do the original line.


Me: Let me guess, the actor refused to say it?


Shecky: FUCK YOU!!

By mutual consent, that was the last ASK HARRIET I directed.

But the big question is this: How do you know when something’s funny? Especially since humor is so subjective. The standard answer is “it’s funny if it’s funny to you”. I disagree. And I use Shecky as an example. If you’re attempting to become a professional comedy writer you need to gage what strangers will find funny.

This requires a knack, based on observation, experience, and your own sense of humor. Paying attention to what works. The only true determination is if the audience laughs. So how are the jokes constructed? How dependent is the material on performance? Or reactions?  What about tone?  Timing? Do you have the right target audience? What and exactly when are they laughing?  And then of course, there’s common sense. I’d be surprised if a single one of you thought, “the way to a girl’s heart is through the butt” was funny and appropriate. Earl Pomerantz, by the way, had an excellent piece in his blog on this subject too.

Can this knack be developed? Absolutely. My first staff job was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. I went down to my first runthrough, sat on a director chair with the rest of the writers and enjoyed the runthrough immensely. Meanwhile, I’m looking over at everyone else and they’re madly scribbling. I’m thinking “What are they seeing?” But then we’d get back to the writers room and they’d start discussing the script and their concerns. The next day’s runthrough would be dramatically better. By paying attention I began to see what they saw.

So what if you don't have the luxury of being on staff? 

When you go to comedy movies make note of what works and try to figure out why. Same with plays. Sitcoms are harder unless they’re multi-camera and you’re in the audience. Because through editing, sweetening, and retakes they can make shows appear better than they played. But train yourself to study comedy. And when you feel you finally have a real handle on it then learn this cardinal rule:

No one is always right.

I hate to say it and wish it weren’t so but no matter how long you’ve been doing it, how many Oscars or Emmys or Tonys you have, you still may be wrong. That’s why we have runthroughs. That’s why Neil Simon, after all his smash hits, rewrites constantly while his plays are still in tryout. That’s why movies are previewed.

So we never know for sure. But start thinking professionally.  If you do your due diligence, if you begin to trust that you’re right most of the time you’ll have a much greater shot at breaking in. And more importantly you’ll help weed out fucking idiots like Shecky.  Please do it.  For me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Charlie Sheen, the World Series, the Kardashians, and Crusader Rabbit

Random this and thats…

So Charlie Sheen was found naked and drunk and trashed a hotel room in the Plaza in New York. The naked hooker he was with was screaming from inside a closet. And what was the spin this time? Why it was merely an allergic reaction to medication. I dunno. On all those drug commercials when they list the possible dangerous side effects I’ve never heard them say “may cause patient to get naked, drink heavily, throw furniture, and terrorize prostitutes.”

Debra Winger is such a good actress that after watching her for ten minutes on IN TREATMENT I stopped saying “Boy, she’s had work done” and got wrapped up in her character.

Bristol Palin is the Sanjaya of DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Most people think Jay Ward created Rocky & Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right but it was really Alex Anderson Jr. He also created Crusader Rabbit. Alexander passed away recently at age 90. Crusader Rabbit was the first cartoon produced expressly for television. Anderson approached Ward for financing and the two formed an early partnership. Crusader Rabbit was my favorite TV cartoon as a kid, primarily because the stories were so clever. Ironically, the writer of those stories, Lloyd Turner, is the same writer who twenty years later gave me and David our first break (an assignment on THE JEFFERSONS).

I still haven’t heard back from Matt Damon. I know Charlie Sheen is flying back to New York around Thanksgiving but what if I want to use the restroom and the hooker is in there screaming? And I’m ducking those floatation devices. Not worth it. I’ll just wait to hear from Matt.

Considering how many new shows are getting full season pick-ups despite dismal ratings, Jimmy Smits and Maura Tierney must be saying, “Hey, what the fuck did we do?!”

KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS has double the adult ratings of BOARDWALK EMPIRE. But B.E. still beats SWAMP PEOPLE and ICE ROAD TRUCKERS: DEADLIEST ROADS … by .l. The power of Scorsese!

Speaking of ratings: Analysts are predicting this World Series (which starts tonight) could be the lowest watched in history. Maybe there would be more interest in the Texas Rangers if before tonight in their 39-year history they were on primetime network television just once.

And even though there’s a great Game One match-up between the Giants’ Tim Lincecum & the Rangers’ Cliff Lee, more people will be watching the kidnapped guy in Mexico naming names at gunpoint on YouTube.

What are you going as this Halloween?

The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in Halloween.  So the one night of the year when people would actually open their doors to them they stay home.

In Evanston, Illinois it is illegal to Trick-or-Treat.  It's also illegal to skip.

Is it just me or is the new Nook eReader not a great name? No one at Barnes & Noble Inc. bothered to say it out loud? “I’d like to buy one of those new Nooky Readers.”

George Bush is making the talk show rounds plugging his new book. I wonder who wrote it for him.

The trailer for the new TRON looks very cool. This is one I think I'll see on the big screen and not my phone.

And finally -- Allen Iverson has agreed to play pro basketball in Turkey. Please take Charlie Sheen with you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to avoid the "casting couch"


One would have to be incredibly naive to believe that the “casting couch” does not exist in Hollywood (or more correctly -- East Hollywood). Gwyneth Paltrow, in a recent edition of ELLE magazine (I never miss an issue) said that early in her career, despite her parents’ stature in the industry, she was propositioned during a casting session. She quickly bolted but said she could see how someone who didn't know better might worry that, “'My career will be ruined if I don't give this guy a blow job!'"

These tend to be non union situations. As a producer and director I’ve been involved in many casting sessions for pilots and TV series. In every one there’s a casting director, a committee of producers, the director, and sometimes network or studio executives. Within that group there is almost always one woman, usually more. The actors have agents and managers.  Everything is handled on a professional basis. Actresses can take comfort in knowing they were rejected not because they refused to give oral sex but because they were too tall, too short, too ethnic, not pretty enough, too pretty, too old, too skinny, too pale, too dark, not funny, not likable, not related.

And young actresses, if a TV producer propositions you on the side and promises you a part on that big NBC show he says he runs, here’s a news flash: He CAN’T. All network casting has to be approved by the network. It’s gotten so ridiculous with the networks these days that even one and two-line parts now have to be approved by the network. So the best you’re going to do is sleeping with a producer to become an extra. And won’t you feel stupid when the extra right next to you got there by bidding $25 at her school’s silent auction?

Projects that resort to the casting couch are probably not projects that you would want to be in anyway.  Trust me -- YOU DO NOT HAVE TO COMPROMISE YOURSELF TO GET INTO THE BUSINESS.  And chances are if you do you still won't get in, or you will but realize it wasn't worth it. 

But how do you know going in to a casting situation that it's shady? Good question.  Rarely is "must sleep with me" on the breakdown sheets.   So here are some warning signs.  Yes, they are facetious but also true.

You may find yourself in a casting couch situation…

… when the casting session is held in an apartment in Pacoima.

… when there’s no script.

… when the producer’s first question is “Will you sign this document verifying you’re 18?”

… when the project is the MOTHER TERESA STORY and you’re told nudity is involved.

… when you Google the producer and it takes you to SmokingGun.com.

… when he’d prefer not dealing with your agent because he’s an artist not a businessman.

… when he looks like Fredo from THE GODFATHER or Bob from BECKER or Steve Buscemi from anything.

… when there’s no one else in the room.

… when you learned about the casting session from a handwritten note on the bulletin board at Safeway.

… when there are bars on the windows of his office.

… when he has seven video cameras in his office and one is built into the floor.

... when he wears an ankle monitor. 

… when you’re the only one there to audition.

… when you recognize him from BIG BROTHER.

… when the script is CHINATOWN by Robert Towneger.

… when it’s a student film but the director is 60.

… when you feel the least bit suspicious for ANY REASON.

I hope you never find yourself in one of these situations.   Best of luck. And I look forward to seeing you one day in a real casting session, where you have a drive-on to the lot and everything!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reaction to my airline rant. They hate me more than when I blasted Katherine Heigl

Usually I don’t respond to comments. It’s your forum and I’m the hockey referee. I just drop the puck, get out of the way, and let you guys go at it. But my Sunday post on airline treatment has sparked such a heated and bizarre debate that I just had to chime in.

So to some of my dear commenters, and I say this with the greatest respect, are you fucking nuts?! You’re DEFENDING the airlines? Really?

And with such vitriol! Wow! You’d think I said nice things about Patty Heaton again. I once got a death threat for doing that. When the personal attacks start coming then I know I’m really on to something.

Usually they’re the standard “I’m a fucking idiot”, “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about”, “I’m not funny”, “I’m a hundred years old”, “I’m a Democrat”, “I can’t spell”. But then when they want to bring out the big guns – really get to me – they go to this card:

I’m a rich pampered entitled Hollywood writer.

One particularly pissed commenter, Huggy said “catch a ride with Matt Damon or one of your Hollywood pals.” Um, how do I arrange that? Because that would be really cool! Does anybody have Matt’s number or know if he’s planning to go to New York the week of Thanksgiving? And does he have room for seven?

No, I’m afraid I fly commercial just like the rest of you little people.

In fairness, I did receive a number of thoughtful and informed arguments from former or current airline employees offering their side. And it’s no picnic believe me. One pilot said they even lost his luggage. Another vigorously supported the on-time record of his airline. But later admitted he was stuck in Dallas because of some delay.

A number of commenters contend that this shoddy service we’re receiving is a trade-off for the lower fares we’re willing to pay. First of all, the fares vary wildly. Yes, there are times you can fly from LA to New York for $200. Other times it’s $700. Try to book on a website. Prices will vary from literally minute-to-minute. And those lower fares are usually for the worst seats. An upgrade now means the first 40 rows.

And why should the amount we pay determine whether it’s okay to lie to us or over-charge us for other things? The cashiers at Costco are all nice to me. Maybe the airlines should issue “Platinum” cards for those customers who pay more for their seats. Gate employees can take them aside and discreetly say, “Look, I’m telling everyone else the new departure time is 3:50 but we really just reassigned that plane to Matt Damon who’s taking a TV writer he’s never met and his family to New York so until we can find another plane – and again, I’ll be honest – there are no other planes. We keep failing safety tests and have to take them off line. But until we find another one I’m going to just keep moving the departure time back. You might want to get on another flight. And again, this is just between us.”

Here’s the only thing about the comments that concern me. Why should the airlines not treat us like shit when there are lemmings that accept and even defend their bad behavior? It’s hard to demand respect when the passenger next to you is the “Gimp” from PULP FICTION.

Okay, so let the debate continue. And for the record, I don’t turn a hundred until next February.

Here's how you can watch all of your favorite shows all at once!

Yesterday I was introduced to the Red Zone channel. For those unaware, this is the NFL on crack. RED ZONE cuts from game to game to game while an offstage announcer (impressively) sets up what you’re about to see. But it’s impossible to follow anything because you blink and you’re on to another one. There are not as many quick cuts in the BIG BANG THEORY opening titles. At one point a receiver barreled over someone on the sidelines. The poor guy fell to the ground obviously hurt. Just as concerned people gathered around him, BLAM! We were off to Carolina to see a three-yard run. I never did find out if that guy was okay. I can’t even tell you what game it was. The whole thing was a blur.   But I did see it all. Every game in only a fraction of the time.


And it got me thinking: what if there was a channel like that for primetime? You wouldn’t have to channel surf! Holding the remote, pointing it. Ugh! That’s such a pain. And then there’s that clicking and clicking. Who has time for that shit?


So what if there was a channel that did the work for you? Live look-ins at all your favorite shows so you don’t miss a minute. Let me give it a try.

Announcer: We get it started with Dexter. He’s about to kill his first victim.

A man strapped to a table opens his eyes as Dexter stands over him with a knife.

Dexter: How’d you do it?

Victim: AAAAA!!!!

Dexter: It was ingenious the way you made those girls just disappear, even when they were on surveillance cameras. How’d you do it?

Announcer: Susan’s in trouble on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

Maxine and Susan.

Susan: He was never going to buy a Va-Va-Voom Broom anyway.

Maxine: You don’t know that!

Susan: Oh really? Well, here’s what I do know and it's going to knock you on your ass…

Announcer: Off we go to WEEDS where Nancy is having gratuitous sex.

Nancy and a man are doing it on the kitchen table.

Nancy: Oh God! Oh…

Announcer: Back to that later but Joy Behar is in a rage.

Joy: Obama this! Obama that! You want to fix the economy? You want to jump-start the job market? You don’t blame Obama. You…

Announcer: Now to BOARDWALK EMPIRE where Nucky is conducting business.

Nucky, in bed with a prostitute, is on the phone.

Nucky: I’m not anti-Semitic! Can’t I order you to kill Arnold Rothstein without you making a racial issue out of this?

Prostitute: I notice you're not circumcised. 

Nucky:  Shut up!

Prostitute:  It wouldn't be so apparent if you got an erection once in awhile.

Announcer: Let’s stay in the past and visit MAD MEN.

Betty on the couch with Creepy Glenn.

Creepy Glenn: Don’t deny it, Mrs. Draper. You liked it when I touched your…

Announcer: Quickly. Gotta get you back to DEXTER.

A chef stabs a chicken.

Announcer: Oh, wait. Sorry. That was IRON CHEF. Now to DEXTER.


Susan stabs Maxine.

Announcer: That was DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. But over at DEXTER.


Nucky stabs the prostitute.

Announcer: Hold it.  This is coming too fast.

Dexter stabs another victim.

Betty stabs Creepy Glenn


Nancy stabs the guy she had sex with.

Maxine stabs Susan back.

Creepy Glenn stabs himself. 

Dexter stabs Joy Behar.

Okay, it needs work.  What can I tell ya?.  Let me fool with it some more.   And in the meantime, if you gotta watch just one show at a time, I dunno, let’s get you out to Green Bay and NBC Sunday Night Football.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Open letter to airlines: We hate you

RANT WARNING:  Sometimes I really go off.  This is one of them.

Here's just the latest example.  I'm up in the Bay Area this weekend.  On Friday I tried to check in on line on Southwest Airlines.  Pre-check-in site was down, but it said if this continues to call and they provided a number.  So after three hours of trying I called the number.  Had to wait fifteen minutes.  When I finally got someone she said the system is down and there's nothing she could do.  I said, "So why did it say to call this number?"  She said, "So we can tell you the system is down."  I said, "I know that.  It's obvious.  You're making people wait fifteen minutes to tell them something they already know."   "Yes sir", she said proudly.  


And this is one of the GOOD airlines. 

An article came out Friday saying that three major airlines made a big profit the last quarter.  First time since 2007.   How'd they do it?  By reducing flights and cutting back on passenger services. 

They don't give you blankets but they do continue to spend billion of dollars annually on splashy ad campaigns trying to get our business. “Friendly Skies”, “Doing what we do best”, blah blah blah. . And no one’s buying it. In fact, WE ALL HATE YOU. 

Traveling is now an ordeal and you’re a big part of it. Security lines are unpleasant but that’s fifteen minutes. The rest of the six hour wisdom tooth extraction is all you. If airlines really want our patronage and loyalty, save the ad budget. There are better uses for that money. Just adopt the following simple policies.

TALK TO US – Even if it’s five announcements in five minutes. We hate to be left in the dark. Don’t worry that the news will upset us. What we’re conjuring up is far worse.

Pilots are real chatty on the PA when they’re pointing out the sites of Lubbock, Texas on your left, but when we’re just stuck at the gate, and we see maintenance men and guys with clipboards coming in and out of the cockpit, tell us what the fuck is going on. When we’re stuck on the tarmac for a half hour let us know why. It’s not like you’re busy. You’re just sitting there in idle like the rest of us.

When our flight is delayed and a hundred frustrated people are milling around the gate, would it kill you to give us an update? You say you do but trust me, YOU DON’T. Instead we have to go up to the counter so you can blow us off individually.

We’re not just doing this to annoy you. Many of us have connections to make.

TELL US THE TRUTH – Not every flight is delayed due to weather at O’Hare. There has to be a different reason the Sydney to Tokyo flight is cancelled. And get your stories straight. Ask two airline officials why a certain flight is delayed and invariably you’ll hear weather problems from one and maintenance problems from the other. (And the truth of course is neither)

Also, you KNOW when a flight gets in late that is supposed to turn right around it’s going to be late taking off again. First you assure us it’ll still get off as scheduled and then you systematically push back the departure time every fifteen minutes. It’s going to take off an hour late. You know this. Tell us.

Arrival times are now padded to make it appear more flights are on time. Don’t crow about your sparkling on-time record. We know it’s bullshit.

One airline justified its charging extra for heavier luggage because they were concerned for their baggage handlers, worried that the additional strain would result in back problems. But that extra fee we pay, does it go directly to the baggage handlers? Does ANY of it go to them, even indirectly? No. Of course not. Just who do you think you’re kidding?

Passengers are tired of being lied to. You must either hold us in contempt or think we’re all really stupid. Either way you have let the credibility gap widen to the length of a cross-country flight.

PRETEND THAT YOU CARE – Okay, we get it that you don’t. That’s very clear. And you’re in a quandary. If you do pretend you give even the slightest rat’s ass about us then you’re not telling the truth again. We’ll give you a pass on this one. I can’t say just act pleasant, that might not compute. So just act like you would if you wanted something from someone.

Now of course I understand that not all airline employees are like this. Some are lovely compassionate people who genuinely want to help. Have them wear badges so the others can see whom to emulate.

Look real busy and active so you give the impression you care that the flight gets off on time. Recently I was on a delayed flight and of course told the reason was weather at O’Hare (I was flying to Hawaii). Then I overheard the counter agents say the pilot was late. He hadn’t shown up yet. Fifteen minutes later this guy strolls in with a Starbucks coffee he must’ve waited in line ten minutes for. Two hundred people arrive late, half of them miss their connecting flights because the woman ahead of the pilot had to ask which muffins were diet.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CHARGE EXTRA FOR A PIECE OF LUGGAGE THERE SHOULD BE A BIG PENALTY IF IT DOESN’T ARRIVE -- And I don’t mean within the month. I mean on THAT flight. It’s bad enough you lose our bags but now we have to pay you for the privilege?

IF THE FLIGHT IS DELAYED GIVE US THE FUCKING SNACK PACKS FOR FREE. Half the passengers won’t take them anyway because they’re disgusting at any price, even free but it’s a nice gesture.

HAVE ENOUGH BLANKETS AND PILLOWS. You had ‘em before.
GIVE US THE AMENITIES WE WANT. For instance -- snacks
with our drinks. A little bag of peanuts. Those stale pretzel sticks. Is that too much to ask? You say you’re trying to save money? Shit can the goddamn Sky Mall magazine.

And finally….please PLEASE….

STOP APOLOGIZING – It’s so disingenuous and patronizing. You’re not sorry. Not in the least. If you were you’d adopt the above guidelines. And everyone knows you won’t.

That's all. You're now free to go about screwing the public.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Here's the team that should win DANCING WITH THE STARS

On DANCING WITH THE HOPE-TO-STARS Monday night, "teen activist" Bristol Palin attempted to show personality and humor in her dance.  She even went to Clown School.   (I could do a joke here about them offering a mother-daughter discount but of course I'm way above that.)  Anyway, the results were as expected.  There's a reason the nickname for dancing is hoofing.

But for an example of great comic dancing -- here are Laurel & Hardy doing a production number to their favorite song -- their signature song actually -- Oy Yey Como Va by Santana.  Hit it, boys!!

notes from the campaign trail

The President of the United States managed to come to Los Angeles yesterday without crippling the entire southland. The last time was ridiculous. It would have caused less inconvenience if we were all just ordered to evacuate the city. Thirteen million people spending two days sleeping on cots in the Lancaster High School gym. That way the security detail would be satisfied that President Obama could get to Steven Spielberg’s house in time for cocktails.

After the huge public outcry, and by that I mean a rant in this blog, the city basically said to the President what the Viper Room said to Amy Winehouse – if you’re going to cause that much of a disturbance we don’t want you.

So this time the Prez took a helicopter from LAX to the USC campus. (He flew in Marine 1, which is not nearly as tricked out as the chopper Kobe Bryant uses to fly to the Staples Center before games.)

After Mr. Obama’s stirring speech to the students – not realizing that USC could not be more Republican if it were in Wyoming – he moved on to Glendale, thankfully not closing Santa Monica and Mission Viejo in the process.

He was joined at USC by other Democratic candidates fighting for their political lives. And this brings up this question – why is it we only see our elected officials when they’re up for re-election or fundraising? Jerry Brown I can understand. Linda Rondstadt is no longer touring. But how come Senator Barbara Boxer can’t swing by the Rose Bowl swap meet just one Sunday or the Museum of Broadcastings’ salute to Tyra Banks? Wouldn’t you Californians have loved to see Governor Schwarzenegger at the Barnes & Noble at the Grove answering questions and signing DVD copies of ERASER? I mean, I assume the governor and congressmen of California have residences here. And you’ve been there enough that you have a ballpark idea of where they are. Check in with us once in a while.   Even when you don’t want something from us.

But either come by helicopter or real late at night. I’d like to meet you and express my concerns for California, but not if means missing a signal because of a goddamn motorcade.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The writing process on MAD MEN

Time for Friday questions.  The first one is answered with the assistance of Matthew Weiner.

It comes from Ted:

I love Mad Men, and I've always thought that, like The Sopranos, the sharp writing comes from a staff in a room. But Matthew Weiner does a lot of publicity for the show, and he doesn't seem to mind if you think he creates every word, character, and storyline. So what's the truth? Is Mad Men room-written or not?

No. Matt comes up with the general arc and direction of the season. The staff works together with him on breaking stories and then write individual scripts. Matt then takes his pass at every draft. That’s not to say that a lot of the original writer’s draft doesn’t make the final cut but everything passes through Matt first. And that's in addition to the scripts he writes by himself. Hey, he’s the real deal, folks.

To confirm all this I double-checked with Matt, who added this:

I have had a lot of writers come through the show. And the story process in that room is very collaborative and essential. I do not and more importantly can not do it by myself.

Thanks, Matt. Also worth noting, whenever he’s interviewed he always makes a point to mention and thank his staff and crafts people and it’s very often not published.

Jose asks:

How would an actor find out that they're fired from a show for bad behavior? From who and how would they get the news?


Like if it was a young actor on a cable show who didn't take his job seriously and they just had a supporting role that could easily be written out of the show without them appearing again.

Uh..Jose, are you by chance on a cable show and feeling a little insecure??

When actors are fired it should be the showrunner who tells them but often times that thankless task gets pawned off to the agent or manager.

Most times it’s not because of bad behavior per se. Actors are often fired for reasons that are not their fault. They tested poorly. The network has someone they like better. Or the network has a deal with an actor and needs to stick him somewhere.

A few years ago a showrunner was ordered by the network to replace an actress with another of their choosing.  The new actress was terrible.   After several of her episodes aired the showrunner walked into a gym and there was the actress he fired on the treadmill.  She sees him and calls out across the entire gym, "Yeah, BIG improvement!"  

Shows also get rewritten and parts are dropped.

So in most cases, it’s like being the victim of a sniper. You never hear the bullet coming.

But there are also times when the actor knows he’s not cutting it. Getting fired is usually painful but it can also be a relief.

As for bad behavior, we really need to define just what that is. Some actors have a maddening process that drives everyone around them nuts. Is that bad behavior or bad work habits? If the performance is ultimately great it’s just the process; if it’s not you shoot him week four.

The only incident of real bad behavior I encountered was a guest actor who made a totally inappropriate sexual advance on an actress. When I found out about it later in the day I walked right down to the stage and fired him on the spot.

So be careful Jose. Work real hard, take your job seriously, and no hanky-panky with series regulars.

Here’s a question that all America wants answered. It’s from Ian:

How does Phoef Sutton pronounce her first name? I suspect it's something like "fuff," but I'm dying to know for sure.

It’s pronounced “Feef”, just like it’s spelled.

Warren Z. wonders: 

If you were to write for a show like Modern Family, where every episode is based around a theme (sometimes loosely, sometimes not so much), would you start by determining the theme, and then work out each of the storylines from there? Or would you figure out the plots first and tweak them, if you need to, to fit a particular theme?

Theme FIRST. Always. It’s the spine. This also applies when creating a series, movie, play, novel – any dramatic enterprise. The best stories are ABOUT something.

To not have the theme first is like an artist painting something at random and then deciding what it looks like.

And finally, from Armando:

Are you not having a Sitcom Room seminar this year? I missed out last year and have been kicking myself since.

I’m taking a break this year to finish two books I'm writing.  But I will do the Sitcom Room again soon. Stay tuned.

What’s your question???

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The truth about product placement, or "things go bitter with Coke"

Sometimes a Friday question warrants an entire post. Like this one:

Stephen asks:

How do feel about product placement in shows? What were your experiences with it in your shows? Were you ever asked to feature something ridiculous (e.g. high-end sports gear in M*A*S*H)?

No one from Nike ever approached us on MASH. Damn!  I could have used the shoes.

COL POTTER:  Klinger, you horse's patoot!  Of course your dogs are gonna blisters in those high heels.  Son, what you need is Nike Air Pegasus+ 27 shoes, especially if you're going on guard duty!

But seriously, in today’s marketplace product placement is here to stay. Since so many viewers fast forward through commercials the only way an advertiser can get his product seen is by integrating it into the show.  And that’s fine until it overrides creative decisions. If you have a scene in a restaurant that works great but you’re told you have to move it to a Home Depot because they paid a load of cash then you’re crossing a line. 

And I fear that’s coming.

But if Dexter wants to cut up his bodies with an Earthquake-43cc 2 Cycle Auger Powerhead, whatever. 

There’s an even more insidious use of product placement – after the fact. They can now digitally insert products into already filmed scenes. This is especially troublesome for the actors.

Let’s say it's an episode of FRIENDS and we’re in Rachel’s bedroom. Revlon products are strategically placed throughout the room. Now Clairol is just about to make Jennifer Aniston their spokesperson for a gazillion dollars. But suddenly they pull out of the deal because of Jennifer’s association with Revlon. See where that might get sticky?

The only time my partner David Isaacs and I were involved in product placement we got crucified for it. It was on the movie we wrote, VOLUNTEERS.

Tom Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne, a rich preppy asshole who ducks a gambling debt by joining the Peace Corps in 1962. There he encounters earnest Beth Wexler (Rita Wilson).  They're stationed in a tiny village in Thailand.  Lawrence & Beth get off to a horrible start (natch) but as the movie unfolds they begin to thaw (also natch) and we needed a device to break the ice. This is the scene and then I’ll explain the fallout.

******


INT. LAWRENCE’S CLUB – NIGHT


Beth enters to find that Lawrence has transformed the hut into an exotic, albeit small, nightclub. There are bamboo chairs and tables, plants, and a makeshift bar, fully stocked with liquor. Lawrence, wearing his dinner jacket, sits at the corner table smoking a cigarette. An old villager sits off to the side, trying his best to play, “As Time Goes By” on his primitive Thai sitar.


LAWRENCE
Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.


BETH
I don’t believe it… even from you.


LAWRENCE
It was easier than you think.


BETH
How did you…?


Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.


LAWRENCE
A little elbow grease, a few connections and voila: Loong Ta’s first public service. Are you as proud of me as I am? Can I get you a drink?


BETH
What’s this for?


LAWRENCE
For a job well done. I’ve got Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam… the whole gang.


BETH
You’ve got liquor?


LAWRENCE
And wine. The house special is a delightfully articulate Chablis.


BETH
I haven’t seen a tube of toothpaste in two weeks and you have a bar?


LAWRENCE
Don’t fight it, Beth.


BETH
Goodnight, Lawrence.


LAWRENCE
You’re taking the narrow view again.


She starts for the door, then stops and turns back.


BETH
Do you have a Coke?


LAWRENCE
Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?


BETH
Plain. A plain Coke.


Lawrence reaches beneath the bar, grabs a bottle of Coke, and with much panache, removes the cap.


LAWRENCE
(handing it to her) You more than earned it.


Beth takes the Coke, looks at it, then takes a long swig.


BETH
Oh, that is fantastic… I miss these so much. Lawrence, damn you, you’re a life saver.


LAWRENCE
(toasting her with another Coke) To friends. Would you care to dance?


Beth thinks it over, takes one more good chug of Coke, and steps into Lawrence’s arms.


LAWRENCE
(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.


The sitar player strikes up “As Time Goes By” in the same monotonous way. Lawrence snaps his fingers, ordering him to pick up the pace. THE CAMERA SLOWLY PULLS BACK, and THROUGH THE WINDOW we watch Lawrence and Beth dancing slowly around the room, Beth shyly looking into Lawrence’s eyes. Electricity flickers.

********

In doing research for the screenplay we learned that one of the things volunteers missed most from back home was Coca Cola.

We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.  We were accused of shamelessly plugging Coca Cola.  We were called whores.  We were called cowards.  Pretty much everything but child molesters.  Today we'd be called visionaries. 

I look back and think, all of this could so easily been avoided if he just offered her a joint.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tom Bosley, Bristol Palin, Jenny McCarthy, and Cliff Lee

Miscellaneous thoughts or “Attention-deficit blogging”:

Bristol Palin finally got raves from the DWTHS judges this week…for performing in a gorilla suit.

What an awful week for sitcom parents. First Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver) passes away and now Mr. C., Tom Bosley of HAPPY DAYS. He was a lovely man.

Explain to me why ABC says COUGAR TOWN is a hit when last week MODERN FAMILY finished 18th and COUGAR TOWN finished 46th.  

JACKASS 3D unseated SOCIAL NETWORK as the top box office film this weekend. Now that Aaron Sorkin has graciously contributed to this blog, maybe Johnny Knoxville will write a piece for me responding to concerns about his treatment of “midgets”.

Best-written show on network television is THE GOOD WIFE. And it’s getting better. But it’s like Christine Baranski is in a different show. Everyone else is so nuanced and subtle and she’s Norma Desmond on Mountain Dew.

With the Giants now up on the Phillies two games to one in the NLCS, they’re going baseball crazy in San Francisco. Ticket scalpers are getting top dollar for kayak space.

Is it just me or is DEXTER not clicking this year? I used to love his internal narration. He was always wrestling with his inability to fit into society. Now he’s giving you a laundry list of things to do today. Dump the body, buy baby oil, get over to the deserted shack before the girl he drugged wakes up. I might as well be watching JERSEY SHORE.

Plus I miss Julie Benz.  Why couldn't the Trinity Killer have offed Angel & Maria instead?   Their subplot is so unengaging I'd rather just watch Dexter cut up the bodies and stuff them into bags. 

ABC just cut V’s order to X.

Self-proclaimed sex and romance expert Jenny McCarthy has a new book out. Love, Lust & Faking It: The Naked Truth About Sex, Lies and True Romance. In what is maybe the most informative advice book since Teri Hatcher’s, Ms. McCarthy strongly advocates honesty in a relationship, even if it sometimes is very difficult to do. She gave a personal example (re he and her new boyfriend Jason Toohey) in a recent interview to PEOPLE magazine. "If he wants Chinese [food] and I don't, I say it." Wow! Say what you will, the woman has courage.

Has BIG BANG THEORY gotten really silly this year?  I fear that show has "Jumped the Superorder Selachimorpha".

Remember when the President of the United States coming to your town was a big honor?  Now it's a fucking nightmare if you live in Los Angeles.  Last time President Obama was here it resulted in massive gridlock.   Well, this Friday he's baaaack!!  If he even dreams of winning California again he best be tooling around in a Kia. 

Hey TBS, if you’re going to replace Chip Caray with someone who’s not a real baseball announcer, why not just let Conan do it?

Isn’t this an incredible photo? Taken during last week’s spectacular thunderstorm.

On CASTLE Monday night Nathan Fillion had to say this line after seeing a murder victim with a syringe puncture: “Looks like someone gave her 20 C.C.’s of death.”   As my daughter Annie said: "David Caruso is angry he didn't get to deliver it."

Cliff Lee just cost the Yankees game three of the ALCS and probably another $20 million in the contract they’re going to have pony up to get him.

I’ve given up on BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

Scott Caan steals HAWAII 5-0. The watchword all over town will soon be “Book Dano!”.

Bob Uecker – get well soon.

Mel Gibson will appear in HANGOVER 2. Unless he’s eaten by a tiger (for real) I have no interest in seeing it. And even then, it better be graphic.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My MAD MEN season review

SPOILER ALERT, but Jesus, watch the damn show already.  Enough people are talking about it.

Can Don Draper find happiness now that he plans to marry his Laura Petrie with bad teeth? Well, first of all, no one is ever really going to be happy because without conflict you’re left with TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.  But I do feel Don at least has a shot now.  As do some  of the other always-in-crisis characters.  Season four wrapped up Sunday night and for my money it was the best year since the first.

Not that the last two weren’t good but I got a little tired of Don just trying to be comfortable in his own skin. By the time he was hanging out in Palm Springs with the Andy Warhol kibbutz I was screaming, “Figure it out already!”

But this year we really got to watch Don grapple with substantial obstacles – losing his touch, striking out with trollops, becoming Nick Cage in LEAVING LOST VEGAS or Lindsay Lohan in real life.

We saw him trying to live alone and it wasn’t pretty. He rented an apartment in Ratzo Rizzo’s building. For gratification he resorted to hookers and even Focus Group moderators.

His relationship with his children became even more strained, although it’s understandable that he didn’t really know his son, Bobby since six different actors have played him. And he was really conflicted. On the one hand he loved them. On the other he’d pay Jeffrey Dahmer to babysit if the alternative was spending ten minutes alone with them.

And Don was still the good parent considering Betty was their mother. Once a layered sympathetic character, she has now morphed into Joan Crawford. And Henry, the guy who married her after Don – if there were a land of the schmucks he would be their king. Watch, by episode two next season he’s going to be throwing himself in front of a moving train.

Betty is extraordinarily beautiful and yet whenever she comes on the screen I go "Shit!  Her!"  Even my libido hates her.

So what might happen in season five?

Sally will one day kidnap Patty Hearst. Third time will be a charm for Creepy Glenn as he will finally sleep with a Draper – Bobby.

Joan will have Roger’s baby and try to convince her husband, Greg that it’s really his. As my daughter Annie says, “He’ll figure something’s up when the baby comes out and has white hair”.

I expect the episode next season with the SCDP family picnic where the partners can meet all the children who think other men are their fathers.

SCDP will prosper.  Don's anti-smoking ad in the NY Times will result in a $50,000,000 account from Nicorette.    The ad proves so successful that Roger takes a similar one out that's anti-Japanese and the agency will be out of business in a month. 

Poor Peggy is facing the career’s woman existential question: devote your life to your profession or start hanging out more with a Lesbian? The show where she and Don spent a night together was maybe the single greatest episode of the series. Both deserve Emmys... and Clios.

Pete and Trudy will live happily ever after unless she decides to go back to college.

Poor jilted Dr. Faye will tell her friends that’s what happens when you date a shaygets.

Harry will eventually move out to the coast and become the Director of Comedy Development for ABC and then get fired when he exposes himself to Patty Duke at an affiliates convention.

But getting back to Don and his new bride, Megan – I like their chances. She’s good with children (although it doesn’t take much to improve upon Himmler). She’s smart, she’s sweet – her only real conflict will be what name to use? Her maiden name, Draper, or Whitman?  Seriously though, let's see how it goes when she's an equal and not subservient to Don.  

Still, I’m rooting for them – mostly for Sally, whoever is Bobby this week, and baby Gene. Don and everyone else can screw up their own lives. They’re grown ups. But MAD MEN is a drama. MAD KIDS is a tragedy.

Thanks to Matt Weiner and everybody associated with the show for giving us a sensational year.


What did you guys think of this year?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beaver Cleaver

Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver on the classic 50s sitcom LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, passed away over the weekend.  She was 94.  As a kid I marveled at how she cooked and cleaned and always wore a party dress and pearls.  My mom never did.   But for years it was an honor to be mistaken for Barbara's TV son.

I guess that requires an explanation, huh?

Okay, that means a look back at my checkered radio career...

After being fired from KMEN San Bernardino in late ‘73 I sat out of work for six months. Apparently no one wanted a wise-ass disc jockey with a light voice. I couldn’t even land a gig doing all-nights in Fresno. Ironically, when I did get an offer it was to do evenings at WDRQ, Detroit. So I wasn’t good enough for market #100 but I was fine for market #4.

More on my actual adventures in Detroit in future posts but today I want to concentrate on my name. No rock station would let me use my actual name (Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”). And in general disc jockeys had very generic names. Johnny Mitchell. Steve Clark. Bob Shannon. Take any two simple first names and slam them together.

Needless to say, to audiences these disc jockeys were interchangeable. In some cases stations changed personnel but just kept the name. So Bill Bailey could be the afternoon man but over the course of three years that could be four different guys.

In Bakersfield and San Bernardino I was Ken Stevens. When I got the job in Detroit I decided to make a change. I took the moniker Beaver Cleaver.

Why?

I wanted something distinctive. I wanted something memorable. The first time the listener heard, “Hi, this is Beaver Cleaver” I wanted him to say "What the fuck?!"   Any major program director will tell you -- if you can get the audience to say "What the fuck?!" you've won. 

It was a name everybody knew from the TV show. I figured a lot of people would wonder if I was Jerry Mathers (who played the Beav). This might even prompt some discussion in various Detroit high schools. How often did you discuss disc jockeys in your high school?

I also liked that the name was easy to say. As opposed to Illya Kuryakin, my second choice (although it would have been fun to hear jingle singers trying to sing Illya Kuryakin).

I’d like to take credit for being the first disc jockey to do something like this, but the truth is I wasn’t. Art Ferguson debuted on KHJ in 1967 as Charlie Tuna. At the time Charlie the Tuna was the cartoon mascot of the Starkist Tuna ad campaign. Whether it was Art’s idea or a program director I thought it was genius.

One other side benefit to “Beaver Cleaver” was that I could use it for double entendres. Remember this was for a teenage audience. I came on the first night and said, “This is the grand opening of the Beaver.” Yes, it was juvenile but my goal was to make noise. I'm sure I got some more "What the fucks?!" with that one. 

Anyway, it worked. People did take notice and remember. A few years ago I was having lunch with Tom Hanks. He was saying he grew up in the Bay Area and I mentioned I was a disc jockey in San Francisco at that time. “Who were you?” he asked. When I told him his eyes lit up and immediately he said, “Beaver Cleaver! KYA! Boss of the Bay!” I don’t think he would have remembered the name I used in Bakersfield.  (I bet you can't either and you just read it fifteen seconds ago.)  

So I used that handle at WDRQ and future stops as a DJ. Later that year I was hired by K100 in Los Angeles. (A year before I couldn’t get arrested in Fresno.) The station was owned by Bill Drake & Gene Chenault, the architects of the KHJ Boss Radio format that was the rage of the 60s. I was brought in to do evenings, following the Real Don Steele. It was a dream job except I hated the program director. When I say he was clueless, here’s how clueless:

The day I was slated to debut the station had all of the other jocks hyping my arrival. The PD stopped in the booth and midday guy, Eric Chase jokingly asked if I was going to have Wally and Lumpy join me my first night. The PD said, “What are you talking about?” Eric said, “Wally and Lumpy – the Beav's brother and his dufus friend.” The PD was completely confused. Eric said, “Y’know, from the TV show. From LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The PD’s eyes widened in horror. “There’s a TV show?!”

How the fuck could this moron not have heard of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER?

So he calls me into his office panicked. There were already promos on the air. What if we got sued? I tried to calm him down. “If we get sued,” I said, “it’s the best thing that could ever happen to us.” Now he was really perplexed. I reasoned that in the highly unlikely event we were sued this would become a big story. The local TV stations would probably cover it. K100 would get more free publicity than it could ever imagine. I would stop using Beaver Cleaver and the station could invite listeners to come up with my new name. Fortunately, owner Bill Drake thought that was brilliant and I was allowed to keep calling myself Mrs. Cleaver’s Beaver.

For the record, I was never sued. And continued to use the name until 1980. By the way, Frank Bank, who played “Lumpy”, is now Jerry Mathers’s investment adviser.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aaron Sorkin on CNN

Among other topics, he talks about responding to a reader on this blog.

Adventures in pitching pilots

This is the time of the year when writers are pitching pilot ideas to networks.  Sometimes we sell; sometimes we don't.  But we all have stories.  Here are a few of ours:


We had to pitch a pilot the day after 9-11. The VP cried. (We sold it)

We pitched ABC (years and many executives ago) and started with a joke. We said we had an idea that was tailor made for their network. We called in “Tuesday Night Football”. The girl with the pad was writing it down as if we were serious. (We didn’t sell the idea.. or TNF that day.)

Our PA on CHEERS who used to get us lunch became the VP of comedy at a major network. We had to pitch our PA. (No sale. But we were offered drinks.)


We hooked up once with a non-writing producer (big mistake) who had an idea that somehow involved food.  This was three years ago and already I've forgotten it.  Anyway, we go into Fox and he gets the bright idea to bring snacks.   You know the producer really trusts the idea when he feels the need to provide buckets of chicken, pies, a couple gallons of cole slaw, and candy.  Overkill by a thousand.  The Fox execs were horrified.  The producer starts opening the buckets and offering plates and the execs stopped him.  They had eleven more meetings, there was no time for a fucking picnic at 10 in the morning.  Not only did we not sell this one, the next time we went in (sans this producer) to pitch something else they informed us that they had ants as a result of the stunt.  No sale that day either.

A few years ago, in the Jeff Zucker era, NBC announced in the trades that they were discontinuing all scripted shows for the 8:00 hour.   That afternoon we pitched NBC an 8:00 family comedy.  We finished the pitch, they said they really liked it, and I said, "Thank you.  We've got no shot with this thing do we?"  The V.P.  shook her head sadly and said, "No.  Not really.  But it really is good."  


The comedy VP (who later became the president of that network) once asked us “What is the opening episode of the seventh season?” Huh??? How the fuck do you answer that? We said “the clip show, featuring all the highlights of the many Emmy winning episodes.” (No sale)

This happened several times: The VP hears our pitch then says they bought something just like it only yesterday. But if it’s any consolation ours is better. Oh yeah. Tremendous consolation. That’s like “if I hadn’t met your brother first I would have slept with you.”

We were overseeing two young writers. The studio rep began the meeting by introducing all of us to the network people by saying, “So with Ken & David we have the old with the new.” Jesus! Why not just say, “we went over to the broadcast museum and dug up the guys who wrote MR. PEEPERS”?

We had a great pitch once. The VP called to say it’s not final but we were on “the one yard line”. Turns out we hit a tough goal line stance. And the clock ran out.

We pitched a show that took place between midnight and six. The network said, “We LOVE it. We’ll buy it. Only one small alternation. Can it not take place between midnight and six?” Uh, then what are you buying? They weren’t sure but they liked the area. (No sale there but we did sell it elsewhere.)

Easiest pitch we ever had -- David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I went into CBS to pitch ALMOST PERFECT. We said, “a young woman – on the day she gets the job of her life meets the guy of her life. How does she juggle the two?” SOLD. Just like that.

And finally, how original do the ideas have to be? In 1976 we sold our first pilot to NBC. It was called BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY. The premise was a behind-the-scenes look at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Considering they had two shows on the air a few years ago with that exact same premise I’d say just pick up our show instead. Unfortunately, 30 ROCK is better than our show, and half of our cast is now dead.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dancing with the REAL Stars

Check out this amazing video. Don't know who did the editing but he/she/they did a fantastic job.

The live 30 ROCK

Anytime a show breaks format it’s a big risk. On MASH we did it from time to time. When my writing partner, David and I pitched the “Point of View” concept to producers we told them it would either be the best or worst show of the year.  But we took these chances primarily because we were in a format that was completely locked-in to a time and place. All other sitcoms could naturally evolve. Characters could move into new apartments, get married, divorced, have kids. We asked to audience to believe that eleven years of shows all took place in one calendar year. So to shake things up we broke the format (usually once a season). By the way, credit Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds for coming up with that.

On the other hand, the 30 ROCK live show was a ratings stunt. I can’t imagine Tina Fey feeling the urge to completely re-imagine her successful Emmy-winning show just cause she was creatively curious. A likelier scenario was NBC coming to her begging if she’d do this because they really needed help launching OUTSOURCED.

So it was more of a Mission Impossible assignment. And as such I thought Tina & everyone did an amazing job. Not only did they manage to pull it off live without any real hitch (at least on the West Coast) but the episode they staged was very ambitious. Yes, it was a little uneven, but Jesus, that’s like criticizing Evil Knievel for not landing smoothly when he jumped the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle.

When I saw the first scene with Liz and Jack just talking in an office, not even moving, I thought – what a cheat this is going to be. But then the show really took off.

There were ingenious touches like flashbacks with Julia Louise-Dryefus playing Liz, topical references (I hope Brett Favre was watching), and the Tracy subplot dealing with “breaking” in a live show. Normally I hate when characters know they’re in a comedy but in this case it really worked. Tina took full advantage of the conceit. And had there been a major screw up and everybody broke up it would have made no difference. We still would have loved it at home. It was brilliant insurance.

I actually found myself laughing more at this 30 ROCK episode than in most lately. So do it again next week, Tina! (What I’d really like to see is HAWAII 5-0 done live.)

I’ve seen a number of articles marvel at how Tina made changes and tweaked some jokes for the West Coast live version. Uh… that’s what we DO. On any multi-camera show we have a dress rehearsal in the afternoon, change some things, shoot the show in front of the audience, pause and generally re-shoot scenes with some new jokes, and even after the audience leaves we go back and revise some more jokes or moments.

Also remember, Tina comes from SNL. She’s hardly a stranger to live shows and the format.

Anyway, kudos to Tina Fey and everyone associated with 30 ROCK for an impossible mission well done. If you want tips on doing the POV episode just give me a call. February Sweeps are coming up.