Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

So I’m watching, for the first time, THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS and they’re showing these sprawling mansions – giant McHearst’s Castles, and at first you think – wow, wouldn’t it be great to live in one of those? And then you watch five minutes of these women and you realize you’d rather live out on the street in an empty Maytag box.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t understand. Television is not allowed to broadcast snuff films; how can they get away with this?

For those who have not seen it, this reality series follows the lives of six middle-aged Beverly Hills women who between them have had 46 plastic surgeries. They are:


Taylor Armstrong – a blonde with so much collagen in her lips that she looks like a bass.

Lisa VanderPump – British woman who must’ve told her doc to make her look like Diana Rigg but forgot to specify the young Diana Rigg.


Kyle Richards – Was in Disney’s ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN when she was four. Has been getting elective surgery ever since. Although to be fair, looks the best of the group.  Once the others figure that out she'll be ostracized immediately.


Kim Richards – Kyle’s older sister. Former child star who has appeared in HELLO LARRY and numerous Disney movies like ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. She’s the one BHH who is not married. Her ex considers the divorce proceedings “Escape From Witch Mountain”.

Adrienne Maloof – Family owns casinos and sports franchises like the Sacramento Kings. Has managed to save a lot of money by actually marrying her plastic surgeon.


Camille Grammer – Former, uh… dancer. Married to Kelsey Grammer at the time this show was shot. I've met her a few times at FRASIER parties.  She always seemed very sweet.  Had no idea at the time she was an absolute certifiable loon.

Their bios on their home web page all make a point of saying how philanthropic they all are and how much time they devote to charities, but who are we kidding?  That's so you don't round up the villagers and march to their homes with torches and pitchforks.  These are the most self-absorbed, entitled, self deceiving, narcissistic six women since Marie Antoinette.

Here's what happened in the episode I saw. It’s probably not the latest; I caught it Thanksgiving night.

They’re all in New York (except Adrienne) for Kelsey’s opening of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Adrienne is back home because her uncle died and she had to yell at her husband for wanting a one-hour break to get a drink with his friends.

Back in the Big Apple, Camille and Kyle have had a big fight. Kyle called Camille the BHH equivalent of the “C” word – “insecure”. Much tension at the table as these coiffed hens picked at their pasta. At least I think it was tension. With all the Botox, it’s impossible to read expressions.

Now the big question: Should Kyle still attend the theatre opening? And to make the decision even more excruciating, she finds a dress she’d like to wear.  So we're talking "Sophie's Choice" here.

Meanwhile, Kim is upset because she’s the only one not married. This haunted her in her suite during their recent Vegas trip. She asks the others to try to set her up. Let’s see who they come up with. When does Bernie Madoff get out?

The real star of the series is Camille because she may just be the craziest person ever on television. Joan Crawford was the picture of mental health compared to her.

Every time Camille opens her mouth she says something deliciously insane. She claimed that all women are jealous of her because she’s married to a celebrity. (I guess they’re no longer jealous). As for Kyle, specifically, Camille spelled it out in detail. "In terms of pecking order, my husband is higher on the list. There's a big difference between that (being a celebrity and Camille listed all of Kelsey’s awards) and the local Beverly Hills Realtor." Damning words indeed from a former Playboy bunny.

At home Camille reads THE ART OF WAR, and surrounds herself with hairdressers, nannies, and some bootlicker named Nick. She talks to Nick about Kyle, "Her behavior was pernicious and I'll leave it at that." Of course, you’ll leave it at that. You don’t know what the word means.

Kyle tries to leave a voice message for Camille apologizing, but Camille found that disingenuous and pneumtramonoulicroscopicsilicovolcano,

Come the night of the gala opening, Kyle does attend. Hey, she paid for the dress. There’s a scene after the show where Camille goes back to Kelsey’s dressing room and he couldn’t have rushed her out of there faster if he had a hooker (or Kyle) under the desk. Frasier was more civil to Lilith.

Look, I feel bad for anybody getting a divorce. Especially when there are children involved. I can’t take sides in this case, even though I’m fond of Kelsey. I’m sure both are to blame, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Camille, so I wish them both well.

But this show is a one-hour justification for the Russian Revolution. These magpies with diamond rings the size of drinking tumblers, appear so unhappy in lives that most women would kill for.  And so one asks the question:  Are they really that superficial, that vapid; that disconnected to the real world? Or does their vain and silly behavior mask a legitimate fear?

Are they all secretly and justifiably terrified that there will be a sequel and none of them will be in it? THE REAL TROPHY WIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Joan Rivers saved Christmas

Went to New York for Thanksgiving this year. There’s something really special about watching the Macy’s Day Parade on television when you’re actually in the city.

The flight to New York was a cross between the Beverly Hills Gymboree and Lord of the Flies. If the flight attendants went down the aisle selling noise-canceling ear buds, people would have paid a thousand dollars for them.

We arrived at 4:05. Winter arrived at 4:11.

Rented a nice apartment on the Upper East Side. Among the conditions in the contract -- we were not allowed to invite Charlie Sheen over.

Somebody on the street was distributing free Kabbalah shopping bags. The wisdom of the ages and a way to carry your liquor!

The giant Christmas tree was up in Rockefeller Center. A bit of a letdown.  But I’m sure it looks better at night when the scaffolding is all lit up.

Heath Ledger’s apartment is for sale. $5,000,000 but includes ghost.

Thanksgiving morning. Threatening skies, 39 degrees, and windy. I joke, but if you’re ever in New York, at least once in your life, do treat yourself and see the Macy’s Day Parade in HD.

Some highlights from this year’s march past:

--Al Roker interviewing Ben Rappaport, the star of NBC’s uh, “hit” new show, Outsourced, and calling him “a fish out of comedy”.


-- The Mickey Mouse balloon doing a “Heil Hitler” salute.  From son, Matt:  When did they un-freeze Walt Disney?


--Offstage announcer: “Coming up next: a one-of-a-kind performance from the U.S. Pizza Twirling Team!”


--The cheerleading captains all-star squad. Can you imagine the bitch quotient there? From daughter, Annie: “A thousand girls all yelling, “I want to be in front!”


--The Black Eyed Peas medley from some high school marching band. I never really appreciated their music until I heard it with tubas.


-- The kids dressed as dancing sausages on the Jimmy Dean float.


--Offstage announcer: “Coming up next: the official start of the holiday season with Joan Rivers!”


--Jessica Simpson, who’s gained a pound or two, appropriately riding the Pillsbury Doughboy float.

I dunno. The parade is just not the same anymore without the Bullwinkle, Underdog, and Nathan Lane balloons.

The real reason to be in New York for Thanksgiving: The Odd Couple marathon on WPIX.

There’s a lot of daring theater on Broadway currently. The risk-taking Elf musical, the untested Lion King, the chancy Mary Poppins, the groundbreaking Pee Wee Herman Show, not to mention, the always controversial Donny & Marie Show.

The long-delayed Spiderman rock musical is due to finally go into previews. Considering all the accidents they’ve already had, it’s more like a rock musical of The Hurt Locker.

Your best theater bet is La Bete starring David Hyde Pierce and Mark Rylance. David was kind enough to stop the stage manager from running us off after the show.

Lots of Frasier alums on Broadway these days. Kelsey Grammer in La Cage Aux Folles, Bebe Neuwirth in the Addams Family, and Eddie has gone into Driving Miss Daisy. Thanks again, David, for a wonderful evening.

Remember when stores opened at 5:00 AM on Black Friday? Kohl’s opened at 3:00, thus getting a big jump on all those homeless shoppers.

There’s now a dress code for New York City taxi drivers. No more tank tops. No more bathing suits. They are still allowed to reek, though. They’d quit en masse if they couldn’t do that.

Little Night Music was a huge disappointment. What should be a light frothy soufflé, in the hands of director Trevor Nunn, is a leaden German pancake. But Bernadette Peters sang “Send in the Clowns” beautifully, and Elaine Stritch remembered many of her lines.

A man reading Sondheim’s bio in the row behind me said to his wife: “I didn’t know that – he also did the music for Company.” Probably a Tony voter.

Don Draper would be proud. This is Cadillac’s new holiday slogan: “This year, give the gift of asphalt”.

Came home on Saturday rather than Sunday for the same reason I don’t go to Macy’s at 5:00 AM on Black Friday.

Managed to negotiate JFK without getting X-Rayed. And that's with Kabbalah bags. Personally, I’m outraged by these new, highly invasive, demeaning screening methods. Either preserve our constitutional rights and discontinue them, or let women pat down the men.

Now that Joan Rivers has given the okay, the holiday season is officially here. Have a fabulous one!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My 5th anniversary

This weekend marks my 5th anniversary of doing this blog. More than 2100 posts for over 5,000,000 visitors (although I suspect it’s more like five visitors checking back 1,000,000 times). Still, it’s been great fun, I’ve met some terrific people, and no one can cancel me but me.

Thanks so much for stumbling upon this site and for you five regulars, thanks for coming back.

I thought for today I’d link to one of my favorite posts from each of the past years. Enjoy. Onward and sideward.

2005 - Porn Star Karaoke


2006 - My best call ever


2007 - The D.C. Madam defense trial

2008 - Disneyland

2009 - My annual Oscar review

2010 - Studio notes on INCEPTION

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Now THIS was a parade!

Being in New York for the Macy’s parade was special. But when I was a kid growing up in LA, the Thanksgiving weekend always began Wednesday night with the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Blvd. I looked forward to it every year. Unlike parades with elaborate floats and impressive marching bands, this had Hollywood B-actors, second bananas, local fringe celebrities riding in cars with their names hand painted on the sides, and a few 100 year old guys from an American Legion Post playing trombones. The big finale was the arrival of Santa Claus, usually on a float that looked like a Cub Scout project gone horribly wrong.

The parade began in 1928 as a way to lure shoppers to Hollywood. In the 30’s and 40’s big stars would participate. It was the only time Bette Davis would get within a hundred yards of real people. In 1946, the parade inspired Gene Autry to write “Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Santa Clause Lane”.

By the 50’s the luster had worn off and instead of Natalie Wood you’d see the kid who played Whitey on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Once Bing Crosby was the Grand Marshal. By the late 50’s it was Oscar Levant who by then had a local TV talk show on KCOP, Channel 13. I was never sure if he was waving to the crowd or just having another seizure.

The parade was always televised locally on KTTV, Channel 11 in black-and-white, hosted by Bill Welsh. He’d interview all the “stars” as they passed. That was my favorite part. How do you ask Gypsy Boots what his next project was with a straight face? Gypsy Boots was a local health nut who dressed ridiculously and did anything he could to draw attention to himself. He was the Melrose Larry of his day. His next “project”??? Appear in next year’s parade.

Bill once asked Monty Montana, who had appeared in a bunch of B Westerns, what his next project was? His answer: giving a lasso demonstration at a local elementary school.

I was nine years old. I found this hysterical.  I would watch the Macy’s Parade and there would be the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY, elaborate floats, a 200 member marching band from Ohio State, and those magnificent giant balloons. But tonight I was seeing Bill Welsh ask Iron Eyes Cody about his new book.

I never actually went to the Santa Claus Lane Parade. My parents were not about to wade through a million people so I could see local newscaster, George Putnam, on a horse. But I didn’t care. It was a TV event anyway.

The parade has been renamed the Hollywood Lane Parade and is now on Sunday night (at least I think it's still on). And KTLA, Channel 5 televises it with Bob Eubanks and usually Lee Meriwether. It’s in color. It’s syndicated. It’s not as good. But every so often there’s a flash of the parade’s past cheesy greatness. The 2000 Co-Grand Marshals were Frankie Muniz and Dennis Hopper.

I love holiday traditions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Most improved sitcom: PARKS & RECREATION

Friday questions, and I have one for you? Why does ANYBODY shop on this day? You know the crowds are worse than any other day of the year. Why not wait until tomorrow? Or February and just apologize that you're late? Anyway, hope you had a fabulous turkey day, and here are some Friday questions for your leftover pleasure.

404 says:

I agreed with the outstanding post you did a couple of weeks (months?) ago concerning "Outsourced" and why it was a subpar show. However, I think since then it has gotten better and better. It's still not great, but it has improved and is pretty enjoyable now, at least sometimes. I'm curious what shows through the years you originally thought were drivel, only to tune in weeks, months, or even years later only to find that the quality of the show had improved and turned it into a good show worth watching?

PARKS & RECREATION for one. That went from one of the worst to the best.  Others current examples are (in my opinion) THE BIG BANG THEORY, THE OFFICE, and COMMUNITY.

It’s not unusual that it takes a show some time to find its groove. You see what works, what doesn’t, and make changes accordingly. Cast members like Michael J. Fox on FAMILY TIES breakout and you make midcourse corrections. Even classic series like MASH needed a little time to find its sea legs. The first year of MASH is way more shenanigan heavy than it would become.

I would say (again, my opinion) CHEERS’ best season was its first. But that’s very unusual, and even then – watch the first six episodes. There was a lot of experimentation going on. There’s one episode where a bunch of different outside colorful characters come into the bar and we had four or five stories going. It was more like BARNEY MILLER in that regard. What we all discovered was that Sam & Diane were really at the heart of the show and so we wrote to that. And stories centered on our core characters worked better than ones featuring outside characters. But it was a trial & error process.

The key is you have to be open to throwing things out and following the direction the show wants to go in; not necessarily where you want it to go.  Tossing scripts, replacing actors, losing characters -- that's not easy to do and sure not fun.  But sometimes for the good of the series you have to.

The only show I can think of (and I’m sure there are others) that was consistently excellent, almost at the same peak quality, start to finish was FRASIER.

From Wade:

Not sure if you've seen the new TV series "The Walking Dead" yet, but it prompted a Friday question in my brain.

The main setting is the zombie apocalypse, and of course none of the zombies have any spoken dialogue (and if the show stays true to its source material, they never will). So the question is, does this mean there's zero chance any actor playing a zombie will ever get paid beyond "extra" status? If spoken dialogue is the ticket into a big jump in pay, is every one of these shambling corpses out of luck no matter how integral they might be individually in a given episode?

I think in this case they are paying significant salaries to the main cast. You’re not going to get the caliber of actor you want for your series if you’re paying him less than a hundred a day.  Even in this economy, and even if business affairs did try.

Maybe in addition to Actors’ Scale, and Extras’ Scale, there should be Zombies’ Scale. Imagine what that picket line would be like if they ever struck.

Brian Doan has a long question:

Ken, I'm curious about how you are defining "hit" in your response about the popularity of writers. I would not dispute your contention about the respect/fame that writers have in the UK versus the US, but I often think of David Chase, Matt Weiner, and others (like David Simon, or Joss Whedon, or Ron Moore, to name three that fans seem to follow from show to show) as creators of cult programs more than big hits-- they win awards and have great media penetration, but their numbers are smaller compared to "hits" on larger networks.

Yes, a “hit” is a relative term based on expectations. MAD MEN is a big hit on AMC compared to most of its other fare. If MAD MEN were on NBC and drew the same number of viewers it currently has it would be cancelled in two weeks. Same with THE SOPRANOS, THE SHIELD, practically any cable offering. Also, demographics now play a huge role. Shows like BUFFY and DAWSON’S CREEK are targeted for a specific young audience and both delivered nicely. Network execs didn’t expect them to get big overall numbers.

Then there’s the prestige factor. Shows like THE SOPRANOS and MAD MEN do wonders for the image of their networks. It also helps lure other top writers to those networks.

And winning awards doesn’t hurt either. Although awards can only take you so far. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT still got cancelled despite all the Emmys. Awards can buy you time but if ultimately the audience isn’t there, you and your trophies are gone. But the winners of the awards go make bigger deals elsewhere so don’t feel too sorry for them.

Hank asks:

I vaguely recall that when Coach died on Cheers and Woody replaced him, that at first Woody's personality was very different from Coach's, but over time his personality morphed until he basically became a younger version of Coach. Was this my imagination? Is there a behind the scene story here?

I would contend that Woody and the Coach were always different.

The Coach was a little addled because of all the times he had been beaned in baseball. He may have appeared dumb but in fact he was just confused.

By contrast, Woody was an innocent from Indiana. It’s not so much that he was dumb; he was just incredibly naïve. And he took everything literally. Woody has a definite logic; it’s just that it’s screwy.

All I can say is that I wrote them very differently.

What’s your question?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy sitcom Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. I look forward to the holiday, never writing about it. Every sitcom I’ve ever worked on, we’ve had the obligatory Thanksgiving episode. How many variations can you have on the big family dinner going awry? I think I’ve written the “turkey gets burned”, “relatives clash”, “nutty friends invited”, “can’t find a restaurant”, “kids break something”, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner variation, “Meet the Parents variation”,“football gambler loses big”, “tofu turkey substitute”, “someone accidentally gets dragged seven blocks by the Mr. Potato Head balloon”, “mom’s a terrible cook”, “relative accidentally not invited”, “someone is allergic to something in the stuffing and has a funny seizure”, “power outage”, “thawing frozen turkey last minute”, “food fight”, and “the pilgrim re-enactment” episode fifteen times.

Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your MODERN FAMILY spec script halfway written.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading this blog.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter Movie Preview -- Part Three

Live from New York City!  Here's the wrap-up on my Winter Movie Preview.  Safe traveling today, everybody.  Look good for the X-Ray.

TRUE GRIT – Remake of old John Wayne movie. But it’s by the Coen Brothers so it strays somewhat from the original. In the new version, it’s set in a Jewish neighborhood in Minnesota.

THE WAY BACK – Just in time for a white Christmas, a film set in a Soviet gulag.

I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS – When a movie has been held from release for several years, that’s usually a clue. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are gay lovers. The studio has big concerns that the audience won’t accept Carrey in this role – not as a homosexual but in a drama.

SOMEWHERE – Stephen Dorff as a hard-living actor living alone until his 11-year-old daughter shows up on his doorstep. Didn’t James Brooks already make this movie? I’LL DO ANYTHING.

HOW DO YOU KNOW – This one is by James Brooks. A rom-com driven by intelligence and characterization; not studio formula or juvenile humor. So prospects are iffy.

SEASON OF THE WITCH – Nick Cage is a 14th Century knight who must escort a young witch to her trial. Townspeople with pitchforks he can deal with, along with dragons, and the Black Plague. But then he encounters Endora and she is PISSED.

BARNEY’S VERSION – Paul Giamatti as an irascible TV producer and his larger-than-life dad, Dustin Hoffman. It’s set over three decades. Based on the novel. It sounds very intriguing, even if it is released in January. Usually January is the dumping ground for duds.

THE DILEMMA – Schnazzy title.  Vince Vaughn must decide whether to tell his best friend, Kevin James, that his wife is cheating. Didn’t they do this on KING OF QUEENS... twenty times? But there is justice. Kevin James is doing movies. Lea Remini is now on THE TALK.

THE GREEN HORNET – Seth Rogen as a superhero. No, really.


FRANKIE & ALICE – Halle Berry’s shameless quest for an Oscar continues. This time she’s a stripper with multiple personalities. The good news is it’s like getting lap dances from eight girls at once!

NO STRINGS ATTACHED – Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman just want to be Fuck Buddies. I bet he falls in love with her and his guy friends tell him not to. January, people.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Winter Movie Preview -- Part Two

As the Levines wing to Gotham for Thanksgiving, here are more movies being unleashed upon you this holiday season.  Part One was yesterday.

TANGLED – It’s really Rapunzel but Disney is afraid that any mention of a fairy tale will hurt boxoffice business for this animated film. Up next is a remake of SLEEPING BEAUTY to be called FEMALE ON THE ROOFIE.

MADE IN DAGENHAM – Sally Hawkins in a British NORMA RAE. Make sure you ask for Dental Coverage, Sal.

THE COMPANY MEN – Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones are two white-collar guys whose lives are destroyed when they are fired. Heartbreaking scene where they’ve sunk so low they’re watching THE TALK.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS – Russell Crowe plans to spring his wife out of prison. And then cheat on her.


FASTER – The Rock in yet another cry vengeance movie. Come on, Dwayne. You’re better than this! You should be in…

THE TEMPEST – co-starring with Helen Mirren in this Shakespeare classic. Or at least…

YOGI BEAR

THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D – As if that alone won’t scare the crap out of little kids, it stars Nathan Lane.

LOVE & OTHER DRUGS – Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in a rom-com with an incredibly novel premise: Yeah, they fall in love but here’s the amazing twist – at first they don’t like each other! And wait! There’s more! The originality continues! Viagra jokes!

LITTE FOCKERS – MEET THE PARENTS sequel. I can’t think of a movie in the last ten years I’ve wanted to see less.

Tomorrow, the conclusion of the Winter Movie Preview.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter Movie Preview -- Part One

As we head into the holiday season, here's my annual Winter Movie Preview.  To be fair, I have not personally seen all of these.  Actually, I haven't seen any of them.  But that never stops me from having an opinion.  

THE TOURIST – Angelina Jolie almost ruins a guy’s life. The role she was born to play.

BURLESQUE – Cher, who now has become Jack Lord with hair extensions, and Christina Aguilera team for a movie musical. Sounds like CABARET without Nazis.

COUNTRY STRONG – Gwyneth Paltrow as a country-western singer. Doing her big hit, “I’ll love you tomorrow if you cleanse tonight”.

BLUE VALENTINE – Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in a gut-wreching drama about a failing marriage. Gwyneth Paltrow recommends salads and smoothies but that won’t save it.

TRON: LEGACY – Imagine the original with a better script and effects. Now that Jeff Bridges has his Oscar, he’s willing to go back and make fun stuff.

BLACK SWAN – Natalie Portman in the ballet. This is why every Jewish mother enrolls their daughters into dance class whether they like it or not.

THE KING’S SPEECH – Getting amazing buzz. Colin Firth as stuttering King George VI. “Abadee, abadee, abadee, th-th-th-that’s an Oscar, folks!”

THE FIGHTER – Every actor who wants to be De Niro has to do his boxing picture. This is Mark Wahlberg’s.

ALL GOOD THINGS – Ryan Gosling suspected of killing his wife. Might be the sequel to BLUE VALENTINE.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1 – Just cause the book was 700 pages doesn’t mean the title has to be.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER – And that’s the short version. Original title: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER AND THE DAWN OF THE SON OF THE BRIDE OF THE RETURN OF THE REVENGE OF THE TERROR OF THE ATTACK OF THE EVIL, MUTANT, HELLBOUND, FLESH-EATING SUBHUMANOID ZOMBIFIED LIVING DEAD, PART 3

The Winter Movie Preview continues tomorrow...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A holiday tradition: My Thanksgiving Travel Tips

The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here again -- and with a few additions -- are some travel tips. I'll be flying to New York on Tuesday so next year I should have five or ten more tips learned the hard way. 

Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the day of.

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else. Even in the last row.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an ear ache and make everyone come to YOU.

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Three words of advice if you’re driving a long distance: Sirius/XM satellite radio. You can hear Jimmy Buffet on fifty different channels.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.

When you’re stuck in St. Louis and all flights are grounded (and trust me, you WILL be), grab lunch at JBucks.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone whose already eating or reading the Sarah Palin alibiography.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same friggin' balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, KATH & KIM, won’t be there (thank God).

Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What I'm thankful for

Besides my family, here are some of the things I’m thankful for this year.

Rebecca Hall
Vin Scully
The Good Wife
Jon Stewart
Richbroradio.com
My daughter is not dating a vampire
Don Draper
New Yorker cartoons
Opening Day
The iPhone
Great Big Radio
Rachel Maddow
A one-cent residual for MASH
Paul Rudd
Hulu.com
Hula dancers
Hawaiian sunsets
papayas
Bob’s Big Boy
That yellow line in football
Spam filters
Improv class
HD
DVD screeners
Mix CD’s
GPS
Pdf files
MLB.COM
Marty Brennaman
Thongs
Fireworks
Steven Moffat
Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Colbert
Steve Martin
The Joker
Joe Torre
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Louis Black
The Beatles
The few remaining bookstores
Facebook
The Onion
Hoffmania
Latkas
The Writers Guild Foundation
Talkradio 790 KABC
Peter Luger's steak sauce
Manhattan Transfer
In Treatment
Dinah Washington
Denzel Washington
Disneyland
Dexter
Diablo Cody
Patton Oswalt
Lawry’s
The Bilko box set
Pixar
Gates Brothers' BBQ
Aaron Sorkin
Coffee Bean Ice Blendeds
Tallulah Moorehead
Netflix
Jon Miller
Twitter
The Crab Cooker
Brian Wilson
Benihana’s
Jenna Fischer
Wifi
Modern Family
Ricky Gervais
Safeco Field
Christina Applegate
Channels 5,6,7,8, and 73 on XM
Milk Duds
Earl Pomerantz
Amy Winehouse (when she’s out of jail/rehab/the hospital)
Cassell’s hamburgers
The bcc. feature
Red carpet shows
Eric Nadel
Jennifer Grey’s dancing
Confederacy of Dunces
Blu-Ray
Amoeba Records
Martini shots
Mel’s Drive-In
Moonlight Serenade by Sinatra
Baseball-Reference.com
Fellow bloggers
Our troops
YOU

Care to add your own?

Wanna earn some good Karma points?

I’m a big believer in PAY IT FORWARD. I was extremely fortunate to have made it as a writer. And even more fortunate to have mentors who were the comedy writer’s equivalent of the Justice League of America – Larry Gelbart, Jim Brooks, Allan Burns, Gene Reynolds, the Charles Brothers. I don’t know how I got so lucky. In a past life I must’ve been Gandhi or the guy who invented asthma inhalers or something.

I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to help and encourage young writers the way others encouraged me. Okay, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but I’ll be honest, I don’t want to see crap when I sit down to watch television.

But it’s one of the reasons for this blog. In addition to providing me a forum for ranting and pissing off Woody Allen fans, I love that I can offer writing advice and maybe save you from making some of the same stupid rookie mistakes I made (and sometimes still make). And I happily offer it for free.

Well… almost free. (I bet you saw that coming.)

The Writers Guild Foundation is a marvelous organization, designed for the sole purpose of giving back. They encourage disadvantaged students to stay in school, promote the work of writers in the community, maintain an extraordinary library that preserves the heritage of writers (hey, they even have a few of our scripts in there), work with returning military veterans, and stage classes and lectures featuring A-list screenwriters and showrunners.

I invite you all to join me in supporting the Writers Guild Foundation. You can learn more about it here. Sometimes writers need more than words.

Thank you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The true tale of Tom Tuttle of Tacoma

Back from Seattle. Sorry I was there for so short a time. Would love to have met some of you readers from the area. Next time for sure! Anyway, here are some Friday questions, the first one involving the state of Washington and Washington State.

Gary asks:

How did the character of Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington come to life? What inspired you to make him a Wazzu grad?  Great character and so very well played by Mr. Candy.

We wanted someone really earnest, really gung-ho middle-America, but we didn’t want him to be from the Midwest. That seemed too cliché. So we figured that the Pacific Northwest would give us those same qualities. As originally envisioned, he talked really fast, so we thought giving him a name with alliteration would help the actor build up a head of steam. Hence, Tom Tuttle. And to continue the alliteration we made him from Tacoma. As for which college he went to, we researched fight songs and really liked Washington State’s. And the fight song plays a part in the movie so it was sort of important.

John Candy did a sensational job. We were afraid when he was hired that he would change a lot of stuff – like I said, it was written for a wiry somewhat hyper guy little guy – but John did the dialogue verbatim. God, I loved that man!

From Simon H.:

Were you and your writing partner ever approached to work on "Taxi"? I always thought it was one of the greatest shows in Television history, and certainly one of the most under-appreciated. Given that you worked on "Cheers" while "Taxi" was still on the air, I'm surprised you and David Isaacs never had a chance to write for it.

We were approached several times. For the first few years of the show we had exclusive development deals with other studios and couldn’t. And the last year of TAXI was the first year of CHEERS, which we co-produced. Sam Simon & Ken Estin of TAXI graciously invited us to write an episode and we would have LOVED TO, but the CHEERS staff was very small and we needed to write as many episodes of that as we could.

Like you, I think TAXI is one of the finest situation comedies of all-time. But it is very different from today’s hit comedies, and I don’t know if today’s viewers would respond to the slower pace and more character-oriented stories they did on TAXI.  I'm hoping the would.  Or at least would give it a chance.  They may discover that it's a way better show than they thought.


Jim S wonders:

You said that in the past both you and your longtime writing partner David have written stories alone.


How is that different than writing with a partner? What are the fears and how do you compensate for the input from the partner?

Well, it’s much lonelier writing by yourself. And if your car is in the shop there’s no one to pick you up.

But seriously, a good partnership can make the process easier and much more fun. It's certainly more social.  But a bad partnership can be like WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF meets GROUNDHOG DAY.

We split up one assignment a season and wrote the two acts separately just so we would feel confident that we could write on our own if we had to. We stayed partners out of choice, not dependency.

You compensate by just trying to fill in the gaps yourself. The big problem I find when I write by myself is that if I’m stuck I tend to go down one road and try to find the solution there. A partner might suggest an alternate path. And so I have to really force myself to just step back and think, “What else could I do here? What other direction might I take?”

With comedy especially, you have to rely on your own judgment more when you’re writing solo. There’s no one to bounce jokes off of.

As for fears, there’s really only one. Will you learn from this exercise that your partner has all the talent and you’re just a fraud? What was gratifying and a huge relief was that when David and I put our two acts together you really couldn’t tell who wrote what.  So we're both frauds.

And finally, from Richard Y:

When watching at home and the 'set-up' for the reveal is made and the camera pulls back for the character punch line, we, sitting in our couches at home get the joke and laugh when we see the wide shot - along with the studio audience. NOW, the studio audience already sees the reveal as it is already on stage in some instances. How is the studio laughter controlled?

If it involves a sight gag we’ll often have screens set up in front of the set and just remove them just before we’re ready to shoot. We’ll record the audience’s reaction and slot that in the appropriate place.

But if it’s a wardrobe thing, or as you say, contingent on a camera reveal, you sometimes have to do a little borrowing from the laugh track.  Or you pre-shoot the scene and show it back to the audience so they are reacting as if sitting on their couches.   But we've found you get a greater response from just about anything if you do it live in front of them, even if it means spoiling the reveal.

We have to always remember, we’re making these shows for the millions of viewers, not the two-hundred folks in the bleachers.

Yes, some jokes won’t have the impact they should but on the other hand, studio audiences love seeing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. And they do have monitors. So they can watch and see what we’re going for. They may miss a few laughs but they don’t feel cheated.

With the reveal already exposed to the studio audience how do you get them to laugh as is they just saw it like it is to be seen at home?

I’ll be 1000% honest. We ask them to. Just like for pick-ups and reshooting entire scenes. We ask them to help us out and pretend they’re seeing this for the first time and laugh just as loud. And for those who didn’t laugh the first time, we’re giving them a second chance.

What’s your question?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The "Aha!" moment when I first realized I wanted to be a writer

I'm killing two birds.  From time to time I present brief excerpts from the book I'm writing on growing up in the swingin' '60s in Southern California. Reader Tamara submitted a Friday question: "When did you first know that you were a "writer"?  So here's a way to combine both posts. 


We all had to take state aptitude tests. These were a series of tests intended to determine which career path might be best for you. One test was spatial relations. We’d see a folded house and be given four flat layouts. Which layout, when folded properly would match the house? Other than working for Ikea, how could this skill possibly help you? I think I finished in the 40th percentile.


Worse was mechanical reasoning. “If Gear A turned left and Gear B turned right, how does a steam engine work?” I had no fucking idea how to answer any of these questions. I placed in the 25th percentile. That has to be in the severely retarded range, doesn’t it? The apes in 2001: A SPACE ODDESSEY who pounded sticks on the ground had to score at least in the low 30’s.


The only test I excelled at was clerical proficiency. As fast as we could we had to copy down sequences of letters. I placed in the 78th percentile. So according to the State of California, my life’s calling was filing.


Thanks to Miss Harper for providing another option.


Miss Harper taught U.S. History. Instead of tests she would assign us several essay questions on Monday that had to be turned in on Friday. To answer the questions you needed to hear her lectures and read the chapters. Essay writing has never been my strength. I would slog through the material and vomit back as much as I could. My grade was usually B-.


One week I put off the assignment until the last night. Having worked at Wallichs that evening it was well after midnight before I tackled the essay. I didn’t have time to do all the reading so I padded the paper with a few jokes. If I was going to fail at least I’d do it spectacularly.


I got an A.


Miss Harper had little exclamation points after the jokes (no one knew from LOL in those days).


So the following week I sprinkled in more jokes.


Another A.


By week three I had stopped reading the textbook entirely. I just used the essay topics as springboards and wrote comedy monologues. I suspect the quality of the material was not that stellar but I was Richard Pryor compared to the twenty-five other explanations of the Monroe Doctrine.


I breezed through that course with an A and a light went off in my head – there’s gold in them thar hills. Writing comedy might just be a more lucrative skill than alphabetizing.


Thank you, Miss Harper, for being my first and maybe most important fan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

trying to solve a 30 year mystery

There was a 1973 movie called THE LAST OF SHEILA. It was a murder mystery written by, of all people, Stephen Sondheim and Tony Perkins. More surprising, Tony was not in the movie and Stephen didn’t do the music. Producers really need to check out writers’ resumes.


Anyway, it was an intricate whodunit very well received. I didn’t see it. I was too busy that year watching SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, THEATER OF BLOOD, and Oscar favorite HELL UP IN HARLEM.


A bunch of years later I saw that Channel 2 was going to play it at 11:30 that Saturday night. I had just purchased a VCR so set the timer. This was in the early days of VCR. They weighed as much as a Kia, tapes were ¾ inch not ½ inch, they only recorded at one speed, and maximum length of tape was two hours.


But that was no problem. The movie was scheduled from 11:30 – 1:30. So I taped it and the next night my wife and I watched the movie and enjoyed it very much.


Until the end.


Stations dump a lot of extra commercials in the middle of the night. Who cares if a show runs a little long?


Us!!!


Right at the part where they’re just about to reveal the killer – and the tape ends. AAAAAA!!


The next few days we frantically called around to friends asking if they saw the movie and remembered who did it? Nobody did. Like I said, it was a very complicated screenplay. Thank you Stevie and Norman Bates. We finally gave up.


Several years later we were on vacation at a resort on St. Thomas. It was a rather rustic resort. Little huts, no phones, no TV’s, not even Wifi. You walked around at night with flashlights. Your evening entertainment was finding your hut after leaving the dining hall. I bet every morning the sun would come up and three couples who had given up were sleeping on the beach.


So one day we saw they were having movie night and the featured film was THE LAST OF SHEILA. We were ecstatic. Finally we were going to learn the murderer.


So we’re the first two people in the Activity Room. Another four sauntered in and the film began. Only one problem.


The film was dubbed into Spanish.


Neither of us spoke Spanish. Nor did any of the other couples. So they left. We stayed and tried to decipher what was going on. Not a chance.


And then about five years ago I was in New York at a play reading and there was Stephen Sondheim. He sat right next to my daughter Annie. During intermission I asked her to ask him who killed Sheila. She of course was mortified and refused. Curses! Thwarted again!


So my point: People ask me why I bother to maintain a blog, updating it every day, since it pays me nothing. Well, here’s one reason –


Who the fuck killed Sheila???!!!


Thank you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heading off to Seattle...

...to pay my respects to Dave Niehaus. I’ll be tweeting throughout the trip for those who follow me on Twitter. The Mariners are planning a public celebration of Dave's life on December 11th.  More details soon.  Last week I was interviewed on KJR radio in Seattle about Dave and that interview is now on line. Thanks to Mike Gastineau and 950 KJR.

See you in Seattle.

Shameless product placement in DAYS OF OUR LIVES

Saw this and just had to share.  Soap operas are never known for their subtlety, but holy shit!  This is ridiculous.  At least when Danny Thomas waxed poetic about Maxwell House coffee it was in the tag.  Thanks to friend-of-the-blog Jonathan E. for alerting me to this. 

An open letter to Woody Allen

Dear Woody,


I’ve been a long time admirer. For many years you were my role model. So much of what I know about comedy I learned from studying you. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. I tell you this so you’ll understand that what I’m about to say comes from a place of deep personal and professional respect.


Take a break.


Stop making movies.


At least for now.


Please.


It’s time.


It really really is.


You’ve got an impressive body of work. You’ve won every award you're willing to accept. You’ll be 75 in one month. Relax. Take Soon-Yi to Disneyworld. Tour with a jazz band. Travel the world being honored. Guest star on HOT IN CLEVELAND. Teach film at NYU. Learn Origami. Coach the Knicks. Collect Pez dispensers. I don’t care. Just take an extended "hiatus" from making movies.


You remember Willie Mays at the end playing with the Mets, overweight and out of shape, stumbling around in the outfield. You recall Frank Sinatra at the end, toupee slipping off, hitting maybe one out of seven notes, needing cue cards to remember lyrics he had sung for forty years. Sylvester Stallone in the last six ROCKY movies. Cher singing hip hop. LIFE WITH LUCY.  You get the idea.


Well, this is fast becoming you. Your one-time impressive body of work is being diluted with each successive misfire. A great director once said that releasing a film is like delivering a child. If that’s the case, you’re Octomom.


Did I mention you are an idol of mine?  No one says you have to make four movies a year.


I happened to see your latest assembly line production, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. I feel silly even posting a SPOILER ALERT because every moment of this movie is a rehash of a similar scene you’ve already done three times. There are no surprises. Everyone does exactly what you expect them to do.


Example:  Anthony Hopkins is an old guy who fears his mortality so he dumps his longtime wife, whitens his teeth, begins eating healthy, and winds up falling in love with and marrying a young bimbo hooker. You already did this, much better with Sydney Pollack and his midlife crisis in HUSBANDS AND WIVES. I can’t imagine anybody reading this not being able to figure out exactly what happens. Did you even try to think of a fresher payoff? For either movie?


Woody, I saw the film on a Saturday night in Westwood a few weeks ago. The 8:00 showing. There were six people in the theater. So imagine what the boxoffice must've been like in Kansas. Tumbleweeds.


I see by the credits that the picture is in association with all these overseas companies and foreign producers. Clearly, you can no longer get U.S. financing. I mean, there’s only so long that gamblers will put money on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Doesn’t that tell you something? Now you can say you don’t care what the public thinks. You’re an artist. And that's fine but then who are you making these movies for? I’m sure the fine folks at Mediapro, Versatil Cinema, Gravier Productions, Antena 3 Films, Antena 3 Television, and Dippermouth (whoever the hell they all are) are very curious themselves.


Woody, you have nothing more to prove. Take your bow and move on to whatever new exciting chapter of your life you wish to pursue. Or just kick back and watch Animal Planet all day. You’ve earned that too. Trust me, we won’t feel cheated that there are no more paper-thin angst-ridden exercises starring really good actors set in cities we want to vacation in. We can just watch our DVD’s of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and be in awe all over again.


Thank you for your consideration. Again, the point here is to say you’ve done some remarkable work and should feel great about yourself. Your accomplishments are extraordinary. You’re Woody Allen. You shouldn’t have to go to Uzbekistan for financing. And trust me, you’re one more picture away from that. 

I imagine this will be a hotly debated topic in my comments section.  Lots of people taking your side, saying I have no right to criticize, comparing my feeble output to your far more significant one, pointing to specific movies they've liked recently, and that's fine (as long as they don't post as anonymous).  I just wonder, what if you waited until a really great idea -- a MANHATTAN or PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO kind of idea -- came into your head?   Imagine how much better that movie might turn out if you were fresh and invigorated.   A new Woody Allen film used to be an event for me.  I'd wait for the opening with great anticipation.  I would love that again.  And I'm willing to wait. 


Have a happy holiday season.


Still your devoted admirer, even if it might not look like it,


Ken

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comedy 101 is back in session

You could probably sign up for an on-line course in sitcom story construction from the University of Phoenix or the DeVry Institute but those will cost you. I’m offering it for free but it means the sample show I use is ALMOST PERFECT and not GOOD TIMES. The choice is yours.

If you haven’t seen the episode I’m about to discuss, you can watch it here.

This was from the first season; probably show 16 or 17.

There were two factors we ideally tried to get into all of our stories: we wanted them to speak to the theme of the series, and we wanted them to be unique to our series.

The theme was: How could a young woman balance a career and a relationship when both were fulltime jobs?

Since Kim (Nancy Travis) and Mike (Kevin Kilner) worked in different arenas (she in television, he as an assistant DA), finding ways to tie them together in work-related stories was a challenge.

Often times, stories evolve. Someone pitches something, you bat it around in the room. It begins to change and eventually you land on something completely different but that becomes the story. In this case, during a staff brainstorming session someone thought, “What if Mike becomes a technical advisor? He’s on the set and wreaks havoc by making a ton of suggestions.” That seemed promising, but a little static. It’s just a guy standing off to the side. There was nothing funny for him to do. But we liked the area.

Someone then suggested, “Well, what if he was in the show? And he made suggestions.” This seemed intriguing. But we had established that Mike was not at all star struck and never envisioned himself an actor. Still, if we found a reason to justify it, he could be an extra. Maybe even have one line. Who wouldn’t want to say one line?

All of this was interesting but there was still no story. Sure, he could make suggestions, and Kim, as the show runner, would have to deal with them. It would create some tension between them, but it still didn’t feel strong enough.

The breakthrough came when someone suggested, “What if Kim had to direct the episode?” Eureka! And to make it even better, we decided it should be her first directing assignment. So there was more on the line.

Remember, the more your main character wants something, the better the story. And the harder you make it for them to achieve it, the better the story.

Having this be Kim’s first time added a level of nerves, inexperience with dealing with problems, and the need to prove herself. Plus, it created conflicted between her and Mike.

This fit perfectly into our theme. And it was a story they couldn’t do on GRACE UNDER FIRE.

So now we were ready to plot it out.

The logical first scene was in the office. The director for the show that begins tomorrow takes sick. Quick aside: when you have to come up with names, don’t spend all day. Use friends or family members. You’ll notice that the fallen director is named “Dave Niehaus”. He was my broadcasting partner in Seattle who just passed away last week.

We open the show with Rob coming in nervous about his script. This gives him an attitude for later when Mike proposes a lot of changes. When we first meet Rob in the pilot, he’s all wide-eyed. By this episode, he’s sitting off to the side grumbling and smoking.

The secretary comes in to deliver bad news. This was the second actress we used in this role. The first one, understandably, quit. It was the most thankless role ever devised. She comes in, delivers exposition, and leaves. The slang expression for giving exposition is “laying pipe” so we just named her Piper. After a few episodes the actress wanted out to pursue other things. Like I said, I couldn’t blame her. But we needed a person to perform that function. So the next time we made sure the secretary had a comic attitude. She relished giving bad news.

Now comes the question of who is going to direct the show? Gary is the only one who’s done it and we see that it traumatized him. This gave us a very funny run and also spelled out how difficult the task was. Kim decides to do it herself. Partly, she want to, and partly, there’s no one else.

Now we go to Kim’s house and she’s preparing. This is how I used to prepare when I first started directing. I’d use little plastic men and decide where to place my cameras. I didn’t get goofy with them like Kim but I didn’t star in a sitcom either. This also provided exposition for the audience on just what the scene was going to be. You try to hide all of that through jokes but especially in early scenes, you’re setting up a lot of things for later.

She appears very confident and then we do a quick flip to later that night and she’s having a panic attack. We call back Gary’s experience and milk a few more “Fat Man” laughs out of it, and show Mike being calming and supportive. He even offers to come to the set tomorrow. Remember, our task here is to find a way to get Mike in place. Kim is so grateful she suggests he be in the scene. We end with him practicing his line and get a glimpse that this might not have been a good idea.

Next we move on to the set. There was a big internal discussion of what Kim’s attitude should be. Should she be overwhelmed, still have residual nerves, snap at people because she’s under such pressure? We decided to make her confident and capable. This story aside, it is extremely difficult for women directors to get the respect they deserve. It’s still an “ole boys club” and women are unfairly placed at a disadvantage. The last thing we wanted to show was a woman director frazzled.

And having things go smoothly with Kim at the helm only benefited our story because you see that the ensuing problems are all Mike’s fault.

First thing he does is say his whole family back in Baltimore is excited; they’re going to have a party when the show airs, etc. The purpose: make it even more impossible for Kim to fire him. Guilt is a Catholic Priest’s and comedy writer’s best friend.

And now we have some fun. We tried to include every possible way an extra or one-line actor could kill a shot. I love Kevin in this show. He’s very funny and very real.

So the dilemma seemed clear. Kim has to maintain order. She has to prove herself. She’s on the clock. There’s a near mutiny. Her boyfriend is the cause of all of her problems but she can’t fire him. What does she do? Her career and relationship hang in the balance.

Hopefully, all the gags along the way are funny, but without the context of a good strong dramatic story, they’re just sketch bits.

For endings, we always try to come up with some twist; something you can’t predict. We’re more successful at times than others, but we try.

The script was assigned to George McGrath who did a great job. Technically, this was a very complicated show and we were lucky as hell to get Jeff Melman to direct it.

All the crew people you see standing around, those were our real crew members. Fortunately, none of them had lines, nor were they sleeping with any of us.

And finally, here’s what I remember most about this episode. We shot it in front of the audience but after they left (around 10:00 PM), Jeff had lots of pick-ups to get. He worked quickly and efficiently but the clock was approaching midnight. Everyone was beyond tired. Nancy asked how much longer he would need, and Jeff apologetically said, “About another hour.”

This was a crossroads moment.

Nancy, as the star, could have had a tantrum. The tension level would have shot through the roof. Anyone who’s been in the business for ten minutes has seen that.

But that’s not Nancy. She said, “Great. Let’s do it.” She became the cheerleader for everybody else. Her positive energy was infectious and they all blasted through the rest of the pick-ups. I don’t have to tell you how much the crew loved this girl. We talk about actors needing to “take responsibility as the star”. They set the tone. And when Nancy chose to be up and spirited, everyone else followed suit.

Okay. That’s all I have. Any questions? Alright. Read Chapter 7 by Friday!

And on a related note:  I'll be conducting another free teleseminar, answering your writing questions.  Did I mention it's free?  You can submit questions and sign up here.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hanging out backstage

Pictured:  Director Jerry Zaks, Katey Sagal, Randy Newman. 

Last night the Levine brood went to see HARPS AND ANGELS, a new musical revue of Randy Newman songs at the Taper Forum in Los Angeles. For you LA readers, check it out. It’s quite great. One of the stars is Katey Sagal (a slight departure from SONS OF ANARCHY) so after the show we all went backstage to say hello. Even though I always feel like the ultimate groupie, I love going backstage.

One of my great thrills was meeting Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) last year thanks to his/her BFF, Tallulah Morehead.

I did have one very awkward backstage experience, though. There was a new Herb Gardner play starring Judd Hirsch I really wanted to see. At the time I think I was doing ALMOST PERFECT. Our casting director arranged for my wife and I to get Judd Hirsch’s house seats.

We arrive, settle in, and Judd’s assistant comes over and says Mr. Hirsch would like us to come backstage after the performance. We were delighted. We didn’t know Judd Hirsch but it was a chance to thank him for the tickets.

After the show we go backstage. The way this usually works is you wait and the actors eventually come out and greet you. The assistant spots us and tells us to follow her. She then leads us into Judd Hirsch’s dressing room. He sees us, and you could tell has no idea who we were. I think he was expecting someone else. But he didn’t want to be rude so he invites us in and acts as if he knew us.

Likewise, we didn’t want to offend him, so we pretend that we know him, too. For fifteen minutes we all chat as if we are long-long friends. I can’t begin to tell you how WEIRD it was. Finally, we say goodnight, and of course we all vow to get together again real soon. I owe him a call.

Fortunately, I do know Katey, and again, see this show if you get a chance. Everyone is wonderful in it. And boy, can that motorcycle chick sing!

Another of our lost episodes

This is a real "Show 'n Tell" weekend.  But these episodes I want to show you are starting to stack up.

So here's another episode of ALMOST PERFECT.  This is one of my most requested, and if you look real closely there's a brief homage to Dave Niehaus, the Mariners' announcer who sadly just passed away. 

Kim (Nancy Travis) gets to direct her first episode of the TV cop show she runs and she allows her boyfriend, Mike (Kevin Kilner) to be an extra.  Hilarity hopefully ensues.  This episode was written by George McGrath and directed by Jeff Melman.  As before, on Monday Comedy Writing 101 will be in session and I will break down the episode and discuss our thought process.  

A quick note:  I still don't know how to edit so fast forward through the first 30 seconds. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What's on my desk - revised

A question for writers that has been circulating the blogosphere recently is “what’s on your desk?” It's the same question I answered a couple of years ago but a few items have changed, so what the hell?

My iMac desktop computer .

Mouse on a UCLA mouse pad.

Printer.

Froggy Gremlin childhood toy.

Bob Hope in Dodger uniform bobblehead. (next to Koufax he was my favorite Dodger.)

Cup o’ pens.

Fathers Day cards.

Family photos.

A Gary Larson FAR SIDE card showing the BEWITCHED writing staff brainstorming in the fourth season. Brilliant notions like: “What if Endora casts a spell on Darren?”

Allstate accident report I was supposed to fill out in 2003.

Box of Ralphs market Oyster Crackers. There are some things it's okay to buy the generic brand.

Plastic Bob’s Big Boy (I’m a Bob’s Big Boy fanatic and can never figure out why that checkered jumpsuit look didn’t catch on.)

Five old drafts of my musical, with practically every page dog eared.

Lucite encased Real Don Steele KHJ business card.

A hard bound copy of GREAT PRETENDERS: MY STRANGE LOVE AFFAIR WITH ‘50’s POP MUSIC by Karen Schoemer. (Fun reading. I recommend it.)


My SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 2010 swimsuit model desk calendar. This week it's this picture of Julie Henderson!

A spec pilot from my rabbi.

A spindle of CD’s that includes albums from Frank Zappa and Joanie Sommers.

Dodger Stadium and Pauley Pavilion replica paperweights.

Lucite encased picture of me with AfterMASH writing staff (that includes Larry Gelbart).

Vintage typewriter from 1890 with the carriage return arm on the right side. Still easier to write on than using FINAL DRAFT.

93/KHJ Boss Radio mike flag.


Box of brads and paper clips.

My bobblehead collection which includes Harry Caray (pictured), Speedy Alka-Seltzer, and Jesus Christ.

WHO IS HARRY NILSSON? documentary DVD. Run out and get this. It's fucking amazing!

And -- Oh God – I think there’s still a sandwich.

A sitcom story I bet you haven't seen before

Here's another episode of the MARY show my partner, David Isaacs, and I created for Mary Tyler Moore.  We always like to do stories you can't see on other sitcoms.  I'm particularly proud of this one.  I think it's one of the more ingenious stories we've ever come up with.  The teleplay is by Tom Straw and directed by Will MacKenzie.   


And for you John Astin fans, he is heavily featured in this episode.   Thanks again to friend-of-the-blog, Dave Benson, for posting it.  



Friday, November 12, 2010

Why John Cleese never appeared on CHEERS a second time

Time for Friday questions. First though, thanks so much for all the lovely comments and remembrances of Dave Niehaus from yesterday’s post. Like I said, he was the best broadcast partner I ever had. Nice to know that the genuine affection and respect came through on the air between us.

Okay, to your questions. The first will be answered by David Lee, former CHEERS producer (later FRASIER co-creator), who along with his partner, Peter Casey, wrote the classic John Cleese episode of CHEERS.


The query comes from John Trumball.

I've long thought that the episode of Cheers where John Cleese guest stars and provides some pre-marriage counseling to Sam and Diane is one of the all-time great sitcom episodes. Is it true that there was a sequel planned where Cleese's character returned to get the money that Fraiser Crane still owed him from his first appearance? And if so, why was it never produced?

David Lee: This episode was filmed just after I left the show, but I was around for the lead up to it. Though my memory isn't the best, this is the gist of what I remember from being around campus at the time.

Season 7, episode 22. "The Visiting Lecher" . The script was written by David Lloyd and was originally intended as a vehicle for the John Cleese character, Dr.Simon Finch Royce. Mr. Cleese had expressed an interest in returning to the show, and everyone was thrilled that he was interested in coming back to revisit the character. A story was broken specifically for him, and David went enthusiastically to work. A great script resulted and was put into the production schedule. Shortly before they were scheduled to go into rehearsal, Mr. Cleese's people called up to inform us that he was, as I remember, "too tired" or something and would not be doing the episode. It was quickly rewritten (if you knew Mr Lloyd you can imagine what he had to say about that!) and John McMartin was hired to play Dr. Lawrence Crandall, who, if you look closely, is very very similar to Dr. Finch-Royce. It turned out to be a fine episode, but the once fondly remembered name of Mr. Cleese was- how shall we put this? -- Not.

Thanks, David. I must owe you eight lunches by now.

Max Clarke asked:

I just looked at SFgate and their coverage of the documentary about Glenn Burke.


The article mentions your interview for the doc, and how you did an episode of Cheers based upon Burke's experience.


That was a good episode, it was a test for Sam Malone as well. He picked the wrong day not to read a book, but he stood by his baseball teammate.


Would be good to hear your background on this, I always thought it was a gutsy episode to run way back then.

The documentary you referred to is called Out. The Glenn Burke Story, shown on Comcast in the Bay Area and Direct TV. It’s terrific and I highly recommend it.

The episode of CHEERS was called “Boys in the Bar” and a couple of years ago I posted this background piece on it.

From Carol:

It could just be due to the nature of my favourite British shows, but it seems to me that British television writers get more credit than American ones do. Many times the writers are as least as important to the fans as the actors are. Stephen Moffatt being a good case in point. Do you think that's the case?

I only wish that were the case in America. TV writers are held in much higher regard in the U.K. Writers are even listed in British TV Guide loglines. Jessica Alba and Katherine Heigl will both sleep with me before that happens in the U.S.

For an American TV writer to achieve any notoriety (without having to shamelessly start his own blog) he has to create a huge hit. Or six. Matt Weiner, David Chase, Chuck Lorre. Otherwise, watch for screen credits but don’t blink because they go by faster than subliminal messages.

Stephen asks:

Did you see Michael J. Fox's guest appearance on The Good Wife this week? He played a character who had a similar disease to the one Michael has in real life. He clearly relished the freedom he had in not needing to restrict his symptoms.

I did see that. THE GOOD WIFE is fast becoming my favorite show. I thought he was amazing. The scene where he’s trying to pour a glass of water to distract the jury during a cross-examination was brilliant, hilarious, and something I had never seen in a courtroom show.

What do you think of actors who continue to work despite illness (a recent example is Jill Clayburgh who died after working consistently through 21 years of chronic leukemia)

I find them enormously courageous. Unfortunately, I observed this first-hand with Nick Colasanto during his final season with CHEERS, and with Mary Tyler Moore, who is in a constant battle with diabetes. There are quite a few other examples including: Teri Garr, (multiple sclerosis), Richard Burton (epilepsy), Ingrid Bergman (no one knew she was in the later stages of cancer while filming GOLDA), and who could possibly be more inspiring than Christopher Reeve?

And finally, from Bob Gassel:

Did Gene Reynolds contribute much as 'Creative Consultant' when he left MASH?

He contributed much more than most creative consultants. I’ve never worked with a writer who had a better sense of story than Gene Reynolds. We would meet with him once a week and run our outlines by him. He would then fix them, solve them, find more inventive ways to tell them. He could zero in on problems and almost instantaneously formulate solutions. I’d walk out of his house every week shaking my head and saying, “We’re not worthy”.

In over thirty years I’ve never encountered another writer who can do what he does. We’re NOT worthy.

What’s your question?