Thursday, June 30, 2011

The dumbest game show... yet

Finally! A version of JEOPARDY for morons!! For years, cretins have surfed past JEOPARDY on their way to FEAR FACTOR repeats always wondering what the big deal was. It’s just some eggheads answering questions and it has to be fixed. No one in the world would actually know the answers to those questions. Like people remember the name of rivers and U.S. Presidents. Yeah, right. And that’s all the show is – answering questions. Where’s the excitement in that?!

I can imagine the focus group. Twenty Cro-Magnons in a room, playing with string, being asked what they’d like to see in a game show. A hot girl sitting under explosives being propelled straight up in the air while she screamed for dear life. Yeah!!! People plunging ten stories down into water. Another hot babe strapped to the wing of a WWI fighter plane zooming across the sky. Now this has potential!

But what about the questions? They must be intellectually challenging. “How much did William Shatner sell his kidney stone for?” Okay, that one might be a little too highbrow but it’s in the ballpark.

The prize: $50,000 for the winner, which if these people do the math is enough to buy a Lear jet.

Assuming that this focus group had evolved to where they had thumbs, by now all forty would be up. Feet would be clapping.  Drool would be pouring. 

Hence, 101 WAYS TO LEAVE A GAME SHOW – a game show that mixes idiocy with low expectation greed and explosions. Throw in an incredibly annoying host who thinks he’s Adam Corolla and you have the recipe for summer fun, ABC style. Take that, Fox!

However, for anyone watching this schlockfest who has an IQ of 50 and a forehead, this is the dumbest new show on television.

JEOPARDY contestants have college degrees; one 101 WAYS contestant has a big tattoo on his arm of Lady Gaga, another wants to use the prize money to build a waterfall for his iguana, and a third plans to use her winnings to buy a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert. Shooting these nitwits out of cannons isn’t cruel. It’s what they deserve.

The truth is there’s no suspense. Obviously, none of these dolts are in any real danger. They’re doing nothing more than essentially going on Six Flags Magic Mountain thrill rides. Yes, they scream and maybe think they’re in danger, but they would think that on every attraction they ever ride. They’ve cheated death by surviving Dumbo.

And just to make sure that the questions aren’t too taxing, over the course of a one-hour show there are a grand total of ten of them. The toughest: Did McDonalds ever offer McLobster?

“I’ll take village idiots for 40, Alex.”

If you like complete train wrecks then 101 WAYS TO LEAVE A GAME SHOW is for you. Train wreck, by the way, is probably way 22. I can only hope that the show will be off the air long before they get that far.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Levine & Isaacs -- you're fired!

It’s not uncommon for writers to get fired off of film projects. You turn in a draft, the phone stops ringing, and then you learn that someone else has been hired to rewrite you. Larry Gelbart, at a WGA membership meeting debating one of our many contracts, spoke to the crowd of about a thousand and said, “At one time everyone in this room will rewrite everyone else in this room”.  He's right. 

But how many writers have been fired even before they wrote a single word? Not many. The only two I can think of are me and my partner, David Isaacs.  What a dubious distinction!

It’s 1980. Director Randal Kleiser is hot based on an unlikely hit movie he megged (I love that bullshit Hollywood term) called BLUE LAGOON. A young nubile Brooke Shields (before becoming the toast of Broadway) and pretty boy, Christopher Atkins are trapped on a tropical island together. They frolic for two hours and this audiences wanted to see.

So Kleiser gets a big development deal at Columbia. He has an idea for a coming-of-age movie set in an amusement park. David and I are hired to write it. We do. He loves it. The studio loves it. Everybody loves it. No one makes it but everyone loves it.

While we are writing the screenplay, Kleiser is busy writing and preparing the next movie he was going to direct, SUMMER LOVERS. This classic starring nubile Darryl Hannah and pretty boy, Peter Gallagher, is about a gorgeous young couple who fall in love one idyllic summer in picturesque Greece. BLUE LAGOON with Lachanodolmades.

We turn in our screenplay to much praise and get a call from Randal. He’s going off to Greece in a week to begin principle photography of SUMMER LOVERS. But he’s getting a little nervous about the script. Would we be interested in doing a fast rewrite? Nothing major. No story or structure changes. Just round out the characters and maybe add a little humor and dimension. A messenger drops off copies of the script. We read it overnight, meet in the morning to discuss what we’d like to do, and then drive over to Burbank to confab (another favorite bullshit Hollywood word) with him in his office on the WB/Columbia lot.

The meeting goes swimingly. He loves our suggestions. He laughs at the jokes we propose. He couldn’t be more effusive and enthusiastic. What we pitch is just what the script needs he says. So he sends us off to write it, complete with his blessing and thanks.

We drive back over the hill to my condo on the Westside. Takes about a half hour. We walk in my place and immediately the phone rings. It’s our agent. No pleasantries. She starts out with, “Just what happened in that meeting?” I was sort of thrown by the question. “It went great. Why?” I asked. “Well, it couldn’t have gone that great,” she said, “Columbia just called. They fired you.”


"You're no longer on the project."

"Even if we were never on the project."

"Yep.  Your services are no longer needed."

"What services?  We never started service."

"You're fired!"

So that was that.  We never found out why. My guess is Randal didn’t like our suggestions but was just too much of a wimp (an expression I shall use in place of the one I really want to use but am taking the high road – although you know the word I mean) to tell us face-to-face. Randal went off to the make the movie. I never saw it. It bombed. I don’t think our rewrite would have made a damn bit of difference.

By the time he had returned, our amusement park project was dead. We learned later that Columbia had no intention of ever making it. They wanted another BLUE LAGOON, not a teen comedy out of Randal Kleiser. They were just indulging him.  We didn’t know it at the time but we were always just spinning our wheels (back in the days when studios still paid for the spinning).

There’s no real moral to this story. The only advice I could give writers so that this never happens to you is, I guess, don’t ever come home taking Laurel Canyon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where to go this summer vacation

The 4th of July weekend heralds the real beginning of the summer vacation season. Still don’t know where to go yet? Allow me to help while shamelessly pushing my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED (only $2.99 in all ebook formats and $6.99 paperback. Order yours here!!!)

WTHAI?TISH (as most people refer to it) is a ten year collection of my humorous travelogues. Here are a few excerpts to help you decide where to go this summer.

DALLAS – (most people’s first choice for August travel) On every corner there’s either a steakhouse or a church. One place called “Holy Cow” could be either or both.

LAS VEGAS -- We hit the beach. Yes, Mandalay Bay has its own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But Debby (my wife) and I took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

MAUI – Did not see the sunrise at Haleakala. But did get a report from someone who did. A bus picks you up 2:30 in the morning. You drive an hour and a half to the top of this massive shield volcano. By top I mean 10,023 feet. You get out in your shorts, flip flops, and aloha shirt -- it’s pitch black, and 22 degrees (literally). When the sun comes up (two hours later) it will rise to 37. Finally the dawn. It’s breathtaking, awesome, and your teeth are chattering like castanets. You don’t want to even think about the possibility that there’s a YouTube video of this. You get on the bus and either go home or into shock.

For more fun you can bike down the outside of the volcano… like a rocket on a two-lane winding road that hugs a cliff that’s steeper than those in Road Runner cartoons. Bikers must also negotiate tour buses, vans, and tourists in unfamiliar rental cars. In 2007 there were three biker fatalities. Bike tours (when they’re not suspended) are $100 - $150 dollars. Bring a parachute.

But we did visit quaint Lahaina. Strolled past the charming Crazy-T-Shirt and souvenir soap stores. This bawdy whaling port has not changed in a hundred years.

For all the hoopla of Lahaina, we found quite a few other smaller, lesser-known little towns that were far more charming and KFC-free. Paia, for one. It’s advertised as a throwback “hippie” village. And I must say it took me right back to the ‘60s when hippies supported their drug habits by selling gelato.

Makawao is another quaint attraction. Up country, it’s a little cowboy town, specializing in glass blowing – just like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid used to do. I kept looking for the jail and saloon but alas they’ve given way to art galleries and a market that makes fresh donuts. But get there early. They go fast. There’s usually a shoot-out in the town square for the last cruller.

PHOENIX -- This is a sprawling city of giant shopping malls broken up by sports complexes. Oh, and numerous aircraft bone yards. From rusted out WWII planes to 747s that haven’t flown since Braniff went under, they’re all here. Was hoping to swing by and pick up an L1011 fuselage but time got away.

To get anywhere in Phoenix – to work, a restaurant, the rental car outpost from the airport – you just get on the freeway and go 13.2 miles. Everything is 13.2 miles away. Except Circle K’s. There are two on every corner. How much beef jerky can this town chew?

DENVER -- Denver is the most sexually active city in America. Contraceptive sales are 189% higher within the city limits than the national average (sales of female contraceptives are a whopping 278% higher). Coincidentally, Denver also has the world’s largest brewery (Coors).

Things not to miss: The Butterfly Pavilion insect zoo, the “Mind Eraser” rollercoaster at Elitch Gardens, the giant cement slide at Bear Valley Park that looks like a vagina, the Buckhorn Exchange restaurant with 500 stuffed animals (it’s how I imagine Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s bedroom), the stone marker that claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, and any CVS pharmacy for contraceptives.

ST. LOUIS -- St. Loo is famous of course for the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Although, locals insist it’s not the same now that the Busch family has sold it to Germans. They claim the beer tastes different. I couldn’t tell, but I did notice the Clydesdales goose-stepping in a recent parade.

PHILADELPHIA -- Meant to get out to the Mutter Museum, founded originally to educate doctors of the 19th Century and current HMO’s. Big attractions include conjoined twins and a catalog of foreign objects removed from bodies. Bring the kids!

This is the birthplace of two major revolutions – the American and shopping. It is in nearby Westchester that QVC is located, which is why I thought I saw Marie Osmond at baggage claim waiting at the carousel for 42,000 dolls to come down the chute.

WASHINGTON D.C. -- So much to see: the monuments, Gennifer Flowers’ apartment, Capitol Hill, Paula Jones’ apartment, the White House, Monica Lewinsky’s apartment, the Smithsonian, the DC Madam’s place, the Mint, Elizabeth Ray’s apartment, Arlington Cemetery, Donna Rice’s apartment, and the Watergate hotel.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fisherman's Wharf is filled with colorful street performers: mimes and jugglers, etc. Most unique was the “Shrub Guy.” He hides behind a shrub in camouflage and when unsuspecting tourists stroll by he leaps out scaring the shit out of them. Meanwhile, other people observe nearby, laugh, and give him money. On a grander scale this is how Liza Minnelli now makes her living.

BOSTON -- Swung by the Quincy Market. There we ran across the new second Cheers bar. This one, they claim, is set up exactly like the one on TV. Maybe if you've never seen the show. The bar is square and two or three of the pictures on the back wall are the same. Otherwise, the bar on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine looks more like the real Cheers.

MILWAUKEE – (on the road with the Dodgers) stayed at the historic Pfister. The Pfister is pfirst class. It’s an old regal downtown hotel that just happens to be haunted. Some ballplayers are so freaked they stay elsewhere, or sleep holding a bat for protection. Carlos Gomez of the Twins was getting out of the shower and his iPod suddenly went haywire, so instead of calling AppleCare (or Ghostbusters?), he raced out to the lobby without his pants. I shared a room with the Ghost of Christmas Future. He told me that “UFC Undisputed” will sell out quick this season so shop early.

One thing I’ve discovered about Milwaukee – it’s in a time warp. The buildings, the cars, the people – it’s 1956. Friday night’s postgame concert featured newcomers Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In an attempt to blend in I wore an “Adlai Stevenson for President” button.

FLORIDA – (business trip with my writing partner, David) If a studio was paying for this trip we would have stayed in Naples. But since it was our own dime, Bonita Beach was our Gateway to the Gulf home. In the ‘20s there was this cult, the Koreshans, who believed that Bonita Beach was the center of the world. It was a celibate tribe so unfortunately it no longer exists. (Darwin works!) There’s just a state park in their honor. And if I’m not mistaken, the Hampton Inn we were staying at is at the center of Bonita Beach, and room 229, just to our left, is the absolute DEAD center of the world.

No wonder the Holiday Inn across the street is proud. Their marquee proclaims “Number one guest rated shower heads.”

Favorite store name (maybe ever): “Master Bait & Tackle Shop” on Bonita Beach Road. Yes, I purchased t-shirts.

Monday, June 27, 2011

One of my writing pet peeves

I saw MIDNIGHT IN PARIS recently, which I liked but didn’t love (even if all the critics tell me I'm supposed to love it). There were some nice moments in it, I enjoyed the fantasy aspects but ultimately thought it would have made a better Woody Allen short story. (If you’re not familiar with his collection of short stories, treat yourself. They’re hilarious and wildly imaginative. Get Without Feathers or Getting Even.) But I digress as usual…

One aspect of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS really bothered me -- all the wasted dialogue. Woody Allen isn't the only culprit, I see it in other movies and shows too. And it's just a personal pet peeve. But if you’re a young writer-hopeful (I like that term so much better than wannabe. Wannabe sounds like an Indian Guides troop.), you might want to give this rant some consideration.

You only have a certain amount of time to tell a story. Every word needs to count. In MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (warning: scene spoiler alert but it won't effect your enjoyment of the movie), there's a potentially funny sequence when Owen Wilson (picture Woody Allen but young and Gentile) is trapped in a hotel room with earrings he took from his fiancé (for a reason I won't divulge). On FRASIER we would do this type of scene every other week. And it would be packed with funny lines, whopper lies, great reactions. I'm sure Neil Simon, if given the same comic premise, would do the same.

But not here. Here the scene is filled with,

"My earrings are gone!"
"Really? You sure?"
"Did you check everywhere?"
"Yes. They're missing."
"Really?" Did you even bring them?"
"Yes I brought them."
"I don't know that you did".
"I did."
“I don’t remember seeing them.”
“I brought them. I saw them this morning.”
“You did?”

You get the point.

Sorry but to me that's just lazy writing. You may say, "well, that's the way people talk.". And I would say absolutely -- but it's not interesting. It's sure not funny and this is a block comedy scene. As a writer it's your job to do better. Anyone can write the exchange I presented above. Your job is to make it funnier or more compelling or more thought-provoking or…more whatever.

Can people stammer? Sure. Do they talk ungrammatically? Every sentence. They also hedge and hem and haw and talk in circles. And you can use those qualities and still be engrossing. I refer you to any David Mamet play. Naturalistic dialogue doesn't have to be boring. But it takes skill to make it sing. At least attempt to do that.

Some would say that promotes dialogue that is too stylized. And often times they're right. Just as bad as boring conversation is the "no human being would ever say that" charge. But I'd rather err on the side of style, on the side of trying too hard rather than not enough.

I can hear some of you now. What about Aaron Sorkin? He uses a lot of short sentences and characters repeating other characters’ lines. What about him? I know. I’ve even spoofed him myself. But there is a definite flow to Sorkin’s dialogue. There’s a rhythm. Everything is carefully designed. It’s not just idle chit-chat, it’s lyrics.

I'll stop just short of saying you're making art because that always sounds incredibly pretentious so I'll just say you’re making diversions worthy of our time and even our money. Make every word count.

Maybe Woody should have traveled back to Paris in the 1920s – and spent more time with Hemingway.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vacation Tip: Where to find writers

I read articles all the time about where tourists visiting Los Angeles can see stars. There are also maps to the stars homes (although Jack Benny and Lucille Ball have moved to more permanent residences. ). But what about all those millions of visitors who come to Tinsel Town just to catch a glimpse at writers? There’s yet to be an article about that….

Until now.

So for those of you scribe groupies hoping to see an actual TV or screenwriter this summer vacation, here are some places to go:

NATE N’ AL’S – This perennial Beverly Hills delicatessen is officially Broadway Danny Rose west. Here is where old comedy writers go to die of heart failure. Usually in tables of five or more, piled high with pastrami sandwiches (“I’m hungry now that I’ve quit smoking!”) the old sitcom guard holds court, trading stories of the good old days when Elizabeth Montgomery was a doll to work with but that Cosby kid was a handful. (“Two comedy albums and suddenly he knows funny!”) Morning meetings between writers and agents, managers, or producers start about 9. The ones that are over by 10 are working writers, the ones that go on til 11 are not.

THE AMC THEATRES, CENTURY CITY – weekday matinees only. Usually in pairs. Listen for the keywords: “Who greenlit this shit?”

THE FARMERS’ MARKET FOOD COURT – weekday mornings, early. They have coffee, read the trades, bitch about their fantasy baseball teams, and get the hell out before all the tour busses arrive.

Every STARBUCKS and COFFEE BEAN on Ventura Blvd between Vineland and White Oak. They’re easy to spot, sitting in front of computers, nursing one $3.00 ice blended for eight hours.

ART’S DELICATESSEN – Studio City. The San Fernando Valley equivalent of Nate N’ Al’s. Close to CBS Radford with oversized artery clogging triple deck sandwiches that include pastrami AND chopped liver. The one-time popular haunt of all the MTM writers so it’s kind of a shrine.

CEDARS SINAI HOSPITAL – West Hollywood. Home for all reunions of GRACE UNDER FIRE, CYBILL, and ROSEANNE writers.

THE SMOKE HOUSE – Burbank. Across the street from Warner Brothers studio. The bar area. Leave it to writers to think a good place to pick up chicks is at an old style red booth restaurant that’s been around since John Barrymore used to pass out there. Historic note: Captain & Tennille were discovered playing the Smoke House lounge – thus adding even more to the hip factor.

THE AROMA CAFÉ – Cute little coffee house with cute outdoor patio. On Tujunga Blvd in the valley mere steps from where Robert Blake had the love of his life whacked.

RESIDUALS – A bar in the valley that used to let writers pay for drinks with residual checks that were under a dollar. They eventually had to stop that practice because they were getting too many. I myself have received a check from THE SIMPSONS for one cent. And I’m sure it cost $5.00 to process and mail the check.

THE BRENTWOOD COUNTRY MART – Westside smaller version of the Farmers’ Market Food Court. Writers and news anchors hang out here. You’ll have no trouble telling which is which.

THE OAKWOOD GARDEN APARTMENTS -- Burbank. See recently divorced writers.

Any coffee shop above Hollywood on Franklin – Lots of guys trying to write the next PULP FICTION. Or MIKE & MOLLY.

Happy hunting. One rule though: no handing out spec scripts! Let me repeat that:


Either working writers will be pissed or non-working writers will give you theirs.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Katey Sagal's first job

In 1985, my partner, David and I created a comeback show for Mary Tyler Moore called (oddly enough) MARY.  We were extremely fortunate to have a great casting director in Molly Lopata.   All summer we spent auditioning actors for the series.  Most you've heard of.  Some even big names.

One day Molly brought in a newcomer to read for the role of Jo Tucker, Mary's acerbic workmate.  We loved her.  She was funny, real, and so fresh.  A definite call-back.

Eventually we had to go to CBS to get cast approval.  They asked to see two candidates for each role.  For the part of Jo we brought in Kathy Bates and this newcomer.  Both were wonderful.  CBS was thrilled with either pick.   We decided to go with the newbie.  There was just something very special about Katey Sagal.

Here is a sample of her work on MARY.  I don't know who put this together but many thanks.   It not not only shows her comedic side but her singing ability too.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Will there ever be another CHEERS or FRASIER?

More Friday Questions answered here. Keep ‘em coming and thanks!

An Anonymous reader (please leave a name in the future) gets us started:

I have a two-part question:

1) Are you considering, or would you consider in the future creating and writing a new sitcom? Or are those days over?

If David and I came up with some idea that we felt really passionate about we would definitely consider creating another sitcom. But the conditions would have to be right. And we’d have to have a lot of freedom to really do the show our way.

At the moment we don’t have a dynamite idea.

2) Do you think that we will see in the foreseeable future another sitcom that is as smart and funny as 'Cheers' and 'Frasier' are? Or are sitcoms on the whole just unfashionable these days?

Sure we will see the next CHEERS and FRASIER. These things are cyclical. The next smart, sophisticated comedy may not be your standard multi-camera sitcom (although it could be), but in some form and with a fresh voice there indeed will be comedies that rival CHEERS and FRASIER. Hurry! Cause I want to see one.

Mike from Belfast wonders:

Occasionally you mention Robin Schiff, co-creator of Almost Perfect. Given that you already had a successful partnership with David Isaacs, how did this relationship come about? Was it difficult to work out the new dynamic? Have you worked with Robin since?

We met Robin several years before ALMOST PERFECT. She had a pilot and we came in one night to help punch it up. The three of us really worked well that night. David and I usually dictate scripts to an assistant so having another person in the mix did not really upset our routine.

From there we all became friends. A few years later we had a deal to develop shows for Paramount and Robin also had a deal there. She came to us with the notion of wanting to do a series about a very independent single woman in her ‘30s. We sparked to the idea and the three of us decided to collaborate on the project. It was a very productive and happy partnership.

I have worked with Robin following the completion of ALMOST PERFECT. She and I wrote a spec romantic comedy screenplay together called BETWEEN THE COVERS in the early 00’s that we sold to MGM. It languishes in "development hell". 

In any combination, the three of us are always looking for the right project to collaborate again on. We love Robin.

Gary asks:

My Friday question is: Have you ever written a script just for one great line? It sure seems that my wife and I have seen this phenomenon on the boob tube.

Yes. An episode of CHEERS called “Breaking Out Is Hard to Do”. I wrote a whole post on it, which you can access here.

And finally, here’s another Mike -- Mike Schryver. I don’t know where he’s from but I’m guessing the Pacific Northwest. He has a baseball-related question.

I'm glad that neither you nor Rick (Rizzs) is particularly homer-ish as an announcer, Ken. What are you able to tell us about homer announcers, and how much of their act is their own, or is insisted upon by the team?

Some markets welcome announcers that openly root for their teams. The most extreme example of that these days would have to Ken Harrelson, the TV announcer for the Chicago White Sox. If you’re not a die-hard Sox fan you will HATE this guy. The White Sox are “the good guys”, he screams “Yes!!!” when they get a hit. He’s quite colorful but boy you better be a Palehose fan.

Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees was also very partial, as was Harry Caray of the Cubs and Cardinals, and Bob Prince of the Pirates. It’s a style and in some markets it’s what the fans want.

To my knowledge no team insists their announcers be shameless homers but some are supportive of it.  

In other markets, more objectivity is desired. Los Angeles for one. In LA we all grew up listening to Vin Scully, who taught us to appreciate “the game” not just your team. I think that’s more the preferred style today.

Still, there’s a way of being objective while still conveying that you’re rooting for your team. My partner, Rick, in particular, does an excellent job of giving a fair and balanced description of what’s going on while still letting you know his heart belongs to the Mariners. And for those of us who broadcast in Seattle, we were weaned on that by the great Dave Niehaus.

I prefer the objective style personally. Just like not everyone who comes to your stadium is rooting for your team, same with the broadcast. If I’m calling a Mariners-Rangers game I want Texas fans to enjoy listening, too. Likewise, Mariners fans who tune in to Eric Nadel’s broadcast (for the Rangers) will find it a great listen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More random blogservations...

 Warning:  I'm in a generally snarky mood. 

Kim Kardashian’s ex, Reggie Bush, is now dating a Kim Kardashian impersonator.  They say it's what's on the inside that counts, which is why I think this is such a smart move. 

Emmy ballots are due tomorrow. And I’m still not finished watching all of the “For Your Consideration” DVD’s I’ve been sent.  Yes, these people spent a lot of money on package and postage but they all have a real legitimate shot.  So today I plan to watch GENE SIMMONS FAMILY JEWELS, AMERICAN CHOPPER: SENIOR VS. JUNIOR, MIKE & MOLLY, JOAN & MELISSA: MELISSA KNOWS BEST, HAWTHORNE, OUTSOURCED, and LAST CALL WITH CARSON DALY. It’s going to be tough because I can see each one of these winning.

The Barefoot Bandit made a plea deal with federal prosecutors this week. He was arrested last year for allegedly committing dozens of crimes in nine states including the theft of a $450,000 yacht and several airplanes. Talk about optimism – his mom does not think her son will spend much time in prison. Oh really? Felonies in nine states? She also said he plans to enroll in aviation school after his release. He better sign up now.  Those pilot classes for 2067 are filling up fast.  By the way, there is a movie in pre-production about his life.  I wish I was kidding. 

Woody Allen says his latest film, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a love letter to Paris. That’s wonderful. But how about making a love letter to the audience?   That said, with some judicious editing, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS would make a smashing short. 

As someone who grew up loving the Dodgers, I look at the sorry state of the franchise now with this McCourt mess and liken it to that girl you always loved in high school.  You see her at the twenty year reunion and go, “AAAAGH!!” You wonder, what could have possibly happened and then she says, “Have you met my husband, Charlie Sheen?”

In Ogden, Utah, Jason Valdez recently held a woman hostage at a motel in a tense 16-hour, overnight standoff with SWAT teams. All the while, he found time to keep updating his status on Facebook. Meanwhile, a friend posted that a SWAT officer was hiding in the bushes. "Thank you homie," Valdez replied. "Good looking out." I am unfriending this person.

More wacky crimes: Christian Hernandez, an El Monte, California idiot was arrested in 2009 for molestation and possession of child pornography and has been sentenced to 30 years in the slammer. (I wonder what his mom says.) Here’s the good part: He was arrested in 2009 after admitting to viewing child pornography on an employment questionnaire for the California Highway Patrol.

And then there’s the woman in Minnesota who was arrested for stealing a full mink coat and hiding it in her underwear. Okay, I leave that punchline to you. 

Saw the trailer for MONEYBALL.  It's weird to see Brad Pitt playing someone I know (Oakland A's GM, Billy Beane).  Makes me wonder what actor would play me in a movie.   I'm thinking either Jon Hamm or Maya Rudolph. 

TV Academy members:  Vote for Margo Martindale.

Which judge would you vote off THE VOICE if you could?

Let’s see if Kim Kardashian starts dating one of the many Lamar Odom impersonators.

My next time in the Mariners’ booth is July 7 when the M’s are in Anaheim to take on the Rally Monkeys. Thanks to those of you who asked. 

Jane Wiseman has left NBC comedy development and joined Peter Chernin’s company as the SVP of comedy development. I really like Jane. She’s one of the good ones and I wish her well. And I say that without a single idea to pitch her.

Note to advertisers: I will NEVER EVER EVER buy any product you try to sell me by filling my screen with an unwanted ad when I load a page. If you make me click a little X I hate you. No, let me rephrase that: I FUCKING HATE YOU!!! Now seriously, is that what you want?

51 year-old actor Doug Hutchinson (who appeared in LOST) just married a 16-year-old girl.  He got an congratulatory email from Hef who also wondered if she had a little sister.

I gotta hand it to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. They do a whole cover piece and big article on Ryan Reynolds then give GREEN LANTERN a C+.

Aaron Sorkin quit Facebook. Oh, like he has better things to do than delete the endless spam that now shows up on everyone's home page, and poke people. 

Michael Bay (who Megan Fox likened to Hitler, although I think he’s more of a Hitler impersonator) is demanding major theatre chains show his new TRANSORMERS 3D explosionfest in a way that burns out projector bulbs more quickly. Yeah, that’s the problem with his movie – it’s not bright enough. Next he’s going to demand that theatergoers stop wearing those damn sunglasses!

According to the Amazon page, customers who bought my book (if you haven’t already please do – it’s just $2.99… or the price of a box seat to a Dodger game) also bought Do Tampons Take Your Virginity?, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Dating My Vibrator, Big White Panties, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, Swahili For the Broken-Hearted, and The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before I wrote Bar War practical joke wars for Cheers I targeted radio stations

Back in the days when one company didn’t own ten stations in the same market there was such a thing as “competition”. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were usually two rock stations going head-to-head in every town. This could lead to radio wars. Stations would try to sabotage each others contests and promotions. It was all in good fun.

Best of all was if you could somehow get on the air on the competing station and embarrass them live.

You didn’t have to be employees of the competing station to participate. You could be a diabolical listener just out for a few laughs.

I have been known to be one such diabolical listener (little wonder I became co-writer of all the CHEERS practical joke Bar Wars episodes).  

The irony is that I have since become good friends with the disc jockey I punked – Charlie Van Dyke.

But in 1973 I had some issues. Not with him.  Charlie's a great guy.  But I had problems with the station at the time.

Charlie was the morning man on KHJ, Los Angeles. Once a great radio station, the guiding forces had recently been replaced by a martinet program director, Paul Drew, who sapped all the imagination and creativity out of the station.

They were running an on-air contest called Columbo, based on the popular TV character of the time. Charlie announced it was time to play the game and he would take the tenth call. I phoned in and what do you know, I was caller number ten. Using a pseudonym, I played the game. Here’s the result, recorded right off the air.

Oooh, was Charlie pissed when he got back on the phone. Can't blame him. But I was right.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Super 8

I know this seems like movie week but what can I tell ya? I’ve seen a lot of movies recently.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t see any Spielberg movie before seeing this one.

SUPER 8 is not so much a film as an exercise. This is J.J. Abrams (cough) homage to Steven Spielberg movies before he was obsessed with winning Oscars. As such, Abrams does a smashing job. The action sequences are well-filmed, the production values are all top notch, and he’s managed to include every single Spielberg touch. Young teenage heroes, bicycles, the suburbs, aliens, mysterious military personnel – the girl (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s more talented sister) even looks like the young Drew Barrymore.

But what’s missing is any originality. There are no new ideas, just variations of plots and themes. Of course the characters work through their emotional issues and all grow as a result of monsters wrecking their homes and scaring their pets. They gain a greater understanding of each other and humanity. No spoiler alert necessary here – you KNOW you’re going to see that from the second the Amblin logo appears on the screen. The only question is – how treacly? (In this case, a little more than necessary, although I'm sure in studio screenings the executives all had olives in their throats by the ninth big hug.)

All that said, I know the movie a big commercial hit, a major summer “tentpole” blockbuster so any review is meaningless, even one by a niche blogger. And I’m sure I’m not in this film’s target audience, so again, who cares what I say? But I think J.J. Abrams is an extraordinary talent and has the potential to create spectacular motion pictures. My guess is, once he finds his own voice and makes movies that personally resonate with him, not just franchises (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, STAR TREK) or examples of films that influenced him growing up, he’s going to look back at SUPER 8 and see it as just a stepping-stone to much better fully-realized work.  

I look forward to seeing those movies. I await the day I can be in awe of the imagination, craft, scope, and emotional depth that J.J. will provide. I’ll also curse the bastard for having so much more talent than me. But even that will be enjoyable.

One final note: My daughter Annie points out that probably 95% of the desired demographic for this movie will have no idea what Super 8 means. There once was a thing called Super 8 mm film. Just like there once was an E.T. before ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My review of BRIDESMAIDS

BRIDESMAIDS is a chick flick for guys. It’s also the funniest comedy I’ve seen this year.

What a refreshing change from the usual studio comic fare we’ve been fed lately – slothy immature dudes and the hot brain dead babes that inexplicably fall in love with them.

Many have claimed that BRIDESMAIDS is just the woman’s version of THE HANGOVER. I’d agree to some extent but not completely. For all its raunchiness (and BRIDESMAIDS has no shortage of it – although I thought Maya Rudolph taking a shit in the street was handled as artfully as that delightful moment could), at the heart of this movie is a story about real women and the real problems they face. THE HANGOVER was just a romp. BRIDESMAIDS has defecation and depth!

The issues that guys are wrestling with in Hollywood rom coms these days are “will I get laid?”, “will I get my man cave?”, and the universal: “why am I waking up in urine?” The women in BRIDESMAIDS are dealing with aging, competition (among themselves and in the marketplace), self-esteem, relationships, status, and FAA regulations.

Written by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig, the movie dares to underplay the comedy, get laughs out of genuine character reactions, and not be afraid to stop along the way for a sincere moment or two of emotion. Because of that, when there are big crazy block comedy scenes they land and really stand out. Kristen Wiig, wigging out at a party had me rolling in the aisle (even though I was sitting in the middle).

Kristen Wiig is SNL’s next Tina Fey.

And Melissa McCarthy is the next Zach Galifianakis. She completely steals this movie. Who knew she was that hilarious? I certainly didn’t based on watching her on MIKE & MOLLY. What a difference playing a real character with a real attitude and not just firing off a steady barrage of standard sitcom one-liners.

Standout performances: Jon Hamm is a wonderful asshole. (Wouldn’t you love to see that quote on a movie ad? “Jon Hamm is a wonderful asshole” – Ken Levine, N.Y. Times.) Rose Bryne manages to wring sympathy and laughs out of the thankless mean girl/rival role. And I couldn’t help feeling a pang of sadness every time the late Jill Clayburgh appeared on the screen (in a hilarious turn as Wiig’s nutsy mother).

BRIDESMAIDS is worth seeing, guys. Don’t worry. This isn’t SEX AND THE CITY. This isn’t one of those Julia Roberts/Diane Lane/Cameron Diaz goes to Italy and finds herself snoozefests. This is a date movie you will not only tolerate but even like. And some of you may even come away with a better understanding of just what women go through. Okay, well… you’ll find it funny.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clarence Clemons

Anyone who has ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert knows of Clarence Clemons. You can keep all the gee-tar men, give me the Big Man with the wailing sax. His saxophone solos electrified every song he ever played on. And Bruce’s generosity in really showcasing his talented E. Street Band allowed us to get to know them all. And for me – the real shining member was Clemons.

He always played with such soul and joy. And again, if you’ve ever been to a Springsteen concert, that usually meant soul and joy for four hours. How he didn’t blow his liver out through that horn every night I still don’t know.

Clarence passed away yesterday at age 69. Way too young. And how many of those years were spent on buses and planes and station wagons getting from gig to gig to gig? Like I said, waaay too young. He deserved an extra year for each 10,000 interstate miles.

Or at least one more encore. Blow Big Man, blow!

Thank you, Clarence. You will be forever missed.

Happy Father's Day!!

Especially to my own father, Cliff, who is both my hero and role model.

Note to those wives and kids planning to celebrate: no brunches. That’s Mother’s Day stuff. Let the old man sit in front of the TV and watch NASCAR or the WNBA. 


And now, as a public service, here are some movies NOT to watch on Father’s Day:


Some TV shows and telefilms NOT to watch:

Any CBS family comedy

Some unfriendly father plays:

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (any Arthur Miller, actually)

Some books to avoid:

Any Bing Crosby biography
Any Frank Sinatra biography
LOVE STORY (for so many reasons)

Records to skip:

PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE by the Temptations
BOY NAMED SUE by Johnny Cash
MY DAD by Paul Peterson

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Again, happy Father’s Day – the most sacred of the bullshit Hallmark holidays.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Try to rap your mind around this

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that amazing closing rap for the Tony Award Show last week... pretty much on the fly.  Here is a backstage video showing him composing the piece and then the final live performance.  How Neil Patrick Harris was able to deliver it without seven days of rehearsal is still way beyond me. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

How to break into TV and other questions?

Welcome to Friday Question Day. So without any further adieu…

VP81955 asks:

When you had a guest star whose background was essentially in film, with next to no TV experience, was it difficult to guide him or her through the somewhat different technique of television acting?

Since single-camera television is the same process as features, the only adjustment is that the shooting schedule is accelerated. So that’s pretty easy.

With multi-camera comedies it’s a little different, because they're shot like a play in front of a live audience. But most actors come from a theater background so there too, the adjustment isn’t very major.

The only two examples that come from personal experience are both from FRASIER. Michael Keaton, a wonderful actor, did an episode we wrote. And I thought his facial expressions and performance was a little too nuanced. On the big screen it would have been perfect, but on the small screen there were some subtle moments I felt were lost.

The other example, also from an episode my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, was when Aaron Eckhart guested. In fairness, he came in in the last minute so really didn’t have time to settle in. But he had a tough time. Fortunately, we just re-shot until we got it, and ultimately on camera he was his usual stellar self.

On the other hand, Laura Linney was also on that episode and from moment one it was like she had been doing multi-camera all her life. I love Laura Linney, by the way. And that’s one of the many reasons why.

Anonymous has a question. Usually I don’t respond unless you leave a name but it’s a question many have so I felt it should be addressed. Still, leave a name.

I would be interested to hear your take on the best route to writing for TV. I think most people who are trying realize the traditional route of specs, networking, working towards a writing assistant gig, etc. But I'd be curious as to what your take on the current climate is. Is a spec as worthwhile as it once was? Is it worth working towards a writing assistant gig as those, numbers-wise, are harder to get than a staff job? Is it more worthwhile to put shorts on the internet, do stand-up, or get a play produced? Everyone always talks about the cuspiness of the TV industry, but it seems like the advice given to writers at panels in LA and whatnot hasn't changed all that much.

I would try all of those methods. Anything you could do to get yourself noticed in a positive way.

Specs are as important today as before. The only difference is that now agents and showrunners want original material in addition to specs from existing shows. It used to be if you had one good spec for SEINFELD that would serve as your calling card. Now you need at least two, usually three samples and at least one being a pilot, screenplay, or one act play.

Oh, and one other tip: on the cover page of your script, it’s usually a good idea to leave a name. I’m just sayin’.

From Kevin S:

During the filming of 'Cheers', what was the protocol for making sure all the glassware (mugs, wine & martini glasses) were clean and sanitary for each week's use by various cast members?

The unsung hero of CHEERS was our prop master, Frankie Bellina. Can you imagine what a nightmare CHEERS was for a prop person? All those glasses, mugs, pretzel bowls, bottles, etc. Frankie was the best. Every glass was always washed and ready to go. He was so organized so that every scene change he had the exact right amount of glasses and mugs and knew exactly where each went. I don't know how he did it.  Writing and directing pales by comparison.

These are things you don’t think about while watching a show but talented dedicated professionals are behind the scene busting their humps.

I’d toast you, Frankie but I misplaced my mug.

And finally, Carol needs help (and a Valium):

I somehow volunteered to write some 'skits' for this fundraiser my theatre (Dead Playwrights Repertory - shameless plug!) is doing, and now I'm panicking. They will be Shakespeare related, and hopefully funny. Can you give me some calming words of writerly wisdom to help get me started? (or a rich Hollywood patron to support us so I don't have to do this?)

I’m still looking for a rich Hollywood patron to support me. First, off, relax. Once you finally finish you will realize the task wasn’t as daunting as you thought.

My advice would be to get something down on paper fairly quickly. Even if it’s very rough. But it’s always so much easier to fix when you have something already on paper.

So dive in. And try to fool yourself into thinking this will be fun and liberating. Good luck with it.

What’s your question?  Or should I say, what's your name and question? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A day at Black's nude Beach

I had to go to Black’s Beach.

Not sure of its status today, but in the swinging ‘70s Black’s was a large nude beach in San Diego. I was a weekend disc jockey at B100 in 1976 and even though I had lived in San Diego a few years before (when I was full-time at another station) I had never made the pilgrimage. But I was always curious. Who wouldn’t be? You can see vaginas without a cover charge!

I was discussing the Middle East crisis with one of the other jocks from the station one night over tequila shooters and the conversation logically turned to Black’s Beach. Finally, he shrugged and said, “Well, let’s just go.” Damn! Why didn’t I ever think of that? I had to be on the air the next afternoon at 3:00 so we decided to go at noon; giving us a good couple of hours of sunning and ogling.

Black’s Beach is located in La Jolla and -- not surprising -- it’s very secluded. To access it you had to negotiate a half-mile steep path down a sharp cliff. That five-dollar cover charge was looking pretty good to me.

We finally reached the bottom and oh my God. It was as advertised. Filled with naked people, most of them young, many of them girls.

We set down a blanket and it was showdown time. Now understand that I had a hard time in junior high taking showers after gym. That’s just embedded in Jewish DNA. My people tend not to “streak”. We’re not, by nature, a “let it all hang out and frolic” culture. But the DJ who was with me stripped down in seconds. He obviously wasn’t Jewish, which was visually apparent the minute he lowered his pants.

So I figured, what the hell? I was actually very proud of myself. I took off all my clothes. I figured, if I can eat pork I can do this.

I was surprisingly less self-conscious than I thought I would be. We tried to play it very cool. At first I noticed a few guys checking us out as they walked by. I thought, “How juvenile. Still cComparing sizes like schoolboys.” Then it occurred to me -- my friend and I lying on this blanket – we could not have looked more gay if we tried. And it didn’t help that we put sunscreen lotion on each other’s back. What a couple of idiots.

So I grabbed my towel and set it on the sand a safe distance away. The scene itself was rather remarkable. Gorgeous naked college coeds, some oldsters far more comfortable with their saggy flesh than anyone viewing them were, and a number of athletic-looking dudes on the shore tossing the Frisbee around, trying to get noticed. Ironically, there were no blacks at Black’s. My guess is the Frisbee flingers would have been far less proud of themselves if there were.

I decided to take a walk along the beach. I figured that was the most discreet way to check out the scene without seeming obvious. Y’know, I’m walking to the snack stand or the restrooms or the lifeguard station. Except… there were no snack stands or restrooms or lifeguard stations. The only reason to walk along the beach was to scope people out.

There was one girl lying flat on her back on a towel, reading PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT with her legs spread wide apart. Talk about the perfect Philip Roth moment!

I didn’t approach her. What was I going to say? “Have you ever seen so much masturbation in a book in your life?” Besides, I rationalized that even if we had hit it off and she invited me to call her, where could she write the number?

At 2:00 we decided to head back up. Our work here was done. One thing we had forgotten to consider: that steep cliff. Getting down was tricky and time consuming. Now we had to climb. Straight up.

We’re climbing and climbing and I finally check my watch and shit! It’s 2:30 already. We’re only halfway up.

So now we had to essentially sprint. I thought my lungs were going to burst. Got to his car, exhausted, and completely out of breath, and sped to the station; arriving two minutes before I had to go on the air. I’m wearing nothing but a bathing suit. I sign on by gasping.   By 4:00 the sunburn below kicked in.  I did the last three hours of my show with Popsicles on my lap that I bought from the vending machine. 

Things I learned from the experience:

Wear sunglasses. No one can tell you’re staring.

Pack a sandwich and rappelling gear.

This is what Justin Timberlake’s home pool area must look like every Sunday.

Level 60 sunblock protection means nothing to areas never before exposed to the sun. You might as well just squat over a lit bar-b-que pit.

Without wearing a cup, a Frisbee becomes a potential lethal weapon.

and finally: 


That was my one and only time at Black's Beach.   And even to this day, if someone hands me a Popsicle my natural urge is to jam it down my pants.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dating a witch

Here's another short exerpt from my upcoming book on growing up in the '60s.  (You can bide the time until it's released by getting my other book.  Order now!)  This is the perfect post for June 15th (you'll see why).   It's 1967.  I've just gone out on a date with Eleanor.  During the date she casually mentioned that she was a witch. 

Eleanor was extremely cute. Huge blue eyes, a slight over-bite (which works for me), svelte figure, and a Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut.

Afterwards we went to Sambo’s for dessert (yes, there was an actual coffee shop chain named “Sambo’s”) and I followed up on the witch thing. Her months in bed with mono required no further details (although I would hear them again… and again… and again). I asked, “So you mean you’re like Samantha in Betwitched?” “No,” she snorted, “that show is so unrealistic.” (Really? You mean you can’t wriggle your nose and turn someone into a hamster? Why isn’t there a disclaimer at the beginning of the show?)

It’s been awhile so I hope I can recall this correctly. Jesus blessed her by making her beautiful, but with the extra attention came people who would take advantage of her, or resent her. And so, as protection, since He might find himself preoccupied with other things (like seeing that the Packers covered the spread in the Super Bowl), He also blessed her by making her a witch. Her faith in Jesus was rewarded with an interest in the occult. And she now had the power to inflict curses (which she assured me she only did when absolutely necessary). I think that’s pretty much the gist. It was always my understanding that the Christian Bible strongly denounced any occult practices because they were the work of Satan, but why quibble?

She squeezed my hand as we walked to her front door and kissed me on the lips. Suddenly she went from major nutcase to delightfully eccentric.

Such are the concessions we make for a potential first girlfriend.

We started going out every Saturday night, usually to concerts.

Eleanor was what was commonly called a D.D.H. – damn door hugger. I’m surprised she didn’t fly out of the car whenever I took sharp turns (and there were a couple of nights I took sharp curves on purpose).

I would get my kiss on the lips goodnight. I would get to put my arm around her in the movies. And eventually we made out in my car. I was allowed to grope and pet but she always had to be fully clothed. I was never permitted to learn just how cold a witch’s tit really is.

At school she very friendly but not particularly affectionate. If I held her hand she didn’t pull away, but she never offered hers. She was usually surrounded by her magpie friends. Still, I would say we were an item… if only to the keenly observant.

The spring prom was coming up and I thought, okay, finally, here’s the perfect time to really make my move. Rumor had it that lots of girls lost their virginity on prom night – it being a special occasion and more importantly, curfews were relaxed.

So I rented a tuxedo, bought her the obligatory wrist corsage, and escorted her to the elegant Taft multi-purpose room for this gala occasion. It was my first prom and I couldn’t be more under whelmed. Overdressed classmates awkwardly milling about drinking punch or standing in a long line to get their picture taken. Missing this is what drove Janis Ian to madness?

After the prom I took Eleanor to Monty’s Steak House in Encino for a nice dinner (you can’t go to Shakey’s in formal attire).   Then we drove to a secluded spot up in the hills for a little amore. At first I stabbed myself on her corsage but things improved. We were making out, she was seemingly receptive, so I reached behind to unzip her dress.

And she stopped me.

She wasn’t ready to do that (at least with me). I lied and said all the right things – I really cared about her, respected her, she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world, I would pledge to a coven. No dice. But she said it was because of her, not me. And then she explained. I must say, I’ve been given the brush-off a fair amount in my time, but no rejection since Eleanor’s could even compare when it comes to originality. She said she couldn’t get involved because of her birthday. I said, “You have to be at least 16, you’re a junior in high school.” No, no. That’s not what she meant. Her birth date.

Eleanor was born on June 15, 1950. That’s the middle of the month, the middle of the year, the middle of the century. It was her lot in life to always be in the middle, always stay uncommitted.

Even at the time I thought, “Wow, that was impressive. She’s a fucking loon but that was impressive.”

We broke up after that. My birth date is February 14th. We weren’t compatible. I was meant to gun down gangsters in a Chicago garage.

Happy birthday, Eleanor.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Celebrity fan mail -- the ultimate cry for help

One of the most amusing and utterly terrifying benefits of being on staff of a show is having access to the viewer “fan mail”. Oh…my…fucking…God! You can’t believe the crazies that are out there. And they’re fans of YOUR show.

There are many varieties of loony mail. First off, viewers think the characters they see on television are real. So they address their letters to Niles Crane, Sam Malone, Diane Chambers, etc. And since they don’t know Sam Malone’s address they’ll just write c/o Cheers, Boston, Mass. Or Hawkeye, MASH, Korea. In the latter case, they assume (a) Hawkeye exists, (b) no last name is necessary, and (c) mail can time travel. I’d bet my house that Homer Simpson gets fan mail from registered voters.

I mean, it’s cute when your five-year-old sends Santa Claus a letter to the North Pole. But when it’s some fifty-year-old dashing off a note to Clark Kent in Smallville, that’s a little strange.

The letters themselves are beauts. Marriage proposals, invites to Thanksgiving dinners, pictures, drawings, handmade gifts, and my favorite – seeking advice.

Diane, should I change my major?

Pam, there’s this guy in the office where I work who I think likes me. He’s kind of dorky but nice. Should I give him a blowjob?

Jeff, who do I send my transcripts to to get into your community college?

Generally however, their requests are for autographed pictures, locks of their hair, their home phone numbers, and shoes.

Sometimes they’re angry letters. They feel betrayed because their favorite character wore a purple scarf.

Liz Lemon, I used to like you, but you are a whore!

Other times the missives are warnings.

Jim, Pam is a dirty little slut and will CHEAT ON YOU. Get out now!!

Alicia, your husband fucked Kalinda!

The letters addressed to the actors and actresses are only slightly better. For addresses they seem to feel “CBS” is sufficient. Or “Must See TV, U.S.A.”. The inquiries are the usual requests for pictures and adoption. And this is my favorite. Two out of three letters include this: (I’ll use Amy Poehler as an example.)

Hi, Amy. Everyone says I look just like you. You know what would be great? I could play your sister on the show . I’m sending a picture of me so you could see. We might as well be twins!”

The enclosed photo is then of a fat Haitian woman who’s at least sixty with a missing ear. These pictures look NOTHING like the stars they claim to resemble. Ever.  I want to know just who these “everyones” are that think they do. How far does the dementia spread?

I think it’s lovely that if there’s a celebrity you admire you want to take the time to let them know. I can't think of one star who doesn’t appreciate adoration (if not crave it). But some guidelines if you hope to ever actually reach them. Because usually fan mail is screened by a staff member or assistant, and only a select few are passed on to the celebrity. To be one of those:

Be brief. A thirty-page handwritten rambling treatise just screams “Cliff Clavin”.

Other than a picture or autograph, don’t ask for anything. They don’t know you. Why would they send you their underwear?

Don’t give them anything. And especially don’t give them anything for their kids if they have kids. That’s off-the-charts creepy.

Spell their name correctly.


Don't draw cartoons or doodles on the letter. 

If they’re on a show, find the location of the show and address the letter to them, in care of the show, with the street address of the studio that produces it.

If they’re a movie star, they probably have either a fan site, or a publicist, or agent. Send to the star in care of them.

Don’t address the envelope in crayon.

Provide a return address. Include the cell block number.

You may think you know them because you read the National Enquirer. But you don’t. Avoid writing anything really personal or intimate.

Don't mention that you have a shrine dedicated to them.

Don't reveal your sexual fantasies that include them.  

You do not look just like Amy Poehler.

Do not send photos of you or Anthony Weiner portions of you.  

Probably the best thing you could do is not mail them at all. Instead, they must have fan sites on social networks. Follow them on Twitter. Drop them a quick note on their Facebook page. Trust me, More than a long effusive letter, the object of your admiration will far greater appreciate a simple  click on “Like”.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My 2011 Tony Awards review

Time for my annual Tony Award Show review, or, for the 99.99% of you who didn’t watch it – a recap of what you missed. I’m joined by my adorable snarky daughter Annie and her twisted writing partner, Jon Emerson.

I had a rooting interest in the program this year. Several friends were up for awards. Bill & Cheri Steinkellner for the book of SISTER ACT (lost), John Benjamin Hickey for Best Supporting actor (won!), and Andrew Rannells for best actor in a musical (lost). Andrew, however, sang the featured song from THE BOOK OF MORMON and I think the four of you who saw the show will agree that he’s going to be a huge star. Proud to say he starred in the musical I co-wrote that went nowhere and the reading of my play that went nowhere.
Meanwhile, over on ABC, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Finals. But if you know who Nina Arianda is and not Dirk Nowitzki, you were watching the Tonys.

Usually I say the Tonys are the only award show where no one thanks their wives. This year, with THE BOOK OF MORMON there was the chance that winners would thank many wives. But not so. That would require Mormons to actually be involved.

THE BOOK OF MORMON won every award except the one I wanted it to win – Andrew’s. Norbert Leo Butz got that prize and I’m sure he was very deserving but shit! He never collaborated with me on any theater projects that went nowhere.

My guess is Andrew and fellow cast member Josh Gad split the votes.

The Tonys are still the only major award show that is tape-delayed for the West Coast. But considering it will take three years for the winning shows to get to the West Coast, three hours is no big whoop. Besides, everyone was watching the basketball game anyway.

Usually the ceremony is held at Radio City Music Hall. This year’s venue was the much cozier Beacon Theatre. So for the first time, the CBS television audience will be larger than the attending audience.

I didn’t cover the Red Carpet coverage because, well… there was Red Carpet coverage?

Neil Patrick Harris is the best awards host EVER. His opening number was hilarious. “Broadway is Not Just For Gays Anymore”. Of course, as Annie pointed out, five minutes later they did a production number called “The Brotherhood of Men” (from HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS).

One thing we learned last night: NEVER use Brook Shields on a live show. What a disaster. She completely bollixed her four-line stanza in the opening number and then as a presenter had to be bleeped. I’m sure another twelve seconds on camera and her nipple would have popped out.

Favorite lyric in Harris’ opening number – “Come in and be inspired/No sodomy required”. I’m only sorry those weren’t Brook Shields’ lines.

Say what you will about the Tonys -- they are for Gays… and Jews. And most people have never heard of any of the shows or performers – but there is always more actual entertainment in their ceremony than all the other award shows combined. I find it a little odd that 30 million people will watch Bristol Palin clomp around like a Clydesdale on DANCING WITH THE STARS but eight people tune in to see the finest singers and dancers in musical comedy perform magnificent production numbers.

In pre-show non-televised ceremonies, Eve Ensler, who wrote THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES received a special award for her humanitarian efforts and for reminding us that Broadway is firmly committed to social change and vaginas.

John Leguizamo is painfully unfunny. He’s the George Lopez of Broadway. Awards for Choreography and Best Score weren’t deemed important enough to air in primetime but it was okay to give this enemy of comedy ten minutes of precious air time. When he was finished they cut to a shot of Chris Rock in the audience who spoke for all of America when he mouthed, “What the fuck?”

Samuel L. Jackson, in his white jacket, black slacks, and white shoes came dressed perfectly for the occasion – if the occasion was the shuffleboard championships on the Lido Deck of the Crystal Serenity.

A big winner was the very deserving THE NORMAL HEART (a gut wrenching play about AIDS) and the big surprise later in the evening was the cast reunion of PRICILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Maybe they should have saved that “Broadway is not just for Gays anymore” number for another year.

Mark Rylance won for best actor in JERUSELEUM. But he would have won for LA BETE had he put that one up instead. One of the greatest comic performances I have ever seen.

He also gives the most unique speeches. For the second time he just read a prose poem. This one on how to walk through walls.

Thank God Al Pacino didn’t win. I don’t think I could have endured another of his rambling incoherent acceptance babbles. I’m still trying to figure out what he was saying at the 2004 Emmys.

Nikki James from THE BOOK OF MORMON gave the most frenetic speech. When she launched into some incomprehensible story about bumblebees five minutes in, I found myself yelling “Get off! GET OFF!” It’s like the first minute I’m thrilled for these people, the second minute I start getting antsy, and by minute four I want them off the stage even they’re in the middle of thanking me.

Still, the most emotional moment of the night was when Sutton Foster (who I absolutely love) almost broke down because her long-time dresser gave notice. I’d say folks in the Red States might click off at this point but who are we kidding? They were gone by the sodomy joke.

Winner Ellen Barkin gets the “Diva” award for the speech by an actor who takes themselves the most seriously. Her speech, delivered without a trace of irony, included all of the following words and phrases: profound, transformed me as a human being, one person can change the world, genius, Atlas, bravest. What she didn’t do was thank her children.

Patti LuPone was nominated for WOMAN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Annie observed, “She was nominated for playing herself?”

No one was happier that WAR HORSE won Best Play than the CBS censor. One of the other nominees was THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT. I can only imagine if that had won.

Off-stage announcer, Randy Thomas was, as usual, flawless. She should announce every award show, be the voice of my GPS, and give the starting line-ups at Yankee Stadium.

In an attempt to capture a larger audience, the presenters were all TV or movie personalities. The Tonys this year was a “No Nathan Lane Zone”. Instead you had Brook Shields, Jim Parsons, Chris Rock (who was hysterical), Marg Helgenberger, Christy Brinkley (for crying out loud), and Karl Marx. (Huh? Oh. That was Robin Williams?) I’m surprised they didn’t have Mr. Ed introduce WAR HORSE.

Whoopi Goldberg came out wearing a pirate hat the size of Lichtenstein. She really needed it because she wasn’t overbearing and over-the-top enough.

For the first time in the 65-year history of the Tony Awards, they waited a full two hours before the Sondheim tribute number.

Annie wondered why Bono and The Edge introduced their own song (from the musical SPIDERMAN), and Jon said, “Because no one else would sign the waiver”.

Sick joke alert but I laughed: When Tyne Daly was introducing the In Memoriam segment and saying the theater lost many great people this year, Jon chimed in with, “Yeah, and half the cast of SPIDERMAN”.

Frances McDormand must’ve known she was going to win. She wore her best Levi jacket. Maybe next time she’ll also wash her hair.

The show concluded with another amazing Neil Patrick Harris musical re-cap. Whoever writes these intricate numbers (obviously on the fly) is brilliant and how Harris can perform them live with no rehearsal is beyond me. All I could think was – oh please, next year let Brook Shields host.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What I learned on my first musical

Cast of the 60s PROJECT: Michael Gillis, Andrew Rannells, Megan Lewis, Maggie Benjamin, and Rodrick Covington.

The Tony Awards are tonight and in honor of that I'm re-posting a piece I did several years on what I learned on my first musical.  I spent the summer of 2006  in Connecticut where the musical I co-wrote with Janet Brenner (the 60s PROJECT) went into production at the Goodspeed Theatre, I learned quite a bit about the process. For those of you hitting the boards somewhere in our nation's heartland, here are a few things you might want to know.

By the way, Andrew Rannells, who starred in our show, is up for a Tony tonight for THE BOOK OF MORMON.  So I hope he wins.  I'm also rooting for John Benjamin Hickey in his category.  Oh, and Bill & Cheri Steinkellner for their book for SISTER ACT.  Yeah, I'm partial to people I've worked with..  But they're all very deserving, even if none of them will thank me on stage.  

So here's what I learned: 

The director must encourage everyone to share ideas. He must then discard 80% of them, especially the ones from the prop guy who's taken the liberty of writing new songs.

You need six weeks to rehearse a musical. But if you have six weeks, you'll need eight.

If the choreographer had her way, seven of the eight hours of rehearsal everyday would be devoted to the dance numbers. If the music director had his way, those same seven hours would be devoted to teaching and practicing the music. If the book writer had his way, scene work would fill the day. And if the director had his way it would be a one woman show with Bernadette Peters who could do it all in five hours.

One change, no matter how small, is like pulling a string in Penelope's Tapestry. It effects everything. If the music director adds a bar in a song, the choreographer will want to reblock the entire dance number. If the book writer changes one line it effects the underscoring, next cue, choreography, lighting, sound, background visuals, upcoming costume change, transition into the next scene, and future of the American musical theatre. So it better be a good new line.

If there's a fight scene or even fight moment there has to be a daily fight rehearsal before a performance. For West Side Story you can rehearse without the knives.

Wireless mics that stick out of cast members foreheads produce better sound and are not noticeable and distracting beyond the fiftieth row.

The cast elects an Equity Deputy whose job it is to snitch behind the director's back if an Equity rule is broken. Rules include looking at an actor with an expression that might hurt his feelings.

To learn even one dance number I would need to practice eight hours a day for six months at which time maybe I could do the whole thing without elbowing someone in the face. These kids get it down in six minutes.

You need a good drummer. A real good drummer.

See a night time performance rather than a matinee.

Actors need to yell out their dialogue. Not just speak loud, but YELL. Even if the line is "Pssst, let me tell you a secret." Only Renee Taylor can talk in her regular speaking voice.

When your wife or girlfriend needs forty-five minutes to change her clothes, just know it can be done in as little as ten seconds.

Every performer comes from a dysfunctional family but thanks them profusely in their Playbill bio.

Most people pad their Playbill bios, listing every credit since they played a kitty in grammar school. So my favorite Playbill bio remains: Jerry Belson, who wrote the 1975 movie SMILE that got turned into a musical, submitted only this -- "SMILE fulfills a lifetime dream for Mr. Belson, to get paid twice for the same script."

During performances there are nine people walking around with headsets. No one knows who they are or what they're doing.

A good running time, including a fifteen minute intermission is 2:20.

The song you loved the most before going into rehearsal is the song you need to cut.

No two people have the same script. Everyone is on stage working off different drafts.

The Teamsters are pansies compared to the Equity Union.

Actors will tell you: it's hard to be sung to. And offstage it's even harder.

When you're in the orchestra section, don't think the cast can't see you. If you're going to be Pee Wee Herman you're going to have an audience.

It's always better to say it in a song rather than dialogue. But those few lines of dialogue can galvanize the entire story.

Since there is limited rehearsal time once a show opens, it can take up to a week to put in some changes. You have to prioritize fixes, based on how needed they are and how long they will take to implement. What that means is you take notes every night and they're always the same notes.

Casting decisions are still the most important. Everything else can be fixed. Except if you want to do C-SPAN: The Musical, that idea might kill it.

Actors are not allowed to talk to conductors. There's a very strict chain of command. Book writers are not allowed to talk to anybody.

The guard at every stage door is named "Pops".

When it works, a musical can be more than entertaining, it can be thrilling. There is an electricity, a magic that is so powerful it transcends whatever's happening on stage. Yes, it's a tall order and rarely achieved but that's the goal. And if you don't hang yourself in a hotel room in New Haven it can be quite exciting.

Unless I fall asleep I will review the Tonys tomorrow.