Friday, September 30, 2011

Where to put your Emmy

Time to end the week and the month with Friday questions.  Ready?

GMJ starts us off:

Do you have your Emmy on display?

Yes. In the dining room (see the above picture). If I were single I’d be wearing it around my neck.

Craig Pines has a network pitch meeting and wonders:

Have you ever come into a pitch meeting where they've tried to rework an idea? If so, what can I do to be best prepared for the meeting?

Yes, networks often have agendas and when you pitch your idea they consider whether (a) it fits in with their agenda, and (b) not as important – do they like it?

At the end of the day it’s up to you to decide how badly you want to make the sale and if you can live with the changes.

We once brought an idea to NBC about a couple who meet at an improv class and decide to team up, a la Mike Nichols & Elaine May. Our hook was “can a man and woman work together and be friends without having a sexual relationship?” This was years before WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, by the way.

Someone at NBC had read the book “Semi-Tough” and as a result wanted to develop a show that was about a triangle relationship. They thought our idea might be the one. Could the girl in our show have a boyfriend? We hedged but ultimately said okay. It killed the premise. The triangle was false because there was no real competition between the guys. The boyfriend had nothing to really be threatened about, and it wasn’t a matter of her being in the middle and having to choose because each guy served a different role in her life. We should have said no at the time. We didn’t. The pilot failed.

Years later we went back to NBC with an idea about a colorful all-night diner and the odd characters that come out only at night. The network loved it. Had just one tiny change. Did it have to take place only during the night? Yes, we said. Otherwise it’s just people in a diner. The all-night aspect defines the series.

They thought it might be too dark. We assured them it wouldn’t. Ultimately they said they’d buy it if we lost that facet of the pitch. We declined their offer. We took the idea to CBS and sold it in the room.

That said, I think you have to be somewhat flexible. If you can live with the changes then great. If not, you're selling your soul to the devil.  Remember, if your pilot goes to series you're the one who's going to have to be in that rewrite room every night until 3:00 trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

But who knows? Sometimes the requested changes are an actual improvement. Just don’t tell the network that. Good luck at your meeting.

JOV97 asks:

When writing a multi-camera script and you've written 26 scenes (unlikely but it sometimes happens), what do you call scene 26? After "SCENE Z" what comes after? "ZA"?

AA, then BB, etc.

From Richard Y:

A baseball related Friday question. Why do games traditionally start at 5 minutes after the hour?

To accommodate television. That way they can start at the top of the hour, set the scene, give the line-ups, and most important of all – squeeze in a few commercials.

Clint queries:

Last night I walked into the living room and my wife asked me which real life story I thought might be the basis for this week's Law & Order SVU. Do you think SVU writers using real life stories as their basis for their scripts is genius--or lazy?

The real genius is designing a series premise that allows you to take real life stories and turn them into episodes. It’s not lazy because they always find a way to give those real life stories a spin and to work in their characters’ attitudes about them.

On MASH we utilized real life stories too. Of course the stories were twenty years old at the time we used them.

What's your question?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to create a hit procedural!

Network development season is in full swing. Comedies are hot commodities this year but one staple that never seems to go out of style is procedural dramas. Fame and fortune and a spin-off with :MIAMI at the end of the title can be yours if you just follow my simple rules.

Your star must have some supernatural power. He or she can read minds, has an amazing photographic memory, can remember every lunch he/she ever had, is a math whiz, or the most common – can see Fairy Tale characters.

But with this gift must come a curse. They must be tortured emotionally. They must have a dark past. Their wife/sibling/child/imaginary friend has been killed and they’re still haunted by it.

They’re only helping the police solve crimes as a way to better get in touch with resolving the unsolved circumstances of their dark past. The killer is still out there!  But only week one and the season finale.  Otherwise, it's business as usual.  Solving crimes and tossing off zingers.

When we go home with the hero we see he’s lonely. He can’t really get close to anyone because he’s so damaged. He compensates for no social skills by possessing this wondrous ability to bend spoons with his mind.

The hero must have a code. Oh sure he may come off as a cynic or she a bitch but ultimately they’re the champion of the little people.

The hero must have a partner of the opposite sex who finds him/her infuriating but is totally dependent on him/her. The partner is always somewhat of an idiot. He enters the crime scene and every week comes to the wrong conclusion. Only our hero, with his snazzy power, is perceptive enough to surmise what is really going on. And if the partner wasn’t already dumb enough, he has to now argue with the hero. The hero ultimately turns out to be right.

The hero must be surrounded by an investigative team. They stand around, provide exposition, and chase bad guys. Having a superpower means you never have to run. This team should be young and attractive. And one member must somehow be “quirky”. Note: If it’s a CBS show at least one attractive team member must be a brunette.

Throw in some grizzly murders, a cool stylized squad room (who knew police stations looked like the penthouse restaurant in the Space Needle?), and toss in a former major TV star or two and you’ve got a five year run.

So get going. A cop who channels Columbo. A detective who can go forward in time five minutes. A forensic expert who can communicate with inanimate objects. A coroner who can break down the ingredients in food without having to refer to the packaging.  The possibilities are endless!

All I ask for in return is the following credit:

Based on a Tired Formula by Ken Levine  

Let’s all get rich!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My post season predictions (not that anyone asked)

Now that the regular season is wrapping it up, here are my annual post season predictions – guaranteed to be wrong of course but that’s a tradition too.

AL MVP – Curtis Granderson (Yankees)

NL MVP – Matt Kemp (Dodgers)

AL CY YOUNG – Justin Verlander (Tigers)

NL CY YOUNG – Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – Mark Trumbo (Angels)

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – Craig Kimbrel (Braves)

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR -- Joe Maddon (Rays)

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR – Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks)

WORLD SERIES – Texas & Philadelphia


The New TV Season: Week Two

It’s only natural to judge a show by its pilot. That’s the point of it. Networks decide what shows to order based on pilots, and you decide which shows are worth your time from watching the pilots.

And now it’s week two. You’ve seen some pilots. One or two you thought were God awful. What was the network thinking? You can only imagine how bad the pilots that didn’t get on the air were based on this stinkburger. Fair enough. They had their shot. They sucked. You’re done.

And then there were the pilots that were just okay. But there was something about them that was surprisingly and delightfully not terrible. Enough so that you’re willing to give them another look next week.

Hopefully, one or two pilots knocked you out. You can’t wait for week two.

Most likely you missed a lot of the pilots. But for whatever reason (good buzz, mad crush on the lead, last week you were in jail; this week you're on parole) you are motivated to watch the second episode of some new series.

May I make a suggestion that applies to all of these scenarios?

Don’t judge the second episode. Give it a pass.

Chances are it will be weak.

Why? Several reasons.

In general, the second episode is just a retelling of the pilot. But the writer has to walk a fine line. The show must introduce the series to the new viewer and yet not be so repetitive that anyone who did watch the pilot feels hosed.

Just the task of retelling the pilot is a bitch. Most pilots are premise pilots. The two leads meet for the first time and decide to move in together. Week two: “Hey, remember when we met last week and decided to move in together?” Not as good.

Another problem: It often takes time to really find your groove. Sometimes a whole season. You learn what works and what doesn’t. Week two you’re really just feeling your way in the dark. Over the next few weeks you’ll make adjustments and tweaks. In every series I’ve ever co-created, the second show has always been the worst. And in every series I’ve ever co-created, I wrote the second episode.

So don’t judge a series by week two. On the other hand, it’s fun to watch the creative process in action. See from week to week how the show evolves. You’ll learn as they learn.

As my writer friend, Dave Hackel used to say, “At the end you’ll have a beautiful baby. But sometimes they come out feet first”.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The New Fall Season Ratings: Week One (what can we learn?)

Sitcoms are making a bigger comeback than Tony Bennett.

In the first week of the new season, the top six highest-rated non-sports shows among the only-thing-that-counts 18-34 group was comedies. And that includes two newcomers (2 BROKE GIRLS and NEW GIRL). By comparison, there appears to be no new breakout dramas. And THE PLAYBOY CLUB’S second week numbers were lower than the attendance in our rainout make-up game in Cleveland.

Comedy is back, y’all!! Any Tony’s new CD is pretty great.

"The Bludgeon of Beef"

Back from my final road trip of the season broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners. Cleveland, Minnesota, and Texas. Other than snow, I don’t think there’s a climate I missed.

Drew Carey says “Cleveland Rocks”, but from what I’ve seen this year, “Cleveland Drains”. This was my second trip. It rained the entire weekend I was there in May. Two of our three games were rained out. So we returned to make up a game and it rained harder.

There were more people on the grounds crew than in the stands. I heard a phone ring and said on the air, “it’s the guy in the bleachers”. However, I did get to call a Mariner nine-run inning capped off with a grand slam. Even some of the grounds crew left after that.

To be fair, when the Mariners were in Cleveland in August (minus me) it did not rain. They just had an earthquake.

We won then flew on to Minneapolis just missing the monsoon, volcano eruption, and falling meteor. Get a dome!

Minnesota is the home of the Hamm’s Bear, Bob Dylan, the former-artist formerly-known-as Prince, wrestler/governor Jesse Ventura, and comedian/senator, Al Franken.

Our hotel in Minneapolis was the tres chic W in the Foshay Tower. This is a great old art deco structure, once the tallest building in Minneapolis. Stately and classic. But the W now goes for a different vibe. High-end gentleman’s club. Everything is dark with pink and purple florescent lighting. I just instinctively went to the front desk and asked for a stack of ones.

My room was somewhat small but certainly large enough for a lap dance. There was, however, one great feature: Martini glasses and a cocktail shaker. Finally! An amenity I could use!

Items in the honor bar included cashews, cookies, and an intimacy kit. Not sure what’s in that but I assume a condom and WD-40.

There actually are a number of gentleman’s clubs in downtown Minneapolis. Diablo Cody was a nude dancer in several of them. So if you’re looking for a great screenwriter in Minnesota that’s where they work. Stop by the W for ones.

Made myself a martini then headed downstairs to Manny’s Steakhouse where I joined our producer/engineer Kevin Cremin for a delightful Bludgeon of Beef. That’s what they call it – a 50-ounce bone-in ribeye. Billed as half meal/half weapon. Picture a cow on Paul Bunyan’s ax. It was exceptional!  For the record, we split it. We didn’t each order our own. I mean, it was 10:00 at night. You don’t want to really fill up that late. 25 ounces just hit the spot!

For some reason, couldn’t get to sleep. Thank God for the martinis. Passed out around 4:00. Woke up late. Had another martini then headed to the ballpark.

Strip joints aside, downtown Minneapolis has really been built up over the last twenty years. And one terrific feature they have is a skyway system that allows you to pretty much walk from any building to any other building. You could easily stroll from our hotel to Target Field… although one wrong turn and you end up in Bismark, North Dakota.

Did not pay my respects to the Mary Tyler Moore statue this go-round, but a few kindly pigeons did that for me.

The summers are hot and the winters are brutal but Minnesota is a great place to raise a family and residents just consider the severe climate a “Quality of Living Tax”.

Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins, is awesome. And I don’t mean that in the “I just got a Wii from my parents” or “BevMo now delivers” sense. I mean in the “so impressive or overwhelming as to inspire a strong feeling of admiration” sense. Target Field is an absolute showpiece! The combination of limestone, steel, and glass makes for an aesthetically eye-popping design. They did everything right – from the statues of Twins greats like Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett, to the clean wide concourses, to the Bloody Mary stand that was right outside our booth.

One strange feature though: the press elevator. It goes to three floors. -2, 0, 2. Why a –2 … unless they’re just so used to sub-zero readings.

Woke up the next morning, fixed myself a cocktail, then went to Keys Bar & Grill for a hearty breakfast. I can’t believe these portions. Every place you go is the Hungry Heifer.

The Mighty M’s took two of the three games (so the Twins were –2) then headed to Dallas. Navigation is a breeze! Once you take off from Minneapolis and are in the air for three minutes you can already see Cowboy Stadium a thousand miles away. That is the Bludgeon of Beef of sports venues.

There’s a delightful tradition in Major League Baseball. During one flight on the last road trip all of the rookies have to dress up. Usually that means five or six players. The Mariners had fifteen. It looked like the road company of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. One by one they paraded, in frilly dresses, superhero costumes, Spandex, ridiculous hats, frog suits and clown attire. Where they got these get-ups I do not know. I’m guessing someone just broke into RuPaul’s closet. A good time was had by all… except them.   (Sorry kids, no pictures.)

In Minneapolis it was 50. We landed in Dallas at night and it was a glorious 90. Again stayed at the fabulous Four Seasons Los Colinas. My room in the W could fit in my bathroom at the Four Seasons. But no martini glasses and cocktail shaker. What is this, camping?!

Passed the American Airlines museum on the way to the ballpark. Did not stop in but from what I understand, they have some rare artifacts on display like free blankets, legroom, and hot meal serving carts for coach.

How’d things go for the team over the weekend? Here’s all you need to know: On Saturday, my fellow broadcasters and I were driving to the park and noticed a bunch of guys standing around on a street corner. As we got closer we began to recognize them. They were the Seattle Mariners. Their van had broken down. So there they were, basically making a personal appearance at a Shell gas station on North MacArthur Blvd. in Irving, Texas. The only thing worse would have been if the bus had broken down while half the players were still in drag.

As for the games themselves – I guess “Texas Hospitality” means they let you get out of the state without hanging you.

Went to a great place for dinner Saturday night with Rangers’ broadcaster Eric Nadel and his wife. I have no idea where it is. Everything in Dallas takes a half hour to get to and you drive on six highways and pass five Chuck E. Cheese’s. This place is called NeighborHood Service. Good luck finding it. There’s no sign. Just the letters NHS on the front door. But you open that door and the place is packed. I assume just with locals, although no one wore spurs so I couldn’t be sure. But the food was spectacular, and they have the best burger in Big D. I believe for your convenience they have several hidden locations.

Said goodbye to the team on Sunday.  That was very emotional.  Many of the guys promised to write this winter from Venezuela. Flew back home to Los Angeles with nothing but warm memories, a cold, and a cholesterol level of 400. What a week! What a year! What a steak!

A collection of my travelogues is available in ebook and paperbook formats.  WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED can be yours for only $2.99. Why, that's a STEAL!!  Go here and order yours TODAY.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

College Daze

Here's another excerpt from my book on growing up in the '60s.  I'm actually close to finishing this bad boy.  Anyway, travel back to UCLA in the turbulent spring 1969.

I met someone in my “History of Documentary Films” class. To this day I have no idea why I took it. Three hours a week of Eskimos freezing to death in 1910 or Nazi propaganda films.

But I met Honoria Feldman. She had the most beautiful olive skin, the most gorgeous blue eyes, and the worst name of any girl I ever dated. In a desperate attempt to stay awake during these interminable exposes of 1937 Russian smelt fishermen I would mutter snarky comments to my friends within earshot. Think: live Mystery Science Theater 3000. Honoria overheard, found me amusing, and that’s pretty much how most of my relationships began.

I asked her out to a movie we could stay awake for and she accepted. Honoria was in a sorority so I picked her up at the house. Wow. I had never been in a sorority house before. Sure not like its frat equivalent. There was a lovely main foyer with a chandelier. A chandelier for godsakes! Everything was clean. Everything was painted. There was no smell of vomit anywhere. I wanted to pledge.

Honoria and I went out for about a month. Things might’ve worked out much better had it not been for the class itself. After the great George Stevens directed Gunga Din and Woman Of The Year, he made a documentary set in the deep South called All My Babies. Honoria and I were watching it. I had my arm around her. A midwife is seen entering some filthy shack. Ho hum ho hum. And then, in the most graphic detail you can possibly imagine, in this absolute squalor, we see a mother give birth. The blood, the ooze, the umbilical cord. This made the abortion scene in Alfie seem suitable for Hannah Montana. As we fled the auditorium, both nauseated, all Honoria could say was “I’m never having babies, NEVER having babies!” and “if you even come near me with that thing I’m CUTTING IT OFF!”

Have you noticed a pattern in the women I dated? Strong-willed and no sex. Honoria had maybe the most rigid personality of all. Early on I casually asked, “Do you go by any nicknames? Honey or something?” “No!” she exclaimed, “My name is Honoria!”


(Years later, when I was writing for MASH, we needed a name for Charles Winchester’s sister. Honoria Winchester was born. Honoria is pronounced “Ha-NOR-ee-a” by the way. But Hawkeye had some fun at Charles’ expense by pronouncing it “Hana-rhea”. This is why you don’t want to go out with writers if you take yourself too seriously.)

Honoria was very big on Feminist causes. That was fine but I did get a little tired of hearing how I, by inference, was holding down an entire species. One major contribution our generation made was in the area of women’s rights. No longer was a woman expected to just be Suzy Homemaker. She could enter the workforce. And not just because she knew shorthand or could serve a highball at 30,000 feet. For the first time, women joined the executive ranks, not to mention the police force, military, and Teamsters. Today, half of law and medical school students are women. 60% of married couples have two incomes. And women are finally beginning to earn the respect they deserve in the workplace, although it’s a slow process. Men are learning not to treat them merely as sexual objects one lawsuit at a time. That said, it’s not like I ever asked Honoria to iron a shirt.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Product Placement Before It Was Cool

A lot of people ask me about the Coke scene in the movie David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS. We took a lot of heat for it because the studio that produced it also owned the Coca Cola company. It was viewed as a shameless plug. The truth is it was a complete coincidence.

Here’s the notorious scene but first an earlier scene setting up the animosity between Lawrence (Tom Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson). They are flying to Thailand to begin service in the Peace Corps in 1962. Lawrence is a rich preppy who is only there because he switched places with his roommate Kent to skip a huge gambling debt. Beth is an idealistic coed. They’re about to land.



Bangkok already? I can’t believe it.

Yes, we’ve been talking now for … (checks his watch) … Ooh, ten hours.

Kent, I’m really lucky to be assigned with you.

You know, Beth, we’re going to have so much to do when we get to…

A beat.

Loong Ta.

Of course. What do you think about taking tonight for ourselves? A bit of dinner, a few drinks, see a little of the city. And then, who knows? (taking her hand) There’s only one thing we haven’t shared together yet.

Beth smiles, not taking him seriously.

Very funny.

Lawrence smiles back at her. He’s serious. She looks at him, takes her hand back.

(cool) Thank you just the same.

Oh, come on, Beth. We’ve been moony-eyed since Istanbul. Why fight it?

(flustered) Kent, why are you doing this? I thought we were becoming friends.

This is what I do with my friends.

You’ve just been trying to go to bed with me?

(checking his watch) Well, I think I’ve put in the hours, don’t you?

Okay. And a few months later they’re in Loong Ta, a dirt poor village of thatched huts and nothing else. We needed a way to break the ice, to start getting them together. In interviewing former Peace Corps volunteers we learned that Coca Cola was one of the things they missed most, especially if stationed in a hot jungle. So taking that info, we wrote this scene:


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

Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.

I don’t believe it… even from you.

It was easier than you think.

How did you…?

Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.

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

What’s this for?

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

You’ve got liquor?

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

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

Don’t fight it, Beth.

Goodnight, Lawrence.

You’re taking the narrow view again.

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

Do you have a Coke?

Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?

Plain. A plain Coke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.

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


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

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Here's the product you HAVE TO have!!!

But don't just take my word for it. Here are some actual reviews:

Wendy Sherer ("Cosmetic Guru") from Pittsburgh, PA, writes: "Not only a wonderful teaching model, but while trying to find the tumors, I discovered, it acts as a makeshift stress ball! When I am in line at the grocery store I just whip out this handy little bugger and squeeze away [and] the line around me just [disappears]."

Tricky Rick of Satantonio, TX, says, "finally a product I can use." "Who doesn't love playing with scrotum? I know I do! So does my wife. But sometimes I have to leave the house to, I don't know, go to work or buy groceries and I have to take my scrotum away from my wife's hands. This made her sad... until NOW! Now she has a scrotum to play with when I'm not around. I also find it useful when I feel the need to play with a scrotum other than my own and don't want to impose on coworkers, friends, family members (I said 'members') or our local priest."

C.H. Risk finds that it "makes a great fashion accessory." "They are a real lifesaver on the cold winter days, and the ladies go wild for the smooth, polished look."

And the winner is:

Thanks to my friend, Alexis for turning me on to this vital product. Not sure why she thought of me though.

The CBS Eye

I love TV history. You probably know that just from my NBC "N" post earlier this month. Each network has its own distinctive brand. CBS was known as the "Tiffany" network because its shows tended to be classy. Those were the days when one man owned the network -- William S. Paley -- and the network reflected his tastes.

CBS also had a distinctive and elegant logo -- the Eye. That's been the lone signature for CBS your entire life I'm guesssing. Well, did you ever wonder how it came to be? And when? And why?

Here's the history of the CBS Eye.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Questions

Direct from Dallas, here they are, y'all. 

rockfish has a couple. The first involves Col. Flagg from MASH.

I'm wondering if there was a discussion about turning a smaller part into a more major, recurring role from someone who was essentially a guest star – i.e Col. Flagg, who seemed to be a bolt of energy whenever plugged on the show. Sidney the psychiatrist was used almost twice as much -- obviously a completely different character who brought a different tone -- but to me added little to the 'comedy' aspect of the show.

We loved writing Col. Flagg (the hilarious Ed Winter) but always felt there was a danger in going to that well too often. So we tried to use him sparingly (once a season or every other season). He was incredibly funny but that character was very broad and we didn’t want him to wear out his welcome. Sidney Freedman, the shrink was more real and therefore we felt we could use him more often. We weren’t looking at him to carry the comedy burden. What we loved about the character (played beautifully by Allan Arbus) was how low-key he was, especially in the midst of all the madness. It was a great counter-point.

Were there other characters you wrote who you felt could have had a bigger life in the show or their own show? Thanks -- and loved your work with the M's this year!

Thanks much. You’re welcome to let the Mariners know. I won’t stop you. As to your question – no one that we felt could carry a show of their own. But there were a few characters that I wish we had used more. On MASH – Curly, the Korean scam artist, and Rosie who owned the bar outside of camp.

On CHEERS I was a big fan of Andy Andy. And Diane’s school chum, Rebecca (Julia Duffy) who we used in one episode in season one.
Also Leah Remini playing one of Carla’s kids always scored. You’d think I’d say Nick and Loretta but those characters always felt one-note to me.

On FRASIER, the last season we introduced a ditzy party girl played by Jennifer Tilly and she was hysterical. Wish we had created that character earlier.

Irwin Handleman wonders:

Was there some kind of rule amongst the writers that Sam Malone and later Frasier (in FRASIER) were not allowed to get laid?

I’m not sure what shows you were watching. They both got laid a lot. Way more than the writers.

From Chris:

Why would a writer get a consulting producer and a written by credit in the same episode of a show?

A consulting producer is essentially a script doctor. He generally works one or two days a week, helping the staff to fix the show that’s currently in production.

He would only get a “written by” credit if he wrote the script for the episode.

And finally, from Michael in Vancouver, who pulls no punches:

Why for the grace of God did you write Mannequin 2?! The first Mannequin must have been the most moronic movie ever conceived. It arrived DOA into the theatres. Then you get assigned to write the sequel to this unbelievably turgid floater. No matter how good your script may have been, it was still going to be Mannequin 2. Did you really expect it wouldn't flop?

Well, first off, I think there are those who would disagree that the first MANNEQUIN was such a disaster. In fact, it was a big hit. I’m guessing there will be a few commenters taking exception with your assessment. Be that as it may, why did we take the assignment to rewrite MANNEQUIN 2? The money of course! Why else?

What's your question?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Response to Thor fans

Now I know how to generate comments.  Yeow!    A couple of things:

I do like action movies.

I appreciate that many of you did like THOR.  Great.  I'm sure you'll love THOR 2-11.   I didn't.  I don't apologize for my review.  But I do apologize for not putting an S at the end of Dennings. 

See you tomorrow.

Thor the Love of God -- Stop Making These Movies!

I missed most of the blockbuster super hero epics this summer. I’m holding out for Mighty Mouse. But recently my daughter Netflixed THOR and it was just sitting around so I figured, what the hell? I do like a good action movie, I seem to recall it got good reviews, and it has Natalie Portman (obviously vying for a second Oscar). Also, it was directed by Kenneth Branaugh, the self-proclaimed next Orson Welles. And if all that wasn’t enough -- Sir. Anthony Hopkins was in it. Pretty classy elements servicing a guy who looks like the Geico caveman with a hammer.

So after hitting every button on the remote to see if I could fast forward through the Goddamn CAPTAIN AMERICA trailer, I settled in for a fun night of escapist fare.

What a jumbled mess.

SPOILER ALERT -- not that you haven't seen every moment of this movie fifteen times.

I guess if you’re a fanboy and know the Byzantine legend of Thor the first half hour makes sense. “Oh, awesome, the realm of Asgard looks just like the model I made in my room.

There were battle scenes between ice monsters and Vikings, a goofy transporter machine guarded by a giant Oscar, a galactic city that looked like someone wedged an enormous pipe organ into the side of a mountain, endless backstory (I think in there somewhere they also explained the Lord of the Rings), and everyone was dressed like they were in an opera.

Anthony Hopkins plays the king of the good planet. He wears a black eye patch, obviously hoping to funnel into the theater some of the stray PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN crowd. Chris Hemsworth is hammer boy and he’s surrounded by a weasel brother, a band of Capital One Visigoth warriors, oh… and Rene Russo (she came out of retirement for this?).

Not only do they speak English on this distant planet, but formal English (thank you, Kenneth Branaugh). Bedrooms are “chambers”. People are “summoned”.

The evil planet is a combination NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and Syracuse in the winter.

Finally, Thor is banished to earth where he lands in New Mexico (why do aliens from outer space always seem to favor New Mexico? Do they get a tax break?). There he encounters Natalie Portman (who thank goodness has had a few milk shakes since THE BLACK SWAN), Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Denning (whose backstory is that she was in one of our failed pilots and had a whole lot more to do in it than this).

Thor is hit by a truck, tasered, and restrained (and you wonder why tourism is down in New Mexico). Natalie of course befriends him. Ten screen minutes later he’s making eggs for the family. Ten screen minutes later he’s hoisting boilermakers with Stellan.

And what cliché comic book movie would be complete without the alien in the diner scene and the asshole FBI investigators arriving on the scene in their dark suits to run roughshod over everybody?

At this point Orson Branaugh bounces back and forth between New Mexico and Asgard (which, by the way, looked more realistic than New Mexico). Every time they went back to Planet CGI I completely zoned out. More lore and gore. Zzzzzzzzz.

For reasons probably explained but I was too distracted wondering why everyone on this advanced planet dressed like they were in Sherwood Forest, the weasel brother sends a giant Transformer to earth to destroy everything that Michael Bay’s Transformers didn’t already destroy. In the midst of all this destruction and mayhem Thor somehow learns humility and is rewarded by the return of his magic hammer. And now it’s like Popeye eating a can of spinach. Metal Bluto doesn’t have a chance.

Great! Movie over.

Uh no.

Seems if I were paying attention I’d know that Thor still had to go back to Wurlitzer City to settle unfinished business there.  This segment was the worm hole of entertainment.

Here’s what’s scary: From all reports, among the summer comic book lollapaloozas, this was considered one of the better ones. Holy shit! How terrible was GREEN LANTERN? On the one hand, I’d like to say, well the summer’s over so that’ll be the end of them for awhile. But you know Hollywood. They’re being replaced in the fall by cheesy Adam Sandler and Jonah Hill comedies. Fanboys must be served!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Open Letter to Seattle

Reunited with Dave Niehaus
Hello from Minnesota. I’m calling play-by-play for the Mariners until Sunday. That’ll be it for me for this season (of course the season ends three days later). But it’s been a joy and an honor to once again be part of the Mariners’ broadcast crew. And so, on this last week, I wanted to take a day to thank Seattle. It’s impossible to step in for the great Dave Niehaus, but Mariner fans have made me feel incredibly welcome. And for that I am forever grateful. I’ve had great great fun calling these games and hopefully that fun has been infectious.

So thanks to all the fans, especially the ones who made it a point to come up to me and say nice things. Thanks to the blogs. You guys were very accepting. Usually when you crushed me I deserved it. To my broadcast partners at KIRO – Rick, Kevin, Dave, Mike, Shannon, and Brian at the station – you guys are the best. I’ll wrap this up fast before the walk off music starts.  Thanks to Randy Adamack and Churck Armstrong of the Mariners for letting me reconnect with the team and city I really love.

I hope to talk to you all again.

And now, some highlights from this year in the booth.

The first batter on the first pitch in my first inning hit a home run. That player was later sent to the minors and then traded.

During spring training I almost didn’t get out to the ballpark one day because I couldn’t open my rental car. Turns out I was trying to open the wrong car. I’m lucky I wasn’t sent to the minors and traded.

Safeco Field is one of the nicest ballparks in America. And you don’t need to take out a loan to get a ticket.

For opening night the entire broadcast crew wore white shoes in memory of Dave Niehaus who passed away last November. Dave always wore white shoes. We looked like deck boys on a cruise ship all attending Pat Boone's wedding.

I got to spend the year with Larry Bernandez. Backstory: Felix Hernandez, the Mariners’ Cy Young winning pitcher did a commercial for the team where he didn’t want to come out of a ballgame so disguised himself and announced he was Larry Bernandez. The spot caught on and Bernandez became a Seattle sensation. The team even had a bobblehead night for him.

One of the things I love about the organization is that they have a sense of humor. Centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez got the nickname “Death to Flying Things” and one night the M’s gave away “Death to Flying Things Fly Swatters”.

We were the surprise of baseball for most of the first half of the season. As late as July the Mariners were only a couple of games out of first place in the AL West.

There’s an Ichiro impersonator, a young man who looks just like the Mariners’ All-Star (except for this year) rightfielder. During an inning I was calling there was a ball hit into the corner that was interfered with by a fan (a major no-no) and of all people, it was this impersonator fellow. This led to a discussion between me and my broadcast partner, Rick Rizzs over what it would look like to throw out the Queen of England for trying to grab a ball in play.

One night there was not one but four streakers. Talk about idiots. One was in the military (probably Corporal Klinger) and another was scheduled to get married the next day. Try explaining that to your fiancée the night before her wedding.

My best pun: Eric Bedard was pitching for the Mariners, coming back from three years of surgeries. At one time he had been the ace of the Baltimore Orioles. He was pitching one night against the birds and doing well. I said on the air, “The Mariners are hoping the Orioles are hoisted on their own Bedard”.

I called the game where the Mariners roughed up the Detroit Tigers’ starting pitcher – Justin Verlander. That tape is rarer than a copy of Jerry Lewis’ THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED movie.

One night the Mariners were trailing Toronto 7-0 going to the 7th inning and won. It can happen.

Just this Monday I called a Mariner nine run inning.  

It’s always special when you see a rookie make it to the big leagues for the first time. Their joy and excitement is palpable. This year with the Mariners I got to see it eleven times. One of the kids, Alex Liddi, became the first player born in Italy to ever play in the big leagues. Baseball is not big over there. As a sport it ranks right behind jousting.

Another sensational rookie story is Steve Delebar.  A former lower-minor league pitcher, he broke his elbow two years ago and was out of baseball.   He became a substitute high school teacher in Kentucky.  He discovered a program that would help add to your velocity and recommended it to the high school baseball team.  He started the program himself and pretty soon was throwing 95 miles an hour.  So he went to a tryout, got signed by the Mariners, worked his way up the minors, and made it to the major leagues.  And last Wednesday beat the Yankees.  He's just like Dennis Quaid in THE ROOKIE but better.  He doesn't have to pay alimony to Meg Ryan.

Another rookie pitcher this year, Tom Wilhelmsen, was out of baseball a couple of years ago tending bar in Tucson.  Didn't we do that show on CHEERS? 

Kids – don’t try this at home: Our catcher, Miguel Olivo was safe at first on a bang-bang play. His face hit the bag just before the tag. Face planting is not a good way to slide.

For midweek day games I offered on the air to write a note to your boss, teacher, or spouse excusing you for the day. All you had to do was send me a Twitter message. I must’ve written fifty notes, many to government offices.

My son, Matt joined me in Boston. It would have been a very special father-son bonding experience except I had to throw him out of the booth for rooting for the Red Sox.

Where were you when you heard Bin Laden had been shot? I was somewhere over North Dakota on the team charter. But if they didn’t announce it on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball my guess is no one would have known until we landed.

I called Trayvon Robinson’s first major league home run. It was a crappy call. He thought it was a double and stopped at second base. So it turned into one of my classic “It’s Gone…No, wait a minute!” calls. The umpire told Robinson to keep going. I told him in the future, if he hits the ball during one of my innings to just keep running. Don’t even look. Just keep going.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a great manager, Joe Madden. To promote team camaraderie he has “themes” for traveling. On their trip to Seattle the entire traveling party had to dress in grunge. Usually a team dresses in jackets in ties. The Rays blew into town wearing leather, torn shirts, and jeans. Their next stop was Anaheim and they all had to dress like surfers. They boarded their plane in Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops, shorts, shades, and a few sported straw hats. I’m sure that trip would have been more joyful had the Mariners not beaten them three out of four.

I learn a lot every night from my partner, Rick Rizzs.  I hope to someday be half as good.

Some of Brendan Ryan’s plays at shortstop would make Ozzie Smith say, “How did he do that?”

Whenever you go to a baseball game you never know what you’re going to see. There’s always the unexpected. Like that Saturday night in Anaheim when 40,000 white people stayed after our game to watch the Ludicris concert.

Other things I’ve never seen before: Brendan Ryan got an infield single, alertly noticed that no one was covering the next two bases and made it all the way around to third. It was ruled a single/fielder’s choice, but to my mind it was an infield triple.

The fans were booing our leftfielder, Milton Bradley so mercilessly that he started wearing earplugs. And this was during home games.

In Detroit, catcher Miguel Olivo hit a fly ball that bounced off of outfielder Ryan Rayburn’s glove and kangarooed over the fence for a home run.

An umpire lost track of the count and sent a batter to first on a three-pitch walk. And this same thing then happened to us one week later.

Despite the team’s struggles, they took two of three at home against the Yankees and Phillies. Don’t ask about Texas and Chicago.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more highlights from this week. Gee, I miss it already… and I’m still doing it!

Thanks again, EVERYBODY!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Smarmy jokes in pilots

My, how things have changed.

A number of years ago I was showrunning a show and reading through a mountain of spec scripts looking for new staff writers.  Again, young scribes, remember -- we want to like your script.  Nothing would please us more.  Every time we pick up a script we’re hoping this is the one

Most are disappointing though.  One in particular I thought was terrible.  It was a spec NEWSRADIO.   (Warning:  adult content ahead)   The story was that the Dave Foley character comes into his office one morning to find there is a big cum stain on his couch.  The episode is trying to determine who left it.  Hilarity ensues.

Now who doesn’t love a good cum stain joke?  I mean, really.  It’s the staple of comedy.  However, for a network situation comedy, it’s a little inappropriate.   Not to mention smarmy.  

So I decided to do what I thought was a good thing.  Instead of just writing a standard rejection letter I called the agent.  I told him that his client was doing himself a disservice by sending around this particular spec.   Some might find cum stain jokes offensive.  Besides, it’s not a good representation of NEWSRADIO.  They would never do that episode.  And NBC would never allow them to do that episode.  If the writer had anything else I’d be happy to read it. 

The agent basically told me to go fuck myself.  This was a brilliant script and if I didn’t recognize it then I was an idiot.  No good deed goes unpunished, right?   I don’t know whatever happened to that writer but I’m guessing he didn’t make it.   I never saw his name on a show.  And when I received scripts from that agent they went right to the bottom of the pile.

Last night did you see the pilot of 2 BROKE GIRLS that debuted on CBS?  One of the stars is Kat Denning, who was in one of our failed pilots and I’m very happy for her success. (Aaron Paul was also in that project before moving on to BREAKING BAD.  We’re like the Broadway Danny Rose of pilot creators.)   Anyway, there are two, maybe three cum stain jokes in it.  This is the pilot – subject to all that extensive research testing.  So apparently cum stains on a uniform a waitress is supposed to wear during business hours at a diner are now not objectionable.  There are actually a lot of good jokes in the pilot but the cum stain jokes aren’t three of ‘em. They're pretty lame cum stain jokes.  

This is certainly an example of how standards and tastes change.  (No pun on “tastes” intended although if you laughed, sure, what the hell?)  I’m sure that agent would say “I told you so” (except that I’d never take his call), and maybe he’s right.  I hope not but I dunno.

Would our failed pilot with Kat Denning and Aaron Paul now be in the sixth year of production if we only had thrown in a couple of cum stain jokes?  And there were places for ‘em.  There always are.  But we took the high road.  We like to think we're good enough comedy writers that we can make people laugh without having to resort to lines like, "Gee, I sure hope that was clam chowder". 

On the other hand, maybe this explains why we don't have a pilot in development this season.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Review of the 2011 Emmys

Time for my annual Emmy review. But it’s a little different this year. I didn’t see them. I was on a plane with the Seattle Mariners flying to Cleveland. But I’ve seen enough of these backslapfests that I have a pretty good idea of what took place. So I'm reviewing the Emmys anyway.  See how many of these observations I got right.

Considering how many promos Fox ran for X-FACTOR, most people thought that Simon Cowell hosted the Emmys.

What’s the point of having SURVIVOR creator, Mark Burnett produce the Emmys if he’s not going to move the show to Palau?

Host Jane Lynch is just naturally funny. She was a good choice for host even though half the people in America still don’t know who she is. And another large portion thought she was Ellen.

Other hosts when Fox has had the show (and this is not a joke): Ryan Seacrest, Cybill Shepherd, Jane Pauley, and Dennis Miller (twice!).

MAD MEN’S Matt Weiner almost trampled his presenter getting to the podium to deliver his speech.

I was thrilled that MODERN FAMILY or PARKS & RECREATION won for Best Comedy.

Producer Mark Burnett has said that the “In Memoriam” segment doesn’t have to be such a downer. Really??? To that end, the song under the clips was “Where Dem Girls At”.

Six winners told their kids to go to bed. Five thanked Jesus. One told Jesus to go to bed.

Wow! How about those upsets?!

What does it say about the “Best Actress in a Comedy” category when two of the nominees -- Laura Linney and Edie Falco – don’t even try to be funny?

Gray ribbons this year as Hollywood rallies to provide relief to the hurricane victims in the Hamptons whose guest homes and tennis courts sustained water damage.

Congratulations to Margo Martindale. If ever an Emmy was “Justified”.

For the tenth year in a row I didn’t see the winning Miniseries. And for the tenth year in a row I have no desire to see it even after it won.

Another nice Mark Burnett touch:  Bryan Cranston wasn't eligible this year but he was awarded the Governor's Immunity Idol.  

Kate Winslet and Martin Scorsese won Emmys for having already won Oscars. When you win an Academy Award they should just throw an Emmy in the swag bag.

Martin Scorsese thanked everyone in the industry by name and was still finished before the “walk off” music began.

After two years they finally dropped the “coming up in 25 minutes” scroll designed to retain viewers. It was replaced with a split-screen camera that just stayed on Sofia Vergara the entire night.

At least one Red Carpet interviewer asked Margo Martindale if she was coming back next year on JUSTIFIED and another said how much she loved Margo's dad, Wink.   Still another was hoping the "real" Mildred Pierce would be there for the ceremony. 

Gwyneth Paltrow won an Emmy for “Best Movie Star Who Agreed to be a Presenter”.

Her introduction included at least one cleansing joke. 

The TV Academy still considers Louis C.K.’s brilliance “nomination-worthy only”.

Zooey Dechanel wore the kookiest dress of the night.

In a desperate attempt to attract younger viewers, Miley Cyrus was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Charlie Sheen made a surprise appearance that wasn't much of a surprise.   In fact, if I remember correctly -- didn't the crawl last year at the bottom of the screen say at one time "1 year and 7 minutes until Charlie Sheen makes a surprise entrance"?

It’s not fair that producers of network shows like THE GOOD WIFE have to compete with cable shows like MAD MEN since THE GOOD WIFE has to churn out 22 episodes in one year while MAD MEN turns out 13 in two.

Don’t tell Hugh Laurie it’s an honor just to be nominated. Or Chuck Lorre.

But you can say it to Robot Chicken and Nathan Lane who were both lucky to be there at all.

Sofia Vergara's presenter schtick was accent jokes. 

How can a show that claims to celebrate the excellence of television even mention JERSEY SHORE? 

Jimmy Fallon’s musical numbers from last year’s Emmys were not topped.

At least one winning actor thanked the wrong network.

Betty White didn’t win but if I know her she said, “Who gives a shit? I’ll get one next year.”

Presenter Ian Somerhalder is best known for “one of those shows you know but can’t put your finger on”.

I was rooting for the KENNEDYS because it was rejected by several networks including The History Channel. Someone makes a home movie about a neighbor who looks sort of like Hitler and they buy it, but a miniseries on the Kennedys was not worthy of their precious airtime.

No one mentioned that the four major networks wanted out of the Emmy contract this year.  Even that obscure network that carried the KENNEDYS had reservations.

Sorry that Julie Bowen didn’t win unless she did.  In which case, it was a lock. 

In an effort to save time, the Miniseries and Made For TV Movie award categories were combined this year. Next year plans are to merge the Best Art Direction Award with Writing For a Comedy.

Jimmy Kimmel should have won the Best Talk Show Emmy. No, he wasn’t nominated but hey, that’s what upsets are for!

My favorite category this year: “Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Special”. The nominees were Lady Gaga, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler, and Pee Wee Herman. And they wonder why the Winged Woman doesn’t have the same stature as Oscar.

The show was too long.

So how'd I do?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Emmys Emmys Emmys

Tonight's the big night! The Falcons host the Eagles on NBC. But for a few of you it means the 88th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. I will post my review tomorrow but be forewarned: it will be a different review from years past.

Speaking of years past, here are more of my observations from previous Emmy Award shows that might help get you geeked up for tonight's ceremony.

It’s always strange seeing Tom Hanks on stage with Sally Field. She played his mother in FORREST GUMP and his girlfriend in PUNCHLINE.

Evangeline Lily looks spectacular even when she’s not soaking wet and trapped in a net.

It’s about time that Jim Parsons won for BIG BANG THEORY. He’s the young David Hyde-Pierce.

For the first time ever the Emmys were shown live in Los Angeles. NBC recognized they were up against very stiff competition this year -- the Chabad Telethon.

Jeff Probst – Best Reality Host. Hugh Laurie can’t win an Emmy but this guy now has two for saying “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” every friggin’ episode.

How did Bruce Gowers win an Emmy for directing AMERICAN IDOL? First of all, it was in the musical-variety category. Isn’t AMERICAN IDOL a reality show? And second, how hard is it to direct AMERICAN IDOL? One singer at a time comes out and stands in the same spot. And the judges all sit at one table. Half the nimrods on YouTube could do that.

Anyone who says Jewish girls don’t know how to dress didn’t see Sarah Silverman tonight in her Catholic Girl’s uniform.

Jack Kevorkian was in attendance although at first I thought it was David Caruso.

Nominating Minnie Driver and not Eddie Izzard for THE RICHES is like nominating Pam Dawber and not Robin Williams for MORK & MINDY.

More surprises: Kyra Sedgwick, TOP CHEF beating perennial winner THE AMAZING RACE (they shouldn’t have cut corners by having the teams race through “It’s a Small World” this season).

How LA is this? A winner at last week’s non-televised-so-who-cares ceremony brought his Emmy to the gym yesterday. The other Emmy winners who now can’t get jobs weren’t impressed.

Best line of the night: Steve Colbert, “I lost to Barry Manilow?!”

I was thrilled that MODERN FAMILY copped Best Comedy, thus keeping the tradition of comedic excellence alive for ABC. First TAXI in 1978, then THE WONDER YEARS in 1988 and now this.

Good luck tonight to all the nominees... and the Eagles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting You Ready for the Emmys

The 97th annual Emmy Awards take place tomorrow night. As always, I will be reviewing it. But this year my review will be very different. Check back Monday and see. But to get you all excited, this weekend I'm reprising observations from past Emmy reviews. Relive the magic and snark.

In sixty years there’s never been worse co-hosts than Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Howie Mandel, Ryan Seacrest, and Tom Bergeron. (Snow White and the four dwarfs) Suffering through that excruciating opening where they vamped about nothing was like reliving my Uncle Lou’s 75th birthday party at Sr. George’s Smorgasbord.

And letting Heidi Klum do comedy is like giving a squirrel a grenade.

The people in the first ten rows you don’t recognize are called “seat fillers”. When the seat fillers have to go to the bathroom they’re replaced by the “nominated writers”.

Nice touch showing past winners before each acting award. Tina Fey now joins an exclusive club that includes Jackee.

Every year I receive a handsome DVD from TIL’ DEATH for “my consideration”. And every year I think “in what universe???” Better to spend the $50,000 and hire another writer.

Jennifer Love Hewitt looked like the lead singer of the Cars.

Very elegant comedy montage – pratfalls, sex jokes, and Tina Fey on the toilet. Doesn’t it seem like FRASIER’S been off the air for a hundred years?

Yay for Kristin Chenoweth who won for a show that ABC cancelled. Her voice is so squeaky high anyway that when she started to cry garage doors all over America went up. But her emotional speech felt very real and heartfelt and after directing her last sitcom I’m relieved that I didn’t kill her career.

Cynthia Nixon has the world’s longest neck. She could be the spokesperson for Toys R’ Us.

There was a tie for best Children’s Program: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and I HAVE TOURETTE’S. How do you choose? It’s the same show.

The Reality Show montage: five minutes of angry people being bleeped. This is the “excellence in television” we’re celebrating tonight.

One category they should eliminate is “Guest Actor/Actress” for comedy and drama. These are nothing more than a salute to stunt casting. It’s a reward for movie stars to slum it and do TV or former TV stars to get a big payday while they still can. Steve Martin, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Aniston, and perennial Ellen Burstyn (who actually won one year for being on camera literally 14 seconds). Replace the category with “Newcomers of the Year”. The ATAS wants new viewers? Honor new talent. Can you imagine anyone who uses the word “dude” rooting for Ellen Burstyn?

For all the hyperbole no one came close to Diane English the year she declared that MURPHY BROWN was the greatest sitcom of all time. Now she’s written and directed THE WOMEN, arguably the greatest movie of all-time.

The academy missed a few TV catch phrases in their salute:

“Gggggggggggggggggg!” (Gale Storm as Margie, MY LITTLE MARGIE). “Fuck!” (everyone from DEADWOOD). “Woof” …which means “Timmy, Grandpa is caught in a bear trap by the stream near that old oak tree – no, not that old oak tree, the other one – and you have to come quick and bring the first aid kit, but put on some pants first.” (Lassie in LASSIE), and finally: “ “ (Kathy Lee Gifford on REGIS & KATHY).

From the Red Carpet with KTLA's Sam Rubin & Jessica Holmes (normally a helicopter traffic reporter):

Marcia Cross was asked by Sam what kind of sunscreen she was wearing. She said nothing and walked away. Sam announced: "No SPF for Marcia Cross. There's your headline!"

They couldn’t pronounce Zeljko Ivanek's name, nor did they appear to know what show he's from. He helped them out (DAMAGES, for which he won) and then Jessica, who apparently had no questions, told him how much she likes ICE ROAD TRUCKERS.

More tomorrow...

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC -- the cover version

You've got to see this. Maybe you've already heard about it. Two kids in Mississippi in the '80s made a shot-by-shot remake of Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC. There will be a book out about it next year by a wonderful writer, Alan Eisenstock. Anyway, here are the first ten minutes. Pretty remarkable. If any of you kids out there would like to do a remake of VOLUNTEERS I promise to post it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What to wear at meetings

First off, a Happy Birthday to my idol. I love you, Dad.

Now for some Q’s and A’s.

Al starts us off:

If I am lucky enough to get a meeting for an assignment with a showrunner, what does that meeting look like? What should I prepare? Obviously be ready to talk about story ideas for the show, but what else should I consider.

Know as much as you can about his show. Otherwise, besides having some story ideas in your pocket, just be yourself. Don’t try to dazzle him. These are usually casual meet-and-greets. Always follow up with a thank you note.

Also, I was raised to wear a suit to any job interview, even at McDonald's but somehow I think a suit would be inappropriate for this sort of meeting. Am I off base about this?

Unless you’re meeting the showrunner of SUITS I would go more “business casual” (if there is such an expression). Sports jacket, collared shirt, nice slacks, decent shoes.

My partner and I once had a meeting with a showrunner to pitch story ideas. A young woman writer also had an appointment to do the same thing. She came in a see-through blouse. Guess who got the assignment?

From Ben K.:

When my young nieces were visiting recently, I became aware of a whole new world of preteen sitcoms on the Disney Channel and other cable stations. I'd heard of "Hannah Montana," but now there seem to be dozens of these things. They appear to be based on a very traditional sitcom format, though with more slapstick and extra-broad humor.

So could shows like these be a stepping-stone to "regular" sitcom writing? Or are they a ghetto that a writer would never get out of?

If you’re offered a job on a Disney Channel sitcom JUMP AT IT. Yes, they are broad, but you’d be surprised how many good writers are attached to some of these shows. You’ll learn a great deal.

Quite a few young writers have made the jump from Disney shows to network series, but often it will require a spec script from an existing network show.

When FRASIER co-creators, Peter Casey & David Lee originally wanted to write for CHEERS they had to write a spec CHEERS first. And at the time they were the showrunners of THE JEFFERSONS.

Melissa C Banczak asks:

How much outlining do you and David do before you sit down to write a script?

About ten pages, double-spaced. We try to be as detailed as possible, often including lots of jokes. The better the outline, the easier it is to write the script.

But one caveat. You have to be willing to deviate from it once you get into the draft. Don’t lock yourself into the jokes or story turns if they don’t seem to work. Sometimes problems will arise that you only discover once you’re in the middle of it.

So think of the outline as your GPS system. Sometimes you realize there’s a better route and take that instead. The GPS will adjust.  It may hate you but it will re-calibrate.

Jim wants to know…

Have you ever been approached to write scripts for video games?

Since there’s another Ken Levine who created BioShock and is one of the Gods of the gaming world, my guess is he’s the one who is sought out to write video game scripts. And if anyone would contact me, I bet it would be by mistake.

I once got a call asking if I’d write a jingle for a commercial. I thought, huh??? Turns out there’s yet another Ken Levine, who’s a musician.

But if someone wants to create the AfterMASH action video game I’m available for the script.

What’s your Friday question?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Candidate for Worst New Show: THE PLAYBOY CLUB

I’m giving you fair warning:  This one is a turkey.  It premieres Monday night. You gotta see it to believe it.


From the first second you know you’re in trouble when Hef himself narrates it. I will acknowledge that a hundred years ago Hugh Hefner was indeed a major force in popular culture. And his willingness to challenge society’s repressed attitudes on sexuality and ignorant views on civil rights were courageous and to be applauded. And more importantly, thanks to him I saw pictures of naked girls when I was a kid!

But Hef has become a sad comical caricature of himself. Now in his 80s and looking like a whittled fungo bat you see him surrounded by busty 20 year-old bimbos, wearing his robe and sailor’s cap still prancing around like a swinging ladies man. He was recently engaged to a trollop who could easily be his great granddaughter. Aging with dignity I guess is not in the vaunted Playboy Philosophy.

His narration doesn’t add gravitas, it sets the tone for goofiness. Plus, since a real person is discussing a real place that actually existed, his narration would suggest that the events you are about to see are true… or at least not preposterous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bunny costumes are authentic right down to the cuff-links. Other than that, everything about this show is absolutely absurd.

Newbie bunny, Maureen (played by Amber Heard who looks 30) accidentally kills a major mob boss (essentially Sam Giancana) in the first five minutes.  I mean, that's the kind of thing that happened usually on Thursday nights in the club, right?  Who needs to hire a hit man from Detroit when you've got a waitress from Iowa.

But wait! It gets worse!

Laura Benanti, a Tony winner, is reduced to playing the Bunny Mother/bitch delivering bad Joan Crawford dialogue in a tail. And we’re supposed to believe that David Krumholtz is a no-nonsense tough guy. Kenneth from 30 ROCK could kick his sorry ass.

But wait! It gets worse!

If the real Hef isn’t enough, there’s also the “character” of Hugh Hefner actually in the show. You just see him from the back in his smoking jacket and pipe (ala George Steinbrenner on SEINFELD) but he’s a presence. What the pilot intimates is that one of the themes of this series will be the Chicago mob trying to get their greasy mitts on the club only to be thwarted at every turn by the much stronger, more intimidating Hugh Hefner.

But wait! It gets much worse!
This show is such a blatant rip-off of MAD MEN that it’s shameful. The lead actor, played by Eddie Cibrian, is DOING Don Draper. He’s a flat-out Jon Hamm impersonator. The moves, the expression, the look. He’s not an actor, he’s a mimic. Seriously, if I was the president of NBC and I screened this pilot I would turn to my lieutenants and say, “I can’t put this on the air. We’ll be the laughing stock of the industry.”

But wait! (You know what’s coming.)
Naturi Naughton plays one of the bunnies. She was in MAD MEN. And what part did she play? A Playboy bunny. This is beyond a rip-off. This is a rip-off and a crossover. One of the other bunnies looks like Joan of MAD MEN and every blond is a Betty Draper clone. Like I said, utterly inexcusably shameful.

I love this era. Love the music, the look, the style, pretty much everything about it except Topo Gigio. And it kills me when a show comes along and does it badly. Oh well. At least I still have PAN AM to look forward to. Although from what I understand, that series asks you to believe that most of the international stewardesses on PAN AM also worked for the CIA. Ohhhh-kay. I guarantee you if that works, by episode ten of THE PLAYBOY CLUB Hugh Hefner will be a secret agent.

THE PLAYBOY CLUB debuts Monday.  A better way of spending the hour is just being under the covers with a copy of the magazine.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Random rants

I'm just sayin'....

I read every day in the trades that networks are bidding on comedy pitches and handing out put pilots and stiff penalties for not going to series. Here’s what I would negotiate for: creative freedom. No notes. Screw penalty payments. Let me do my show my way. If I’ve come up with a brilliant idea or have such brilliant talent attached and you're just dying to be in business with me then maybe I’m capable of producing a good show without interference.

Even though Joe Buck is still suffering from a virus that has gripped his vocal cords, I still say he’s the best play-by-play man Fox has for NFL football and should not be removed from the number one slot.


For the World Series, how about letting the great Vin Scully have one last hurrah?  We won't have many more chances to hear this national treasure.   Oh, and let him work alone. It’s the best Tim McCarver will ever sound.

And while we’re on the subject of the upcoming baseball playoffs – there’s something wrong when Dick Stockton is working for two networks and Jon Miller is not even working for one.

Wouldn’t it be great if the X-FACTOR gets worse numbers than FEAR FACTOR did?   After all, they're similar shows. 

Just five more days until Margo Martindale wins her richly-deserved Emmy.  My review this year will be somewhat, uh... different.   Stay tuned.

Official announcement: I have decided not to be the showrunner on the projected new Roseanne sitcom. The reason: I’m not out of my mind crazy suicidal fucking nuts!!!!!  But I do have a suggestion that Roseanne is welcome to use.  How about Glenn Beck as your co-star?  You're very welcome.  

I’d vote for Katy Perry before I vote for Rick Perry. And I suspect a lot of Republicans would too.

Chelsea Handler is beating Conan O’Brien in the ratings. Could NBC have been right?

Thanks to everyone who participated in last night’s Teleseminar. It was supposed to be an hour. There were enough great writing questions that I answered for two. Somewhere in those two hours I must’ve – even through dumb luck -- said something worthwhile.

And finally, only one slot remains open for THE SITCOM ROOM seminar. It’s your last chance maybe for two years. Here’s where you go to register. Thanks much.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Registration is NOW OPEN for the Sitcom Room

If you would like to participate in my two-day writing seminar, THE SITCOM ROOM, registration is now open to the public.  There's a maximum of twenty participants.  Here's where you go for info and to sign up.   

As you know, we had encouraged people who are interested in attending the first SITCOM ROOM in two years to sign up for our Early Alert List, which would give them the chance to register before the rest of the world.

We opened Early Registration Saturday morning at 10:00. Katie Kosinski of
Chicago became the first 2011 registrant -- at 10:00 Saturday morning. Which
means she must've ignored my fascinating video and all the fine print on the
registration page and gone right to the registration form.

After one hour, we were 50% sold out.

As I write this, we have only 3 spaces left.

We have people coming from Canada, Australia (2), England, and even Calabasas!  Again, here's where you go.

And now back to today's post, which is right below.