Saturday, December 31, 2011

May 2012 be for you what 2011 was for…

Natalie Portman, Ty Burrell, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, THE BOOK OF MORMON, the Green Bay Packers, Norbert Leo Butz, Melanie Amaro, BRIDESMAIDS, Justin Verlander,
Julianna Margulies, the Dallas Mavericks, Jay-Z, J-Lo, J.R. Martinez, Colin Firth, Mark Rylance, the Boston Bruins, Viola Davis, Zooey Deschanel, THE KING’S SPEECH, Robert Griffith III, Thomas Sargent, Guy Pearce, Louis CK, Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, Charl Schwartzel, John Benjamin Hickey, Craig Kimbrel, Adele, Ellen, Snooki, Tom Hooper, Derrick Rose, Christian Bale, Katy Perry, iPad2, Aaron Sorkin, John Legend, Corey Perry, Melissa Leo, Arcade Fire, MAD MEN, Kyle Chandler, Melissa McCarthy, the St. Louis Cardinals, Jim Parsons, Scotty McCreery, ONCE UPON A TIME, Julie Bowen, Sutton Foster, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Sims, Justin Bieber, DOWNTOWN ABBEY, Ryan Gosling,  Eminem, Kate Winslet, the Auburn Tigers, Jon Stewart, the Connecticut Huskies, MODERN FAMILY, the Black Keys, Clayton Kershaw, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone, Albert Pujols, Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Barkin, Jeremy Hellickson, and me for having great readers like you!

Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

My final rant of the year

How do you know it's the end of the year?  Because a cable provider is threatening to drop a popular channel or two.  This time the feud is between Time Warner Cable (big shock) and the MSG network in New York.   Last year, cable subscribers in many areas were in danger of losing all Fox networks.   These contracts expire on December 31st.  And invariably there is an impasse, threats, ads taken out, more threats, and the two sides settle at the last minute.

So why can't the same deal be struck December 4th?   Think of all the money everyone would save on ads!  Think of the good will.  Every player in this game is a giant conglomerate.  All these public feuds do is get us to decide which of you two major behemoths we hate more.

Then you're forced to spend millions on advertising campaigns trying to convince us you're just plain folks looking out for our best interests.  Even village idiots don't buy that anymore.

The just plain folks at Verizon thought they could slip this one by us:  Without any announcement, they just started charging customers an additional $2 to pay their bill.  Taking your money isn't free, y'know!  It only took one day of customers going postal for Verizon to back off of that policy.   You're telling me that not one executive up in the Verizon board room figured this might be the reaction?   Not a single over-paid suit said, "I'm not sure this is the best move, PR-wise"?

"Can you hear me now?   You're SCUMBAGS!!"

When Sirius merged with XM and Congress was leery they assured the government they would not raise rates.  But I guess that was before they could.   Yesterday I got a lovely email from Sirius/XM CEO Mel Karmazin informing me he's raising subscription rates.  But here's his spin:

As we continue to add exciting new content and find more ways for you to enjoy our programming, we will work hard to control costs and create efficiencies to ensure SiriusXM continues to be the best value for your entertainment dollar.

"Create efficiencies".  Isn't that a lovely term?  What could that possibly mean other than firing people?  You've already fired a bunch of people. And your "unparalleled" programming has suffered as a result.  And it's "unparalleled" not because it's the best but because you're a monopoly.

This was another banner year for big business.   2011 gave us the Chevy Volt, Qwikster, the HTC Status Phone, the Playbook, the Fiat 500, and the $175 million dollar Disney spectacular, MARS NEEDS MOMS.

As we head into 2012 I ask this simple question:  Shouldn't we find someone other than Charles Montgomery Burns to run America?

Okay.  I'll stop ranting now.  I don't know why I'm getting so worked up.  I can't even get MSG here in Los Angeles. 

Regrets? I've had a few... or at least one

For some reason all the Friday Questions today come from people whose names begin with C. It would be really eerie if I hadn't just hand selected them. 

ChicagoJohn gets us started.

I love your casting stories.  It makes me curious; have you ever skipped over a performer, who later on became a superstar?

And if so, is there ever any regret that you didn't cast them?

We passed on Kathy Bates for Katey Sagal on the series we created for Mary Tyler Moore. It was a tough choice. Both were perfect for the part. But we went with Katey because no one had seen her before. And don’t regret it.  She was wonderful.  

Usually when we pass on someone good it’s only because they’re just not right for that particular role. But the one I still kick myself over, is not hiring Jerry Orbach when we had the chance.

Chris has a question and a follow-up

How much and what exactly do you write when you get a story credit and how do those situations happen where you just do the teleplay or story for an episode?

You get a story credit if you turn in (and are paid for) an outline. The length varies depending on the show. It can be four pages, it can be twenty. At that point the story editor can either send you on to write the first draft or cut you off and assign the script to someone else. Whoever writes that draft would get the teleplay credit. If you write the story and teleplay you get a “written by” credit.

But it can get complicated. If another writer is assigned to write the script and veers considerably from the story it could be up to an arbitration board to decide whether the original writer is still entitled to story credit. There is a credits manual that spells out the guidelines but like I said, it can get sticky.

And then there are shows like BIG BANG THEORY that are all room written and story and teleplay credits are just assigned.

If an actor ad-libs something and they keep it in the episode, does he need to get a credit for it (like producer)?


Charles Jurries wonders:

Have you ever had trouble editing scenes in an episode, just to leave one big scene intact? For an example, say on M*A*S*H* you had a great Hawkeye speech at the end of the episode, and there's not a line that you want or feel need to be cut -- but the episode is still too long. Do you trim the big scene, or, do a dozen little edits all over the rest of the episode? I know you've talked a lot about editing, but, I was wondering if you ever had to defend a special scene from the chopping block. Thanks.

Most shows, when first assembled, come in a few minutes long due to the laugh spread from the audience. That’s a good thing for many reasons. We then go back and edit and trim throughout. There are times we have to lose good jokes because we need to preserve something else – like a key speech.

As a director, in addition to everything else, I need to give some thought to possible lifts if the show ends up too long. So in my camera assignments I’ll need to build in protection so that lines can be cut easily in editing.

An example: If someone enters the room I’ll always have a single shot of him. That way we can cut any of the lines preceding his entrance. Or if there’s a half page of dialogue I figure might come out I won’t have actors crossing on those lines. That way, if you lift a line or two, the actors won’t fly across the stage.

Here’s one from Carol:

If you got the green light to do some kind of show like Sherlock, what would you do? And is there a type of script you've never done, but would like to try - like a Sci-fi type show or something? If you had the chance to write for Doctor Who, for example, would you take it?

I’m not a big Sci-fi type guy but greatly admire well-written dramas like THE GOOD WIFE. Would love to write something like that. Or a psychological thriller.

My partner and I did an uncredited major rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE and that was great fun writing an action-adventure movie. Maybe I’ll be considered for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 16.

I’d like to write on any Aaron Sorkin show. I know I can’t write them as well but it would be an honor just to be heavily rewritten by Aaron Sorkin.

What's your question?  I hope it's okay that I won't get to it until next year. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My favorite dumb quotes for 2011

This was a particularly good one for a non-election year.  But with Herman Cain, Kim Kardashian, Michele Bachmann, and Joe Biden around, how can you miss?   And before you write angry comments, this is Bi-partisan idiocy. 

"When they ask me, 'Who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan?' I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?"' — Then-presidential candidate Herman Cain

"I am on a drug. It's called 'Charlie Sheen.' It's not available because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body." — Charlie Sheen

"We're the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad." - Barack Obama

"I can't say with certitude." — Then-U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner when he was asked whether a photograph of the congressman’s member was in fact him.

“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy.” --  Joe Biden.

“Juarez is reported to be the most dangerous city in America.” -- Rick Perry

“I would not have spent so much time on something just for a TV show.” – Kim Kardashian on her wedding.

"It was really different from being in a basketball game."  -- Kris Humphries, NBA star, on his very brief marriage to Kim Kardasian:

"Well what I want them to know is just like, John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too" -Rep. Michele Bachmann, getting her John Waynes mixed up during an interview in Waterloo, Iowa, where she grew up. The iconic movie star John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, three hours away. The John Wayne that Waterloo was home to is John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer.

“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste – Ashton Kutcher tweet on the Penn State Scandal

“Rehearsal is for fags.” – Director Brett Ratner

"Before we get started, let's all say 'Happy Birthday' to Elvis Presley today." -- Michele Bachmann again, while campaigning in South Carolina on what was actually the anniversary of Elvis's death,

“That would be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” – Hank Williams Jr. on President Obama and John Boehner playing golf.

“Everything bad that can happen to a person has happened to me.” – Paris Hilton on her hardships

“When drag queens love you, you will have a long career.” – Kathie Lee Gifford

“Why did I wake up in a garbage can?” – Snooki

''I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict, with hollandaise sauce. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise.''  —Mitt Romney, after working the room at a New Hampshire restaurant and pausing for a photo with the owner

“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable.” – Hillary Clinton on the stability of Mubarak's Egypt 18 days before he stepped down.

''The president, he put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa.''—Michele Bachmann, unaware that Libya is in Africa

''I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed.'' —Mitt Romney, speaking to unemployed people in Florida. Romney's net worth is over $200 million.

And the year would not be complete of course without one from our dearest friend,  Ms. Sarah Palin.  

"He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin' sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed." --Sarah Palin, botching the history of Paul Revere's midnight ride.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This year in my blog...

Since every magazine, radio station, and blog seem to do their year-end retrospective this week,  here's mine:

Crazy Charlie Sheen made news early in the year.  This was my take.  It sure provoked a lot of comments. 

My book came out in March.  What?  You haven't ordered yours yet?  For only $2.99?  It's not too late.

One of my true passions is reviewing cheese-rich reality shows.  PREGNANT IN HEELS caught my attention in April.  

May was the month where I had my big feud with Roseanne.  I was called an "asshat" and "balless little bitch" among others.  Here's my response. 

I broadcast for the Seattle Mariners last summer and filed travelogues along the way.  Here's one.

I traditionally review major award shows.  This was my take on the Emmys.

As a public service I explained the secrets of how to create a hit procedural. 

In October I uncovered Tweets from Gettysburg

Stories from my checkered radio days seem to be a favorite.  Here's one from my days at W-Drek.

One feature I occasionally do is "Comedy 101" where I show an episode of something I co-wrote and then break it down scene by scene.  This is an example. 

From time to time I have guest bloggers.  This year I was fortunate enough to have a former U.S. president step in for me one day. 

The big highlight for me of course was TIME magazine naming this one of the top 25 blogs of the year.  I'm still floored.  But thanks to them and you for your patronage.  On to 2012.  Let's see what celebrity calls me an "asshat" next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mission Impossible vs. Sherlock Holmes

Instead of taking a sleigh to grandma’s house or making snowmen or handing out candy canes I went to action movies. Saw both SHERLOCK HOLMES and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Happy to say I liked them both. They each had their strengths and weaknesses. So as a public service I thought I would compare them. Don’t worry. No spoiler alert necessary. I won’t go into the specifics of the plots. I have too much respect for my readers, and I still have no idea what was happening in either movie.

That’s the big problem with most action flicks. Explanations go by so fast that eventually you just stop listening for them and assume whatever it is the hero is trying to achieve it’s important. They need the ___________’s, they need to stop _____________ from ____________ and must do it before __________. Usually at a grand formal ball. There are always codes to be broken, explosions, and gunfire. The number of direct hits vs. misses: Good guys 50-51, bad guys 0-50,000.

So to compare:

DIRECTOR: Both Brad Bird (MI) and Guy Richie (SHERLOCK) know how to stage an action sequence. Richie employs more technical trickery – slow motion and the like, but Brad gives you more “jump out of your seat” moments. Number of times you’ll say “How did they do that?”: Richie 15, Bird 7. But number of times you’ll say “Why did they do that?” Richie 15, Bird 6.

SCRIPT: The Sherlock screenplay by Michele Mulrooney & Kieran Mulroney is half really clever and half confusing mess. And I’m a little biased because the new TV version of Sherlock Holmes written by Steven Moffat is far more clever and ingenious and doesn’t require $100 million in special effects to pull it off. The MI screenplay by Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec is fast-paced and fun, and mostly followable. The suspension of disbelief comes when you see all the high tech gadgets that just seem to pop out of Felix the Cat’s magic bag whenever needed. MI held my interest more but SHERLOCK had a great battle of wits between hero and villain. Note to action directors: sometimes the best scenes are those between two characters just playing chess.

HEROES: Tom Cruise vs. Robert Downey Jr. Downey gets the edge for cool. He’s much more insouciant than Cruise. Tom’s sphincter is clenched the entire movie. But when it comes to actual stunts, I gotta give the nod to Tom. He scales skyscrapers and drives things off of cliffs. I get the feeling Robert (as Sherlock) would just figure a clever way to get the key.

VILLAINS – SHERLOCK has the big edge here. Jared Harris as Moriarity was a hoot. The perfect champagne villain. Hard to believe he’s the same guy who plays mousey Lane Pryce on MAD MEN. Don Draper better watch his ass. The MI villain wore nice suits.

SIDEKICKS: Jude Law as Watson was fun, although it bothered me that sometimes he walked with a limp, but when someone was shooting at him he could outrun Carl Lewis. Jeremy Renner was equally effective. You get the feeling he’s just waiting to star in his own action vehicle.

THE HOT GIRL: I’m in love with MI’s Paula Patton. Newcomer Noomi Rapace was okay in SHERLOCK but I have no idea why she was there. And I missed Rachael McAdams who had a much larger role in the first SHERLOCK.

COMIC RELIEF – Simon Pegg got every laugh in MI, but Stephen Fry in SHERLOCK was hilarious. Advantage: Fry.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4 was a pleasant surprise because some of its predecessors were uh… well, they sucked. SHERLOCK 2 was about the same as SHERLOCK 1. Neither is going to win many Academy Awards but they both had their moments and I didn’t have to wear funny glasses to see them.

What did you guys think?

Monday, December 26, 2011

What to do today?

So this is Christmas celebration day – as opposed to celebrating Christmas on Christmas day. The real reason for this of course is to squeeze an extra day off from work. It’s an idea I heartily approve and you non-Americans should definitely try to get it instituted in your country, too. Jews have Hanukah, which is eight days, and trust me -- we tried to get all eight days off from work. It didn’t fly. It’s hard to justify missing over a week for a holiday whose spelling no one can agree on. But one extra day, that our workforce can manage.

The trouble is, honestly, what is there left to celebrate? Once you’ve opened the presents, sung the songs, decorated the tree, eaten the ham, watched A CHRISTMAS STORY and LICENSE TO KILL, and suffered through a day of your relatives you’re pretty much done for the year. Monday is spent returning crap or looking for things to do. Hardly a gala celebration.

This is very reminiscent of whenever we have to write a two-parter on a sitcom. Usually what happens is this: We come up with an idea for an episode. As we start to break the story we find there are too many scenes for one episode. Sometimes we can find a way to pare things down so it fits. But more often when this occurs we’ll think, “Great! Two-parter! One less story to dream up!” And we’ll continue plotting.

But here’s the unfortunate truth that we ignore every time. With rare exceptions what you have is enough story for a show-and-a-half. Too much for one, not enough for two. So we find ways to pad to fill up part two. Not the best storytelling, but the lure of not having to come up with another story is too enticing.

So the next time you see a two-parter, be on the lookout for this. Where are scenes stretched? Where does the narrative start to drag? Where so they go off on tangents for no apparent reason?

What am I saying “the next time you see a two-parter”? What else have you got to do today? Go to Netflix. Check out your favorite sitcoms and screen two-parters all day. The first Christmas celebration day tradition is born!

It sure beats working. Or more caroling.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A real holiday treat

Remember when radio stations would do big year-end specials? They'd play the top hits of the past year, have produced retrospectives, countdowns, contests, custom jingles for the occasion. Now only three companies own all the radio stations in America and they celebrate the season by firing those few employees they still have.

Well, good news! Fun radio still lives!  Okay, you have to go to the internet to find it, but still!

Great Big Radio has begun a week long celebration of 1968 -- a great year for music (Beatles, Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, Otis Redding, Temptations, Dylan, Aretha, Hendrix, Janis, the 1910 Fruit Gum Company),a truly shitty year for world events,and a zany year for pop culture. You'll hear it all -- the songs, commercials, news bytes, classic radio broadcasts, even top of the hour ID's! Check 'em out. Here's their site but they're also on fifteen apps and streaming services. 

Stagger back to the days when radio mattered and styles were ridiculous.

Our holiday greetings


from the Levine family to yours...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I want for Christmas...

is Jews.

The gifts you can't return

One clear sign that it’s Christmas in LA is that you see more TV show jackets. For years that has been the Christmas gift of choice for staffs of television series. Which if fine if you work on THE OFFICE, not so fine if you work on WORLD'S BIGGEST LOSER.

You feel a little bit like a schmuck anyway, wearing a show jacket, like you’re bragging, hoping to impress “the chicks”. Trust me, an AMISH IN THE CITY fleece is not an aphrodisiac.

Other gifts are traditionally baseball caps (when show runners don’t want to pop for jackets for the crew), T-shirts (same deal), and if you ever get a show mug you know you’re about to be cancelled.

One year on CHEERS we received lovely dart boards. At the time everyone had young children. I don’t think anyone even took them out of the box. (I’m sure there’s still one or two floating around ebay). On MASH one year the cast gave us all engraved watches. It was a beautiful gift, one I still have. The next season the new writer on the staff was counting the days until the big gift. It turned out to be a custom 33 rpm album of all the scenes in which the cast sang on the show. He was livid. “You guys get watches and I get a fucking album of Loretta Swit singing?!” (I don’t even think ebay has that one).

Most studios gave out big gift baskets, silver key chains, bottles of nice wine, Walkmen, DVD collections, etc. For many years I worked at a studio where the holiday gifts were always disaster first aid kits, huge honkin’ flashlights, Thomas’ road maps, and earthquake preparedness guides. Everything spelled doom, especially the present that came two years ago…the mug. I’m no longer at that studio.

Oh well, I still have my memories. And my IT’S ALL RELATIVE fleece, BIG WAVE DAVE’S cap, ALMOST PERFECT sweatshirt, LATELINE jacket, KIRSTIN fleece, CONRAD BLOOM bowling shirt, ASK HARRIETT t-shirt, and GEORGE & LEO belt buckle…which I would all gladly trade for one MODERN FAMILY handkerchief.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Let's do lunch/dinner/breakfast but not coffee

Something to read in line while buying Christmas gifts – some Friday Questions.

First up is EnvyYou.

As a German scribe and filmmaker, I often read or hear about the meeting etiquette of Hollywood. You touched the topic briefly. It sounds like a bastard version of "THE CODE" or "THE RULES". But how could a newbie decipher that? What does a Wednesday one-on-one breakfast meet at Musso's&Frank's mean? Or if the producer/agent/unknown wannabe bigwig meets you in a coffee franchise shop? It would be fun and enlightening if you could decode the between-the-lines of the Hollywood business restaurant meetings. And who is paying the bill?

Where you are taken and at what time determines your importance in the industry. Obviously, dinners are reserved for high-end clients. Lunches also signify genuine interest. Breakfast usually means “we’re willing to maintain a relationship but don't buy a house”. And if an agent just wants to “grab coffee” that's the Hollywood equivalent of detention .

The venue itself also speaks volumes. I’m not an A-list writer so I’m sure I’m way behind on the top trendy hot spots. But I’m guessing Mastro’s, Spago’s, Mr. Chow’s, the Ivy – wherever stars hang out.

The Palm and the Grill on the Alley are more staid but still popular among agents. Of course, which table you’re seated at is also telling.

Lunch at one of those haunts is also a good sign. Musso & Frank would definitely be second-tier. No one expects to be seen there except local news anchors. And if you can’t “be seen” then what’s the point? Other second-tier eateries would include Kate Mantalini’s, the Daily Grill, the Cheesecake Factory, and any deli.

Breakfasts are generally write-offs. Makes no difference where they take you. They still have to leave in 45 minutes and generally no one orders anything expensive anyway.

Warning: If your agent just wants to meet you for coffee you’re in trouble.

From Nick:

Shows like Dallas and Rosanne have used the 'the last season/ last four years' was a dream plot twist. What is your opinion of this narrative technique and has it ever been used well in TV?

I think it’s a cheat and generally hate it… with one exception – the end of NEWHART where we learned the whole series was a dream by Bob Hartley of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Otherwise, the idea of just negating your entire show by saying it was merely a dream is the ultimate bait and switch.

Here’s essentially the same question from two readers:

J. Allison:

I'm wondering how upset you or other writers get when you see your work hacked to bits in syndication. The other night we saw a MASH episode on TV Land that was so cut up that the plot ceased to make any sense. Does this frustrate you or do the syndication checks ease the pain?

And from Brad Peterson:

Ken, as a writer, how do you feel when you see an episode of "Cheers" or "M*A*S*H" you've written with 3-4 minutes excised for syndication?

I can’t even watch some of my shows that have been hacked in syndication. MASH is the worst. Some of those shows are so poorly chopped up that the stories no longer make any sense. Whole scenes are lifted, sometimes arbitrarily. I often wonder who the studios hired to edit these things. They probably just posted an ad at the Butchers Union.

On the other hand, I still do enjoy the residuals so I can’t complain too loudly.

And finally, from Liggie:

Friday question, from a screenplay newbie. Which is better for protection before submitting the script to readers/editors/whomever, a WGA registration or a Copyright acquisition? (Of course, insert "answer will not substitute for legal advice" disclaimer here.)

Do them both.

What's your question? And drive safely this holiday weekend. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No worries

photo by H. Hoffman
Here is my latest travelogue.  For more of these, I invite you to buy my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED.  E-book is only $2.99.  Orders a dozen right here.  

I can’t think of a better way to start a vacation than to read that American Airlines has just filed for bankruptcy and then five minutes later having to hop on an American Airline flight. Fortunately, they didn’t run out of gas over Catalina and were able to land safely in paradise. Again this year, beautiful Maui – where the Botox meets the beach.

photo by H. Hoffman
Last couple of years we stayed at a condo in the Ecoli Village. This year we moved across the road to a unit in the Ebola Colony. Other than the day we had to vacate seven hours for exterminators it was perfectly lovely. And we felt a much greater sense of security. There’s a guard gate at the entrance and except that it’s unmanned 95% of the time and there are no fences around the complex, the Ebola Colony is virtually impenetrable!

The rest of the family came in shifts -- our son, Matt and his new wife, Kim (now married longer than Kim Kardashian and hoping to surpass Khloe Kardashian), daughter Annie (Tina Fey but Jewish and without her own show yet), and friend, Howard (who claimed to be one of my illegitimate kids from Bakersfield).

Our downstairs neighbor was an interesting gentleman. Dennis Hopper in APOCOLYPSE NOW. But when I needed to borrow Peyote, it was sure convenient.

Maui Memorial Hospital is aptly named. Locals advise heart attack victims to insist paramedics drive them to Oahu. Medical care is a big problem on the island. Fortunately, no retirees ever come to Maui.

And yet the current Hawaiian catchphrase is “no worries”. King Kamehameha has been replaced by Alfred E. Newman.

THE DESCENDENTS, a wonderful movie set in Hawaii, opened everywhere in late November… except Hawaii.

Hawaii’s musicians are no longer eligible for a Hawaii Grammy Award. I don’t know why. However, they can compete in the new, umbrella Regional Roots category. Although I expect Adele to win that one too.

A Ramada hotel on Oahu paid a guy to recycle two hundred Panasonic television sets. He said “no worries”. And then dumped them all along the side of a road, strewn for miles. No worries but four priors.

And a man was arrested in Waianae for shooting a woman with a spear gun. During whale watching season this is considered a “domestic dispute”.

photo by me, if you can believe it
Other than the parking lot at Costco, everywhere you look in Hawaii is a photo opportunity. Even the road littered with old TV’s is eye-popping at sunset.

Being in Hawaii on December 7th is always emotional. More so this year because it was the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the new $56 million Arizona Memorial visitor center has opened, and the last few survivors of the attack reunited for what is scheduled to be the final time. Remember Pearl Harbor, even if you’re too young to know why.

Matt & Kim went ziplining (also known as aerial runway, aerial ropeslide, and the death slide) through the rainforest. You travel via cable from the top of a mountain to the bottom, surrounded by spectacular scenery and emergency airlift personnel. According to Matt, other than them, everyone was there working through a midlife crisis -- men still virile enough to spit in the face of danger (while strapped tightly in five harnesses).

The poster boy for “no worries” is Hawaii resident, Alvin Wong, a 69-year-old Chinese-American converted Jew who according to a recent Gallop poll is the “happiest man in America.” Put him in a room for three minutes with Keith Olbermann, he’s jumping off Diamond Head.

Went upcountry several times to one of my favorite restaurants -- the Hali’imaile General Store. Their website says it’s located among beautiful pineapple fields. Yeah… and also Quonset huts and flatbed trucks. But it’s worth the trek for their phenomenal sashimi napoleon -- the tantric sex of appetizers.

The other must-gorge place on the island is Sansei sushi. Located in a shopping center just three doors down from the Rainbow Attic souvenir shop and four doors down from the Kihei police station. Sansei offers the most innovative seafood and sushi you’ll find this side of New Jersey. (Michael, the manager, hails from the Garden State, but hey, New Jersey is pretty much just considered Japan-West, isn’t it?). The panko crusted Ahi sashimi roll has won every award including the Stanley Cup.

There are almost as many Hawaiians living in Las Vegas as in Hawaii.

photo by me again
Spent an afternoon browsing the art galleries and T-shirt emporiums of quaint harbor town, Lahaina. One gallery proudly featured the paintings of Red Skelton, Anthony Quinn, Burt Young, and Picasso. There’s also a Martin Lawrence gallery. I assume it’s not the fine actor, Martin Lawrence. None of the salespeople had guns and there was no Def Post-Impressionism Jam exhibit.

A typical day in Maui: Sunny in Wailea, partly cloudy in Lahaina, flash-floods at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. They always get the worst weather. The Kapalua is the Candlestick Park of luxury resorts.

Ziplining is apparently safer than the Grand Wailea Hotel kiddie rapid water slides. They were closed for "emergency non-scheduled repairs." But no worries. Once reopened there seemed to be a lot more 40 year-old men with dyed hair and new tattoos in line.

Walking-disaster, Lindsay Lohan vacationed on the islands so of course a police incident resulted. She claims someone stole her $5,000 purse (who brings a $5,000 purse to the beach?), which contained $10,000 in cash (you never know when you might want to buy a shave ice). I hope she was on drugs or drunk. I’d hate to think she was just that stupid. Next time, Lindsay (assuming you’re not in prison), stay at the Ebola Colony. NORAD is harder to break into.

A woman posing as a guest at the Grand Wailea was busted after stealing a lot of iPhones and tablets around the pool area. (If only she knew where Lindsay was staying.) As she was walking away down the beach path she noticed two burly officers closing in so she just started casually tossing iPhones and iPads and kindles out of her bag -- y'know, like feeding pigeons. Meanwhile, at the Ebola Colony our downstairs neighbor was able to stash kilos of Maui Wowie and still keep his door unlocked.

My wife was stung by a bee. We asked locals where to go for first aid and they said Kwajalein on the Marshall Islands.

The cineplex in Kihei is fine if you don't mind that heads are cut off at the top of the screen. We saw the Muppet movie starring Kermit and Miss Piggy and a tall guy who sounded like maybe Jason Segal? It was like watching movies at camp. I asked if they were going to get THE DESCENDENTS and no one had even heard of it. It takes place in freakin' Hawaii!!! They were getting ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIP-WRECKED though, so “no worries”.

Now that everyone has Kindles it's hard to tell what the most popular book on the beach is.  But judging by the number of people who muttered, "what an asshole" I'm guessing it's the Steve Jobs biography.  

The one thing you don’t want to see on the road to Hana: A car with the sign “student driver.”

Saw the first Hollywood agent of the season so knew it was time to return home. As always, had a fabulous time and was thrilled by the spectacular beauty and healing qualities of these remarkable islands (and at non-peak season prices!).

Next year join us.

And finally, I leave you with this:

Ua pili anei keia 'ohune i ke komo hawele li a me ka holo wawae ma kahakai?” -- Can wearing a thong and running on the beach cause a rash like this?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This is the kind of fine establishment I want to frequent

Christmas Eve of Destruction

Because you can hear "Joy to the World" only so many times, here's the contrasting point-of-view. Set up by an excerpt from my memoir of growing up in the '60s (which will finally be out early next year!). The video provided comes from a network teen music show on NBC called HULLABALOO. Like SNL, it featured a weekly guest host, someone kids would find totally cool. This week's guest was Jerry Lewis. No wonder no one watched HULLABALOO. I also love in this video that to sell the theme of the song, Barry McGuire is surrounded by burned out cars and Go-Go dancers. Enjoy the excerpt and the video.

1965 was really the last year of the 1950’s. We still thought and acted like we were in The Donna Reed Show or Ozzie and Harriet. There was an innocence that steadfastly persisted despite pesky flashes of reality – riots, a war, civil unrest, drugs, teen rebellion.

But we were growing more and more uneasy, to the point where we had to finally take action: We sang.

My generation could not have a thought or a feeling or bowel movement without singing about it. So out of this unrest came “the protest song.” Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were the vanguards, but the tune that perhaps had the biggest impact was “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. Barry McGuire had been the lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels, a wholesome collection of apple-cheeked young goody-gooders who sang about hayrides and gooseberry preserves. McGuire veered somewhat from the Hootenanny by singing a tale of imminent world doom. Within weeks it was the number one record in the country. Written by P.F. Sloan, the lyrics were filled with cheery bon mots like “the world is exploding”, bodies are floating in the Jordan River, the button could be pushed at any moment, and the world will soon be in a grave, De-lightful!

The song fed directly into the terror and foreboding fear we all lived with every single day… although it wasn’t so terrifying that we didn’t buy the record and dance to it at parties.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp

So all the idiots who beat me out for girls in high school are now trying to take jobs away from me as well. Swell! From Peter King of Sports Illustrated:

"And the league will announce this week the NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp in April, designed to help players interested in screenwriting, producing, film financing and the business of motion pictures."

Hey, great! Forget all the advice I ever gave you dear readers on how to break into the business. Play professional football.

“Aaron Rodgers, you just won the Superbowl. Where you going?”

“To Paramount where I have a three picture deal!”

Watch. My agent drops me for Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, who upon learning of Bin Laden's death tweeted this: What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…

On the other hand, I’d like to be in the room when a network executive gives Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison script notes.

And I must make a note to myself to add a rule at my next Sitcom Room seminar that there is no tackling allowed during rewrite sessions.

(Note to Tim Tebow: You might not want to join the staff of CALIFORNICATION. And thank God we didn’t have Michael Vick on the staff of FRASIER. “Hey, where’s Eddie?”)

I give the NFL credit for trying to help its players find gainful employment after they retire or are declared legally crippled, and who knows? Among the Bengals’ secondary there might be the next Tina Fey. But on a serious note, I say to these players -- beware.

Hollywood is happy to embrace you and your money the same way Vegas casinos do. Screenwriting, producing, and learning how to finance takes TIME. A lot more time than a boot camp will provide. But Hollywood will be happy to fast-track you because of your name and fortune. And if you think Hall-of-Famer Jim Marshall was good at take-aways you should see the entertainment industry.

But if you’re serious, and you really want to pursue a career in show business when you’re concussion-suffering days are done, I’ve got a great screenplay and for only five million dollars we could really make a killing!  And don't feel bad about taking all those cheerleaders away from me.   You're paying the alimony, not me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another bizarre casting story

Mid ‘90s, doing ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. In the show she’s supposed to be the showrunner of a fictional cop show. We wanted to do the scene where she has to fire her first person. And we thought it would be fun to give the fire-ee the worst possible reaction. So we created a character of an incompetent writers’ assistant. And when Nancy finally has to fire her she has a complete and utter meltdown. She screams, “NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and just goes ballistic – wailing and shrieking and pleading and crying. All the while, poor Nancy is having to react to this. (As I noted in a recent post, the ability to cry and be funny is an art that most comic actresses do not have.)

So we set up a casting session.

We had our own little bungalow right in the center of the Paramount lot. On the appointed day, maybe ten girls came in to audition. Now you have to picture it:

Passerby on a lazy Tuesday morning and from this bungalow they hear girls screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. They hear, “Please don’t! I’ll do anything you ask! ANYTHING!” They wail uncontrollably.

Oh, and that’s another thing – we thought it would be amusing if they just kept on shrieking. It was the storm that never passed. So folks were treated to young women crying relentlessly.

Talk about the worst boss in history. It sounded like we were horsewhipping these ingénues.

(Just once I’d like to see someone react that way on THE APPRENTICE when Donald Trump fires them.)

One gallant individual actually entered the building to offer assistance. Once he saw six other girls in the foyer holding script sides he knew it was either a casting session or Joseph Stalin had set up shop with a production deal at the studio.

But someone must have notified Human Resources. Later that day we were paid a very stern visit by an H & R person. “That is NOT the way we do things here at Paramount!” she told us, and then was appalled when we reacted by laughing hysterically.

We explained the situation, she harrumphed and left. I always regret not having our secretary then scream bloody murder just as she stepped out of the bungalow.

By the way, the part went to Jenna Elfman, one of her first acting gigs. And she was hilarious. One of our very best hires...and fires.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Christmas I got fired

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 38th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.   This is a blog tradition:  the anniversary of the Christmas I was fired. 

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish. ( has some of my embarrassing airchecks.)

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why I go to Maui

And why I'm still here.  These are just a few of the pictures my son, Matt took from Maui (when he wasn't pulling vicious pranks on his dear father).   If you're interested, you can see more here.

And below are two pictures that I took.   Who's the better photographer?  You decide.

FCC puts a stop to loud commercials (yeah, right)

The FCC earlier this week passed a law requiring broadcasters and Pay TV distributors to air commercials at the same volume as regular programming.  No longer can they jack up the volume during commercials.  It will take a year for this law to be fully implemented (why, I don't know.  How long does it take to turn a knob down?)

How fucking stupid are commercial makers?   Do they think we don't know that their spots come on and almost blow us out of the room?   What happens is this:  we dive for the remote.    And when we already have the remote in our hand we then fast forward through the commercial -- a commercial we might have sat through had it not been so loud and piercing.

Advertisers have to make the commercials MORE appealing to us, not less.  Especially now when it is so easy to bypass them.

Of course, here's the upshot:  there will be no way to actually monitor whether commercials are aired at a consistent level.   But distributors are off the hook if they can certify that they're complying with the rules.   So of course the law is a joke.

Hand me the remote.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Questions

Take a break from Christmas shopping by perusing some Friday Questions. (By the way: I wear a size “car”.)

purplejilly gets us started:

This question comes from my husband, a longtime Cheers and Orioles fan. He always felt like the character of Sam Malone might have been based on Jim Palmer (for the ego). He was wondering if you are allowed to say who Sam was based on, and if it was more than one MLB player.

Actually, when first conceived, Sam Malone was a former football player with the Patriots. But when Ted Danson won the part, the Charles Brothers felt he was more believable as a former baseball player than football player. So no, Jim Palmer wasn’t the role model. But if they were looking for one, Jim would have been perfect (except he was addicted to golf instead of alcohol).

From R:

Do actor's managers get any extra coin for scouring the internet comment sections?

No, but that now does seem to be part of their job. I imagine they have interns who do the scouring for them. But they are out there, heroically defending their clients from snarky irresponsible blogs like this one.

From Powerhouse Salter:

Apart from toning down language, how much might a line get changed between when it's filmed and when it's dubbed for clarity by the original actor?

The problem with changing lines is that the mouths have to match. We would rarely substitute dialogue when asking an actor to re-do a line for clarity. Except on MASH in operating room scenes. Since everyone was wearing masks it was a breeze to give actors new lines, which we frequently did.  

PolyWogg wonders:

Let's say you get your pilot approved, the champagne flows, everything's rosy, and eight episodes later, they're knocking down your set and tossing the signage due to *gasp* cancellation. Would the writers ever reveal what / where they had planned to take the show if asked later, or do they tend to bury it and/or hope for a revival so keep it to themselves? A lot of shows in the last 10 years had mythology that died with cancellation -- would love to know where they had planned for it to go, but would they be likely to share their original plan, if asked? Taye Digg's Day Break comes to mind.

Depends on the showrunner and how much pre-planning he had. I think I read where the creator of FLASH FORWARD had two years of storylines prepared. Personally, I think it would be a nice courtesy to fans to tell them what was planned.

My partner and I created three series – MARY, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and ALMOST PERFECT – that were cancelled. If we had been given enough lead time with ALMOST PERFECT to do a final episode we had planned on bringing back all the characters from the other two series and wrap up three series at once. For the eight people who cared.

Finally, from Thomas:

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Well, someone has to. 

But the serious answer is no, not often. Comedy writers are notorious for not laughing. Someone will pitch a great joke in the room and four writers will nod and say, “That’s funny. Yeah. Let’s go with that.”

I’ll laugh more at actors delivering my jokes, but that’s in appreciation of their performance. It’s amazing how much funnier a line gets when David Hyde Pierce delivers it.

What’s your question?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Take the new improved Pepsi Challenge!

Aloha! Always fun to take the Pepsi Challenge. Which of these two do you prefer?

Pepsi or Coke?

Diane Chambers or Rebecca Howe?

Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers?

Advil or Aleve?

Magic or Bird?

Batman or Superman?

The View or The Talk?

Eva Longoria or Evan Longoria?

Kimmel or Ferguson?

Adele or Barbra?

James Dean or Heath Ledger?

Reese Witherspoon or Reese’s Pieces?

The old HAWAII FIVE-0 or the new HAWAII FIVE-0?

Facebook or Twitter?

Ben Affleck or Aflac Insurance?

Bill Maher or Keith Olbermann?

Suri Cruise or Siri iPhone?

Angelina or Brad?

George Clooney or Rosemary Clooney?

Mitch or Cam?

Claire or Gloria?

Texts or IM’s?

Iron Man or Iron Chef?

Charlie Sheen or Ashton Kutcher?

Sirius/XM or Pandora?

Flintstones or Jetsons?

Betty or Wilma?


George Reeves or Christopher Reeve?

Egg McMuffin or Breakfast Jack?

Kate Olsen or Ashley Olsen?

Jake Gyllenhaal or Maggie Gyllenhaal?

Great taste or less filling?

Cher or Tallulah Morehead?

Kindle or Nook?

Rocky or Bullwinkle?


Disneyland or Disneyworld?

Elvis Costello or Lou Costello?

Elvis Costello or Elvis Andrus?

Buzz or Woody?

Woody or Mel?

James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard?

The AMA Awards or the ACM Awards?

Joe Buck (Fox) or Joe Buck (MIDNIGHT COWBOY)?

Laverne or Shirley?

Bert or Ernie?

Paul Rudd or Paul Rudnick?

Macy’s Day Parade or Rose Parade?

Baltimore Colts or Baltimore Ravens?

Herman Cain or Justice Clarence Thomas?

Pubic hair on Coke can or Pepsi can?


Kim Kardashian or Jenna Jamison?

Subways or busses?

The Subway or Quizno’s?

Albert Pujols or Willie Mays?

Viagra or Cialis?

Zombies or Vampires?

Zombies or Gerry & the Pacemakers?

Adam Sandler or a crutch?

Christmas or New Year’s?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Siri's revenge

I’ve mentioned in the past how I've pulled my share of practical jokes. (My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote all of the Bar Wars episodes of CHEERS). Well, I’m not the only one in my family.

At the moment I’m still in Maui. I’ve become friends with one of the waiters at the Grand Wailea poolside burger shack. (He refilled my ice tea once. I love the man.) I told him my son Matt was due to arrive the next day and would he help play a prank on him? Matt is an engineer for Apple computers and as you can imagine, there’s nothing he loves more than people asking for tech support (myself included). So I said to my waiter chum, “When Matt comes tomorrow tell him you’ve got a problem with your Mac laptop and that I said he’d be happy to help you.”

Sure enough – next day, we’re at lunch, the waiter ambles by, and asks Matt if he’d look at his laptop. Although steam was escaping from his ears, Matt graciously said he would. At that point we let him in on the joke.

He said he would get back at me.

A few nights later my wife and I are at dinner with two other couples. I just got the new iPhone4S and am showing off the new Siri feature. I ask her when the Superbowl is? She didn’t understand the question. So I ask her again but with more of a ‘tude this time. I said, “When is next year’s Superbowl, bitch?”

She answers: “I don’t know, Jackass!”

You can imagine the laugh this got at the table.   Getting royally insulted by my iPhone.

And as we were driving home a new concern crossed my mind. Based on the input she receives, Siri “learns” things. Does she now just assume I'm a giant  asshole? I mean, calling me a Jackass was pretty rude!”   Was I forever to be hated by my cellphone?

Well, it turns out Matt programmed Siri to call me that. You can do that I guess.

Good one, Matt!  

I’m currently reading the Steve Jobs book. In it, I've learned he loved pulling practical jokes. I’ve always been proud that my son works for Apple Computer. But now I know, he really belongs.

For the record: Siri now calls me Kenny. At least to my face. Behind my back – God knows.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The James Bond movie you probably never saw

In the midst of last months' James Bond marathon I caught ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. I don't think I've seen it since it first came out... in 1969. It’s pretty much the forgotten Bond film because it was the only one that starred George Lazenby. He had the misfortune of replacing Sean Connery and for good measure, was not an accomplished actor. He was more of a male model.

At the time he was skewered by the critics and public, and the movie essentially became the Fredo of the series.

But watching it again in retrospect, I have to say it was not that bad. In fact, it was way better than a lot of the later idiotic MOONRAKER and later Bond films. In one, Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist for Crissakes!

Lazenby was not very good, and it was hard for me to really take him seriously since he looked like a more handsome Soupy Sales, but he sure wasn’t much worse than Timothy Dalton. He tried to have fun with the role, and so what if for one movie James Bond was a little goofy?

But the plot was pretty good. It stayed very true to Ian Fleming’s book and was a lot more realistic than later 007 adventures where he’s on the moon or taking Denise Richards seriously.

Telly Savalas supplied the necessary panache required for a Bond super villain. And also the necessary stupidity to tell Bond his world domination plan and save killing him for later instead of just putting a bullet in his head and going back to stroking his cat.

The Bond Girl was leggy Diana Rigg. And anyone who grew up watching THE AVENGERS in the ‘60s was already madly in love with her.   So this perpetual adolescent was way on board in this most-crucial category. 

The film also featured that great John Barry score with all those familiar kick-ass guitar instrumentals. (Side note: Why the producers of HAWAII 5-0 don’t play that damn theme every time there’s so much as someone walking fast I do not know. That song is the ONLY reason to watch that show!)

But the best thing about ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was that I hadn’t seen it in so long. I’ve probably seen every other Bond movie at least twice. Don’t you notice that when you come across a Bond marathon you always recognize the movie? You don’t always remember which one it is – you go “Oh yeah, the stupid Egypt one” or “the stupid Swiss Chalet” one -- but you watch the action sequence that you’ve seen already nine times. You try not to think how old that Bond girl is today, and you just resign yourself to whoever Bond is at that moment even if it’s not your favorite. (And by the way, although most people claim Sean Connery is their fave, there are a lot of folks who grew up on Roger Moore and prefer his interpretation. I can’t argue with that.) But it was great fun to watch sequences I hadn’t seen in decades. Even though some of the shots were adventures in bad blue screen -- the action, the James Bond theme, and the twenty guys after 007 all in matching uniforms shooting and missing at least 20,000 times (you’d think super villains could afford better marksmen… I mean, how much must those secret hilltop high-tech compounds that commision cost? Explosives alone have to be in the tens of thousands.) it still adds up to a real adrenaline jolt.

And then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it or read the book, but suffice it to say this movie does not have your typical Bond in a raft with Carey Lowell wrap-up.

I’m sure there will be another Bond marathon coming this Christmas. Because ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE stars George Lazenby it’s usually buried in the middle of night. But tape it. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you can fast-forward through the miles and miles of commercials. Of all the gadgets that Q has invented, nothing comes close to the DVR.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Occupy Comedy!

Way back in the 1950s (think Terra Nova) the funniest and most prestigious television program was SID CAESER’S SHOW OF SHOWS. This was a live weekly variety show hosted by gifted sketch comedian, Sid Caesar. The skits were literate, sophisticated, and brilliant. The writing staff was the envy of the industry. Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner,and Neil Simon to name a few Gods. They won Emmys and their work was seen by millions of people each week.

Neil Simon then went on to write sitcoms, specifically THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW – to this day one of the funniest and smartest sitcoms in TV’s checkered history. It won Emmys and was seen by millions of viewers weekly.

And yet, for Neil Simon, and other A-list comedy writers at the time, he hadn’t yet made it. Why?

Because he hadn’t written for the theater.

TV was a stepping stone. But having a hit play on Broadway was the Holy Grail. That’s where the stature, and in success, riches were. (Larry Gelbart was once asked if you could make a living in the theater. “No,” he said, “You can’t make a living but you can make a killing.”)

Simon wrote COME BLOW YOUR HORN, got it produced on Broadway, it was a hit, and he never looked back. You know the string of mega-hits that followed.

As the 1970s approached (think Pleistocene Era), aspiring comedy writers still wanted to write for the theater first. Sitcoms were GREEN ACRES. They held very little sway over wannabe Noel Cowards.

There was a shift in the ‘70s though. Sitcoms got smarter. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, and (ironically since it was adapted from a play) THE ODD COUPLE raised the TV bar considerably.

So aspiring comedy writers (like me) wanted to do both. Broadway was still filled with wonderful plays by gifted playwrights. In addition to Simon there was Woody Allen, Herb Gardner, Chris Durang, Wendy Wasserstein, and others turning out inspiring work.

I bought a couple of volumes of Neil Simon plays and studied them voraciously. I still recommend those books to young writers. See how you can create distinctive characters and how they can move a plot along through hilariously funny dialogue. There’s pace and flow and heart, and it all seems effortless. Certain references may be dated but as a primer for good comedy writing early Neil Simon plays are still the gold standard.

As we segued into the ‘80s (read: Industrial Revolution) two things happened: Sitcoms continued to get more sophisticated and sitcom writers started making way more money. Oh yeah. And you won Emmys. This caused a shift. Suddenly, TV was favored and why not? More money and a much larger audience.  And Emmys.  Yes, you sacrificed creative control but if you worked on a good show surrounded by good people that didn’t matter as much.

So there were fewer comedy plays on Broadway and aspiring playwrights migrated out west. I would immodestly argue that the writing on CHEERS and FRASIER at its best was every bit as good or better than what was being seen on Broadway.

Come the ‘90s and fewer comedy plays were making it to Broadway. The economics of the theater were changing and big splashy musicals with recognized stars or well-known revivals were becoming the rage.

That’s alright. Comic playwrights still had a forum – television.

But what about today? There are precious few original comedies on Broadway. And even fewer sophisticated television comedies. Gone is FRASIER; the new heralded sitcom is 2 BROKE GIRLS complete with cum stain jokes.

Where can you go to write erudite comedy these days? Cable? Just saw an episode of THE LEAGUE with maybe twenty cum stain jokes. Features? The big holiday release is JACK AND JILL. Cum stain jokes would be an improvement.

FRASIER was not a niche show. CARNAGE was not a niche play. There is an audience – a large audience – that appreciates and wants sophisticated entertainment. And there are a lot of writers out there, lying in the weeds, who would be thrilled to provide it.

As we approach 2012, how about we begin a NEW era? Or at least go back to a better old one?  I'd hate to the think that the next Neil Simon will wind up writing questions for JEOPARDY.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Annie became Annie

A reader discovered that my daughter Annie's real name is Diana and wondered how and why she made the change. Annie herself has graciously agreed to answer.

There has been an inquiry about my going by Annie rather than Diana. Most of you probably had no idea that my name was Diana unless you've either a) known me since birth b) are a friend of mine or c) have read my father's book (so that's what like two of you?). There was no "Kafka-esque metamorphosis". It was more of a Bruce Wayne/Batman secret identity thing although now that its been revealed I guess my crime-fighting days are over. So you are all to blame when Two-Face starts wreaking havoc again.

Actually my parents always called me "Annie." Other delightful nicknames include Dow Chemical, Porntip and Youngster Fishman. So its not too surprising that I chose to go by Annie instead. Though you're all welcome to call me "Porntip."