Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIP Davy Jones of the Monkees

 Davy Jones of the Monkees passed away this morning in Florida.  He was only 66.

For kids of my generation (and we are still kids) this in an especially tough one. If anything, the Monkees represented eternal youth. The goofy spirit of fun and misadventure they projected was infectious. My condolences to his family, friends, and many fans.

We're just trying to be friendly,
So come watch us sing and play,
We’re the young generation,
And we’ve got something to say.

Davy, your music and spirit and playfulness will live on.

Take a flying Leap Day

My heart goes out to those poor people born on Leap Day. Three out of four years they never get friends wishing them Happy Birthday on Facebook. There are other heartaches they face as well, but who are we kidding? That’s the big one.

In New Zealand on non-leap years a February 29th birthday is officially celebrated on the 28th. Those folks can legally drink one day early. And your boyfriend who’s been holding off because you’re a minor can now sleep with you one day sooner. No big deal for you but a huge big deal for him. 

In certain European nations March 1st is the recognized date when there is no leap year. To me that’s even weirder. Some years you celebrate your birthday in February and others in March. This becomes of primary importance when restaurants offer complimentary meals for your birthday month. If CafĂ© ‘50s thinks you’re scamming them to get that free burger and shake you’re in for a world of grief.

Being a Leap Day baby was a big advantage in the ‘60s when it came time to register for the draft by your 18th birthday. You could put it off for sometimes three years. Not so great when you went to the DMV and tried to get your driver’s license and had to convince the idiot clerk you do in fact exist.

I wonder how many Feb. 29’ers have trouble when carded. They think you screwed up in making your fake ID.

In Ireland there is a tradition where women get to propose to men on Leap Day. If this sounds familiar it’s because it was the premise of that lame romcom you never saw starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. As legend has it, if the boy rejects the proposal he has to buy the jilted lass twelve pairs of gloves… to cover the public humiliation of not wearing a ring. Seems to me white gloves would be more noticeable and mortifying, but hey, I’m not Irish. Take that up with Conan O’Brien.

In ancient times they used to just repeat a day in February. That’s kind of what NBC does with their primetime lineup on Saturdays. At one time in Sweden they not only added a 29th of February but a 30th as well. I think that ended when Volvo complained that their warranties were too long as it was.

The Jewish calendar doesn’t have a Leap Day. It has a Leap MONTH. Yes, every four years they add another month. That’s like an entire astrological sign. Let's call it RonPaul – it only comes around every four years.

I can just see a daily horoscope.

RonPaul – avoid playing musical chairs today.

The Chinese year contains 13 months with a leap month added every three years. That’s the Year of the Pregnant Kangaroo.

For the rest of us it just means one day of free rent, one extra day before we have to pay taxes, studios can inflate their boxoffice receipts for February, and for those lucky folks who are in Southern California or Florida – Disneyland and Disney World will remain open for 24 hours (6:00 AM today to 6:00 AM tomorrow). And Irish girls can wear their white gloves with Minnie Mouse ears and no one will know they were left at the altar.

Happy Leap Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Final Oscar thoughts

Wow! People have strong opinions when it comes to the Oscars. Thanks to everyone for your comments on my review yesterday – even the ones who disagreed with me (and left their names). So let me respond to your responses.

If you thought it was a good entertaining show – great. If you enjoyed Billy Crystal, thought he was affable and amusing – terrific. You’re clearly not alone. Even some reviewers agreed with you. But I was so bored I looked foreword to the GCB promos.

I used to like Billy Crystal. Thought he was funny, charming, and very serviceable playing all the parts that now go to Ben Stiller. And I thought his looks were fine. He was never a matinee idol. But so what? He was a Jewish character actor who was attractive enough to get the girl. The fact that the young Meg Ryan could be his love interest was every bit as believable as the young Meg Ryan being Tom Hanks’ love interest (twice). It’s not like Woody Allen and Elizabeth Shue… or Julia Roberts… or Tea Leoni… or Goldie Hawn… or Mariel Hemingway when she was a teenager. (Time out while I take a shower.)

So I was looking forward to Billy returning as host. (Hell, after last year’s debacle with Anne Hathaway and James Franco, I would have welcomed Carson Daly.) But when Billy came out I did a double-take. He was unrecognizable. Someone had replaced his face with a rubber mask of Jackie Mason. And then his opening was a mere rehash of what he had done eight times before. I was disappointed. This was Lucille Ball in LIFE WITH LUCY.

People forget that when Billy first introduced that feature where he’s inserted into movies it was original and new. And fucking GREAT. Same with the song-and-dance. It was a revelation.

But that was twenty years ago. Aren’t there any NEW ideas for show openings? Or at least ATTEMPTS? You have a versatile performer in Billy Crystal. He can do skits or dance numbers or faux documentaries or whatever somebody dreams up. This puts him way ahead of James Franco, Whoopi Goldberg, John Stewart, Chris Rock, or David Letterman.

So I was expecting more from the opening. But that’s just me. Ray Kroc didn’t build an empire changing the menu at McDonald’s.

A number of you thought the problem with the show was the writers. I’ve never written for the Oscars, but from what I know it’s a Kamikaze mission. Unless you’re a writer who has creative say in the direction of the show you’re just a punching bag.

Let’s say you’re writing a bit for two presenters. You have to have the material approved by the producers, the Academy, probably the network, the actors, their manager, agent, and in all likelihood – their hair stylist. And if it’s for two actors, one might like it and the other doesn’t. You change it to suit the one and now the other doesn’t like it. Then they both decide they want to change it. And their hairstylists get into it. Before you know it, what is left is a horrible, grotesque, painfully unfunny bit and you’re still considered the writer. Actors also sometimes bring on their own writers to “work” with you. And by writers, that could mean their Pilate teacher or life coach. You have three Emmys and now you need your material approved by a Yoga instructor.

And after that, the actor can’t read a teleprompter or remember a line and what results is a trainwreck. Congratulations. You’re still the writer-of-record.

Going in, writers are usually handed guidelines – restrictions. This actor won’t broach this subject, that actor won’t do this type of joke. In other words -- all the areas you were considering Not to mention, some movie stars are so self-absorbed and take themselves so seriously that they couldn’t be funny if it ended world hunger. Good luck writing comedy for them.

Throw in last minute changes, cuts for time, and all of that is just the beginning. Once the show is actually on you’ve got to come up with jokes on the spot and adjust bits as a result of the results.

I would probably do it once for the experience. The year after I’m guessing I would fly back to Australia to be as far away from it as I could.

For the show to ultimately be better the Academy first must decide what they want the show to be. If you’re going to have Morgan Freeman introduce the show and set a tone of elegance and prestige then don’t do shit-in-the-sink and dick jokes. Go one way or the other.

Then find a new host. Use Billy Crystal as your model – someone who is multi-talented, accessible, and spontaneous. Who is that? I don’t know. Neal Patrick Harris? Patton Oswalt? Tina Fey? I’m assuming the Academy has scratched Sacha Baron Cohen off the list. But someone is out there. It might take a year or three to find him or her, but once you do you’re set.

Don’t give out all the Oscars on TV. Sorry but no one gives a shit about make-up, costumes, and short documentaries. I can hear you now – nobody gives a shit about writers either. Not true. A) Top-tiered screenwriters are well known, B) people have definite opinions about the scripts, and C) writers generally deliver entertaining speeches. What was the best moment of Sunday's show?  Writer Jim Rash mocking Angelina Jolie.  Use the time to either shorten the show, find entertaining performances, or both.

Cut the practice where actors speak directly to nominated actors and tell them how fucking brilliant they are.  Natalie Portman might think you're a national treasure, but a billion viewers worldwide now hate you. Stop that practice and never ever do it again. 

And then pass the baton to Hollywood. If the studios made some decent popular movies that were not comic books or Adam Sandler dreck the Oscar audience would increase because they have seen the movies and have a rooting interest. But Hollywood knows this. They don’t care. Ask Warner Brothers if they’d be willing to trade their upcoming Batman movie for THE ARTIST with all its Oscars. You can throw in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE too.  See what they say.

The Oscars still can be a terrific show.  There will always be appalling presenters or production numbers that suck, but that's the fun of it.  I look forward to the year that my readers are up in arms because my review was too nice. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

My 2012 Oscar Review

It’s not enough the AMPAS celebrates movies for four hours. This year they nominated movies that celebrate movies. Without a doubt this was the most excruciatingly boring Oscarcast EVER. The highlight was the Ellen DeGeneres J.C. Penney commercials.

Other than Meryl Streep’s win (too bad for Viola Davis this was the year Meryl was deemed “due”), and the shocking upset when GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO beat HUGO for editing there was absolutely no suspense whatsoever.

Billy Crystal was the perfect choice for host considering eight of the nine Best Picture nominees were set in the past.

Young viewers saw Billy Crystal and said, “Who’s that?” Older viewers familiar with his work saw Billy Crystal and said, “Who’s that?”

As my friend Allan Katz said, his face now looks like it was carved out of an apple.

When he began the show with that tired bit where he inserts himself into movies, all I could think of was Bob Hope in a Beatle wig chasing Brooke Shields around the stage and barking.

And then Crystal’s equally musty song-and-dance tribute to the Best Picture nominees – that was like Shirley Temple singing “On The Good Ship Lollipop” today.

Original producer Brett Ratner claimed that “rehearsal is for fags” and this enraged the Academy (who obviously believe that rehearsal is necessary). So he was fired (excuse me – bowed out). As was host Eddie Murphy. Thus we were spared Murphy following Octavia Spencer’s lovely heartfelt speech by introducing the next segment as Buckwheat. Although, Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. impression (in blackface no less) was not a whole lot better.

Spencer’s speech was truly genuine and emotional and yet they rushed her off the stage. They needed the time for endless random montages of old movies (reminding us how much better they were then than now), a five-minute tribute to a seat-filler (who in retrospect deserved combat pay), montages of self-absorbed actors discussing what movies mean to them (note to Barbra Streisand: in your swag bag somewhere there must be shampoo), and a performance by Cirque du Soleil. Why Cirque du Soleil even though they had nothing to do with movies? They do a show in that theater normally and all the flying guide wires were already in place.

Crystal’s jokes and asides were strictly Borscht Belt. And yet he was mystified when all of his clams fell flat. You could see him sweating through his Botox. And then he takes a shot at the Republicans thus adding another 30,000 to the number of Jew Haters in the South.

But before we delve further into the snoozefest itself, I must devote a few moments to the KTLA (and Reelz Channel) coverage of the Red Carpet arrivals. Perennial bootlicker to the stars, Sam Rubin always co-hosts along with a bimbo du jour – this year, news anchor Jessica Holmes (picture any Hooters waitress in a gown). They’re always good for a few real cringeworthy moments. Jessica to THE ARTIST director, Michael Hazanavicius (whose wife, Berenice Bejo was also up for an award): “How many times has a husband and wife both been nominated?” to which he replied, “You’re the journalist. You’re supposed to know.”

She later asked Christopher Plummer if he’d seen BRIDESMAIDS. Huh??? Smoochy Sam fawned all over everybody, calling Leslie Mann “the First Lady of Comedy”. Neither Hooter nor Tooter could believe that Jonah Hill was up for Best Actor. Hill said, “Are you trying to insult me?” Sam assured him they were not then asked, “Does this open the door to more dramas?” An Oscar nomination. Does an Oscar nomination help you get more parts? Only Sam Rubin could make Jessica Holmes look smart.

The much-ballyhooed Sacha Baron Cohen showed up on the red carpet in costume as THE DICTATOR to promote his upcoming film, and he accidentally spilled the so-called ashes of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Ryan Seacrest. Had he spilled the ashes on himself I’m sure Sam would have raced over to lick them off.

But getting back to the show that C-SPAN would have cancelled for being too slow…

This was the first time that both screenplay awards were for adaptations. Alexander Payne won for adapting the novel of THE DESCENDENTS, and Woody Allen won for adapting six of his previous movies and four of his New Yorker articles for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

Of course UNDEFEATED won.

Would Eddie Murphy have intro’d the In Memoriam segment as Gumby?

By the way, they left out Harry Morgan.

Maybe now THE ARTIST will play in two theaters in Kansas. THE ARTIST has made $20 million in thirteen weeks of release. Denzel’s SAFE HOUSE made $28 million last weekend.

Disney’s idea of a children’s movie: wonder and magic and enchanted lands. Scorsese’s idea of a children’s movie: a history lesson about pre-World War I cinema.

When THE IRON LADY beats HARRY POTTER for Best Make-Up are they saying its more amazing getting Meryl Streep to look like an English Woman than making average people look like Boggarts, Dementors, Goblins, and House-elves?

Since when did Nick Nolte become Burl Ives?

I think J-Lo had a wardrobe malfunction. A nipple was momentarily visible thus showing us for the first time why she’s considered a movie star.

And did you notice that Owen Wilson couldn’t take his eyes off Penelope Cruz’s breasts when they were presenting together?  "And the num-nums are..."

Not to be outdone, Angelina Jolie flashed her leg all the way up to that place where babies who aren’t adopted come from.

Chris Rock was very funny presenting the animation awards. Why couldn’t he do that when he hosted the Oscars? We might’ve been spared Comedy Night in the Catskills.

This year's technical award should’ve gone to the inventor of Tivo.

SAVING FACE – the story of Billy Crystal – won Best Short Documentary. What a shock! The Academy giving an award to a movie about plastic surgery.

Glenn Close might’ve won if she put herself up for Best Actor.

Looking gorgeous were: Natalie Portman, Judy Greer (sleek black dress with silver racing stripe down the middle), Giuliana Rancic, Michelle Williams (Peter Pan in drag), Emma Stone (big red bow collar – she looked like a gift wrapped Ferrari), Tina Fey (an elegant pepper shaker in black), Rooney Mara (eyebrows really help), and Miss Piggy.

I spotted Dodger General Manager, Ned Colletti in the audience.  I guess he was part of the tribute to seat-fillers.  

Presenter Gwyneth Paltrow (who a couple of years ago was introduced at the Oscars as “country music’s biggest new star” – how’s that career going for you, Gwyney?) and Robert Downey Jr. did the worst presenter bit of the evening. If I were Gwyneth, 30 seconds into this painful faux documentary routine I’d be singing any Carrie Underwood song I knew. I would sing “Jimmy Crack Corn” if that’s the only tune I could think of. Anything to shut up Downey.

If you asked Rose Byrne, “Who are you wearing?” the answer would be “K-Tool International 73510 Black Electric Tape”. Judging by how horrifyingly skinny she is, she needed only half a roll.

Best laugh of the night: Winner Jim Rash posing like Angelina Jolie, the slut with the slit.

Every year the stars wear ribbons to show their concern for some world catastrophe. This year it was that Dani Janssen and Barry Diller cancelled their annual Oscar parties. Hollywood cares!

If you don’t think the Best Song is even worth performing then why give out the damn award? You nominate these songs. Own them! Let’s hear Tony Bennett sing “Man or Muppet.”

Stacy Keibler (who?) – George Clooney’s girlfriend came dressed as an Oscar. There was more gold in her gown than all the dental fillings in Europe.

The Academy wants to attract a wider audience? Nominate HARRY POTTER for Best Picture and not WAR HORSE (which you only did to appease Steven Spielberg… who only made the movie to win more Oscars).

Viola Davis looked like the Jolly Green Giant.

What could the fun motif be for the EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE after-party?

The BRIDESMAIDS actresses added to the prestige of the evening by introducing the Short Subjects categories with a flurry of dick jokes. For all the naysayers who thought BRIDESMAIDS had no place in the company of Oscar-worthy films they sure shut those people up. 

I was glad for Michel Hazanavicius who said he was the “Happiest director in the world!” I’ll say. He just won an Oscar and gets to sleep with the star.

By far the worst part of the night was Natalie Portman and Colin Firth blowing smoke up the ass of all the nominees for the Best Actor & Actress. These people have gone so far beyond just taking themselves seriously that I truly believe they believe they shit nickels. Among the platitudes used to describe these men and women who play dress up were: courage, no less than astonishing, breathtaking, dazzling, cinema would be empty without you, unreasonably good, virtuoso, awesome, depth, enthralling.

Save some of those terms for Michael Douglas who fought back from cancer, not a guy playing a baseball executive who signed players who walked a lot. Michael Douglas looked great and sounded great. I was thrilled to see him.

All in all it was a boring, super safe, bland, vanilla, nothing show. But THE TRANSFORMERS lost everything so it was a night to celebrate! Billy Crystal will be appearing next month at Grossinger’s along with Jackie Mason, and the Schlomo Rabinowitz Klezmer Band.

Go out and see a movie. None of this year’s winners because they’re not playing anywhere, and even if they were you wouldn’t see them anyway. But LORAX 3D opens Friday.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why I review the Oscars

Before blogs, social networks, Skype, and instant messages we had to communicate with each other on the internet through an archaic function called email. No live blogging, no live tweeting – it was like living with the Flintstones.

So one year in the mid-90’s I wrote a bitchy Oscarcast review and sent it my contacts via this email feature. In the Levine household it’s a tradition for the whole family to gather together to make fun of pompous celebrities. Some families unite to decorate Christmas trees. We converge to take pot shots at famous people who have it coming.

The first few years these reviews were fairly brief. Then in 1999 I got pissed at Steven Spielberg.

His film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN lost movie of the year to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. At the time I wrote:

Spielberg was so "upset" he wouldn't talk to reporters afterwards. What a brat! For most people on the planet winning the Best Director Award would be enough to satisfy you for one night.

Spielberg’s Oscar grubbing became the theme for the review and it grew in length considerably. So did the amount of reactions. For the first time it occurred to me – hey, people are actually reading my nonsense.

From there the reviews got longer and I’ve been doing them ever since. And once I started a blog I began filing them there as well. I always write the review immediately after the show and post it early the next morning. If a joke I write is similar to one someone else has written I want it very clear I wasn’t stealing. On the other hand, I hear from friends that certain radio personalities lift my material verbatim without credit. That’s a great way to get yourself removed from my address list.

Over the years I’ve had newspapers in London and Toronto pay me to reprint them. And for several years I allowed the Huffington Post to reprint them. But that was before AOL bought them for $315 million and writers still were not being paid.

At times it’s been difficult to do these reviews. Last year in particular. We had a power failure fifteen minutes into the show. Of all the nights! I had to frantically call around, find a neighbor who not only had power, was watching and didn’t mind uninvited company but was recording it (so I could go back and catch the parts I missed). My notes were scribbled on bar napkins.

Twice I was in Hawaii and they tape-delayed them. For five hours. Jesus. They were live I’m in sure in Guam and Fiji but not our 50th state. By the time I started writing my review others reviews were already posted. One of the years was poor planning on our part. We flew home the next morning. So I stayed up all night writing the review then had to go right to the airport. Everyone got off the plane refreshed and rejuvenated and I looked like the dog's breakfast. 

Part of my fascination with the Academy Awards is the red carpet shows. These began locally probably twenty years with former Miss America/news anchor Tawny Little hosting for KABC-TV with news anchor Harold Green. These shows were staggeringly entertaining. Tawny Little asked the dumbest fucking questions imaginable. Paula Abdul would shake her head. So my reviews had to include two or three of those magic moments.

Over time hosts change. Locally on KTLA Sam Rubin has been a mainstay, fawning to the point of groveling over these stars as he asks innocuous questions. And he’s always joined by some inter-changeable bimbo, thus keeping the Tawny Little tradition of stupidity alive. Half the time I don’t even know who these airheads are. But Sam and strumpet are always good for at least two horrifying or inappropriate questions. There’s also network coverage now, which I peruse but it’s usually just vapid. Where’s the delicious fun in that? Yes, there’s Joan and Melissa Rivers but that’s a lesson in how desperation saps all comedy.

My question is why can’t they get someone good to host these things? I mean, you have a good idea of what stars are going to be parading by.  Perhaps you could uh.. PREPARE some questions. Or has that never once occurred to any of these professionals?

Imagine Stephen Colbert hosting it? Or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? Now you’ve got a show!

Of course I could say the same thing about the Oscarcast itself. Why can’t it be better?

Maybe it’s just the nature of the beast; the bloated format just prevents it. I was invited to write for the show one year but was doing ALMOST PERFECT at the time and was not available. Perhaps it’s an impossible task. Can you think of one Academy Awards show that was truly GREAT? Most are too long, ponderous, and predictable and yet we watch every year anyway. On the other hand, it gives snarky bloggers a lot more to write about.

Good luck to all the nominees. Talk to you in the morning with my thoughts.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eavesdropping on the audience during the Oscars

The Oscars are tomorrow night. My snarky review will appear early Monday morning.

During the telecast they always cut-away to quick audience shots. What they should do is just stay with one of the attendees. You’d hear what they’re really thinking. Fortunately, I was able to eavesdrop:

Jesus, getting through that red carpet was a fucking nightmare. Who were those idiots doing the interviews? I bet I could do the broad.

Do I have enough time to go up and get a drink?

Shit. It’s starting.

He’s not funny. How long is this fucking monologue?

Oh Christ. Are they doing that tired bit where the host enters the movies? Just give out the fucking Crackerjack prizes!

Are cameras on us? I swear, I can’t even fake being amused at this shit. Let’s get on with it!

Shit! That asshole won? As if he weren't insufferable before.

Wow. I love that brunette handing out the trophies. What a smile. So sweet. So wholesome.  God, I wanna fuck her.

How long is this commercial break? Do I have time to get a drink?

Screenplay awards. Who gives a shit?

How am I ever going to find my limo?

Hey, good for her. She deserved to win. Maybe now she’ll dump that dickhead manager.

Tina Fey is a presenter? Has she been in any movies? Really? Has she been in any movies anyone has seen?

Costume design? I’ll be in the lobby.

Wow. What a cute seat filler. Bet I could bang her.

Thank me. Thank me. Thank me. Fuck! You ungrateful prick.

Are we coming to the end already? Shit. How can we only be 45 minutes in?

That’s a best song nominee? They can’t be serious.

I wonder how much they’re paying the brunette.

Yeah, that’s right. Thank your wife. She’s probably the only woman in this room you haven’t slept with in the last year.

More commercials? We’re going to be here till next leap year.

How come fucking Jack Black is two rows closer than me?

Didn’t Meryl wear that same dress at the Golden Globes? And last year’s Oscars? I’d still do her.

Here comes the In Memoriam segment. Awwww. Awwwww. He died? Never heard of her. Awwww. Good!

Do we get cellphone service in here?

You’re still not funny!

Jesus! She’s still alive?

Play the get off music!  Or shoot him!

It's going to take an hour to get my limo. 

Anyone know who’s going to be at the CAA party? Is it worth it?

Finally! Best Picture. Let anyone win but Harvey.


Hey, Harvey! Congratulations! I’m thrilled for you. Seriously. This is your night.

Is he walking out with the brunette. GOD DAMN IT! I hate this town!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bracing myself for comments from irate readers

Here are this week’s Friday questions – a light diversion as you obsess over who will win an Oscar this Sunday. As always, I’ll be reviewing them Monday morning. But for now…

Up first is Kaan:

Have you ever (or writers you know) had problems with actors because of different political believes?

Like maybe there was a scene that promoted liberal values and an actor didn't like it because he or she was a conservative? And vice versa, of course.

No problems personally. The cast on MASH was decidedly liberal (duh) and the point of view of the show reflected that. Alan Alda, in particular. But a few years ago on WEST WING he played a conservative Republican presidential candidate with such conviction that I’d probably vote for him.

Update: great comment from reader Tim Dunleavy --

When Alan Alda was doing "West Wing," he said that people repeatedly asked him "How could you, of all people, play a Republican?" His response: "You know, nobody asked me that question when I played a murderer."

Kelsey Grammer is a Conservative but Frasier never was.

I know there are people who resent Patricia Heaton for her views and although I don’t share them I loved working with her and am her biggest fan. I say this knowing I will now get fifty angry comments from people who hate Patty (and by association -- me). Bring ‘em on, I still would work with her again in a second.

You can call me Owl asks:

We talk about a show working or not working. Do you feel that when something works or doesn't work, one can always, by dissection, find the things that make it work or not work?

Or is there some intangible layer to "works" and "doesn't work" where even something that seems like it should work because every piece of it works, somehow, as a whole, doesn't work, for no reason that anyone can pinpoint?

That's a great question.  Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately dissect why something works or doesn't. Often you can but not always. Two examples:

The famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. At the dress rehearsal it absolutely bombed. They didn’t get a single laugh from the crew – and they are usually excellent indicators of how audiences will respond. The brain trust here were James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, David Lloyd, Stan Daniels, Ed. Weinberger, and Bob Ellison. These were and are the titans of television comedy.

None of these heavyweights could figure out what was wrong. Jim Brooks addressed the cast, apologized, and said, “Just do the best you can. We’ll try to write new stuff later and see if we can salvage it, but for now we’re at a complete loss.” They did and you know the rest. "Chuckles" is maybe the single greatest episode of half-hour comedy. I was in the audience that night and I’ve got to say – I don’t know what the hell that crew was looking at. From the first minute that show was magic.

Example number two: the play ODD COUPLE. At the table reading and all the tryout performances the play worked like a charm… until the last fifteen minutes. And then suddenly the uproarious laughter just died. This time you had Neil Simon and director Mike Nichols trying to solve the problem. For weeks they wrestled with it. You figure if anyone can figure it out it’s one of them. Still. Nothing.

Finally, a Boston theater critic mentioned that he missed the Pigeon sisters. Simon & Nichols realized “that’s it!” They were written into the last scene and the play took off like a rocket.

But you just never know. You like to think you do but you don’t.

And finally, from Brooke McMaster:

I wanted to ask about series bibles. With every pitch, do you have to submit a fully completed bible or does this folder of notes start to grow once the show is picked up? Obviously, you would have basic notes on characters, settings etc but I am unsure if this is needed for a pitch.

In most cases, a show bible starts to grow only when the series goes into production. A writers assistant or story editor is assigned to keep it up. And depending on the show, they can be very detailed or not. On MASH we had a page-long description of each episode.

I say “most cases” because some of these dramas that have overall arcs probably need a bible before they start. I would assume ONCE UPON A TIME had a good sense of where they were taking the storyline long before they started shooting.

I imagine the bible for LOST is thicker than the Manhattan White Pages.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section in between all the irate Patty Heaton missives. Thank you.

Tomorrow:  Getting you ready for the Oscars -- what people in the audience at the Academy Awards are REALLY saying and thinking.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Person of Interest

It’s amazing the shit you let slide when you like a show. PERSON OF INTEREST is absurd on practically every level but I enjoy it. It’s THE EQUALIZER meets BIG BROTHER. Holes in the storytelling you could drive a 380-Airbus through yet I watch anyway. In fact, part of the fun is recognizing the gaping craters and being amused by them.

Let’s explore a few, shall we?

The major conceit is that Finch (Michael Emerson, who is the Meryl Streep of creepy fun) somehow developed this “machine” that is forever surveying everyone in New York and predicts crimes and victims. How does it do this? That’s never really been spelled out. Domino pizza receipts are compared with deliveries in known terrorist cells, that sort of thing. Okay, a little stretch, but if you’re saying there’s a computer that analyzes billions of bits of information and draws conclusions, I’m willing to go along. Especially since (a) we’re in a post 9-11 world, and (b) I don’t live in New York so this contraption is not spying on me.

Side note: I never understand why super villains and terrorists all bother to live in New York since that’s where the superheroes and “machines” are. Why doesn’t the Green Goblin operate out of Arizona? Let’s see Spiderman swing from building to building in Tucson.

But I digress…

Finch’s machine is hooked up to a complex network of surveillance cameras that essentially covers every square-foot of Manhattan. Wow! How much would something like that cost? How many cameras would have to be installed? Which home alarm company gets that sweet contract? How many maintenance guys would have to be on duty 24-7 to fix all the cameras that go on the fritz? Are they union?

And don’t get me started on the legality issues.

But those are just quibbles. Here’s the whopper:


Two million cameras were requisitioned, installed, and tested and no one knows about it. I imagine we’re supposed to feel comforted that all terrorists who live in Tribeca can be tracked and identified, but if you stop and think about it – how utterly incompetent is our country that someone could install two million video cameras completely under our nose?

Like I said, absurd to the nth degree, but if you’re a fan of the show you just chalk it up to “creative license.”

Finch’s partner is Mr. Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA agent/Green Beret/Jesus Christ. He never speaks more than two lines of dialogue at a time and delivers each line as if it were a clue. “Do you have… ketchup?” English is his second language. Cryptic is his first. And I find it hilarious that no one calls him on it. In reality: “Do you have…ketchup?” “Yeah. Why you talking like that? Are you a spy?”

Reese and Finch stay in touch via hands-free undetectable phones. Apparently they also provide a cone of silence because Reese is always talking in a normal voice even when he’s on a stakeout or hiding from someone. Either that or he only follows dangerous deaf people. Still, I’m fine with it.

But my favorite scene of the year so far came in a recent episode (I don’t know the date it aired, I DVR this stuff. I don’t even know what day the show is on.) Charles Widmore from LOST is back in town, now with a German accent, shooting people. Reese is too late. He enters an apartment to find a newly shot guy sitting on a chair. Reese decides to poke around. He’s not wearing gloves. He rummages through drawers and even PICKS UP THE GUN. Meanwhile, on CSI: NEW YORK they’re tying murders to a molecule left behind by a killer, but Reese can juggle the murder weapon without becoming a suspect. I’m sorry. Today’s sitcoms don’t make me laugh like that.

For now PERSON OF INTEREST is a guilty pleasure. But I worry. How long until they do something so ridiculous that even I throw up my hands? Or worse, what if they do something that’s actually plausible? Guess the best thing is to just enjoy it while I can, knowing full well that sooner or later its number will be up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

the Levine movie rating system

Categorizing movies by whether they’re violent or family-friendly is a joke. All the kids that can’t get into an R rated flick – they watch them on Netflix two months later, pausing and playing back in slow motion the good parts. Find me a 16 year-old boy who hasn’t seen Anne Hathaway naked.

Better than categorizing movies is prioritizing them. Label them based on your desire to see them. Like for instance…

D - Movies you’re dying to see – you can’t wait. You’ve watched the trailer a thousand times on line. You plan to see it the day it opens, preferably in costume. Examples for me would be GOLDFINGER, ANNIE HALL, VOLUNTEERS, and UNFAITHFUL.

T - Movies you want to see in the theater – either for the scope of the film or it’s getting a lot of buzz and you don’t want to be left out. TITANIC is a movie that loses something when viewed on a smart phone. Same with UNFAITHFUL.

ST -- Movies you feel you should see in the theater – homework movies. A guy cuts off his own arm. The Holocaust. Any Terrence Mallick film.

HER -- Movies you don’t want to see in the theater but your significant other does – For me that usually involves any movie featuring Helen Mirren.

TL -- Movies you’d like to see in the theater but never get around to – And when you finally do have a night free you check the paper and see it’s now only playing in one theater in the neighboring state.

C -- Movies you watch on cable – They may appear interesting but not at theater prices. So you have to wait a few months for Reese Witherspoon in a circus movie. My guess is most Hollywood movies fall in this category.

N -- Movies you watch on Netflix – Similar to cable but you have more mood flexibility. For whatever reason you’re just not craving a circus movie tonight.

DLTE -- Movies you tape on cable and never watch – At first you say you’ll get around to it, but then your DVR fills up and it’s either delete THE HELP or the last six episodes of CUPCAKE WARS. Say goodbye to Viola Davis.

P -- Movies you’ll watch on a plane – It’s a long flight and the only movie playing so what the hell? You’ll sit through Jack Black’s GULLIVER TRAVELS.

TWA -- Movies you’ll watch on a plane when there are no better movies – You have video-on-demand and twenty choices. You’ve seen six, you’ve heard bad things about ten, and you’ve never even heard of five (always a bad sign). Sure, you’ll watch UNSTOPPABLE.

PBS -- Movies that you won’t see but tell people that you have – Really? You saw MUNICH?

AS -- Movies you just won’t see regardless – Otherwise known as Adam Sandler comedies.

Have I missed a category?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Random blogservations...

JUSTIFIED is as great as ever this season! I love the current villain: Hedley Lamar from BLAZING SADDLES.

I’m a little hurt that serious presidential candidate, Roseanne hasn’t asked me to be her running mate.

More political correctness bullshit: The Houston Astros are celebrating their 50th season by wearing their original uniforms on opening day – with one tiny alteration. For their first three years they were the Houston Colt .45’s. The front of their jerseys said Colt .45’s and right underneath was a pistol. MLB is forcing them to remove the pistol.   So instead it’s better to think the team was originally named after the malt liquor.

Proof that today’s kids are idiots -- During the Grammys this was trending on Twitter: #WhoIsPaulMcCartney?

No one who went to Clive Davis’ party at the Beverly Hilton the night Whitney Houston died (while her body was still in the hotel) should have been allowed to attend her funeral.

I miss Doug McIntyre hosting Red Eye Radio.

Congratulations to all the winners of WGA Awards Sunday night. Now they give out cool trophies. I got plaques. Can I trade ‘em?  I'll even throw in my People's Choice award. 

I love my daughter, Annie. This was her birthday gift to me – a Grace Kelly bobblehead.  Gives you a window into our family, doesn't it? 

The frenzy to cast TV pilots continue as networks scramble to cast as many actors from failed series and failed previous pilots as they can. God forbid someone new gets a chance.  John Leguizamo is not going to save the industry. 

How come Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are Oscar nominees for THE HELP and not Ringo Starr? It’s pretty much his movie!

Hooray! Charlie Sheen is off his meds. He’s ripping Ashton Kutcher and TWO AND A HALF MEN in the press. Crazy Charlie is so much more fun than Contrite Charlie.  Time for another tour. 

Would Anne Frank have a blog today?

The U.S. and China entered into a film pact, allowing more American films to be shown in China. They’re going to love VOLUNTEERS. It will be the pinnacle of my career – to see a million Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square all singing the Washington State Fight Song.

Hollywood Blvd. at Highland is closed due to the upcoming Oscars. Carmageddon for tourists and hookers.

Spring training has begun! Seattle Mariners’ pitching coach Carl Willis: “If you’re left-handed, you’re on field four. If you’re not sure you’re left-handed, talk to me.”   I'll be broadcasting a few M's games mid-March and then throughout the regular season. 

No GLEE SUMMER TOUR this year. It’s been cancelled. Official reason: To give the cast a well-deserved rest. Real reason: No one was buying tickets.  Maybe if they had Charlie Sheen on the bill...

Huffington Post headline: Educator's Daughter Found Naked, Eating From Trash Cans

ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? – just 495 episodes away from tying THE SIMPSONS.

Why does it take the Clippers winning for folks to finally recognize what a great announcer Ralph Lawler is?

About a month ago I saw this creature who used to be Warren Beatty and the thought occurred: Does any man look good after plastic surgery?

Manny Ramirez has just signed with the Oakland A's.  Look for the sequel:  SLIMEBALL coming to a theater near you.  

HOUSE completes its series run this season. But the show really ended last year when Lisa Edelstein left.

Paul McCartney was in a group called the Beatles.


Monday, February 20, 2012

In the bedroom with Bill & Hillary Clinton

Worth seeing tonight and tomorrow night is the 4-hour PBS documentary, CLINTON. Love Bill or hate him you’ve got to admit he’s a fascinating character. I saw the program recently on the ship (something to do during the cyclone) and was most impressed with how fair and balanced it was. Other than some really unflattering shots of the young Hillary (and hey, it was her choice to wear those goofy glasses and Brillo hair) they just laid out the facts – good and bad.

It’s a tale of heroics, ego, Houdini acts, lust, ambition, conflict, courage, miscalculation, brilliance, and most of all – how the course of world history can be altered forever by blowjobs. I mean, this is all commonplace in Hollywood, but to see it played out on a global stage -- yowzer! I contribute to PBS because I love that Roy Orbison concert they always play during pledge breaks. But this program is worthy of my support as well.

Personally, I like Bill Clinton. There’s a lot I admire about him. And the country was sure in better shape under his watch. But Jesus, it’s staggering how stupid he was at times.

The one scene they couldn’t show unfortunately (because I’m sure it wasn’t recorded) was the Clinton bedroom right after Bill confessed to Hillary that he had been sleeping with Monica Lewinsky. So I’m taking the liberty of imagining what that scene must’ve been like.


BILL: Not that lamp! It was the one Lincoln used to read at night!


BILL: You know, they’re going to charge us for that! We’ve already lost our deposit.

HILLARY: How could you?! What the hell were you thinking?!

BILL: I’m sorry. I was under a lot of stress and just needed some female companionship.

HILLARY: Excuse me? And what am I?

BILL: Okay, that didn’t come out right. You’re a woman. A beautiful woman. A classy woman. A lady. The first lady.

HILLARY: Fuckin’ A!

BILL: But see, by definition, if there’s a “first” that must also mean there’s a second and third, otherwise the term would be meaningl….

HILLARY: Oh, don’t start that Slick Willie shit with me! You porked an intern!!

BILL: Well, I couldn’t sleep with anyone you know. How disrespectful would that be to you?

HILLARY: Oh, right. You had me in mind when you were screwing her.

BILL: No. Newt Gingrich actually.

HILLARY: I want a divorce.

BILL: No. Wait. You can’t do that. I love you. I don’t love Monica. She’s just a girl who satisfies base carnal urges and makes me latkas in December.

HILLARY: How can I face people? I just went on THE TODAY SHOW and stood up for you.

BILL: See, that’s the thing. I wake up in the morning, feel a little amorous, and you’re gone.


BILL: Okay. I might’ve deserved that. Even though that was a gift to Thomas Jefferson from several of his slaves.

HILLARY: Shut up!

BILL: Sorry. (beat, then calling out) Hey, I hope we’re not keeping you secret service guys awake!


BILL:  My wife just physically attacked me. 

HILLARY: Go away!



BILL: What the hell? 

HILLARY: (getting back to the subject) The impression people are going to have is that I don’t satisfy you sexually and that’s why you strayed. And judging by who you strayed with, they’re going to think I couldn’t turn on a sailor who’s been out to sea for twenty years.

BILL: That’s where you’re wrong. Husbands all over America are going to say, “Wow. She lets him have affairs. I wish I were married to her.” You’re a goddess!

HILLARY: So just what do I get for staying in this toxic relationship?

BILL: Jesus, you’re already running the country. What more do you want?

HILLARY: Well, yes. There is that.

BILL: And standing behind me, being the “Good Wife” – I bet there’s a TV series in that.

HILLARY: Don’t change the subject! (considering) Y’know, that’s not a bad idea.

BILL: I want shared creator credit.


BILL: Ow! Shit! Next time can we do this in the Rose Garden?

HILLARY: There’s not going to be a next time!

BILL: Right. Of course. No more.  I’ll make the calls.

HILLARY: And I’ve decided to run for senate.

BILL: Really? Have you decided which state?

HILLARY: New York, you idiot! We have a place there.

BILL: Right. Right. The next time you’re there, bring back some lamps.

HILLARY: I expect your full support in this. Campaigning for me, the whole nine yards.

BILL: Anything. Anything at all. I love you, Hillary.

HILLARY: That’s Senator Clinton to you.

BILL: I love you, Senator Clinton.

HILLARY: And I suppose I love you, President Clinton.


BILL: So...wanna fool around?

HILLARY: Maybe tomorrow.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The most amazing X-rated magic act you'll ever see

This is the act I saw in Sydney. Warning: It's not for the kids. But it is for adults who want to laugh their asses off. Her name is Ursula Martinez. Let's see David Copperfield do THIS.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Never have a cake when your show is in trouble

Thanks to everyone for your birthday greetings. I had a lovely time and saw Elke Sommers as we waited together for the valet. Today is my lovely wife’s big day. Happy B-Day, Deb! She likes birthdays more than me. But then, I’ve had a couple of work-related celebrations that can best be described as… unfortunate.

First was during the premiere year of CHEERS. The secretaries and P.A.’s were so sweet on that show. They prepared cakes and champagne for everyone’s birthdays. It just so happened that on mine we had a disastrous runthrough… not just a train wreck but one of those Amtrak 200-car pile-ups. We all trudged up to the office (we being me, my partner David Isaacs and Glen & Les Charles) knowing we were in shit shape with this episode. At best we were going to be there until the wee hours.

We start untangling the story, the door bursts open, and there are ten people with my cake. You know how awkward it is when someone sings “Happy Birthday” to you? Imagine that but add your co-workers want to kill you. I know it’s not my fault… but it is. To Glen & Les’ credit, they just fumed but allowed the party to go forward. There are showrunners on other shows (I won’t mention their names) but in a similar situation they would have yelled to the secretaries: “GET THE FUCK OUT!! NOW!!” and then fired me.

I will say this: that cake made a nice snack when we started rewriting the second act… at 2 A.M.

A few years later, David and I created a show for Mary Tyler Moore. On this particular week we had a script in such trouble and received so many extensive rewrites that we decided not to shoot it in front of a studio audience. It was unfair to make the actors learn 40 new pages of dialogue in one night and perform to an audience with only a day’s worth of rehearsal.  Plus, we didn't want anyone storming the stage if the show still sucked. 

So instead, we did a process called “block and shoot”. We filmed all day. The director would rehearse, assign camera moves, then film each scene individually. The process takes about ten to twelve hours.

Filming day was my birthday. Add to that, we had a monsoon. Rain was coming down so hard that it sprung a few leaks in the stage roof. One of them dripped right on Mary’s head when she sat at her desk in the office set. It was the Chinese Water Torture Test. Needless to say, Ms. Moore was not pleased. Workmen were dispatched to the catwalks to plug the leak.  Yes, it was risky and dangerous, but we didn't care.  I never saw them after they set out to fix the leak.  I wonder if they made it. 

All day long we were hearing reports on the radio of flooding and road closures. Everyone was getting progressively worried that they wouldn't be able to get home. Mary’s displeasure over the day’s events set the emotional tone for the day. Our guest-star was former Raider, Bubba Smith. At one point (in discussing the mood on the set) Bubba said to me, “this is like when Oakland goes in to Denver.”

We finally wrapped. All anyone wanted to do was just go home and crash. But just before they left – here comes the cake and champagne and singing secretaries. I didn’t need anyone to kill me. I was ready to kill myself. So for the next ten minutes everyone wolfed down their cake and ran out of the stage. Oh, and Mary can’t even eat cake.

I got in the car. My engine flooded. I had to call AAA, and of course I was not the only one with problems on a stormy night. I think I got home about 3.

So now I look at it that any birthday where I only age one year (instead of two that CHEERS year and four that Mary year) is a good one. This year my birthday celebration went off without incident. My car wasn’t towed until the next night.

Friday, February 17, 2012

One thing you didn't know about Peri Gilpin

Ready for Presidents’ Weekend?  Got your costume? Let’s get you in the mood with some Friday Questions. Leave yours in the comments section. And don’t party too hard this Prez Wknd.

Ann starts us off:

I have a "Frasier" question (or a request, really). I was reading your story about Peri Gilpin's casting as Roz Doyle and I was wondering if you had any more Peri stories. She seems like such a warm and genuinely nice person and Roz was always my favorite character on "Frasier."

She is a warm and genuinely nice person.

Here’s a story: first season. I didn’t really know her that well. We finish a runthrough and she’s in the radio control room set. I say to her jokingly that she really looks like she knows how to run a radio board. She says she comes from a radio family. Her father was a disc jockey… but unfortunately he had passed away.

I asked who her father was and was floored when she told me. Jim O’Brien. He was a great jock in the late 60’s/early 70’s, spending time in LA, New York, and eventually becoming a star in Philadelphia. While in Philly he also became a TV weatherman. He died in a sky diving accident… trying to save another diver.

Peri was very little at the time. I told her that I had met and become friends with her father when he was the program director of KHJ in 1969/70. I even interviewed him for a class project. One weekend he filled-in on the air and I ran a tape.

The next day I gave Peri that tape. She said it was the first time she had ever heard her dad on the air. Now with the internet and great websites like there are several airchecks of Jim O’Brien floating around and everyone can appreciate just how good he was. But back then it was just my dusty 7” reel-to-reel tape. I was so thrilled that I was able to provide that for her.

Peri is wonderfully down-to-earth. It’s like she’s almost not even an actress. We still correspond. I hope to someday get to work with her again. She is a true joy.

Bg Porter asks:

In the room, how much consideration is given to how a joke will age? Is it enough to get a laugh in 1973 with your great Comet Kohoutek bit? I'm remembering the Cheers scene where Frasier enters the bar and agrees with the tribal chant that he had just heard, "Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody... Wang Chung...tonight." Plays very differently in 2012.

Actually, I think that Wang Chung joke still plays great… and I’m not just saying that because it was my line. On CHEERS and FRASIER we tried to not consciously date the show by throwing in a ton of current name references. MURPHY BROWN did that and I think it killed them in syndication. But from time to time it’s not a bad idea to sprinkle in a current reference so the show seems current at first airing. And unless you’re already a huge established hit, you really shouldn’t worry about whether a joke will play in thirty years. Often times you’re just trying to stay on the air another thirty minutes.

From Terry:

Ken, I've always wondered about how certain jokes work when recording in front of a live studio audience. For example, if you have a joke whose punchline depends on a cutaway to another scene (e.g. a character says something like "I would never be caught dead in a giraffe costume" followed by a quick cut to that character wearing the giraffe costume), how is that filmed? Obviously you can't get the character into the costume quickly enough for the audience to laugh at the joke at the right time. Is the audience shown the pre-recorded scene at the appropriate time or are those usually covered with a laugh track?

Also, are sitcoms taped in front of an audience filmed in chronological order so they unfold like a play? I know movies aren't done this way, but I always wondered on TV shows how it worked if you had a setup in the first act that paid off in the third. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Jokes that depend on quick cuts are generally pre-shot the day before and are just shown to the studio audience on monitors.

Shows are filmed in chronological order so the audience can follow the story. It is like a play. Except in plays they don’t perform the same scene two or three times before moving on. In some Tom Stoppard plays I wish they would run scenes multiple times.  I might be able to follow them better.

And finally, from Chris:

Does the network ask you about future episodes and how many stories do you think you have or do they just order episodes if they like the pilot and it tests well?

You mean when you’re originally pitching a pilot? Yes. They want you to come in with several suggestions for possible stories. And later, after the pilot is filmed, they may ask for written story possibilities before they decide whether to pick up the show.

Once the show does get picked-up the network then has to approve every story, every outline, and often – every draft. At least for new shows… unless a major showrunner like Chuck Lorre is at the helm. But the norm now is total network control. Stories are so hard to come by. I wonder now how many great stories were thrown out because the network rejected them? And when you see some of the lame stories shows are doing you have to wonder – how much of this is the staff’s fault and how much is the network’s? You can probably guess which side I'm on.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why I have no use for the Grammys

A lot of people have asked me why I don't review the Grammys.  Any organization that gives Chris Brown awards instead of putting him in jail is not one I take seriously.  I did watch some of it.  Was thrilled by and for Adele.  Poor Brian Wilson didn't seem to know where he was.  As my partner David said, "the only thing missing from that Beach Boy set was their Filipino nurse."  Seems to me all the performers were either under 30 or over 60.  Some of the acts I thought were atrocious -- old and young.  (What the fuck was that thing with Nicki Minaj?)

But the awards themselves?   To me a Grammy is meaningless. Flash-in-the-pans win seven in one year and two years later are out of the business. The same song can win five times in different categories. At least this year I agreed with the winning song.   But to actually care who wins? What's the point?

More money in Clive Davis' pocket?   Whitney Houston was supposed to sing at his pre-Grammy party last Saturday night.  She dies that afternoon and he decides to throw the lavish party ANYWAY.  (He dedicated it to her -- what a touching gesture.)  I guess he figured, "Hey, I already paid for the ice swan."   Kudos to Chaka Kahn who refused to perform at it.

And how about Whitney's record company, Sony?  They immediately jacked up the price on all of Whitney's albums.  I'm supposed to root for them

But I digress...

Digital Music News recently posted a list of 54 bands who have never won a Grammy.  Okay, some of these omissions I agree with but still!   How can take an award seriously when Take 6 has won eight and the Doors, Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin have won none?  (And honorary lifetime achievement awards after-the-fact don't count.)   Here's the list.  And don't get me started about the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. 

1. The Doors
2. Queen
3. Jimi Hendrix
4. Led Zeppelin*
5. The Who
6. Tupac Shakur
7. Snoop Dogg
8. Bjork
9. Chuck Berry
10. The Grateful Dead
11. Diana Ross
12. Nas
13. The Beach Boys
14. Bob Marley
15. Janis Joplin
16. Buddy Holly
17. Notorious B.I.G.
18. (Eric B. &) Rakim
19. Rush
20. Run D.M.C.
21. Guns n' Roses
22. Boston
23. Sam Cooke
24. Talking Heads
25. The Ramones
26. The Everly Brothers
27. Patti Smith
28. Public Enemy
29. Sly & the Family Stone
30. The Sex Pistols
31. Parliament &/or Funkadelic
32. The O'Jays
33. Creedence Clearwater Revival
34. The Stooges
35. Motley Crue
36. Kiss
37. Deep Purple
38. Journey
39. Jackson Browne
40. The Pretenders
41. Toby Keith
42. New Order
43. Depeche Mode
44. Tiesto
45. The Kinks
46. Morrissey
47. The Smiths
48. ABBA
49. Dusty Springfield
50. Teddy Pendergrass
51. Oasis
52. Curtis Mayfield
53. The Byrds
54. ZZ Top

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Surviving my first cyclone

Back to the travelogue.  Part I was Monday.

The ship sailed through Milford Sound on the way to New Zealand. Unfortunately, it was rainy and windy. But from the observation lounge I took some photos of breathtaking vague outlines of fjords, startling blobs that supposedly contain waterfalls, and one amazing shot that’s either a steep cliff or a rain forest.

Next we went through that aforementioned cyclone. (They’re cyclones in that hemisphere; hurricanes in the other.) Heavy rain and winds at 70 knots on the balmy Tasman Sea. Everyone was holding on for dear life. People swaying, staggering, and bracing themselves against walls. Normally you only see that when the pool bar closes. I’m guessing the shuffleboard tournament on the top deck was not heavily attended. Some plates went flying but that could have just been part of the big Greek buffet in the Veranda Room. I can only imagine what the 3:15 Hula Hoop Contest must’ve been like.

But that was just the warm-up. In the evening the winds increased to 130 knots. And the waves reached 40 feet. Cowabunga! Spray from the waves reached the observation lounge – on Deck 11.

I hope they cancelled the dart tournament. Tables were flying off the top deck like giant Frisbees. And yet, everyone was down for dinner. Hey, it was rack of lamb night! The ship couldn’t maneuver its intended course so had to turn around, reduce speed, and basically just wait out the storm. Gigantic ocean liners rarely make sharp U-turns. For a reason. The entire ship tilted. Everything on one side of a room was now on the other side of the room. Whoa Nellie! The storm lasted about twelve hours, or… more accurately: one Medique tablet. Kudos to the captain and crew for navigating us through this harrowing situation with grace and great skill. Since the storm ended at 2:00 AM it was too late to sound the official all-clear, which is Maureen McGovern singing: “There’s Got To Be a Morning After.”

Then at 4:30 we were all jolted out of bed with an announcement that the ship was now on “Code Bravo.” What the fuck is that? No one knew, but it couldn’t be good. I’m wondering – do I stay put? Evacuate? And if so what’s the dress code? Is it elegant survival? Then the power went out in my cabin. Turns out there was a small fire on the top deck. It was extinguished in eight minutes, the electricity restored, and at 5:15 I lay my head down to resume a peaceful night’s sleep. I asked a crewmember who has been sailing for fourteen years how many “Code Bravos” he had experienced and this was his first. I can’t believe my good fortune!

The power was out only in those cabins directly below the fire. Like mine. A passenger the next morning said to me, horrified, “So you didn’t have internet?!” I’m groping frantically in the dark for my life vest and she’s worried I can’t "like" someone’s Facebook status.

Welcome to New Zealand. As the T-shirt says: 2 million people and 72 million sheep.

The big selling point in New Zealand these days is that the LORD OF THE RINGS was filmed there.

First stop: Timaru. Big attraction: the Tin Shed. Yes, the same Tin Shed you thrilled to in LORD OF THE RINGS.

Then on to the delightful French village of Akaroa. Took a harbor cruise and saw the world’s smallest dolphins, the world’s smallest penguins, and fur seals. I think the fur seals doubled as soldiers in LORD OF THE RINGS, but I can’t say for sure.

Saturday was Wellington, which reminded me very much of Seattle. Charming, hilly, and cold & rainy in the summer. Spent the morning seeing sights like a location for LORD OF THE RINGS. Then went to the big annual international Rugby Championship in the afternoon – the Wellington 7’s. This is what I call a spectacle! Everyone comes dressed as if they’re going to the West Hollywood Halloween Parade. I drew more attention than a guy in drag wearing a Hooters’ outfit because I wasn’t wearing a costume. All your favorite Flintstones, sheiks, satyrs, Fruits of the Loom, hairy nuns, brides, men in bunny suits, angry babies, storm troopers, M & M’s, pixies on steroids, Santas, vikings, 300 pound Barbies, Ronald McDonalds, and Zulu warriors were there in full-force rooting for their teams – as would any serious sports fan. Kiwis have a sense of humor. I can’t picture this happening in Germany. Ironically, the only characters I didn’t see were from LORD OF THE RINGS.

Was interviewed by cruise director, Paul for the daily closed-circuit TV briefing shown in all the guest cabins. Turns out more people saw that than the season finale of CHUCK on NBC.

Tauranga was a pretty little beach town at the foot of a volcano. Only explored for a few hours. Nothing was filmed there so what’s the point? Plus, it was Super Bowl Monday. Or, as the Kiwis call it – “Waitangi Day”.

Sadly, I had to disembark in Auckland. It was very tough to say goodbye to so many new friends and free liquor. Was very excited when I heard that Auckland was the “City of Sales”. Turns out it’s the “City of Sails”. Boat! What Jew travels 12,000 miles to see boats? But the city was spectacular and none of the fifty volcanoes erupted so that’s always a plus.

Took a tour and I’m starting to get an idea of how these people think. The guide announced that the population of Auckland reached 1.5 million last week and then added, “I’m pleased to say it was a birth not immigration.” We can only hope the baby wasn’t born into one of those retail families.

The tour itself was not much. He drove us through suburbs. Big whoop!  That’s like having one day to see Los Angeles and going to Reseda and Pacoima.

Got back into town myself after checking into the Novetel Auckland Airport, a glossy corporate hotel with all the warmth of a Sharper Image store. I’m surprised the pillows weren’t made of chrome.

Loved the Sky Tower! Locals say it’s there so they always know where the casino is.

There’s a prison next to an elementary school. If a ball goes over the fence kids, don’t try to get it.

Sign on an Auckland bridge: Caution! Bungee Jumping Overhead!

Alas, it was time to leave. I love these countries and their peeps, but one more freakin’ Botanical Garden and my head will explode.

Flew over the Ditch from Auckland to Australia then back home. On the flight to Los Angeles from Sydney I was very relieved not to see any cast members of LOST. Eighteen hours in the air and I arrived two hours before I left. Qantas Premium Economy now includes hot meals and time travel!

Bravo to Kevin, Josh, and Dann from PTV at Sea for being such terrific hosts. And “Code” Bravo to the zany crew of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for your gallant courage steering us through the storm without having to evacuate or cancel Bingo.

For more travelogues please buy my book, TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED for only $2.99 ebook version, $6.99 paperback.  You can order yours here.  According to the blurbs, it's really funny.  Thanks much. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some Valentine's Day suggestions

I interrupt my travelogue with a Valentine’s Day post. Never one of my favorite holidays, possibly because it’s also my birthday. You’re supposed to feel in love on Valentine’s Day, not older.

I find it interesting that arguably the most romantic movie of all-time is about a married woman who has an affair and is ready to dump her husband. The movie is CASABLANCA.

Guys always dread Valentine’s Day because it comes with a huge heap of obligation. You have to buy her a present, you have to take her out to an expensive dinner. There’s a lot of just going-through-the-motions. And any true sentiment gets buried in a price fixed menu.

Might I make a suggestion?

Another way to show genuine affection is to make her laugh. Is there something you can do to celebrate Valentine’s Day that’s fun? Any place you can go that’s a little off-beat and silly? Any way you could let your hair down and do something a bit crazy and out of character? Think of those great old romcoms – guys are always doing slightly embarrassing things to win the hearts of their Audrey Hepburns. Often they wind up fully dressed falling into pools or getting arrested for serenading in a library but the thought is there. Spontaneity can be romantic, too. Is there an Improv show you could take her to?  Goofy motel shaped like a wigwam you can stay for the night?   Drinks on the roof of a police station? A home cooked dinner then watching VOLUNTEERS on TV (that's if you REALLY want to pull out all the stops)?

When I was a teenager and wanted to really make an impression I did not take my dates to expensive restaurants. First off, I couldn’t afford them, and secondly this made more of an impact. Eckberg’s Steakhouse. This is a small excerpt from my upcoming book on growing up in the ‘60s:

I took Helen to Eckberg’s Steakhouse. This was maybe my favorite restaurant in the world. It was in an actual house, on a side street off Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills. The living room had been converted to a dining room large enough for maybe six or seven tables. You could see into the kitchen where the stork-like Mr. Eckberg cooked the steaks. His dowdy wife was the waitress. All she would ever say was “ice box rolls” when she put a basket of them on your table.

They were both in their 70s, although who knows? They could have easily been in their 90s. They lived upstairs. Mr. Eckberg was a force of nature. He took your order, he cooked your steak, and all the while, cackled like an insane person. If a customer put a nickel into an old juke box, the song “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” would play. Mr. Eckberg would turn it up full blast and begin to dance and sing at the top of his lungs, all the while ringing dozens of bells. Helen thought this was a riot.

Mr. Eckberg would only take cash, and when you paid at his antique register he would chortle, “Money, money, money!” ring a few bells, and make you kiss a rubber chicken.

See if there’s an “Eckberg’s” somewhere in your town.

For girls, wanting to please their guys on Valentine’s Day, it’s much easier and requires much less thought. Just give them sex.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow the romance continues with my surviving a harrowing cyclone in the Tasman Sea.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reporting from Down Under...

All pictures taken by me on my iPhone
Got invited to speak on a 15-day cruise. The ship was the Regent Seven Sea Voyager, a first-class line, and since the route was nowhere near Italy my wife Debby and I cheerfully accepted. So now I can say I’ve seen Australia, New Zealand, and survived a cyclone. Read on for the highlights and near-death experience.

Flying to Australia takes almost as long as watching the movie AUSTRALIA. Fifteen hours. Since we passed the International Dateline we completely missed Thursday. I recommend this to anyone recuperating from an injury. You get to lop one day off of your recovery time.

Our hotel in Sydney was the very first hospital in the city. But completely refurbished of course. All new bed pans. Got into our room, opened the window and looked right into the paint-splattered crotch of a workman on scaffolding. We were facing the center courtyard (where the dead bodies were once lowered… and by once I’m guessing six months ago).

Our hotel was in the historic Rocks district. Originally, Australia was reserved for British convicts. (Good luck escaping and swimming to Hawaii.)  Now they've all been replaced by fashion models. 

It’s easy to spot the tourists in Australia. We’re the ugly ones. Aussies are incredibly attractive. And so friendly -- although you’d be in a jolly mood too if you looked like Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman (before the face work).

Gambling and prostitution are both legal in Australia. Ironically, their slots and hookers are both called Pokie Machines.

Took the Captain Cook harbor cruise tour. (Captain Cook is held in very high regard – unlike in Hawaii where the locals killed and ate him.) I recommend the tour. Even in the rain. I have some amazing grey shots with faint silhouettes of landmarks in the background.

You’ve got to love a country that salutes writers with plaques on the sidewalk instead of Mickey Rooney. In the Circular Quay I was honored to trample on Barry Humphries.

For $200 you can climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge (which is the world’s largest coat hanger). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you will have a feeling of accomplishment like no other in your life. On the other hand, you gotta be nuts. So I just paid them $150 to say I did it.

Took a bus ride tour of Sydney. Our guide was very informative and only slightly opinionated. There are not a lot of “dark, swarthy people” in Australia it seems. She said, “Yes, it’s discrimination but it works!” She showed us the Jewish neighborhood and pointed out that “the Jews made a lot of money in retail.”

Hit Bondi Beach. Other than the ferocious riptide, man-eating sharks, and ten varieties of deadly jellyfish it really is an ideal spot for frolicking in the surf. It’s also a topless beach, and again – J. Crew models are considered runts. I’m guessing most shark victims were just guys who weren’t paying attention.

The Opera House is the signature of Sydney. It’s like someone took all the passenger terminals from JFK and jammed them together. Went there and saw LE SOIREE. Highlights included a contortionist who squeezed his entire body through two tennis rackets and a lady magician who stripped naked and pulled a handkerchief out of her vagina. Finally I get the appeal of opera!

It’s hard to get used to a country where people drive on the wrong side of the road and Burger King is called Hungry Jacks.

Boarded our cruise liner, the magnificent Regent Seven Seas Voyager in Sydney. Last time I went on a cruise the last Titanic survivor died. This time it was on the heels of the Italian cruise line disaster. Usually the highlight of the first night is the sail-away, complete with champagne and celebration. This time it was the emergency drill.

People on a cruise are so nice until you meet them in the laundry room and there’s only one machine available. God forbid there’s only limited space on the lifeboat because these women would kill you for the last Wisk packet.

I always love the on-board entertainment. Broadway night is one of my favorites. Talented energetic kids named Astkeg and Svetloojian singing “Oklahoma”. One of the singers might have been last year’s Croatian Idol. During the show they saluted the musical, THE PRODUCERS and I was very relieved – considering the crowd – that they didn’t do the dance number with all the walkers.

Dress requirement at dinner – casual elegance. No ties, but sports jackets or life vests are recommended for gentlemen.

Some cities heroically rise from horrific devastation. San Francisco from the earthquake in 1906, New Orleans from Katrina, and Melbourne from being the birthplace of Rupert Murdoch. Walking around this vibrant bustling city you marvel once again at the sheer resiliency of the human spirit.

Lunched on Degraves Street – a narrow alleyway with outdoor silver dollar tables that remind you of Paris or the food court in the Paramus mall.

They’re not much for city zoning in Melbourne. There’s a hard-core XXX adult theater next to a cupcake bakery.

Did not get to the Museum of Immigration. I suspect there are many photographs of ashen green people getting off boats after five weeks on the high seas in steerage. Saw enough of that from the folks who flew coach on our flight to Sydney.

I love going to foreign cities and seeing things we don’t have in America. There are bookstores in Melbourne!

Their coffee was much heralded by readers of my blog. I don’t drink coffee but Debby reports that it was amazing but strong. One sip and she began reciting beatnik poetry.

Someone said Sydney was the place to see but Melbourne was the place to do. Judging by the sheer number of bars and pubs going at all hours, I would say that’s true. The club scene makes sense in a city where (a) there are a lot of young people, and (b) one cup of coffee keeps you up till the spring.

Was in Melbourne for Australia Day. They celebrate that great day when England attacked them. Could not get in to see any of the Australian Open. But watched the more hotly contested wood chopping competition at Alexandra Gardens. Let’s see Rafael Nadal return a killer backhand with an axe.

Stunning view of Melbourne from the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower. Yeah, right, Tom Cruise did his own stunt.

Next stop was Hobart, Tasmania; an absolute gem. It’s a fairy tale city except instead of a castle there is a jail (British convicts, come on down!).

30-50% of the world’s legal opium is produced in Tasmania, which explains why Crosby, Stills, & Nash play there so often.

Errol Flynn grew up in Hobart. Even the town drunks are great looking.

Went to the zoo and fed kangaroos, saw wallabies, koala bears, wombats, and the famous Tasmanian devil. You are instructed not to feed the devils or say, “What’s Up Doc?” I love that there are animals here you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And that’s not even counting the over-100 varieties of snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, and insects that can kill you.

No trip to Hobart is complete without stopping in at the new MONA museum, affectionately known as the “museum of death and sex” (my two favorite subjects). Founded by eccentric gambler, David Walsh, it features audacious and sometimes repulsive artwork. Gomez Adams starts his own museum. Among the must-see exhibits: the suicide pinball machine, the jukebox that plays all funeral songs, and Japanese erotic hand scrolls. Bring the kiddies.

At this point Debby had to go back to Los Angeles due to work obligations. A half-hour before she left the captain announced we would be hitting choppy seas – for 48 hours! He was wrong. It was 60 hours followed by an actual cyclone (more on that later). I wore so many patches I looked like Les Nessman. Debby had a lovely smooth flight home – laughing all the way.

Once on the high seas I began my series of lectures. The first week they had NPR’s David Folkenflik who provided insight and expert analysis of the current political scene and the role of the media. Then I come on with Kirstie Alley stories.

Tomorrow I interrupt my travelogue for some suggestions and thoughts on Valentine's Day, but on Wednesday learn how I weathered my first cyclone... and that wasn't the worst part of the night.   Meanwhile, my book of travelogues is still only $2.99 for the ebook version. The perfect Valentine's Day gift!!!  Just go here to order yours TODAY!!!