Thursday, May 31, 2012
Robert Downey Jr. was a hoot! Gwyneth Paltrow turned in a lovely cameo (thus giving her plenty of time for her colon cleanses). Samuel L. Jackson traded his PULP FICTION afro for an eye patch but he was still "Jules." At any point I expected him to stop and say, “Now that’s a mighty fine burger.” Mark Ruffalo managed to fill Edward Norton’s big green shoes admirably as the Hulk. Jeremy Renner is good in every action movie he’s in… which is every action movie now being made. Chris Evans can throw and take a punch. Chris Hemsworth keeps that delicate balance of superhero and GAME OF THRONES character. Cobie Smulders was used perfectly -- she delivered an occasional line of bald exposition while in a body suit. And standout for me was Scarlett Johansson who is easily the hottest, baddest-ass half-Jewish girl in cinema today!
Like I said, I liked it a lot. And I had not seen all the individual prequels yet still found it easy to follow and care.
Two quibbles – but these apply to practically all comic book movies.
1) There’s always a major fight scene over Manhattan and pedestrians are watching. No! They’d be running for their fucking lives, not turning back until they reached South Dakota. They wouldn’t be looky-loos from floor-to-ceiling windows in skyscrapers while giant alien space ships are slicing these concrete towers in their wake. Okay, maybe Roger Sterling from MAD MEN but that’s just because he’s so drunk and bored.
2) Superheroes come together and save the world and instead of thanks, a ticker tape parade, and a guest spot on THE TALK, the government calls them a nuisance and wants to shut them down. Huh? What? Sarah Palin is a great American, but Iron Man needs to be held in check?
Still, I’d have to say THE AVENGERS is up there as one of my favorite comic book movies. But it’s not my favorite.
SUPERMAN II is.
The special effects, which were eye-popping when it was originally released in 1980, now look primitive. And the thought that Superman would give up his powers for Margot Kidder stretches credibility even in a comic book world. But Christopher Reeve was so damn great as the Man of Steel.
And… here’s why this movie wins for me… for all the heart-pounding action and dazzling destruction, Superman ultimately uses his brain to outsmart his super villain opponents.
I know there will be an AVENGERS II (hell, there was a MANNEQUIN II) and my only suggestion for it would be to incorporate some ingenuity into the world saving.
Next up for me is the new Batman. I’m sure it will leave me exhilarated, confused, and depressed. But isn’t that what a good popcorn movie is supposed to do?
By the way, if you haven’t seen THE AVENGERS yet (or you have but left during the closing credits), stay till the very end. You will be rewarded. Joss Whedon always has another little surprise up his sleeve.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the "hell hole" they were stuck in.
With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary "gut" level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.
Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest "child's-self" as apposed to having to create "clever" intellectual hyperbole.
ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar "permission" to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!
I hope this helps.
Love "Ya~ Gary
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The paperback should be out in a couple of weeks. They’re still cutting down trees.
Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been working feverishly on this for the past three years. I’ve posted rough draft excerpts from time to time. Well, finally it’s ready! This is my memoir of my attempt to come-of-age in Southern California in the '60s. Obviously, it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written… and hopefully one of the best.
There are elements in here that everyone can relate to, regardless of age. For baby boomers it’s a nostalgic (or acid) trip in the Way Back Machine, and younger readers will find my trials and tribulations to be universal. Same angst, same insanity; only phone service has changed.
If this sounds like a sales pitch it’s because IT IS. I really am proud of this book and want you to buy it.
So to that end – I’m posting a portion of the introduction along with some shameless blurbs that should send you scrambling to Amazon to get yours today!
Thanks so much to all of you who do get a copy. There are some laughs, I promise you.
They say if you can remember the’60s you didn’t live through them. But that’s not true. 99.9999% of the largest generation the world has ever known grew up in the ’60s and were not so drugged out that the decade became a mere purple haze. 99.999999% of them didn’t attend Woodstock, move to Haight-Ashbury, protest the war by burning their bras or banks, or form a band that played Woodstock. Most of us went to school, had summer jobs, wrestled with adolescence, and enjoyed being catered to by the media and Madison Avenue because of our sheer size.
And the world changed dramatically while all of this was going on. But in the background.
Meanwhile, I set out on a journey to find myself and my place in the world set against the most confusing decade of the century. At the time, however, I didn’t know it was a journey. I just thought it was life.
Books on the ’60s generally read like history timelines. (SPOILER ALERT) “Camelot,” then JFK is killed, then the Beatles, then the war, then hippies, then college protests, then more assassinations, then Woodstock, then we land on the moon. The final exam is Tuesday. Please review Chapters 5-12.
Films on the ’60s all have the same tired storyline. Clean-cut All-American kid smokes one joint, moves to San Francisco and becomes either a hippie or college revolutionary. Throw in long hair, goofy costumes, and a Jefferson Airplane soundtrack and you’ve distilled the entire decade into ninety minutes.
The Me Generation… By Me looks back but also forward. What happened to those ideals? That youth? That attention? The times, they have a’changed.
Personally, I loved growing up in the ’60s. Hopefully after reading my account of it, you will too.
Again, here’s where you go to order. Some glowing reviews from people who know me should be up soon.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back
to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you.
Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.
The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, debating the Dan Harmon firing, trashing WHITNEY. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, recommend apps for your iPad and iPhone, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.
You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scatter shot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.
Week two you’ll come in and the showrunner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.
Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that Fender guitar, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books on your nightstand (hopefully one of mine), and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.
The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them for it. And so it begins.
Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Five Guys seem tastier to me than In N Out. I like the buns better, there are more condiments, yes they’re more expensive but you don’t need fries. Just eat the free peanuts. That said, if I’m at some school carnival or organized daytime function and an In N Out truck arrives, I fall to my knees in appreciation.
Several people mentioned Hamburger Habit. Been there a couple of times. Okay but didn’t knock my socks off.
I’ve had White Castle when I was on the east coast. Don’t get it. Lethal pellets dipped in anti-freeze. Not for me.
I hear the Shake Shack is great in New York. Can’t wait to try it. Also on my list in Boss Angeles is Umami Burgers. It’s gotten a lot of hype. But it seems a little “designery” for me. They feature truffles. Really? That sounds like a burger you’d get in the private club at Laker games. What do you think?
Best burger I ever had in New York was in the Parker-Meridian hotel. Don’t even know the name. Just go to the lobby and look for the line where no one is toting luggage.
Some of you praised the Fat Burger (perhaps a local LA chain – sorry New Zealand). My daughter, Annie has a great rule. “Never eat in an establishment where consequences are in the title.” This applies to Fat Burger or Tombstone Pizza. I don’t mind Fat Burger. I make sure I get my burger char-broiled. And they're made to order.
I know it’s an LA thing but for sheer nostalgia I head straight for Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake. Imagine a Big Mac only good.
I’m surprised none of you Angelinos mentioned the Apple Pan. Now this is an exceptionally tasty burger with or without the hickory sauce. Topped off with a slice of pie and you are in cholesterol heaven. The one downside is you can only sit at the horseshoe counter. When it’s crowded there are people standing behind you imploring you to chew faster. So I always feel a little rushed. The waiters have been there a thousand years and are fast. They’re the Blue Man Group with aprons.
Worth the wait (and there WILL be a wait) is Father’s Office in Santa Monica. Good selection of beers there too… just like in my father’s office.
I also love The Counter. Not sure if it’s just an LA chain or has spread elsewhere. Co-owned by Jon Favreau, which means nothing in terms of this discussion, but I might get more hits on Google. What I love about The Counter is that you get tons of choices. You fill out essentially an All-Star ballot. Twenty toppings. Six bun choices. Thirty condiments. Eight cheeses. And try the sweet potato fries.
There's also Carney's chili burgers. Not as good as Tommy's but certainly better located. Just look for the train car on the Sunset Strip.
Burger King is what you order at the airport when Chili's Two is closed. McDonalds is… McDonald’s. Carl Jr.s is Hardee’s on the east coast and terrible on both.
There are a number of highly touted joints in downtown Los Angeles. I love hamburgers but not that much.
Are you as hungry as I now am? See you at Bob's.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Big difference from a Laker crowd. Celebs for the Lakers include Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington. Here it’s actor, Larry Mann and Jaimie Farr. More Hollywood stars used to attend Kings games when Gretzky was playing for them. That was back at the Fabulous Forum. They would sit right on the glass in the seats actual fans could never afford. There was a lip protruding from the glass which these celebs thought was for putting their drinks on. They didn’t realize players would be crashing into it. Goldie Hawn and company were unceremoniously drenched. It was a beautiful thing.
Different dress code, too. Laker fans come all pimped out. Kings fans all wear jerseys. More than a few should also be wearing goalie masks. But they were loud and boisterous and unlike me, seemed to know what was going on.
I sat next to a lovely gentleman who had had seven Red Bulls. But he assured me that until nine he was okay. Meanwhile, he spent the last two periods doubled over with his hands covering his head. Now I know why the Kings are off to such a poor start. I suspect he is one of their scouts.
Two 17 minute intermissions made for a lot of beer sales. By the third period everyone was rowdy. A Shark player got hit in the kisser with a puck. As he staggered over to the bench fans were yelling, “Get back on the ice, you baby!” The NHL is the official sport of the American Dental Association.
The P.A. system at the Staples Center is the worst. It was like how the Peanuts characters used to hear their teacher. Of course it didn’t help that every hockey player has fifteen consonants in his name.
As a novice I had just as much fun during the intermissions. Fans were invited to send text messages that would be posted on the scoreboard so we tried to send cleverly veiled obscene ones. I’m guessing we weren’t the first. None got posted. But truthfully, who gives a shit about “Hi, Mom,” “Kings rule”, and “Jess, would you marry me? Alex”?
The game was good but not nearly as exciting as the human bowling event between the first and second periods. The only way to be eligible to play was to fail a breathalyzer test.
No major brawls which was disappointing. Although there was a lot of physical contact. A penalty is defined as something that maims a player for life. Usually that’s a two minute infraction.
What’s wrong with this picture? The Sharks actually have a player who’s Afro-American. Mike Grier. That’s even more astounding than a white guy in the NBA. (His dad, Bobby Grier, is a coach for the New England Patriots).
Met up after the game with the Sharks radio announcer, Dan Rusanowsky. Even the broadcasters have long unpronounceable names. Boy, you REALLY got to be a fan to listen to hockey on the radio. “Tverdovsky over to Kostopoulos, now to Visnovsky, intercepted by Nobokov.” It’s like a Russian novel book-on-tape.
One thing I do know about hockey, it’s wall-to-wall action, great fun. And when you get down to the last five minutes and the game is tied, it’s totally wild. The Kings won 4-2 and the human bowler knocked down four pins.
Earlier this week I posted the travelogue from my recent trip to Seattle, New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Denver. With my trusty iPhone 4s I also took pictures. Here are some.
And finally, Monet has his haystacks series. This is mine.
Friday, May 25, 2012
71dude is first up.
No. But at the time we were co-producing CHEERS and they had a very large staff at MASH. We didn't feel slighted in the least. Had we been asked we wouldn't have been able to do it.
The way that final MASH script was written was fascinating. It got broken down into half-hour portions and divided up among the writers or teams of writers. Those writers would then co-write their section with Alan Alda. And trust me, that final episode was long enough without adding another half hour for me and David.
Jim S. asks:
I’ve called two no-hitters, the last game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the first game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the Padres winning a division championship, a triple-play, a balk-off win, and was there the day Glenn Davis made three errors on the same play. Talk about a “bobble” head.
I’m both charged and nervous. The beauty of baseball is that those big moments are deliciously suspenseful (except the Glenn Davis one) so I always feel my job is to just describe what’s happening and let the drama take care of itself. I try not to get too excited or hype the situation too much.
When I called the first game at Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) I was alone on the radio for the Mariners describing the scene – all the pregame pomp and circumstance, President Clinton throwing out the first pitch, the stadium decorations, presentations, etc. Little did I know, CBS radio picked up our feed and I was actually broadcasting worldwide on the CBS radio network and the Armed Forces Radio Service. Thank God I didn’t know. I probably would have been so petrified I’d sound like Porky Pig.
From Jim S. to James P.:
What we found was that when Diane was mentioned it always got a laugh. So it became a running joke. She jilted Frasier at the altar and he couldn’t let it go.
That said, we only did it sparingly, not wanting to beat the joke into the ground. And they were not in preparation for the finale. At the time, we didn't know when the finale would be, whether Diane would be involved, or if Shelley was even interested and available.
But that’s when you know a show has really arrived – when you can get character laughs from characters who are no longer even there.
Rachel Roberts played the nanny on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. She was a wonderful British actress. At one time she was married to Rex Harrison.
She had a lovely subtle way of giving us notes. I remember one time she questioned some activity David and I gave her to do. She approached us and in the sweetest voice possible said, “So what is my motivation here, darling? I’m an out-patient?”
I still miss her.
I was broadcasting for the Baltimore Orioles in 1991. We were finishing a road trip in Kansas City and heading home to host a series with Seattle.
The Mariners got into town early and their great announcer, Dave Niehaus, had a transistor radio and was listening to my broadcast from KC while in the bus heading to the hotel. Very fortunately for me, he really liked what he heard.
When there was an opening that Fall he remembered, called me, and invited me to apply. I did immediately. So in a sense they came to me and I came to them. Thank goodness they did. Far and away my favorite team to broadcast was (and is) the Seattle Mariners.
And finally, from Becca”
I think so. But Five Guys is really giving them a run for their money in my book. What do you guys think?
Thursday, May 24, 2012
In between the folks agreeing with my position and the ones saying I’m old, out of touch, and should just be sent to the glue factory, a number of you brought up an interesting speculation – namely that networks are becoming obsolete and that the future of creative content will lie in other, newer arenas like the internet. So a maverick showrunner need not be concerned because if he has a large enough fan base he can circumvent networks completely.
Some thoughts on that from a guy who, depending on your viewpoint, comes from a position of first-hand involvement in the TV industry or from Jurassic Park.
Television is definitely heading in that direction. In ten years we probably will watching shows on delivery systems not yet invented.
We’re in transition, no question. But here’s the thing – it’s a slow transition. Very slow. Why? Because no one’s really figured out yet how to make the kind of money on the internet that networks can collect broadcasting over-the-air or on cable.
I know people who produce very popular webisodes. They get linked, they win awards, and their primary goal is to have a network buy them and turn them into full series. A time will come when that’s not necessary; when webisodes will be substantial money-makers on their own, but that day is not here yet.
Commenters brought up Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams as examples of writers who have (deservedly) achieved cult status. But they needed something to launch them. They needed the networks. Doesn’t even have to be a major network. Joss did it with BUFFY on the WB. And I’m not saying you absolutely can’t achieve cult status without the mass exposure that a network provides, but it’s much harder and the success stories are way fewer.
What the internet affords you (today) is freedom. I’ve had this blog for 6 1/2 years now. No one gives me notes. No one approves what I post. It’s all very liberating. But nobody pays me. Yes, I suppose I could accept Google Ads but they'd just junk up the site, and the income I’d receive is negligible. Now if a major advertising agency came along and offered me a bundle to place a banner for Coke or American Airlines, sure I’d do it – but who am I kidding? I’m a little blog. Coke and American Airlines are not going to take funds away from their Upfronts budget to sponsor Friday Questions.
Even current showrunners with 200,000 readers or Twitter followers can’t yet parlay their numbers into the kind of money they’d need to tell the networks to kiss their ass.
Here’s the reality check: Yes, there are more networks to choose from today (which is a good thing!). And even a small one like AMC can be your golden ticket IF you happen to create that magic breakout show. But the bigger bankrolls, the better salaries (even though they’re way less than they used to be), and the most exposure are still on the major networks. At least at this moment.
It’s exciting to me that COUGAR TOWN, a show ABC cancelled, is getting new life on TBS. What I don’t know is what the budget will be. My guess is it will be less. Can Bill Lawrence do it without compromising the show? I'm hoping he can.
And over time, when cable networks continue to drain audiences from the Big Four that may change. There will come a day when getting a show on Adult Swim means as much (financially and ratings-wise) as getting one on CBS.
Just not today.
Today you still need to make a good deal. You need your "Harvey Weinstein." Sorry, but you do.
You could bankroll your own show but that’s plenty risky. You do a show on NBC. You get paid for running it and you get an ownership stake. The show gets cancelled and you just walk away with whatever money you made and vacation in Hawaii. You bankroll your own project. It doesn’t fly. You’re selling your house and moving to El Centro. Do you have faith that your 1,000,000 Twitter followers will support your project enough that you’re willing to mortgage your house on it?
An Anonymous (of course) commenter said: In the age of the Internet, having a built-in, young, loyal audience that you're directly connected with can be pretty useful, "fanboys" or not. Old world media veterans should do well to remember this.
Uh huh. This Old world media veteran invites you to write a check.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
We were in Boston for two days. This trip was like the Newt Gingrich whistle-stop tour on Super Tuesday. Found a great diner for breakfast. Charlie’s. Try the cranberry pancakes. You’ll notice a bathroom sink in the corner of the dining room. Don’t know why but at least it’s not a urinal.
Stayed in town just long enough to lose two games to the Red Sox. The British had better luck in Boston than we did. The Bosox now had something like 74,286 consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park, but for our series many of those fans must’ve come dressed as seats. Especially the second game, which was played in a light steady rain.
Yet for sheer ambiance there’s no better ballpark in the world than Fenway Park. I love when the half-empty… I mean sellout crowd sings “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond in the 8th inning. What says baseball more than an ode to feeling-up Caroline Kennedy? Has anyone ever actually listened to those lyrics?
On to Cleveland and the Indians.
The big news there was the opening of a casino downtown. No, it wasn’t an “Indian” casino. It was the Horseshoe Casino and it debuted the day before we arrived. How starved is this city for entertainment? People stood in a long three-hour line in the freezing cold just for the privilege of losing their money.
It was “Puppy Palooza” night at Progressive Field for the first Mariners-Indians game. There were 500 dogs in the crowd. Little tykes were fighting angry German-Shepherds for foul balls.
Game two was a noon affair, or 9:00 AM back in Seattle. I thanked our listeners for setting their alarms for Mariners baseball. There were more people in line for the casino than at the ballgame. More dogs too.
We lost to the Sons of the Wigwam in ugly fashion then winged on to Colorado. I fully expected to see Phil Keoghan from THE AMAZING RACE waiting at our hotel to tell us we were eliminated.
Here’s the difference between Seattle and Denver: Mariners games are sponsored by the Washington State Dental Service; a Rockies’ sponsor is Green Mountain Guns.
Wandered over to the 16th Street Mall, a picturesque tree-lined outdoor mall featuring every franchise restaurant and shoe store in America short of Arby’s (which is both). It was a lovely warm night, folks were dining at outdoor cafes and in one block I encountered two guys beating the living crap out of each other. One spectator thought they were street performers. Bystanders were trying to separate the two brawlers and this girl tossed in a quarter. And this was six hours after there had been a shooting on the mall. Yeah, I guess you’re not going to get too much protection from the Washington State Dental Service when you hit the mean malls of Denver.
This may be the only town in America where there are more medical marijuana clinics than Starbucks. And they all have appropriate health-industry names like “Cannabis Street.”
Friday it was 85 and clear. Saturday it was 45 and snowed an hour away. But that’s Denver in the spring… and summer… and fall… and winter.
The Mighty M’s swept all three games! Our young catcher, Jesus Montero hit a mammoth home run. They put baseballs in a humidor now at Coors Field to keep them from flying out at alarming rates in the thin atmosphere, but I said on the air you could put that ball in the humidor, you could dip it in caramel, bake it at 450 for three hours and it would still leave the yard. What a bolt!
The Mariners headed home and I returned to Los Angeles, flying the crowded skies of United. What a culture shock to the go from the luxury of a charter flight to the cattle-train scene from DR. ZHIVAGO.
Thanks to the Mariners, 710 KIRO, my broadcast partners Rico, Kev, Blow, Big Sims, Big Ticket, Mark, and Shannon, and all the listeners who didn’t turn off the radio the moment I came on. I had great fun but it’s good to be home. Now what am I gonna do with all these hats?
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Just an earthquake.
Fortunately, it was only a 1.7, occurring a mere five minutes after I arrived in Seattle.
But the sun was actually shining so as long as the Space Needle didn’t go down, folks in the Emerald City didn’t give a shit.
When the weather is nice there is no more beautiful spot in the world than the Pacific Northwest!
This sojourn took me first to Seattle then a road trip to New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Denver. But it could have been worse. It could have been New York, Boston, Tokyo, and Denver.
Had dinner the first night with one of my broadcast partners, Dave “Wanna buy a hat?” Sims. (Dave now has a very fine hat company and won’t be satisfied until every man in America either looks like Sinatra or Super Fly.) He took me to Japonessa downtown. If God were a sushi chef, this is what He’d serve. One bite of the tropical roll and you’ll be Meg Ryan in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. I bought three hats.
President Obama made his announcement supporting Gay marriage. He arrived in Seattle just two days later. Unfortunately, we missed him, having flown to the east coast. It’s too bad. We could have had him on the broadcast, and think how much more impact his proclamation would have had if he made it on our “Between the Baselines” pre-game segment with Shannon Drayer. His handlers obviously aren’t thinking.
The day after his announcement, this was the actual headline in the Seattle Times:
WITH DICKS IN, ALL 6 WA CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS FAVOR REPEAL OF GAY MARRIAGE BAN.
No foolin’! The reference was to Representative Norm Dicks but still!
Flew to New York on the team charter. I am now sooo spoiled. You could use any bathroom in any cabin! Seriously!
Weather in New York was equally as glorious. No one was wearing their Carole King schlump coats. Stayed at the New York Hilton. It has 2000 rooms but in Manhattan that’s considered “boutique.”
This was right in the middle of “Upfronts” season, when the major television networks decide on their Fall schedules. So the streets were littered with failed TV pilots. What are “Upfronts” exactly? In a play I wrote I describe them thusly:
The networks announce their new Fall schedules then the advertisers buy commercial time "up front". Spending billions on nothing more than blind faith. It's like if you put an Off-track betting window in a mental institution.
Met up with my wife and daughter. I’d like to think they flew across the country to see me but the truth is they were there to see NEWSIES. I just happened to bump into them at the Papaya King.
Took the D train out to Yankee Stadium. Snapped a photo of a rat on the platform the size of a Mini Cooper. Still, it costs $35 to park at Yankee Stadium so as long as the rat doesn’t gnaw on my face I’m taking the subway.
The new Yankee Stadium might not be the cathedral the old one was, but someday at Notre Dame they’re going to realize they can’t install the luxury pews they want and will do the same thing. And the new ballpark is state-of-the-art. They did it right! Great sight lines, wider concourses, giant murals of Yankee greats (although where’s Mickey Rivers?), and yet they preserved that familiar upper deck frieze and fans who will spit on players who lie unconscious after crashing into the wall.
On Saturday they celebrated Yogi Berra’s 87th birthday. He was there at home plate, sitting on a golf cart. The Yankees presented him a cake and waived the $35 parking fee.
At the game on Sunday most of the ballplayers used pink bats and some wore pink cleats. Oh, I hope it was for Mother’s Day.
Had lunch in the pressroom with old buddy, Keith Olbermann. It’d been awhile since we’d seen each other. I was doing practice play-by-play from the stands of Dodger Stadium and he had a television career.
We took one-of-three from the dreaded Yankees, but considering their payroll, let that be a lesson to ‘em!
Monday, May 21, 2012
That said, here are some random thoughts:
Networks have been firing showrunners for years. You just never heard about it. Before social networks and the internet, showrunners were essentially invisible. Just names in the credits. Now showrunners have become quasi-celebrities themselves, which I think is a good thing. Only 70% of the viewers think Joel McHale makes up those funny things he says instead of 90%. But the point is, this isn’t precedent setting.
It’s always easier to fire writers than actors. People do notice when their favorite star has been replaced by Ashton Kutcher. (Which tells you how off-the-charts psycho Charlie Sheen had to be to get canned from TWO AND A HALF MEN.)
Shows tend to survive without the original creative force. Even WEST WING when Aaron Sorkin was sacked. Even MASH when Larry Gelbart quit. MASH is a perfect example. If they could replace the genius of Larry Gelbart with a couple of knuckleheads like me and my partner and the show still survived, then you know it’s pretty bulletproof.
Networks now control every aspect of the production. There are no more independent studios to stand behind showrunners who are under attack. And if there is an indie studio, they're partnered with the network. It's the Tony Soprano business model.
For a network to fire a showrunner, his behavior had to be pretty unruly. The network weighs the value of his contribution with the nightmare of dealing with him and must decide if he’s worth it. Dan Harmon apparently wasn’t worth it.
And let’s be real. NBC has no faith in COMMUNITY. They scheduled it in a death slot of Friday night. They’re only looking to appease viewers and show that they’re cool, and make more episodes to fill out a possible syndication deal (i.e. more money for them). So if the creative quality of the show suffers for these last thirteen episodes, no one in Burbank gives a rat’s ass.
Harmon complains that he wasn’t properly told of NBC’s decision. Fact: There is no civility in Hollywood anymore. Courtesy? Respect? That’s over. From another era. People are fired by texts. People are fired on vacation. People are fired at Christmas. Submitted material receives no responses. That’s just how it is now. Gone is even the pretense of humanity. But writers can take heart, executives do the same thing to each other now.
From what I’ve heard second-hand, Dan Harmon was very erratic. There are horror stories of 24-hour writing sessions. A number of writers have supposedly run screaming from the show. So if these stories are true (and I have no proof that they are), it’s not just NBC that has problems dealing with him.
The Chevy Chase incident. Forget who said what to whom and who was an asshole and who was a bigger asshole – the fracas never should have gone public. And it was Harmon who spilled the beans by airing his dirty laundry during a stand-up routine. Networks frown on this.
Although I personally thought some of the format-bending episodes of COMMUNITY didn’t work, I always admired Dan Harmon’s fearlessness in doing them. I love his desire to challenge conventions and push the envelope. Again, networks only love this when the show becomes SEINFELD. Then all the execs who hated it, take credit for it. If it doesn't become a break-out hit then they do hate it. They’ll never say they hate it but they do. They’d much prefer something safe and predictable. Something they know how to give notes on.
I look forward to what the new showrunners might do. It could be they improve the show. Who knows?
And finally, I worry that Dan going public with this will ultimately hurt him. Other networks might put him in the “too much trouble” bin. He’s a talented guy but he’s yet to create FRIENDS. And I wonder, is this worth it? Besides getting all this stuff off his chest, what is the upside of going worldwide with this feud? Yes, your fanboys rally around you and you’re a media martyr, but they’re not the people who can say “yes” to your next project. They can’t make the decisions that will shape your career.
Ultimately, I wish Dan Harmon well. I hope I’m wrong. I hope two networks are lining up to get his next project. And I’m very sorry he got fired, if for no other reason than it must make Chevy Chase really happy. That really pisses me off.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Here it is. The cover of my new book, coming out within weeks or sooner. Also, I have a new website dedicated to the book. Feel free to check it out.
It's finally coming out! My book about growing up in the '60s will be released within weeks on Amazon! To get you in the mood, here's
another installment. And check back later today. I will reveal for the first time -- the title and the cover!
1964, Woodland Hills
Must viewing: THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW. Each afternoon from 5-6 Lloyd Thaxton hosted a live dance party show on the cheapest cheesiest independent station in LA – KCOP. If his budget was more than $4.95 a show I’d be shocked.
His set consisted of four panels (probably cardboard) with musical notes drawn on them. Kids from local high schools were invited to dance on a soundstage the size of an elevator. This was appointment television for every teenager in Los Angeles.
What made the show special was Lloyd Thaxton. Most shows like this were hosted by disc jockeys. They were content to just introduce the records and step aside while the kids did the Twist, Jerk, Fly, Popeye, Monkey, Frug, Mash Potato, Locomotion, and whatever other inane dance was the rage that minute. Lloyd was the first to realize “this was TELEVISION”, you had to do something VISUAL. So he would find ways to comically present the songs. This elf-looking redhead would lip sync, mime playing instruments, use finger puppets, don wigs, do duets with rubber masks, cut out the lips on an album cover and substitute his own – anything to make the songs fun. In many ways, Lloyd Thaxton was a local version of Ernie Kovacs, finding innovative new ways to use the new medium. Music videos these days are all ambitious elaborate productions. Back then we were quite content to watch a guy sing into his hand.
I always wanted to be on his show but of course didn’t qualify because I was still in Junior High. The indignities continue! However, I did get to appear on NINTH STREET WEST.
With the success of THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW every local channel had their own dance party show. Over the next few years there would be SHEBANG on Channel 5 with Casey Kasem, SHIVAREE on Channel 7 with KFWB D.J. Gene Weed, and NINTH STREET WEST on Channel 9 hosted by KFWB D.J. Sam Riddle. Stations hired the D.J.’s with the best and most teeth.
I sent in requests to all of them but only NINTH STREET WEST bit. Talk about a great date. Taking a girl to a TV show and dinner at nearby Carolina Pine’s coffee shop in Hollywood. Thanks again for driving, mom!
I asked my friend Marcia. You always want to be seen on TV with someone hotter than you, but not so hot that it screams “pity date”. Marcia was very cute yet believable as my escort.
The show originated from the Channel 9 studios on Melrose Ave. The soundstage was nothing more than a one-car garage (for a Kia maybe). About forty of us were jammed into this tiny space. It’s hard to rock out with reckless abandon when at any moment you could get an elbow in your eye.
There were three guests scheduled to lip sync their songs. It was impossible to do them live. One amplifier and ten dancers would be pinned against the wall. The guests were the Beau Brummels (a group out of San Francisco), a very young Marvin Gaye, and British imports Peter & Gordon.
Kids were so crazed over the Beatles that they started buying records from any group that came out of England. It’s the same principle where girls who can’t sleep with rock stars wind up in bed with their roadies. First it was the Dave Clark 5, and then the floodgates opened. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who sang one of the creepiest songs EVER – “Little Children”. The story of a guy threatening little children because they caught him diddling their sister. Ugh!), Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, the inane Freddy & the Dreamers (whose entire act was to wear suits that didn’t fit and do jumping jacks), and Peter & Gordon. The harder edged Rolling Stones, Animals, Who, and Lulu would come a bit later.
During a commercial break they set up for Marvin Gaye’s number. Surprisingly, he seemed incredibly nervous. His hands were practically shaking. Hardly the super cool image we’d come to expect. I assured him he was great and had nothing to worry about. It must have meant a lot coming from a white kid in his bar mitzvah suit. He gave me a quick smile, the red light went on and he did his song. Afterwards when he was off camera he thanked me. Not necessary but a lovely gesture.
The next day in school Marcia was quite the celebrity. Everyone had seen her on NINTH STREET WEST. Maybe two or three had seen me. I wanted to say, “Hey, screw you, people. I’m the one who saved Marvin Gaye’s career!”
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Practically every great sitcom for the last 60 years has used some version of the multi-camera format. Yes, there are exceptions like MASH and WESTWARD HA! But for the most part, series that we all (younger, desirable viewers included) watch and relish are all multi-camera.
Single-camera sitcoms are more in vogue. Networks claim we’re tired of the multi-camera form. We’re tired of bad lazy writing. We’re tired of old predictable rhythms. But we’re sure not tired of…
I LOVE LUCY
THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
ALL IN THE FAMILY
THE ODD COUPLE
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND
LAVERNE & SHIRLEY
SANFORD & SON
And three or four of your favorites I forgot to mention.
Comedy, a live audience and multiple cameras -- put them together and you have the uh... Big Bang Theory of sitcoms.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Michael gets us started:
I totally agree. WINGS never got the recognition it deserved. And the truth is it was a damn funny show – funnier than CHEERS and FRASIER on certain occasions. The stories were well-crafted and clever, and the cast was top notch. Yet, it never achieved that sheen that prestigious shows enjoy. Why? Pure speculation on my part but following CHEERS always put it unfairly in its shadow.
WINGS really was discovered once it began running on USA (fifteen times a day). Personally, I think WINGS holds up great is still funnier than most sitcoms on today.
Looking back, we really were in a Golden Age of Comedy if WINGS was considered second tier.
Brian Phillips has another WINGS-related question:
I can’t think of any other significant stories behind the naming of the characters. Since FRASIER was essentially a family show, they really only had to come up with first names for characters. That, by the way, may be the single best reason to do a family comedy.
And yet another WINGS question, this one from VegasGuy.
It’s not a matter of a shortage of actors. In this town you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting at least five people who all guested on NCIS. But finding special actors? That’s tough.
And if you should get lucky and find that a guest player really scores through the roof, not only will you want to use him again, you’ll want to hire six bodyguards to make sure nothing ever happens to him.
On MASH, Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Potter, originally was in an early episode as a nutcase General. It’s actually my single favorite episode of MASH, and he’s exceptionally funny in it. If there was an opening for Hot Lips’ sister I would have suggested Harry. He was that good.
Yes, you have a continuity issue if you bring an actor back as another character, but it’s so worth it. And why should you let a special actor get away just because he did a small guest role two seasons ago as patron #3?
From Bill McCloskey:
Ken, since canceling my cable, I've had great fun watching all the Cheers episodes and now the Frasier episodes back to back. One "bit" I'd like to ask about because it is used so often in both Cheers and Frasier, that I wonder if you guys invented it. What I'm talking about is the situation where two characters start calling each other names and it ends with them falling into each others arms. Of course the first time I remember it being used was when Sam and Diane got together for the first time in season one. It then popped up more frequently, most recently between Frasier and the new Station Manager played by Mercedes Ruhl. Any thoughts on this recurring plot device?
Doesn’t Rhett Butler get pissed and sweep Scarlet O’Hara off her feet and take her upstairs? My guess is a few of you readers will be able to cite specific examples (or, more likely, correct mine).
The key is passion. And if the passion is really at a boil, a couple can switch from hate to love in one nano-second.
So as much as I’d love to, I can’t take credit on behalf of CHEERS for that convention. For all I know, it was first employed in ancient Greece by Lucy and Desi Paparopolis.