Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year!!!

Thanks to everyone for finding and reading my blog. Especially those of you in Croatia. My stuff usually doesn't play there. Also thanks for the comments and emails. Keep 'em coming. I've made a lot of new friends and even though my traffic is modest I'm still reaching more people than if I wrote a show for UPN. I look forward to providing more nonsense in the future.

May 2006 be for you what 2005 was for the Chicago White Sox, Mariah Carey, Batman, Apprentice Randall, Johnny Damon, Craig Ferguson, Keith Urban, Spamalot, Hilary Swank, the New England Patriots, Clint Eastwood, Jaimie Foxx, Maroon 5, Cate Blanchett, Felicity Huffman, Lost, Ray Charles, Roy Williams, Morgan Freeman, Everybody Loves Raymond, Jason Lee, Google, Carrie Underwood, Patricia Arguette, John Mayer, the USC Trojans, Kayne West, the 40 Year Old Virgin, Eli Manning, Alicia Keyes, Larry Brown, Survivor Danni Boatwright, Seal, Howard Stern, Naima Mora, Robert Blake, the San Antonio Spurs, Ann Womack, Peter & Lois Griffin, Roger Clemens, Ryan Seacrest, the X Men, the ipod, Paul McCartney, Kelly Monaco, the Wedding Crashers, Giacomo, Dan Wheldon, the basketball Tar Heels, Jack Bauer, and the guy who caught not one but two home run balls in that playoff game at Houston.



Thursday, December 29, 2005

As we head towards the new year....

I bet NEW YEARS ROCKIN' EVE will get HUGE numbers. The curiosity factor on what Dick Clark looks like now has to be through the roof. If you see the American Bandstand set behind him you know he’s green screened.

I don't know, there's something freakish about this. But I guess that's one of the reasons PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is so popular.

Rain is predicted for January 2nd in Pasadena. For whatever reason it never rains on the Rose Parade. Might this be the year? If it does I hope Bob Eubank’s hair dye isn’t the kind that just washes out. Same with Stephanie Edwards’.

If you are from anywhere other than Los Angeles, a New Year's tradition is saying "who is Stephanie Edwards"?

I bet they wouldn’t hassle you at the unemployment office about not trying hard enough to seek work if your profession was parade commentator.

Does every float in the Rose Parade win an award? And all the awards are the same – “best use of animation”, “most creative use of animation”, "Best use of animation for a Texas float", etc.

Next month my gym will be packed. Everyone making their New Years resolutions. By February it will be just us regulars again.

And finally, as a special treat, a word from my daughter, Annie. You’ve met her in travelogues and the acerbic comments she’s posted. She’s my little Dorothy Parker without the suicide attempts. She has a request so I’ll turn over this over to her.


Dear Bloggers, Bloggettes and anyone else insane enough to read my father's ranting,

I'm a student at Northwestern and have a radio show on the campus station. It's supposedly been voted the top college station blah blah blah etc etc. (fill in credentials here). I co-host "Breakfast with Broadway" on Saturday Morning, that plays showtunes. (And I wonder why I have so many gay friends). So one week as a theme I was planning on doing the WORST songs in Broadway. i.e. "Turkey Lurkey," (Promises, Promises) "Shapoopy" (Music Man) and well... anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber. If you have any incredibly bizarre suggestions, I would love to hear them. Thank you!


P.S. You may NOT suggest a Stephen Sondheim song. Everything he has written is genius, and we will no longer be on speaking terms.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Spec Etiquette

I’ve had several people ask me what NOT to do when trying to get someone to read their spec. It’s a case by case basis of course but I’ll just share some of my own personal experiences or things I have witnessed.

I’ve had people give me spec scripts at high school reunions. Not a good idea unless it’s from the person you always had a crush on and they haven’t gained 300 pounds.

A well known comedy director was in temple during High Holiday services one year when a fellow congregant reached inside his tallis and pulled out a spec script. Not kosher.

When I was announcing for the Orioles I once got thrown out of Bobby Valentine’s office for asking tough questions. He was then the manager of the Texas Rangers. Fifteen minutes later I was summoned back, obviously to receive an apology. No. He had heard I was a writer and pitched me a movie. Try not to be an asshole first.

And then there was the time I was in a funeral home with my father making final arrangements for my grandmother who had just passed away. At one point the mortician asked what I did. When my father said I was a writer the ghoul launched into a twenty minute movie pitch. If my dad wasn’t there no one would believe that story. But it’s true. Pick your spots.

What you need to do is first introduce yourself and try to establish a relationship. How intimate is up to you. But here’s my favorite story. Years ago I and another writer, Larry, were asked to speak at a UCLA extension class. I was a story editor on MASH at the time and he was story editor of RHODA. As we stood in front of the class lecturing, a friend overhead one young woman saying to another: “I think I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather do a RHODA”.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Random thoughts

Is there anyone the Carver on NIP/TUCK missed? Series regulars, guest stars, extras, crew members who came too close. I hope they didn’t auction off any walk-on parts for charity. When the Carver was finally revealed to be the weird doctor I felt very let down. First of all, how obvious. And secondly, I was praying it would be Joan Rivers.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is to James Bond what NIP/TUCK is to Quentin Tarentino.

Next year Sean’s daughter Annie enters the 5th grade and becomes the next Dr. Kivorkian while son Matt learns he’s really Hillary Clinton.

Bring on the SHIELD.

Why do writers have an inferiority complex? In KING KONG the heroric gifted playwright loses out to the ape.

I enjoy HOUSE even though I don’t understand half of what they’re saying. And that's without Hugh Laurie's British accent.

What hospital has glassed in patient rooms? That’s gotta be a treat using a bedpan while people walk by. The good news is you’ve got a private room. The bad news is it’s in Macy’s window.

FAMILY GUY now makes the SIMPSONS look like Willie Mays the last year he was playing for the Mets.

I can’t wait for 24.

I too have been getting coded messages from David Letterman. Whenever he says, “Paul Shaeffer, ladies and gentlemen” what he’s actually saying is “I stopped being really funny when Merrill Markoe left as my head writer”.

I love Christmas TV marathons. Gave me a chance to sip some egg nog and catch up on BEING BONADUCE. Danny is such a tortured self-destructive but bright guy I would love someday to sit down with him and ask with great compassion if Susan Dey really did fuck David Cassidy.

Big article this week in the LA TIMES Calendar section on why the movie industry is in shambles this year. Too bad that everyone it applies to or could benefit from it is out of town in either Hawaii or Aspen.

Howard Stern is a genius. He makes a $500,000,000 deal, abandons the fans that made him so popular, and they come out in the freezing rain to cheer him on his last day. And he did it without Karl Rove.

I hope Deborah Gibson wins the ICE SKATING WITH THE STARS show.

Al Sharpton now says he won’t do a sitcom. America has lost one of its great funnymen. But he is available for the next edition of ICE SKATING WITH THE STARS.

Free Lil’ Kim.

Hey, what about Danny Bonaduce as the Carver? Now that would have scared the shit out of me.

Attention waiters: WRITE IT DOWN!! You do not have to be “off book” on my order.

Unless you’re David Duchovny and you’re married to Tea Leoni, why would ANYBODY go to see FUN WITH DICK AND JANE? And even then, I bet if he just bought her some necklace from Zales he could talk his way out of it.

And finally, I’ve asked this before and I’m serious – how do they make dippindots?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hawaii 2005

Home from Hawaii where even bad news is delivered by newscasters in Aloha shirts. It was a fabulous trip with the usual Levine family foibles.

NEVER take Hawaiian Airlines. In a world a lackadaisical don’t-give-a-shit airline employees Hawaiian is the gold standard. It’s bad enough our luggage didn’t arrive with the flight. Neither did the bags for half the passengers. And this was true of EVERY Hawaiian flight. Seems they sort of put on the bags they want and hold back others. Or put bags on earlier flights and just leave them in the terminal as sort of a fun scavenger hunt. Their motto should be: “Striving to be America West”.

We went back to the Grand Wailea on Maui – picture a combination of the Bellagio and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Slide Park.

We have a “Mountain view” room and by “Mountain” they mean the Four Seasons next door. I can now tell you which Endeavor agents sleep late.

Quickly unpacked, leaving a drawer empty for all the coffee packets, soap, conditioners, shampoos, and pens we planned to steal. No sewing kits this year. Those bastards!!

Went to sleep after a long travel day only to discover our room is only two floors right above the Tsunami night club. Is it just me or should they consider a name change? I’d change rooms but where else am I going to hear pidgin hip hop…as it was meant to be heard -- through the floor?

Annie’s was very excited about the GAP Winter Sale. Needless to say there wasn’t a single heavy coat, ski sweater, or scarf they were out of at the Wailea GAP.

Second day there I saw a schmuck wearing a CAA T-shirt. It flashed me back to years ago at the Kahala Hilton when I saw someone else wearing one of those. Remember as a kid you would put a comic book inside a real book so the teacher thought you were reading something worthwhile? In this case, sitting around the pool, this CAA tool was reading a book hidden inside a SCRIPT.

Went to make massage reservations at the spa. Was told they were having a “big promotion”. If you use this brand of massage oil they were hawking that smells like cinnamon and vanilla you get a whole $5.00 off their $155 massage. You’d be an IDIOT not to take advantage of that deal!

I don’t think the University of Nevada (Reno) will be asked back to the Hawaiian Bowl anytime soon. This annual football classic held Christmas Eve at Aloha Stadium (capacity: 50,000) and televised nationally on ESPN is a great source of pride to the islands. Three days before the game here’s how many tickets the University of Nevada (Reno) has purchased: 75.

We wanted to drive around the island but knew that LOST star Michelle Rodriquez was still on the road. 108 is not just the sum total of the “numbers”, it’s her average speed.

How do they make dippindots?

Annie received a fortune that said seek professional help.

One thing I miss: dogs. There is a long quarantine for pets coming over to Hawaii. Concern for the citizens. I say let Fluffy in and keep Michelle Rodriguez locked up for six months.

My neighbor from across the street is here. It’s the only time I’ve seen her in two years.

Went to Spago’s at the Four Season with writer friends Howard & Karen. We let the kids fend for themselves. A half hour into dinner I get a call from Annie. “Hey, Dad, turn around. Look to your left.” My first thought was “what the fuck are they doing at Spago? This is going to cost me a fortune!” My second thought was “where are they?” I told Annie I didn’t see them. She said, “more to your left. We’re waving.” I still couldn’t see them. Now I’m panicking. Jesus, am I going blind? This went on for two more minutes. Finally she said, “We’re at Longhi’s, have a nice dinner”, they laughed and hung up. I love my children but they’re evil.

Saw KING KONG at the Kihei Cineplex. A sign on the door said “shirts and footwear required”. Bad enough the movie was three hours, it started fifteen minutes late. The projectionist was busy manning the concession counter. The “Aloha Spirit” is a nice way of saying “We wish you would go home”.

Went to a new restaurant called “The Place”. It was a twenty-five minute drive (four for Michelle Rodriguez). The bartender and chef are from the Four Seasons’ Spago. So are the pizza recipes. And it’s right next to the Aquarium so you know the fresh fish is FRESH.

Cabana prices have gone up to $200 a day. The most expensive shade in Hawaii. And you can make reservations a year in advance. For only $100 you can reserve cloud cover.

My wife and daughter decided to skip the bike ride to the bottom of the volcano. Instead they went to Costco.

Hard to swim laps in the “adult pool” when there are people standing in the middle of it reading paperbacks. At least they weren’t reading scripts.

Preferred reading material this year: Debby’s shirt. She has a T-shirt filled with stupid quotes our buffoon of a President actually said. Some favorites:

“People say: ‘How can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil?’ You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in’s house and say – ‘I love you’.

“Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispheric because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods.”

“We ought to make the pie higher”.

“History?…we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

“One of the great things about books is that sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.”

“I’m the master of low expectations”.

And finally….”They misunderestimated me”.

A tourist was bitten by a shark 200 yards from our beach. So all beaches along the immediate coast were closed for a day…except the one that fronts the Four Seasons. Guess they figured with all the Hollywood agents there no shark would ever attack – professional courtesy.

Got in an elevator as a woman was pushing the button. She wore a baseball cap with an “L” on it. I asked what the L stood for and she said “lobby”. Do I really look THAT stupid??

The Aloha Spirit continues: at every Hawaiian airport in addition to the usual TSA inspections (take off your shoes, belt, pull out your computer, remove your pacemaker) they also feature two additional agriculture inspections (one for check-in luggage and one more at the gate for carry on). God forbid a papaya gets into the United States. The terrorists win.

And yes, we saw Santa Claus this year. This time in a golf cart tooling around the Maui airport tarmac. So that’s where he gets all his toys and goodies – from all the Hawaiian Airlines luggage that never arrives to you.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Attention Academy Members

Back home in LA. My Hawaiian travelogue to follow very soon.

Meanwhile, it’s GREAT to be in LA this time of year. It’s empty. And if you’re a member of one of the industry guilds or academies you get into movies free. Any movie that hopes to have even a ghost of a chance of getting a nomination participates. Which means every current release except FUN WITH DICK AND JANE.

A few years ago there was an indie film I wanted to see and I had a day off. It was a Wednesday. I checked the paper and saw the only place that had a matinee was the Peppertree Theatre, way the hell up in Van Nuys or Granada Hills somewhere. Having nothing better to do I drove out there. Must’ve taken an hour. The Peppertree was an old Cineplex in a dingy shopping center that time had long since passed by. It's centerpiece might've once been a Montgomery Wards.

I went up to the girl at the boxoffice, told her the movie I wanted to see and handed her my WGA card.

She looked at it and said, “What’s this?” She must’ve been 17 at the most. I explained the deal. This movie was free to WGA members. She knew nothing about it. I said, check with your manager. He wasn’t there yet. I said, check the LA TIMES, under the ad you’ll see a notice listing qualified guilds. She didn’t have a paper. I said there should be a sign-in sheet around. Is there any way to contact the manager? I’m entitled to free admission!

She looked at me with a pained expression and said, “But tickets are only a dollar”.

If there was ever a country of schmucks I would be their king.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

From all of me to all of you

Merry Christmas!!!

Happy Chanukah!!!

Since Christmas Day is traditionally a time of reruns I invite you to enjoy past posts.

Seasons greetings everyone!!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

How about this for your spec?

I just had a thought. A possible way for your spec script to stand out. Do a Christmas episode. In the ten million specs I’ve read over the years I can’t recall a single one that’s holiday themed. And fortunately, since only nine people read this blog, you won’t have to worry about a sudden glut of Christmas specs. It’ll just be you and one other guy and he’s in Australia.

The trick of course is to find a fresh twist on the subject – not an easy task by any means. As a show runner I always dreaded the Christmas episode. What could we do that hasn’t been done so many times the FATHER KNOWS BEST writers were tired of it? The Scrooge rip-off. Wonderful Life rip off. Forgot to get a present. Gift exchanges going awry. Can’t get home for Christmas. Family staying with you for Christmas. Volunteered to help at the homeless shelter but got invited to a swank party. Is that old guy with a beard who urinates on your lawn really Santa Claus? Christmas miracles. Christmas lessons. You know the drill.

But if you can somehow find a variation, your spec might really stand out, and who knows? Show runners may just want to buy it for the story alone.

Anyway, it’s a thought. Along with….

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas in Palm Springs

Aloha. It’s travelogue Friday, sharing some of the goofy travelogues I’ve emailed to friends over the years. At the moment I’m in Hawaii composing a new travelogue you’ll receive next week. But here’s where we were last year. Cast of characters: Debby (wife), Matt (22 year old son), Annie (18 year old daughter). You’ll get to know them.

The Levines decided on a mere abbreviated trip this holiday season. A long weekend in Palm Springs. Turns out it was just like Hawaii. All those beautiful sandy beaches…but a much farther walk to the ocean.

We drove down on Christmas Eve. It was my first time on the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway. Oddly, it was not tree lined.

Passed the new Morongo casino. Matt found it amusing that a casino would have “moron” in its name.

I don’t get the desert. It’s all “Gary Gilmore” country to me. The two big things to do in Palm Springs are play golf or have Sinatra get you laid. So now there’s only one thing.

Easy to tell the locals -- the men wear red polyester pants with white belts and the women dye their hair the color of Huckleberry Hound.

We stayed at a small resort called 7 Springs. We made the reservations on the ORBITZ website. No wonder we got such a good deal. The hotel knew nothing of our reservations. Even with a confirmation number. That number it seems, simply confirms that they have successfully cashed your deposit. Fortunately the hotel had accommodations that would be available in three hours. I asked why so late? The Christmas Party. Housekeeping is shut down until gift exchange. The 7 Springs is a far cry from the 4 Seasons.

And we learned (only upon arrival) that they take pets. And not just little pets either. BIG angry pets. Pets that are not used to being cooped up in hotel rooms. Pets that don’t like the idea of my wife using the pool. Who needs the playful dolphins at the Kahala when you can have surly pit pulls at the 7 Springs?

Matt suggested all guests be issued a tranquilizer gun at check-in.

And as luck would have it we were the only guests that did not bring a pet. You know you’re in trouble when one of the room amenities is a pooper scooper.

Since we had three hours to kill while housekeeping played “Silent Santa” we took a stroll down the main drag, Palm Canyon Blvd. This is the Waikiki of Palm Springs. T-shirt shops, tank shirt shops, wife beater shirt shops. Like Hollywood Blvd they have their “walk of fame” with stars in the sidewalk honoring various Palm Springs celebrities. Stars included Liberace (of course), Sandler & Young, Elke Sommer, Rich Little, Kate Ballard, Victoria Principal, Nancy Sinatra (the only female star who didn’t sleep with Sinatra), “Iron Eyes” Cody, cowboy rope trickster Montie Montana (who once performed at my elementary school), and Cheeta “the Chimp” (no foolin’) listed as star of stage, film, TV. Appropriately, his star was right next to Chevy Chase’s. For those who don’t remember, Cheeta was Tarzan’s sidekick in many films and had a brief affair with Maureen O’Sullivan. One star they featured that does not have a corresponding one on Hollywood Blvd is “Borko B. Djordjevic, M.D.—Plastic Surgeon/Humanitarian”. Annie quipped: “Boy, people must’ve been really ugly to have made him a humanitarian.”

Like Sinatra, Bob Hope, and President Eisenhower Cheeta had a compound out here. Actually he’s still there. At 71, Cheeta is the oldest living chimp in captivity. I bet he looks great in red pants with a white belt and still pines for Maureen O’Sullivan.

There are fifteen Thai restaurants on Palm Canyon Dr. Why??? Considering the mean age of the local population is 106 I can’t imagine there’s that much demand.

On the other hand, the local “Follies” show does make sense. It’s a big review of music from the 30’s and 40’s performed by people who are 57-87. Matt was a little creeped out by their poster that labeled the show “sexy”. Appearing with the Follies until New Years Eve is Buddy Greco. If Bobby Darin had lived I’m sure that would’ve been his gig. We’ll know next year if Kevin Spacey is the headliner. We didn’t go only because it was dark for the Christmas weekend.

In Hawaii a big problem is always trying to find a restaurant open on Christmas Eve. No such worries in Palm Springs. I guess because they get JEWS here, but we had no problem getting into the LG Steakhouse on Palm Canyon, conveniently located near the “Crazy Shirt” emporium. On Christmas night we hit the “Great Wall” Chinese restaurant and saw the same Jews we saw the night before at the LG Steakhouse and earlier that day at Sherman’s Deli.

Surprisingly, Sherman’s is quite good. It has to be judging by the autographed celebrity pictures proudly displayed. Kay Ballard, Keely Smith, and Sandler & Young. I guess Cheeta was less enamored with his meal.

We put our “Do Not Bark” sign out and went to sleep. The beds were quite comfy. It was a relief that 7 Springs did not refer to the mattress.

Going through the local paper I noticed there were more ads for dermatologists than “after Christmas sales”.

I’m sure if we were at a larger resort we could’ve seen Santa ride in on a moped.

Or gotten maid service. No maid service at the 7 Springs on Christmas. And their complimentary “continental” breakfast consisted of packaged vending machine pastries and kibble.

There is a Trump 29 casino nearby. Who knew Donald Trump was an Indian?

Jacuzzi capacity at the 7 Springs: 8 people, 6 pets.

I wonder if Sinatra ever got Cheeta laid.

The Art Museum featured selections from the William Holden collection. Probably whiskey bottles from around the world.

The first two days were clear and cold (but a “dry” cold).

On Sunday Debby and Annie invaded the outlets at Cabazon (a stunt they wouldn’t even subject contestants to on “Fear Factor”). Matt and I checked out the Spa Casino. It made me long for the now defunct Debbie Reynolds hotel and casino in Laughlin, Nevada. (I always imagined Debbie getting an urgent page, “Come quick, Ms. Reynolds, the toilet in 604 is overflowing”.) A Palm Springs casino means 90% slot machines, maybe fifteen gaming tables, no craps, no sportsbook, video roulette, and aisles wide enough for walkers. But no pets!

In a pathetic attempt to recreate Hawaii we went to dinner at Roy’s in Rancho Mirage. Rancho Mirage is much classier than Palm Springs. As you drive there on Highway 111 the car dealerships get more upscale.

All foibles aside, it was great for the family to get together as one even for a few days. (Damn these kids for having their own lives!) Next year Hawaii or the Debbie Reynolds hotel in Laughlin, it really doesn’t matter.

Ken Levine

A touching Christmas story

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Getting your spec read

Now that you’ve finished your bulletproof spec, how do you get someone to read it? Not easy. But here are some suggestions (while you’re also writing your next spec which will be even more bulletproof):

Be resourceful not obnoxious.

The WGA has a list of agencies. Some will read new material. Get this list and send your script to EVERY agency that remotely is willing to read it.

Managers are “in” these days too. Not sure if there’s a list of reputable ones but contact any manager that will read your script without asking you to take off your clothes.

Beyond that, it’s luck and networking. If you have a friend of a friend whose second cousin is a proctologist who once removed a story editor’s hemorrhoid, contact him and send him a pillow.

Learn who the story editors, staff writers, and producers are of each show. Write letters to a few, schmoozing. Look up their credits on imdb. Ignore if it says they were Location Manager on DANTE’S PEAK. Lower level writers tend not to receive many fan letters. Establish relationships.

Utilize college connections. Make up college connections. The same applies for summer camp, fraternities, sororities, military service, prison terms.

I wish I had the time to read your scripts myself but unfortunately I don’t. Sorry about that.

It helps if you’re in LA. Get tickets to see filmings of multi-camera shows. The writing staff is always on the floor and always introduced. Go to the rail and introduce yourself. Again, it helps to do your homework on just who these writers are. And don’t bother them when Debra Messing is having a meltdown.

Be persistent not an noodge.

If you can become a P.A. for a show, that’s great. A writers assistant – even better. Anything to get your foot in the door.

Take UCLA or USC extension classes. The teachers are all pros. One of them might be your way in. Working writers guest lecture. Find out who and when and where and be there.

Be dogged not insufferable.

Go to Westside gyms. Agents are low hanging fruit in those places.

Always keep a copy of your script in your car. You never know when you’re going to meet somebody who can help you.

And finally, there’s the obvious but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s like the old joke: Did you hear about the Polish actress who tried to get ahead by fucking writers?

Here’s how David and I were discovered. My mother played golf one day with a story editor of the JEFFERSONS. She told him her son was a writer and he graciously said have him contact me and send a script. I did, he responded to it, invited us in to pitch, we sold a story, and the rest, as they say, is profit.

No two writers I know broke in the same way, but they all wrote specs and they all somehow got them read. Best of luck to you...and your mom.

Monday, December 19, 2005

King Long

Saw KING KONG last night. On television it will be called SURVIVOR: SKULL ISLAND.

Warning: plot points you already know from the original are revealed.

I was so geeked to see it based on the trailer, reviews, and guarantee that Celine Dion did not sing the title song.

What movie did the reviewers see? It was at least an hour too long. The first hour. Wait for the DVD, skip to “they arrive” and start there, keeping your finger on the ff button at all times. Trust me, by the giant insects you’ll be pressing it as if it were a morphine drip.

We were told this was Peter Jackson’s homage to movies. We weren’t told it was his homage to all of them.

Some of the special effects were excellent. Others looked like PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.

The gorilla had more expressions than Jack Black.

Naomi Watts was good in a very thankless role. A beautiful blonde always in peril, tossed around like a rag doll for two hours – it was like O.J.’s ultimate masturbatory dream.

Great dialogue: “It was beauty that killed the beast”.

The big finale sequence takes place in New York on a snowy night. Kong is on Broadway. Ethel Merman will doubtless step in when the show goes on tour. Kong breaks free, kills many theatre goers (since it was opening night we can only hope he whacked a few critics), and storms out into Times Square. Naomi Watts appears, fortifying herself against the bitter cold with a sheer white gown and heels. Okay, I buy that because in moments she’s wrapped in the world’s biggest fur. From there it’s on to the Empire State building where fortunately Tom Hanks is not rendezvousing with Meg Ryan. The planes come, he dies, and you think “three fucking hours for THIS??” At least let him fight Godzilla or Rocky Balboa.

Wait for cable. Or ipod.

And please, I pray that Ang Lee’s favorite movie growing up wasn’t MIGHT JOE YOUNG.

My tele-PLAY

Aloha again. If you send me email I always try to respond. However, here in Hawaii I'm having a devil of a time reaching anyone on AOL. Doesn't the "A" stand for America? Anyway, I'll get to you. Promise.

After having gone to New York three times to get shows either on the air or renewed during the Upfronts process I thought “this is INSANITY and there’s a play in this”. So I wrote UPFRONTS AND PERSONAL. It follows one studio’s attempt to get two shows on a network’s fall schedule. I had a reading of the play last summer in LA with Jason Alexander, Wendie Malick, Ed Asner, Kurtwood Smith, Jennifer Tilly, Patrick Breen, and Matt Letscher and it went very well. I’m currently looking for backers (hint hint). Thought you might enjoy a preview and glimpse of what that process is really like.

The set up: A hotel suite a studio is using as its war room. Very early in the play. Donald is the studio president (Ed Asner), Andy his officious veep (Patrick Breen). Matthew has just arrived (Matt Letscher). He’s the young wide-eyed neophyte writer. Later Gary and Beth will enter. (Jason Alexander & Wendie Malick). They’ve been through the wars.

Hey, let me ask you -- why do they call this process the "Up Fronts"?

The networks announce their new Fall schedules then the advertisers buy commercial time "up front". Spending billions on nothing more that blind faith. It's like if you put an Off-track betting window in a mental institution.

Well, I appreciate your letting me do this.

Hey, you made a helluva pilot. You should be here to defend it. Take a fruit basket. Take four of 'em.

(crossing to the window)
So...let's check out the view.
(he sees it, disappointed)

We usually have a higher suite but apparently Queen Latifa is in town and she has dogs, and the dogs need to see the sky for some reason we haven't been told so...well, here we are.

Feel free to take a dump on the carpet. Fuck 'em.

Well, there's always the Empire State Building.

First time in New York?

Are you kidding? Never been out of So-Cal. This is totally unreal. Three years ago I'm working at Kinkos writing scripts at night. And now here I am with my own TV show.

(DONALD takes a big gulp of HIS drink. There's a KNOCK at the door. As ANDY crosses to answer:)

Come on. It's refreshing. You know what happens to writers after a couple of years.

(ANDY opens the door. GARY NOGLE and BETH HELLER enter. Both are in their 40's. GARY is wiry, always a little revved. BETH is taller than GARY, attractive, bright, and seemingly very much in command. GARY is schlepping a large heavy garment bag.)

I mean it, Beth. I can't do this anymore. I walked by that idiot in front of the hotel, y'know, the one wearing the big Beefeaters costume and I thought to myself: "Oh my God, I envy that man. I wish I had his job." A Beefeater, Beth! With the hat, and the stick, and the little tights, and...that's when you know it's time to get out.

So why did you come?

Why do you think? I had to. If we're going to get our damn show renewed they've got to see I'm committed to the fucking thing one hundred percent.

That's what you want -- Talented and trapped.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

You're only as good as your worst credit

Hello from Hawaii.

According to I was the location manager on DANTE’S PEAK. This is news to me. I didn’t even see DANTE’S PEAK. Yet imdb has it listed and my agent is still pressing me for his commission. Nor was I the Environmental Production Advisor on FLIPPER although I was brought in to punch up his dialogue, and I was not the Location Manager on JURASSIC PARK even though I still write off Hawaiian trips and use Spielberg as a reference. I don’t know where imdb gets this information (I suspect my mother) but I’ve tried several times to get them to correct it but they won’t. So now when I get calls from other Location Managers (which I do) I just recommend our backyard for whatever they need. I’ve made a tidy sum on production rentals.

Worse are some credits they list that ARE true. How many directing assignments have I missed out on because potential employers saw I did multiple episodes of ASK HARRIET? Someone once said you’re only as good as your worst credit. We have shared credit on MANNEQUIN 2 for godsakes!

And then there are the credits imdb omitted that I am proud of. David and I created and produced a show on CBS in ’93 called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin. (Cancelled because they had to make room for the Faye Dunaway comedy and the Peter Scolari comedy. No, I’m not bitter). We wrote on the TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, the TORTELLIS (okay, they were kind to skip that one), and we wrote and “guest starred” in an episode of OPEN ALL NIGHT. Notable because after that we never “guest starred” again.

OPEN ALL NIGHT was created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (who did the BOB NEWHART SHOW and BUFFALO BILL). They asked us to write an episode. We saw that Jay was also going to be one of the series regulars so we asked if we could be in the show. They said, “Sure, what do we care?” So we wrote ourselves two fabulous parts. We were Sean & Evan, two swinging lawyers trying to pick up female mud wrestlers at a mace class. Tom & Jay didn’t change a word of our dialogue. All they did was add one little sentence in the stage direction:


For the entire week of production we were getting thrown around all over the stage. Landing on our backs, landing on our heads. We were black and blue with multiple concussions. I still have a bruise. Finally, after the dress rehearsal just before the filming, Jay came to us and said, “Uh listen boys, we’re going to cut the stunt”.

Not only do I want to see that credit on imdb, I want it listed first.

Tomorrow: my play about television with an excerpt. Aloha.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Your chances of becoming a writer

Whenever I teach a writing class I always start by saying "there are (let's say) thirty in the class. Two of you will make it." If you hear that and go "Jesus, those are terrible odds. How am I gonna compete with that?" you're dead. However, if you say "Hmmm? Me and who else?" then read on. You've got a chance. And here's the good news: Those odds just went from 15-1 to 3-1.

You have to believe in yourself first if you ever expect anyone else to.

More good news: If you are good you will be recognized. It may take some time but it will happen. Remember, readers WANT to like your script. They're BEGGING to like your script. But the key is to stick with it. Don't rely on one spec. Often times I'll meet young writers who will say "I wrote a great FRIENDS four years ago and can't get an agent." L-O-S-E-R-S. It might take five specs, it might take ten. But all you need is one person somewhere who sparks to your material. And once you're in you're in.

In future posts I'll be giving tips on what I look for in a spec. In the meantime, start writing. You're already beating the odds.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Aloha Oy

It's become a tradition -- now in its second week -- Friday travelogues...reliving the travel adventures of the Levines which up until now have been reserved for my emailing list and my delusional hope of becoming a book. Since we're heading to Hawaii today I thought I'd share a past Hawaiian vacation from a couple of years ago.

Note one: Internet access providing I will continue to post. And note two: cast of characters -- Debby (wife), Matt (early 20's), and Annie (late teens). Mahalo for reading.

Aloha and howzit?

After a year's interruption (to rid ourselves of mold and my life savings) the Levines returned again to Hawaii. This year to the Grand Wailea on Maui. Picture Heart's Castle with water slides and a grotto bar. As usual it was glorious. NFL games start at 8 in the morning over there!!!

Paris and Nicky Hilton were staying at our hotel. I guess among the many amenities the Grand Wailea offers is a meth lab. (Sure an improvement over Fiona Apple at the Kahala. We got the better anoerexics.) The Four Seasons next door usually has the big Hollywood crowd. Maybe they didn't want Paris. After all, she did make that infamous sex tape...and worse, she has a show on Fox.

Our room was 6091 which was easy to remember because every time we went down for a couple of smoothies the bill was $60.91.

Their signature restaurant is Humahumanukunukuapua's (actual name). But people call is Humahumanhukunu's for short. Lobster was $59 a pound (again, this is true). They should change the name to Hubrishubrishubrishubrischutzpah.

I forgot to ask Paris how much Maui Wowie was these days.

Cabanas were $125 a day and there was a waiting list. But for that money they brought around free fruit and water so it was a bargain. We opted for cosabellas which are lounge chairs with a hood. $40 and a half hour wait in line to sign up. There's a rumor that at the Four Seasons the lines start forming at 4:30 a.m. All the nannies and assistants have to really get up early over there.

Nothing more relaxing than turning on the TV and seeing there's a heightened Terror Alert. Yeah, like who would ever want to attack Hawaii?

One of the many great things about this paradise -- you never hear Paul McCartney's inane "Having a Wonderful Christmas" on the radio. Instead they play Paul Anka's "Christmas in Japan".

Although McCartney was represented. At the art gallery in the next door high end fashion mall a big sign boasts an exhibition of paintings from Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett...and then in much smaller letters, Picasso.

Monday morning Santa Claus arrived on a long canoe bearing candy canes for the kids. He was clad only in a traditional cap and red skirt. The children were confused. Not like any Santa they had ever seen. What I didn't realize until that day was how many tattoos Santa had. Or how scary his heavily-tattooed Samoan elf was. You shouldn't be thinking about the Terror Alert when Santa arrives on shore.

We spent a lot of time with Jeff Nelson and his family. Jeff is a pitcher for the New York Yankees and we were together in Seattle in the early 90's. He's a rarity. A multi-million dollar ballplayer who actually spends time with his family. Four young daughters and no nannies, no baby-sitters -- just him and his wife Colette.

Contrast this with Eric Chavez. The Oakland A player who was also at our digs. Supposedly, his agent, Scott Boros, who was in the middle of trying to make the big Alex Rodriguez blockbuster trade to Boston had to take time out to call the Grand Wailea and request a cabana for Eric. To the hotel's credit they said no. (To the Red Sox credit they said no, too.)

My son goes to Tufts and has become a big Red Sox fan. Proudly wearing his Red Sox cap. However, when Jeff arrived Matt was reluctant to wear it -- Jeff's pending assault charges in Boston and all. So he ran out to the Gap and got a $4 hat that said "Est. 1969". I told him if anyone should ask what "Est. 1969" meant just say that was the year "Tiny Bubbles" was adopted as the official state song of Hawaii.

Truth is, Jeff could care less. Seriously, he's the sweetest guy in the world (I'm happy to be a character witness) and by Thursday Matt was back to wearing his beloved Red Sox cap. Even took pictures with Jeff while wearing it.

I wanted a picture with me and Paris Hilton where she was wearing nothing but that hat.

Her bodyguard was spotted at the pool Wednesday getting a pedicure. Even during this high Terror Alert.

Spotted on Christmas Eve day, a woman wearing a T-shirt that read in a Hebrew font: Kiss My Tuchas. Gee, why do they hate us??

It amazes me how many women put on make up to go to the beach. And Botox is very "in" this year. But it is keeping with the Hawaiian spirit since they all look like Jack Lord.

We brought our menorah and lit Chanukah candles. I guess we weren't alone because when I went down to the bar to get matches the waitress said, "Gee, you're like the ninth person to ask for these. Is there a bonfire somewhere?" I said no, it was a fireworks convention. In Hawaii they buy that answer.

The pace on the islands remains blissfully slow. There's a little church on the grounds of the hotel and every morning its chapel bells would ring at 8:10.

Yes, I went down a water slide. Matt took a picture. You will never see it.

This being the busiest season of the year there were lines everywhere...except at the health club. Had no problem getting a treadmaster, no problem finding empty weight machines. The guy selling ice cream dots was mobbed.

Why is it the fatter the person the louder the Hawaiian shirt? Or the bigger the implants the louder the hair dye?

Book of choice at the Grand Wailea was "the Da Vinci Code". At the Four Seasons it was the biography of Lew Wasserman.

They sell jewelry down at the pool. Women with their guts hanging over their bikini bottoms trying on pearls. I have no idea whether they like the stuff or not. Because of the Botox they can't make an expression.

Went twice to Roy's restaurant. Best food on the island and never disappoints. And the view? Spectacular. Roy's is in the parking lot of a shopping center. You know you're in Hawaii when you see the crimson sun set behind the Safeway and the Crazy Shirt Emporium.

Commercial seen during Hawaiian newscast: a new retirement village featuring golf, recreation, pools, and year round Florida.

A Levine Christmas day tradition is to go to a movie. So we ventured into Kihae. First was dinner at Tony Romas where we were the only table to not order a five-pound onion loaf. Then to the cineplex to see "Paycheck". It's McGyver meets Memento. The Hawaiians who sat behind Annie and Matt were completely baffled. Bad enough there was the concept of time travel, they were just thrown because everyone in the movie was wearing long pants.

How Hollywood is Maui these days? There are academy screenings at the Castle Theatre. (No joke) Just show your DGA, WGA, or academy cards at the door.

Matt just turned 21 and loves being carded since he's now legal. There's a swim-up Grotto Bar and he wondered if he'd be carded there (and if so just where do they think he'd keep ID). So as an experiment he and Annie swam up to it, he ordered a White Russian and was served no problem. Annie ordered an Oreo smoothie and the bartender asked "You want any booze in that?" Annie is 17.

Debby had a hot rock massage. That's where the masseuse puts hot relaxing rocks on your back then sits off to the side silently chuckling and reading magazines.

But all in all another spectacular trip. The weather was perfect. And we got out just in time. Beginning today they're predicting four days of torrential downpours. I guess it's God saying to that woman "Kiss MY tuchas!"

Happy holidays and I leave you with this:

A' ohe 'ai pani 'ia o ka 'amo.
(no particular food blocks the anus).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And the winner is...

Congratulations to all my colleagues nominated for Writers Guild Awards. Note to nominees: wear a tuxedo. David Isaacs and I were nominated several times, rented tuxedos and lost. We always noticed there were a few people in dark suits and felt even more like schmucks. So one year when we knew we’d lose we just went the dark suit route. And of course we won. We sheepishly walked up to the podium and David said, “Sorry, we dressed for nomination only”.

Later we took pictures with our presenter, Jimmy Smits. Click click and he was gone. A few minutes later the photographer wanted to take a few more shots. They said Smits had left so the photographer said, “Okay, then never mind.” Jesus, writers get no respect even at the Writers Guild awards.

To put “winning” in perspective, let me share with you what it was like to win an Emmy. The envelope is ripped open, your name is read, you can’t believe it, and you race up to the stage. You stand at the podium.

What’s going through your mind at a monumental moment like this? For me, honestly, I thought of all the assholes I went through basic training with in the army who thought I was such a fuck up. I was hoping they were watching and having heart attacks from shock. I was also aware that everyone in the audience was glaring at me. I saw the red light of the camera, knew that yes, this was my one big moment on national television. But I also knew that if I didn’t get the hell off quick – I mean REAL quick -- millions of people I didn’t know were going to hate my guts.

So I rushed through my prepared speech, thanked my wife, son, and I think Drill Sgt. Miller then was led off.

Backstage, we took photos with your presenters. In our case, Arthur & Kathryn Murray. Who knew they were even still alive? Then we were led from one interview room to the next. National TV, national radio, local press, national press, foreign press, magazines, food product surveys, I dunno. Light bulbs flashing. Questions coming from all sides. Microphones shoved in my face. And after a few minutes we’re ushered into the next room because the next winners are breathing down our necks. We were in a daze. We just went where they told us. Finally we were told to go through “that door”. We did. It closed and locked behind us.

And we found ourselves outside. In the alley. Next to the garbage dump, surrounded by buzzing flies. In our tuxedos, holding our shiny new Emmys. What the fuck?! We banged on the door to get back in. Nothing. We walked along the side of the building, trying other doors. All closed. I thought of maybe using the Emmy to jimmy one of the locks. No dice. It took us fifteen minutes to finally get back into the hall.

Which more than matched the fifteen minutes of fame.

So again, congratulations to the nominees. Wear tuxedos and know your exit strategy.

The Best of the Golden Globes

Oh boy!! The Golden Globes have been announced. Each year for my friends I review the major award shows and the Golden Globes (except last year when I slept through them). So in honor of the nominations I thought I’d take you back to happier times – the 2004 Golden Globes, when Dick Clark was still producing and enjoying the relaxing music of KOST. Before housewives and cowboys were desperate. Before Ziyi Zhang became a star and household name.

It's the lid lifter to the 2004 Awards season, beginning with the show where the awards can be bought -- the Golden Globes. Winners are selected by the "foreign Press" meaning your busboys at Jerry's Deli. To put the Golden Globes in perspective, Pia Zadora won one. Jaimie Lee Curtiss once threw a big brunch at her house for the "Foreign Press" and copped a best actress award.

Sir Laurence Olivier at one time won a Golden Globe which literally broke in his hand during his acceptance speech.

And they are presented at a hotel owned by Merv Griffin and televised tape delayed to Hollywood with Dick Clark as producer. All meals are prepared on a George Foreman grill.

The big incentive for stars to attend is that they do provide dinner. And they can thank the busboys for voting for them.

The big attraction for the audience is that both movies and television are represented. And Charlie Sheen doesn't host (like the People's Choice Awards which is the Golden Globes with Jamie Cromwell as the biggest movie star)

Three weeks ago I was in that same ballroom to attend a gala dinner honoring the Chairman of Fox Television. Two days later he was fired. It's clearly where Hollywood goes to express its sincere gratitude.

Where else can you see Clint Eastwood and the Queer Eye guys considered peers?

Always glad to see Barbra Streisand...when she doesn't have to talk. And I loved her sheepskin gown. Last worn by Sonny Bono in 1965. Notice how they showed Babs on camera fifty times and her husband (a nominee) maybe twice?

Great that Anthony LaPaglia won...on NBC. This is the same network that refused to approve him for the co-starring role in the short-lived comedy, KRISTIN. Judging by the shot of his wife falling out of her dress, he already has two golden globes.

When Francis Conroy is not the most obscure actor to win an award you know you're in trouble.

Other than Rene Zellweger, none of the other Best Supporting Actresses were in movies that played anywhere other than the Laemelle. What a surprise that she won. The FP loves her. She eats out a lot.

When Rene Zellweger actually thanks the guy who makes sure she doesn't lose anything in her purse then you know these people are taking themselves just a tad too seriously.

I was happy THE OFFICE won. So what if 99% of the audience has never heard of it? Just from the ten second clip they deserved to beat the other nominees. WILL & GRACE put its best foot forward with a vagina joke. And ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT made fun of hispanic housekeepers. Considering that's the Foreign Press it's no wonder they lost.

Do seat fillers get to eat the meals of the people they’re substituting for?

Jessica Lange's hair looked like a Monet haystack.

The theme this year was "lessons". Every actor learned a "lesson" from either their director or family or guy who made sure they didn't lose anything in their purse.

Sarah Jessica Parker looked like she was wearing the Liberty Bell. Best Actress in a Comedy? What a list of Lucys. Debra Messing. Bonnie Hunt. Some girl from MONK. Alicia Silverstone. Sarah beat out the best.

I'm sorry Diane Lane lost. Stop blaming her for JUDGE DREDD.

How many times did you scream "Get Off!!!" during actors' acceptance speeches? I stopped counting at ten.

Diane Keaton actually prepared that hideous, rambling, incoherent speech of hers. We get it. You're old.

Best speech -- no wait, ONLY good speech: Bill Murray's.

Glad “24” won. Quite a few people from the show got up to accept. One was a mole. But whom???

Quick: name the winner of the Best Actor in a Television Comedy. Hint: He stars in THE OFFICE. Another hint: Ricky Gervais. Any ideas?

You can't say Eric McCormack was robbed. I forget whether he delivered the vagina joke or it was one of the other over-actors.

Jaimie Lee Curtiss should have hosted a brunch this year. But it's an honor just to be nominated.

Pacino is starting to look like Frank Zappa. And sound like him. What the hell was his speech about? Even he got lost. I was impressed however, that he acknowledged his twins and actually knew their names.

The gowns were by and large simple and elegant. I have one suggestion for Rene Zellweger: sleeves!!

When you watched the Michael Douglas tribute montage didn't you say "God, he's gotten old?" Highlight of the night for me was seeing Karl Malden. I'm happy Michael received that award because as part of his pre nup with Catherine Zeta-Jones if he didn't win the Cecil B. DeMille Award she was entitled to another million dollars of his money when they split.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY did so well I say it's time for a sequel.

Peter Jackson, its director, forgot to thank the talking tree.

Can you imagine if Sofia Coppola had beaten out Peter Weir, Peter Jackson, and Clint Eastwood? Notice how Jackson acknowledged all of his fellow nominees except Coppola? So Coppola and the talking tree both got dissed.

Nicole Kidman looked like Dorothy Provine in THE ROARING 20's. I'm only sorry that Tom Cruise didn't win because I would love to have seen her have to present the award to him.

Afghanistan wins but SIX FEET UNDER loses again.

All five Best Actress nominees were blondes. The foreign press loves that exotic American look.

Charlize Theron won for a great performance. Who knew she could play ugly?

Melanie Griffith has crossed into middle age. Oh...and get a babysitter next year, Mel.

For the eleventh straight awards show Jim Carrey wasn't funny. And for the eleventh straight awards show he thought he killed.

LOST IN TRANSLATION -- Best COMEDY??? Good movie but excuse me, aren't comedies supposed to be funny? I guess when you work the back sink at Jerry's nothing is funny. bring on the real award shows – like SAG and the Patsys!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Jack is Back

Loved the comment by Mik wondering if anybody ever wrote a spec “24”. I can just see the rejection letter:

Thank you for your script “5:00 – 6:00 P.M.” Unfortunately it does not fit our needs. There were a number of choices you made that suggest you’re not really familiar with our show. On page 12 you have Jack eating. No one ever eats. You also refer to take-out cartons strewn all over CTU. For future reference, only agents and approved personnel are given security clearance to CTU, not Domino Pizza boys. We pride ourselves on reality. On page 16 you have Jack saying he needs to use the bathroom. Why not a manicure? We have no time for such frivolous activities.

Pay careful attention to the clock. You have Tony driving out to Simi Valley from headquarters downtown in 52 minutes. Everyone knows, at that hour of the day, it only takes 10 minutes, 13 if there’s heavy traffic.

Not once in your script did you have anyone say, “Just let me do my job!” I almost didn’t recognize it as a “24”.

When Jack calls Michelle and says, “Get me those coordinates now or 10,000,000 people will die!” you don’t need Michelle answering, “I know. I’m not a fucking moron. You told me that three times already!”

When the CTU staff learns that Jack’s daughter Kim has been kidnapped you have them all cheering. I don’t think they would do that. They would merely smile knowingly to each other.

And finally, I didn’t find your jeopardy –- Jack trying to prevent Hurricane Katrina -- plausible. Better to stick with crazed foreigners who bought nuclear weapons on ebay and plan to blow up the world because they couldn’t get a parking space at the Grove. Always think realism!

Thank you again for your submission. Although it is wildly uneven and stretches credibility far beyond what any audience would accept I am forwarding it to PRISON BREAK.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Do not try this at home!

I have read some bad specs in my time and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read.

Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a WINGS spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap.

Don’t put yourself into the show and make yourself the lead character. I once read a CHEERS where Alan had more lines than Sam & Diane combined. Alan? Who’s Alan? Alan was one of the extras. And so he remained.

And just because people tell you you look like Debra Messing doesn’t mean you should write a WILL & GRACE entitled “Grace’s Sister”. If I get a script with a photo attached I know I’m in trouble.

Don’t hand write your script, no matter how good your penmanship. Send your spec in a UCLA blue book and you’ll get an F.

Don’t invent a format.

Know the characters. I read a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where Mary wondered what to get her husband for his birthday. Her “husband”???!

Keep in mind the production parameters. A MASH I once read featured this:


Hawkeye is on the mound during the World Series. 60,000 people cheer.

Huh????? Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Peter Jackson or James Cameron make this? And if the answer is no, especially for a multi-camera show that takes place in a living room, then don’t do it.

Similarly, avoid dream sequences. The GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW is not looking for the next Fellini.

Don’t hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a BECKER where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.

Don’t change the characters’ reality to fit your story. Ray Barone is not Jewish. THAT’S why he can’t have a bar mitzvah.

I was going to recommend you don’t do like one aspiring writer and make a joke in a CHEERS about Diane’s pussy because it’s crude, offensive, and inappropriate, but I saw the same joke two weeks ago on STACKED.

Still, I’d like to think there is some line of decorum and taste left. I once read a NEWSRADIO where the story was the Dave Foley character comes into his office in the morning and discovers a semen stain on his couch. Then the episode went downhill.

Don’t marry off any of the main characters.

Don’t kill off any of the main characters.

Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs.

Don’t do the “supersize” hour episode.

The last sentence in your script should not be “To Be Continued”.

Don’t include a cover letter telling the producer that you sent him a copy of the script months ago and that he was shirking his responsibility by not reading it. Our agent did this once and trust me, David Lloyd was not amused.

And finally, avoid this ploy: I once received a spec MASH with a note that read “This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.” He received a touching rejection sympathy card.

Just remember this, when producers read your script they want to like it. They want to discover the next Larry Gelbart. It only helps them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid like relying on Jimmy Carter to get your laughs.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Spec is Earl

I’m often asked “what’s the best spec script to submit?” I can only speak for comedies. For dramas I say cover all your bases and do a CSI: DEADWOOD. There is no hard and fast rule but I, and most sitcom producers I know, prefer scripts of existing shows over pilots. We want to see how well you can write other people’s characters and fit into other people’s styles. That’s what you’ll be faced with if you get an assignment.

So then the question is “what show do I pick?” Not HOPE & FAITH. Select a current show you like and think you know the best. “Current” is the key word here. Once a show is cancelled the shelf life for your spec is about six months. So don’t start that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT you’ve been developing. And I hope you didn’t pour a lot of time and effort into a spec KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. When RAYMOND went off the air everyone was sad but show runners. No more reading fifty RAYMONDS a day when trying to staff! And for that same reason, please let this be WILL & GRACE’S last year! The good news is if you’ve got a spec FRASIER you can just change the names and send it out as an OUT OF PRACTICE. And of course you never have to worry with a SIMPSONS because they will go on making new episodes forever.

You do not have to write an episode of the show you’re submitting to. STILL STANDING will read KING OF QUEENS and vice versa. In fact, it’s tougher to sell a spec of the show you’re submitting to because they know that show so well. On the other hand, you could make up the names of the YES, DEAR characters and most show runners wouldn’t know the difference. But be careful. The show runners need to at least have heard of the show. For that reason I wouldn’t recommend specing a RODNEY.

Here are a few other things to consider: The SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY might really show off your funny but they’re cartoons. That might hurt your chances of getting an assignment on a live show, unless it’s a live cartoon show like MALCOLM. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM allows you to push the envelope but the dialogue is improvised. There is no such thing as a real CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM script. So your spec might feel a little artificial. Of course you could always just write “Larry does something funny here” but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of great shows out there at the moment. What I think we’ll see this year is everybody writing a MY NAME IS EARL. It’s clearly the best of the new crop. The only caution I give you is that EVERYBODY will be writing one. If that doesn’t concern you (or you’ve written it already) I say go for it. If it does then some suitable alternates might be SCRUBS, TWO AND A HALF MEN, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (a far cry from the CHEERS, TAXI, MASH, COSBY days).

Then there are the hour sorta-comedies. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, BOSTON LEGAL, HOUSE (when patients aren’t going into spasms). These all have very specific tones. Hard to nail but if you do it could be a home run.

But at the end of the day it still is which show best fits your voice and sensibility? Good luck, and just so you know – the characters on YES, DEAR are Greg, Kim, Christine, and Jimmy. And the main character on RODNEY is Rodney.

More later.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor 1940-2005

In early ’75 I was living in West Hollywood, writing spec scripts, and wondering why there were never any girls in the neighborhood. One Tuesday night I decided to wander over to the Comedy Store on Sunset. In those days you could buy a $2.00 margarita, sit at the bar, and watch a full evening of bad desperate comics. (“Just try to get a cab in LA…etc.”) On this night, at about 11:30, unannounced, Richard Pryor came in to just try out some new material. For the next 45 minutes he had me absolutely pulverized. I never laughed so hard in my life. I was actually relieved when he got off the stage because my sides were hurting so. I’m sure in the days ahead you will hear and read many eloquent tributes to Richard Pryor, who passed away today. Just know he was the funniest person I have ever or will ever meet.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Weekend Misc.

Mariah Carey nabbed eight Grammy nominations thus continuing her stunning comeback and pushing back her Magic Mountain concert at Spilikin Corners until October.

Is there a cheesier looking awards statue than the Grammy? They should just change the name to Tschatsky.

Chris Rock will not host this year’s Oscars. His performance last year inspired the title EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS.

Switched at birth: director James Cameron & Dodger owner Frank McCourt.

Why do I fear KING KONG is not as good as the hype?

Katie Couric may anchor the CBS Evening News. What better qualification for becoming the successor to Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow than being adorable?

I’m really looking forward to MUNICH. Vigilante Jews. Yeah!!

The “stars” for DANCING WITH THE STARS 2 have been announced and all I can say is “wow!” Tatum O’Neal (coming off that recent Oscar win), ESPN’s Kenny Mayne (biggest gift is being able to pronounce long names), WWE’s Stacy Kiebler, George Hamilton (who is probably already in make up), actress Tia Carrere , and “journalist” Giselle Fernandez. And after the show they can all live in one house with Tammy Fay Baker, Amarosa, and Ron Jeremy.

It’s been twenty-five years now and I don’t think there’s a day when I don’t miss John Lennon.

When THE APPRENTICE is finally cancelled will someone from NBC say “Donald, you’re fired.”?

Best full page ad for Oscar consideration EVER: DeForest Kelley for Best Actor, STAR TREK III.

Very moving to see Tyra Banks on the VICTORIA SECRET CHEESECAKE SHOW on CBS. The very first time I saw her I thought, “Wow, now there’s a future talk show host”.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – Too bad they didn’t make this fifty years ago. “Mr. Wayne, we’ve got a script for you but we’d really like you to look at it with an open mind…”

Miguel Tejada of the Orioles says he’s unhappy and wants to be traded. He’s in the third year of a $72 million six-year contract. …which is more than the entire population of Baltimore combined makes. You can buy a lot of fucking Lexapro for $72 million, Miguel.

Musicradio 77WABC is back!!! At least for four hours every Saturday night. From 6-10 WABC now presents an oldies show complete with the old jingles, echo, music, and even the chime. All that’s missing for sheer perfection is Dan Ingram.

Meanwhile, JERSEY BOYS, the Four Seasons juke box musical is a huge hit on Broadway, kicking Oprah’s “Purple Colored” ass. Yes Madison Ave, we baby boomers may be old but we still have all the money.

When did Michael Buble go from being a wonderful singer into a Morongo Casino lounge lizard? Caught his special on PBS. Kevin Spacey didn’t do as many Bobby Darin moves. Any performer who does the “finger gun” should be sentenced to a lifetime of opening for Buddy Greco. It’s like who ASPIRES to be Wayne Newton? Go back to singing and stop watching ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Carver on NIP/TUCK were OJ?

Overheard tasteless but funny joke: It’s no surprise Chicago beat Houston four nights in a row. That’s one less than Bobby Brown.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christmastime in Vegas

I’m beginning a new feature. Actually, my first feature. TRAVELOGUE FRIDAYS (even if I post them late Thursdays). One of the reason for doing this blog is to attract attention to travelogues I’ve written for my email buddies over the years and hope to compile one day for a book. (I know – what a whore). So starting this week I’ll post one every Friday.

Tomorrow night I’m going to see Linda Eder in concert at the Wilshire theatre. She’s an incredible singer, a thirteen time STAR SEARCH winner and it’s a testament to the power of that show that you probably still haven’t heard of her. Last year at this time, my wife and I took a little trip to see her. Here’s my account of that weekend:

Deb and I just got back from a brief weekend in Las Vegas, or, as I like to call it, "Three Card Monty for the Red States". Many big attractions there this holiday weekend. The annual rodeo, the Anti-Aging conference, the Jose Luis Castillo/Joel Casamayer title bout. But we were there to see Linda Eder. Ms. Eder is a spectacular singer -- Barbra Streisand but at affordable prices and you never have to suffer through "Evergreen". We've become friends with her manager, Dave, who graciously invited us to join him for her concert. Since we likely would have gone to Vegas for Christmas anyway, we gladly accepted.

Stayed at the Mandalay Bay. Dave is also a VP of something for the House of Blues (who knows more about the blues than the Jews?) and arranged for us to get a room on the "House of Blues" floor. It had the two things Debby and I require in a hotel room -- a fabulous view and voodoo decor.

I'm not joking about the annual Anti-Aging conference. But am I the only one who finds it odd to hold an Anti-Aging conference in the one place where people stay up all hours drinking, gorging, smoking, and enduring the enormous stress of losing their money? I guess it's held there out of respect for Joan Rivers. My feeling is if the President of the Anti-Aging organization isn't 117 then it's a sham.

Had dinner Friday night at Rumjungle in the hotel. Very classy. Girls dance in cages above your head. To me that is classy. To Vegas it's positively elegant.

Interesting crowd at the hotel because of all the special events. A lot of shitkickers (I assume for either the rodeo or "Mama Mia") and the prizefight attracted several hundred Ruben Studdards decked out in jewelry and Oakland Raider sweatsuits. Rode in an elevator with one -- a mean looking dude in black sunglasses. He said, "you here for the fuckin' fight, man?" I sheepishly had to say "No, the Linda Eder concert". I'm lucky I'm still alive.

This week a boxing title match, next week an ice spectacular featuring American Idol loser Diana DeGarmo.

The headliner at the hotel was Larry the Cable Guy. If Shecky Green were dead he'd be rolling in his grave.

And as I said, a full Broadway production of "Mama Mia", not to mention a separate "Mama Mia" STORE. Someone had a great line about Abba. It's like being hit in the head with Ikea furniture. You appreciate the craftmanship but it hurts.

I won $20 in blackjack. Debby lost $.55 in the slots. I doubt if we'll be comped the next trip.

I think there were Christmas lights and decorations up all over town. Who could tell?

The waitresses were all attractive with massive chests. If there was a flood on the casino floor they would float to the surface.

The most beautiful girl I saw there was a parking valet attendant bundled in a heavy coat. If she got a boob job I'm sure she could get an inside job. Maybe Santa will be good to her.

Next day we hit the beach. Yes, Mandalay Bay has it's own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But Debby and I took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

From there we hotel hopped. Had to stop in at the Excalibur -- a casino in Sleeping Beauty's castle. This is home to the black socks, shorts, and wife beater shirt crowd. You know you're in trouble when they have a special parking lot just for motorhomes. Handing a pair of dice to one of these idiots is like handing a gun to a monkey.

Then on to the Bellagio, where Debby and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!" The paintings were glorious and it was just nice to be in the only room in Las Vegas where everybody voted for Kerry. I can only imagine the paintings Monet himself would have made had he been to Las Vegas. "The Imperial Palace as seen from the Luxor".

The highlight of the trip was the Linda Eder concert. It's the third time I've seen her. I realize that if I see her one more time I'm officially gay. But I don't care. That will happen in March when she performs in Northridge. The only problem was that her concert hall was impossible to find. It's somewhere on the UNLV campus -- the Jerry Tarkanian Music Hall, or something like that -- and even cab drivers have no idea where this is. Dave and I set out for the sound check. The venue is five minutes from our hotel but we wound up somewhere near the Mustang Ranch. The only map on how to get there was on the ticket envelope you pick up at the box office. But we ultimately found it and the concert was wonderful. Celine Dion can't carry her Chloraseptic.

Headed home early this morning. McLaren airport is the worst in the country re security checks. You actually DO have to allow two hours. It's bad enough you have to remove your shoes, but the spurs must come off too and that takes some time.

And now we're home, shopping for voodoo wallpaper.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Travis-ty

I got a nice comment from someone who remembered ALMOST PERFECT (CBS 95-96, starring Nancy Travis). Les Moonves said it was the best show he ever cancelled…which I suppose is like the girl I lusted after in high school saying to me at the reunion: “you’re the best guy I never slept with”. We made 34 episodes, it had a loyal following and usually received a 16 share. Later the show enjoyed a brief run in syndication on Lifetime and USA. And yet, Paramount has not released it on DVD…which brings up one of my many pet peeves: why are some TV series on DVD while other more deserving ones aren’t?

No ALMOST PERFECT on the shelves but you can get…..

the first season of BA BA BLACK SHEEP, the complete collection of TABITHA (please Nora Ephron, don’t turn this into a movie), the second season of the DORIS DAY SHOW (yes, there was more than one), THE BEST OF MR. ED #3 (contains the one where Mr. Ed talks and Wilbur has to cover for him), PRIVATE SECRETARY (for the many Ann Southern fans) , THAT’S MY MAMA season two (the really good season), AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE (otherwise known as “Bulimics at the Beach”), DUSTY’S TRAIL (the Gilligan spin off – lasted four episodes ).ED SULLIVAN’S AMAZING ANIMAL ACTS (“the Romanian Dancing Bears! Take a bow, youngsters!), RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE season ten (by season ten he was fighting the Survivor Africa contestants), HEE HAW (the classic ones with Tucker Lynn Twitty & Clower)….

and just this week comes word that the 1976 CAPTAIN & TENNILLE Variety Show is being released…as a boxed set. Ohmygod! Captain & Tennille??? It’s bad enough having to listen to “Muscrat Love”, imagine seeing them do it? And you don’t just get music, oh no. You also get their (gulp) comedy routines.

Here’s an example. Their guest is Jackie Gleason. Get ready to laugh.

TONI: I am so excited to have one of the greatest funnymen in the history of television right here on this stage.

CAPTAIN: Thank you, Toni.

TONI: No, honey, it’s not you, sweetheart. I’m talking about Jacking Gleason (applause)

JACKIE: Well Toni and Captain, I want to congratulate you on your first show. And I hope you will have a very long television career.

TONI: Aw, thank you.

JACKIE: (re Captain) The only trouble is, I feel that he hasn’t got the correct attitude.

TONI: What do you mean?

JACKIE: Well, I don’t think he believes this show is going to last long. He hasn’t even taken his hat off.

Apparently, it lasted long enough to be released. Meanwhile, ALMOST PERFECT sits in the vault. Come over sometime and I’ll show you the tapes. And if you’re not thoroughly entertained I’ll sing “I’ve Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You”.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stupid Character Tricks

Got into a discussion recently on the value of “stupid” characters on TV. And by that I mean in sitcoms, not our President. My contention was these characters worked because they had their own internal logic, usually taking things too literally. Think Gracie Allen, the Coach & Woody, Reverand Jim, etc. (In the case of our President the internal logic is “But if I go to New Orleans to inspect the flood damage I’ll miss the Padres game”.)

“Stupid” characters also provide a great way to impart exposition to the audience. When Sam explains what’s going on to the Coach he’s also explaining it to the viewers.

So the trick is to find that line that is dumb but you understand why the character would arrive at it. Sometimes it’s a fine line. In the case of the Coach on CHEERS we had a contest in a writers room to see who could pitch the dumbest Coach joke. One day we were faced with the following set-up: Sam is in his office. The Coach comes in to say he’s got a call. Jerry Belson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He pitched this:

COACH: Sam, there’s a little black man in the bar who wants to speak to you.

SAM: No Coach, that’s the phone.


But I’d like to offer this:

RUMSFELD: Mr. President, there’s a little black man outside on the desk who wants to speak to you.

BUSH: Send him in.

Different templates for different folks

My thanks to Howard Hoffman ( for trying to update and jazz up my site. On most browsers it looked very cool. On others (like Safari) it looked like Salvador Dali was my webmaster. Yikes. So it's back to basics. Computer retard that I am I just assumed a webpage would look the same on any computer in the world. Not so. That must also be the way it is with network television. When people watch ACCORDING TO JIM and think it's funny they must be watching a different show than me. Does Kelly Rippa have a brain on your TV? Was Whoopi Goldberg actually on INSIDE THE ACTORS' STUDIO? Did CBS in the same week show a movie on John Paul II and the Victoria Secrets Fashion Show? I so hope my theory is true because that would explain to me the VIEW, STILL STANDING, STACKED, Brent Musberger, and especially Fox News

Monday, December 05, 2005

The gifts you can't return

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

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

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

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

A few years ago an actor on a show I was producing gave me a large heavy rock with the word “remember” carved into it. I put it on the front porch and am still looking for a companion rock that says “Pearl Harbor” or “the Alamo” or “to wipe your feet”. I’d tell you who the actor was but can’t seem to recall.

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

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

Sunday, December 04, 2005

TV briefs

Dueling Popes! Two networks have biopics on John Paul II scheduled. Sorry Fox is not one of them. They’d probably want to give the pontiff a hot love interest.

But two networks doing MOW’s on the same person is nothing new. Pope John Paul II joins Amy Fisher and Libarce.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by NBC developing a sitcom based on Al Roker’s life, CBS has announced (and this is true) that they’re developing a comedy starring Al Sharpton called AL IN THE FAMILY. My writing partner, David said “why not just do the JEFFERSONS again?” This reminds me of when ABC did a new Afro American version of the ODD COUPLE in 1982 with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson as Felix & Oscar. It prompted writer Harvey Miller to suggest “Since they’re redoing the original scripts why not save money and just show the negatives?”.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

LA vs. LA

With the big UCLA-USC football game taking place this weekend (such that it was), much was written about the bitter rivalry between these two great institutions (well, UCLA is) and how rare it is to see this city divided. Huh??? For those of us who live here, Los Angeles is teeming with rivalries. Here are just a few examples.

The Eastside vs. the Westside (better known as 310 vs. 323) -- Eastsiders feel the west is snobby, arrogant, privileged. And worse, they can’t afford to live there themselves. Westsiders are, well…just afraid of the Eastsiders. And other than to venture to the Staples Center there’s no reason to go there. Next year, however, 310 will be split into two area codes – 310 and 424. When that happens things will get ugly. Neighbor at war with neighbor. Bel Air Security will have to hire additional drunk LAPD academy washouts to keep order.

Flood risk homeowners vs. Fire risk homeowners -- Personally, I’m on the side of the fire risk folk. I love every couple of years seeing Barbra Streisand and Barry Diller filling sandbags to save their Malibu Colony homes.

The Lakers vs. the Clippers -- Not very heated because Clipper fans are really Laker fans who can only afford Clipper prices.

The Dodgers vs. the Angels – The Dodgers have Vin Scully. The Angels have a better team, a better owner, a manager, a comparable ballpark, more rabid fans, comparable attendance. Do the math. The Dodgers counter all of this by still listing the Angels as “Anaheim” on their out of town scoreboard. Whoooooooh, that’ll show ‘em.

SUV’s vs. every other car on the road – Especially when Westside women drive them. As my friend Dave Hackel observed, unless they put a Gelsons at the top of a mountain there’s no reason these women need four-wheel drive. A subset of this rivalry is all cars, (including SUV’s) vs. Hummers. I think we could shoot the several thousand Hummer owners and have room to bury them all in one Hummer.

KFWB vs KNX -- The two all-news stations. What makes this rivalry somewhat absurd is that the same company owns them both. Some newswriters are even asked to contribute to both stations. But to create that division that drives competition they only hire bi-polar newswriters.

Hollywood vs. West Hollywood – It’s a constant tug-of-war to see who is tackier, trashier, and has the most transsexuals.

Pilates vs. “Crunch” – Great animosity exists between women exercisers . On the one hand “Crunch” requires only a half hour, but pilate places provide easier parking for SUV’s.

XTRA vs KSPN – the two All-sports stations fight hard over the fifteen listeners who bother to tune in either one.

The Channel 5 Morning News vs. the Channel 11 Morning News – the limbo bar of local journalism (or is it bimbo bar?). Channel 11 gets the edge because their anchor, Jillian Barberie, is also appearing on Fox’s “Skating with the Stars” reality show premiering in January.

Democrats vs. Republicans – Los Angeles politics that will determine the course of this city now and for our children – Nah, no one gives a shit.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ship of Fools

Here's another travelogue from a couple of years ago. We had never taken a cruise so we decided to do a test run. All that was missing was the iceberg.

Back from our four day Carnival Cruise on the M/S Ecstasy. My daughter found it hysterical that we were "on Ecstasy" for four days. What we were really on was a floating trailer park. 2600 Jerry Springer guests descended upon San Pedro complete with T-shirts, black socks, tattoos, nose rings, wheelchairs, strollers, plaid shorts, knitting, disposable cameras, and disposable diapers (a few even for the babies on board). First we waited in line for close to an hour just to board. This would be a pattern. There were lines for everything. At least at Disneyland you end up going on the Indiana Jones ride. Here you get to the soft serve frozen yogurt machine.

Our cabin was small but at least had a window. Most of the cabins did not. But they all had curtains to at least give the illusion of windows. And some rooms had bunk beds. Four or five people living in a closet. And considering how these people ate I fully expect there are at least four cabins where the guests are now wedged in so tight that only the jaws of life will free them. One question overheard: Why do they put those little pats of butter on my pillow everynight?

Each cabin has a ships's steward. We never saw ours. He just comes around once a night and folds towels in the shape of elephants. I guess he wasn't happy with his tip. Last night's towel was shaped like a giant penis.

It was a cattle car. Instead of asking whether we were having fun they should have been asking "got milk?"

We toured the vessel. There is a large upstairs dining room (pen) that my son immediately recognized as the mess hall from his dorm. From then on we referred to the Panorama Bistro as DeWick (his dorm's name). There is the Metro Bar (pen) where from the minute they arrived till the minute they left, there were the same twelve lushes at the bar. A casino (the Crystal Palace (pen)) offered nickel slots and blackjack adding to the feeling that we were held prisoner at Harrah's Tahoe. The Lido Deck (pasture) was the pool area. The pool was the size of a bowl of Hamburger Hamlet's Lobster Bisque. But there was a water slide. A water slide into a four foot bowl? Not a good idea. I doubt if Kathy Lee Gifford, spokesperson for Carnival, would let Cody go on it. You never heard the kids screaming because of the Calypso music that was being played at deafening levels. There were upper decks (pastures) with no shade and worse: no bars! A gym and spa perched at the top level. The showroom (pen) was the Blue Sapphire Lounge, named no doubt for the Kingfish's wife because you had to be in the Mystic Knights of the Sea to want to go on this cruise. The two main dining rooms were the Wind Song (named after a cheap perfume) and Wind Star. The decor of the entire ship was splashes of bright bright busy colors. It was like living in Jimi Hendrix's head.

Just walking around the ship with all its faux glitz and neon you needed Dramamine. Who cares if it's moving?

We all assembled for the big safety drill wearing our life jackets. So thrilled was I that my daughter was wearing one that said "Ms Ecstasy 69". (her room number). Imagine the lines for the lifeboats.

They screwed up and assigned us to two different tables. The food was basically "first class airline" cuisine. Fancy titles, small portions, served in mass quantities. I think the soux chef was hired away from Attica.

Checked out the entertainment at the Blue Sapphire pen. Out came the cruise director, Simon. Picture a skinny hyper British Alfalfa who thinks he's Jerry Lewis circa 1952, He's kind of the semi-retarded cousin every family has. We got a preview of the fabulous entertainment to follow in the nights ahead. The Ecstasy Orchestra -- four guys, the Ecstasy Dancers (who were busy handing out the Bingo cards), a man/woman singing duo that serenaded us with the Carnival Theme, and finally a schleppy comedian who opened his act with "my girlfriend is half Jewish, half Native-American. Her name is Bargain Hunter". The rest of his material wasn't as good. My kingdom for Buddy Greco!!

Next we checked out the celebrated midnight buffet at the DeWick pen. Here it is the middle of the night and these people are powering down pork ribs and beans drenched in bbq sauce. Long lines to get to the grease. The salad bar remained untouched. My kingdom for a Sizzlers!!

Next morning we arrived in Catalina. I pulled back the curtains to a glorious view of the island. I said to my wife, "There's Catalina." Obviously in need of a stronger prescription she looked out the window and said, "Where?" WHERE???

Breakfast at the Wind Star trough then an hour wait to get a shuttle boat to Catalina where I had a delightful time retracing Natalie Wood's last day.

Back on board in time for a refreshing Jacuzzi. This is a TRUE story. The day before when I checked out the gym facilities I noticed in the men's locker room that they had steam, and a sauna, and in a little room a Jacuzzi. So after working out and taking a scvitz I went out to the men's Jacuzzi donned only in a towel. I dropped the towel and casually stepped into the Jacuzzi only to realize that there was a big window and I had just taken off all my clothes for the Yoga class. Now some women entered from the ladies' side. My towel was across the room. Needless to say, I know how to make an exit.

Dinner was formal. My friend, Marc Sedaka, remarked that "formal" on one of these cruises meant long pants. He's right. On the other hand some people dressed as if it were their prom. Some women spent all day in the hairdressers. For a Carnival dinner!! My son was the best dressed of our family. Dark sports jacket, nice tie, khaki pants, and sandals.

There were 920 crew members, from 47 different countries. I kept checking for Iraqis, especially in the dining room.

I missed the "Austin Powers" dance class. Wanted to go. Too big a line.

Tonight was the gala midnight buffet, held in the Wind Song and Wind Star pens. Our Maitre D told everyone to bring their cameras. A few salads, sliced cheese, cold cuts, turkey a la king, rice, beef in sauce, fruit salad. Yeah, you want a picture of that. A dessert table with a guy cutting the cakes. If you asked for a second slice he glared at you.

The next morning we awoke in Mexico. According to the daily newsletter (the "Carnival Capers"...I hear they're looking for a political editor) no shuttle boats were necessary. We were docked. But you did have to take a shuttle bus into town at $6 per person (432,784 pesos). Personally, I had no desire to go to Ensenada. I had seen TRAFFIC. I had seen TOUCH OF EVIL. But my son wanted to buy me a beer (you can purchase liquor at 18) so that was good enough to get me off the boat. The minute we hit the dock there was a guy with a full portable bar. Then we had to walk through a shopping plaza. Finally after our shuttle ride we arrived in town where had a couple of XX's at Hussong's. It's like Cheers except "everyone wants your money". Wandering through town we were stopped at least five times asking if we wanted to go to peep shows. What, no cock fights?! At least I knew the ship was safe. Carnival International paid a kid $5.00 to watch it.

Back in the room I watched "Sabrina the Teen Witch" in Spanish. It was funnier that way. I should have gotten a massage. An ad in "Carnival Capers" proclaimed: "Viva la Mexico. We've gone CRAZY in the Spa today. 10% off all spa treatments." They weren't kidding. 10%!!!

We missed the kitchen tour. "This is where we microwave 10,000 meals a day".

Spent some time up on the Lido pasture at the crock pot known affectionately as the "pool". How fitting that I should be reading "Snobbery" by Joseph Epstein. Didn't bother to watch the ice sculpture demonstration...too many people. I did notice kids running up to the stage to save the discarded pieces of ice. Yes, those will make lovely souvenirs. I had to get down to the Wind Star pen so I couldn't stick around for the "Hairiest Man" competition. A woman won I think.

Entertainment that night (after a rousing game of Bingo) consisted of a Vegas type review. A big dance number celebrating beating the Japanese in World War II. The fifty or sixty Japanese guests didn't find it as stirring as the rest of the guests however. Then, finally, some real entertainment. A comic named Jerome who was actually hilarious. He did an R-rated show later that night that I caught (after passing on the Mexican Food midnight buffet at the DeWick pen) which was even funnier.

The third day was traveling from Mexico. I opted for a real massage instead of the $1 massage chairs adjacent to the casino. It got a little turbulent. A happy ending to that massage was not throwing up.

Among the questions asked various crew members on Carnival cruises: Does the ship generate its own electricity? (No, idiot, they roll out a long extension cord). At the photography booth: How will I know which one of these photographs is mine? What do they do with the ice sculpture once it's melted? And my personal favorite: What religion are those people who wear patches behind their ears?

Staging game shows is a popular feature. Hosted by Social Director, Simon ("hello ladies and germs") they played a version of the Newlywed Game that was quite amusing. Among the questions and answers: "Where's the starngest place you and your husband have made love?' Answer: "the kids bed". If a parrot was in your room every night what sound would he hear enough to be able to repeat it? Couple number two: He: "Shut Up!" She: "Are you done yet?" Describe your wife's naked butt when she bends over. Couple number three: He: "McDonald's Golden Arches".

Getting off the ship was another adventure. We were all awoken at 6:30 and began immigration, based on colored tags of our luggage (which we had to have picked up by midnight last night). Everyone had to clear customs before anyone could disembark. Out of 2600 people I was amazed that only 300 were still clueless as to what to do at 9 am. We were then asked to leave depending upon our color tags. But they had no way of checking. So we just went with one of the first groups, got right off, claimed our bags in two seconds and left.

All in all it was fun to get away, an interesting change of pace, I now know where Natalie Wood had her last meal, the weather was great, learned a lot about Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, laughed a bunch, won ten bucks last night in blackjack, saw first hand why the WWF gets ratings while PBS does not, watched fat guys do the Macarana, and best of all didn't have to fly anywhere so I avoided that line!!!