Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stabbing the frog

Thanks again to everyone who logged in yesterday. I’m blown away by the response and the very generous comments. Wow. I’m proud to know me. In the days ahead I will try to get to all of your questions.

First one up -- Jason Looney wondered how we analyze jokes, know when they’re bad, etc.?

The truth is we try NOT to analyze them. We have an expression – “Stabbing the frog”. Remember 10th grade science class? You’d have this cute little frog bouncing around. Then you’d stab him, dissect him, and uncover all the secrets of what makes a frog. Only problem is – the cute little guy is now dead.

Same with comedy. In a writers’ room someone will pitch a joke. We’ll all laugh. Then someone will pick it apart. Someone else will want to change a word. A discussion might ensue. Variations proposed until finally no one can remember what the hell was funny in the first place. So when a staffer starts that, another might yell out “You’re stabbing the frog!” Generally, when someone pitches a line and everyone laughs, just put it in the script like that.

Don’t stab the frog … unless it’s Michigan J.

I personally don’t believe you can analyze comedy. I know there are theories. Absurdity plus irony…or tragedy plus time…or cowboys plus beans. But it all seems ridiculous.

How do you know when a joke will work? Instinct, experience, a keenly honed sense of humor – and then you’re still wrong half the time. That’s one of the reasons why it’s good to have a partner or be in a room with other writers – feedback from people you trust is very valuable.

And there’s a reason you have table readings, runthroughs, test screenings, preview audiences. The only accurate judge of whether something’s funny is an audience.

The tough part for a writer is to be objective. During runthroughs it’s tempting to laugh. You have a stake in the material. Either you wrote it or you know that changing it will mean extra work. You have to be ruthless, leave your ego at the door, and not have tickets to the McCartney concert.

And yet it still amazes me. You’ll have a script that goes through the roof. Next week’s table reading – a steaming turd. Same geniuses that wrote last week’s show. What happened? How did we suddenly become collectively stupid?

Ultimately, you have to do what makes you laugh and hope that others will laugh as well. The scariest script my partner, David and I ever wrote was the “Bar Wars” episode of CHEERS. It was the end of a season, they needed one more script, we banged it out quickly, and turned it in. The next day a Writers Guild strike erupted unexpectedly. Shows were allowed to shoot existing scripts but not rewrite. So they filmed our first draft, word for word. We had no chance to revise it, punch up jokes that didn’t work, make trims, etc. Needless to say, the night of the filming was terrifying. It was here we were going to be exposed as frauds. Fortunately, the show went well (although there were still plenty of little things I would have improved). I was never more relieved in my life. Because if it hadn’t gone well, I was the frog that was going to get stabbed that night.

Monday, February 27, 2006

My 100th post

This is my 100th post. Alas, no big tribute issues in the trades. No lovely full page congratulatory ads from my dear friends at the agencies I’ve fired. No pictures of me with Brian Grazer. No fruit baskets. Not even one with Triscuits (the cracker of faint praise).

Fortunately, maintaining this blog has been its own reward. And it does satisfy a goal of mine – to throw my full time and effort into projects that will never pay me a dime. And by the way, that play and musical I’m working on are coming along great too.

When I began this blog I decided I should post every day. All the better to build an audience. My fear was that I’d run out of ideas (which did happen around #67 but I’ve been posting every day anyway). Frankly, I’ve been amazed by the number of people who have found this site and where they’re from. All over the world. Can people in Finland and Reykjavk, Gullbringusysla (wherever that is) really care about Porn Star Karaoke or who I feel should be voted off AMERICAN IDOL? (Brenna!!!!) And I get quite a few hits from “unknown country”. I guess that means the gang from LOST checks in from the hatch.

Folks seem to like when I offer writing tips, which is great because I love to do it. All I ask in return is that you make it and provide me with some laughs sometime down the line.

Thanks to Howard, Mike, Lee, MK, T. Whore, Alex, Matt, and everyone else who has helped me launch this folly. Hopefully the next hundred posts will be, if not as good, at least as often.

Following the Oscars on Sunday night I will file my 9th annual bitchy review. The fact that I’ve never been nominated, even for MANNEQUIN II will have no effect on my objectivity. Although, even I were nominated and won I’d still slam Debbie Allen.


But now I have a request. I would like YOU to write. Just a quick comment – who you are, where you’re writing from, what you like, what you don’t, etc. You can say anything…except please read my script. And wait until you READ what I say about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN before you call me homophobic.

Thanks much. In the meantime I remain...

Never standing down from my comedy watch….


Sunday, February 26, 2006

American Idle

I admit it unashamedly – I love AMERICAN IDOL. Like most people, I do postgame recaps with friends. Unlike most people, I have a blog so I can spew my demented opinions worldwide. As the musical thinning of the herd continues here are my thoughts:

I was so glad opera girl got the boot…although it would have been fun to hear her perform on Hip Hop night.

And bye bye to Bobby Bennett. I didn’t mind so much that he looked like a Little Richard Macy’s Day Parade balloon. It’s that he sang a Barry Manilow song…by CHOICE.

Sorry to see Becky go. Yeah, she couldn’t sing. But God was she hot. And she has a twin sister so there’s that fantasy.

Every year there seems to be one Sinatra wannabe and he’s always fifteen. Sinatra as a virgin doesn’t work. By the time the real Sinatra was fifteen he had probably already done Peggy Lee. You need that to sing “Summer Wind”.

Same for little Kevin. He sort of reminds me of “Jack” from the Jack in the Box commercials. Or Chicken Little from the recent Disney film. I like him, he can sing. But I just picture his mother standing off stage, fixing his collar, rebuttoning his shirt.

The Vin Diesel guy is a one-trick pony. But then again, so is the real Vin Diesel.

I LOVE Lisa Tucker. Absolute superstar potential. If she’s this amazing at sixteen, watch out. By the time she’s out of the business at twenty-two she’s going to be a legend.

Ditto for little Paris Bennett (hopefully no relation to Bobby “Lounge Lizard” Bennett). Such poise, charisma, and talent. This Cosby kid could go all the way.

Simon thinks Elliott Yamin is the best male vocalist since the series began. If only he didn’t look like the kid who lived under the sink in his house until he was twenty because he felt more “comfortable” there.

I DESPISE Brenna. There’s “sass” and there’s obnoxious insufferable nails-on-a-blackboard shrew. I thought the “Hello gorgeous” Barbra Streisand mimic trollop from last season was annoying but she was Miss Congeniality compared to this relentless car alarm.

Is Ace Young gay? I say he makes it to the final four if he’s not, the final two if he is.

If I press my Tivo “skip” button twice I can bypass Randy’s comments completely. Once for Paula’s.

I hate when anyone sings a Disney song. Please, no more MULAN. Ever!

Best actual singer: Katharine McPhee. Her version of “Since I Fell For You” was spectacular. But Katharine, Barbra Streisand didn’t make that a hit. Lenny Welch did.

Best name ever on AMERICAN IDOL: Kellie Pickler. Although I’m getting a little tired of her crying each week ‘cause her daddy is in prison. Trust me Kellie, your life would be a whole lot worse if he were out. Be thankful that cellmate “Spike” has the role that would have been reserved for you.

I like Mandisa. She’s following in the rather lengthy shadow of Aretha Franklin.

Heather and Kinnik should call Jet Blue and have their reservations ready for Friday morning.

If it doesn’t work out for “Sway” on AMERICAN IDOL there’s always a spot for him as gang member #4 on THE SHIELD.

Gideon with that big shit-eatin’ grin looks like Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians cartoon mascot.

Notice how Randy calls every girl “man”? Press that Tivo button.

Aren’t you secretly rooting for Ayla Brown to get voted off just to see the look on her face? As Ryan gently has to escort her off stage: “What?! Me?! How can that be? I’m student body president. I’m captain of the basketball team. Take your hands off me, you dwarf. I’m a prom queen. My daddy’s a senator. He’s going to get you all. You just wait and see. Have you ever been audited? You’ll be sorry…”

And finally, there’s Taylor Hicks. How can this guy be 29? He looks older than half the members of the WGA who can no longer get work. And his one talent – having seizures – also suggests someone a little long in the tooth. That said, I hope he stays in the competition. Seeing him will remind me every week to tape HOUSE.

Bring back Becky!!

Writing job opening

Mike McVay, one of truly great guys of radio, asked me if I knew anyone who might be good for this job. I said, “can I post it?” He said “sure”. So what follows is the info. If this is something you might be interested in, best of luck.

Full time radio writer needed. This is NOT a comedy writing position. Need a person who has written long-form radio programs before - countdowns, lifestyle shows, etc. If you are looking for on-air work DO NOT APPLY. We are looking for an individual who loves radio and wants to create something unique. We are the fastest growing nationally syndicated radio show in America. Position would include script writing and editing, topic research, and staff management. This is NOT an entry level position. Must have a writing sample specifically for radio. Must be highly organized. This is a great opportunity for someone with a strong work ethic. Fun, small office, fast paced environment, benefits, and the joy of hearing your hard work on the air included. Knowledge of Prophet and ProTools a plus. Position open to So Cal locals only. No attachments, paste resume into email.
Betsy Chase 13245 Riverside Dr. Suite #305, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423 FAX: 818-906-8374 EMAIL: bcinla@gmail.com

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The last GINA (I promise)

After this you have to see the movie. (Actually, after this someone has to buy the movie). Thanks again for your very enthusiastic response. Short of a sale that’s the best I could hope for.

Okay, setting the scene: Late in the picture. Late night in Paris. Hank and Gina have been chased, shot at, and find themselves in:


The shady Red Light district of Paris. PROSTITUTES work the street, taking their customers up to seedy apartments, or MINIVANS that are parked along an alley. The scene is rich with smoke, hookers, lonely men, and bouncing SUV's.

Hank and Gina emerge from the Metro Station. The sleeve of his shirt has been ripped and now serves as a bandage.

A DRUNK (American) approaches Gina.

Hi there. Where you gonna be later?

She's not a whore, buddy!

Hey, I don't give a shit. For your hour she can be Mandy Moore.

I mean it. She's not a whore! And I'm sick and tired of every jerk just thinking she is!

Screw you!

The drunk hauls off and slugs Hank in the kisser. He goes down like a sack of potatoes. The drunk moves off and Gina crouches down to Hank who now has a pretty good shiner.

Wow. "My hero." You okay?

Oh yeah. (takes out pad) I now have a whole section for injuries.

That was incredibly cool. No one's ever done that for me before.

It'll be some time before I do it again.

This would be a lovely moment if it didn't start to rain.

Oh for crying out loud! Again? What is it with this darn town? We might as well be in Tacoma.

She helps him to his feet. The rain comes down harder.

C'mon. Let's get a room for the night.

How? You have no purse and I'm dead broke.

Y'know, if Audrey Hepburn were here right now I bet she'd take your hand, look deep into your eyes, and say... MOTHER FUCKER!!


Along with a few others seeking shelter they enter the station, now soaking wet.

It just occurred to me. What happens if you're agoraphobic and homeless?

For you to even think of that tells me you are incredibly deep. And more important, you need to masturbate way more than you do.

They wander through a somewhat dank tunnel. A number of HOMELESS PEOPLE are there, curled up for the night.

Well? Shall we?


Why not?

This is like the cast of "Les Miserables".

Lighten up. These are my "homies", my "peeps". And you're here so chances are they won't rape me.

They sit down along the wall, joining the others. Hank is very uneasy. A FRENCH HOMELESS MAN near him eyes him angrily. Hank half smiles and tries to be friendly.

Hi. How are ya? Seen the new Rothko exhibit at the Lourve? (man just glares) O-kay. You have a super night now.

Gina spots her disheveled self in the glass reflection of the billboard across the way and GASPS.


Me! Holy shit! Is that how I look?

You look beautiful.

I look like Alanis Morissette.

No you don't. There is nothing in this world I would rather look at than you.

You really mean that, don't you?


Gina is truly moved. They look at each other and something happens. They may not be willing to admit it just yet, but there within the bowels of Paris they fall in love.

They kiss, a long kiss filled with passion and genuine affection.

My ass in the middle!

(breaking it off)
Right. Okay. Sorry. It's just that you have such a romantic city here that it's hard not to get swept up in the uh...amour of it all. (off his glare) What did we ever do to you other than save your ass in the war?

Hank! Let's just get some sleep, alrighty?

(cooling off)
Yeah...sure. (then) Y'know the Krauts were so confident they made hotel reservations.

We can talk about it in the morning, Snookems.

She snuggles into his shoulder, makes herself comfy. He closes his eyes and quickly drifts off to sleep. There's a look of total contentment on his face.

Gina, however, registers an expression of regret and sadness.

Why so sad?

(with heavy heart)
There is no way he'll ever marry me.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A GINA weekend

Because of popular demand and a chance for me to take a break, it’s a “Gina weekend”. Today, boys and girls, it’s the scene where agoraphobic anal obsessive Hank (who can only eat the blandest foods and is allergic to everything including smoke) meets Gina for the first time. His friend Richie has arranged the dream date and is walking him to her door. Note: The goal here was to make Gina as SHOCKING as humanly possible. I wanted Hank’s head to explode. She needed to be the absolute opposite of everything he had always envisioned. So again, a hard R rating. But hopefully amusing.


They enter from the stairwell. Both are out of breath.

I'm here. I made it.

You going to be okay?

Yes. Wow. For me to actually do this... Gina must truly be that one special person in my life.

Congratulations. May she be as sweet and perfect as you imagine.

Ricky shakes his hand, hands him the flowers, and heads for the elevator. Hank crosses to her door. Ricky gives him one last thumbs-up as the elevator doors CLOSE. Hank takes one more deep breath then KNOCKS.


Gina opens the door. And she's even more adorable and radiant than he had imagined. Even though she's just dressed casual. T-shirt, jeans, sweater around her neck.

Hi. Give me a second. I've just got to take this tampon out of my snapper.


Come on in. You want a cigar?

Huh? No. No thank you.

He begins coughing.

Be right back.

Hank is completely thrown. He cautiously enters. She crosses to the bathroom passing a MACAW in a cage.

You're a whore!

Shut the fuck up. (to Hank) He picks up little phrases he hears over and over.

She exits into the bathroom. Hank is beside himself.

You've been called a whore over and over?

Ah, much better. Baby can breathe.

He looks around. What the hell is happening here? She re-enters.

You don't get much sun, do ya? What was your name again? Casper?

Uh, no. Hank. Hank Niehaus.

(shaking hands)
Gina Trammell. Nice to meet you, Casper. (then) Are you shaking?

No no. Just a little...chilly.

Gina takes a flask out of her purse.

You want a good stiff belt?

(completely flustered)
No, I uh don't drink.

(offering flask to bird)

Tampon in my snapper!

She laughs, takes a swig, then takes a big puff of the cigar that's on the coffee table. Hank coughs.

God, I love to suck Cubans.

Hank starts to slowly back towards the door.

You're a whore!

Shut up! You're not my mom! (then) So, what's the plan? Dinner or a drink?

Well, I was thinking dinner, but a drink -- a really really fast drink is fine.

Nah, let's eat. I had dinner but I could go again. Excuse me.

She crosses to the bathroom again. A beat then WE HEAR HER THROW UP. Hank wants out of there soooo bad.

I left my wife for you!

An awkward silence then Gina, fully composed, re-enters.

Okay, so where to?

Well, I uh, er, made reservations at Burkhardts across the street. They supposedly make a wonderful chicken.

Oh, that place. Maybe in fifty years when we've both got walkers and are wearing diapers.

Then uh, well, where would you like to eat?

I dunno. Maybe Ghanian.

Hank hides his horror.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Me and computers

I admit it. When it comes to computers I’m a retard. Someone explains how to run a program, I nod, it all makes sense, then the minute he leaves I’m the guy from MEMENTO. I’m completely helpless over a skill that every 14 year old in America has mastered. And I can work a TIVO so I’m still ahead of most of my friends (you’d think those Masters degrees and Doctorates would account for something). But even if I knew the first thing about using Pro Tools or how to log onto a porn site without getting a raft of spam, I still contend computers are just too complicated.

Case in point: I switched internet providers this week. I’d been having terrible trouble with my DSL provider. In fairness, the culprit was really the phone company (You can call it Verizon now but it’s still General Telephone – the string-and-two-Dixie-cups of telecommunications). But my internet was down every two nights and finally I decided to switch to cable.

I know a lot of internet providers will provide you with a box of equipment and instructions. To me that’s like buying a car from Ikea. A big box arrives on your front lawn that says Toyota. So I of course opted for the installation package. It took this guy (a “trained” professional) two hours at which time he had managed to completely screw up every computer in the house, the router, and my microwave is now on the fritz. He threw up his hands and left, I had to call my computer guy (at “you need a loan” hourly prices), and it took him another two hours to fix things. And there’s still a problem with my email that he says can only be rectified if I upgrade my entire system (which would be a whole day, the cost of a year’s college tuition, and would probably wipe out my Tetris high score results). For a good part of the afternoon this guy (who really knows his shit), recalibrated, reconfigured, pulled down menus and pop up boxes I never knew existed, hooked things up from modems to bay stations to power outlets, typed in IP addresses, user names, passwords, codes, clicked yes and no to thousands of options, and still had to call tech support twice. When I asked if the tech support guys were helpful he said the second guy was. Jesus, even the tech support people don’t know what they’re doing.

There has to be a simpler way. They can invent ipods and blue tooth and instant messaging complete with video – there has to be a computer even I can use. In the meantime, there’s a guy with a perpetual runny nose, lazy eye, and thinning hair at 22, toting around Natalie Portman stills from STAR WARS – and I’m his bitch.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

If I were on SURVIVOR...

If I were on SURVIVOR….

I’d have to give up my religion. Jews don’t camp. And they’d never go to the tropics if there were no cabanas.

For my luxury item I might bring a porta-potty.

I would try to vote off Jeff Probst.

I would write phony tree mail and watch my tribe mates frantically dig up the beach looking for a bogus immunity medallion.

I would fake injuries.

I would start making alliances on the boat ride over to the island.

I would bribe people for everything.

I would tell the producers my name was “Sawyer” and my profession was “Confidence Man”.

They always show close ups of lizards and toads and scurrying crabs. While the rest of the tribe starved or shared one stinking papaya I would eat one of those.

I would lobby to get our tribe name changed to the “Fighting Irish”.

If I ever won a rewards challenge that featured a feast on some yacht or gorgeous luxury hideaway and was allowed to bring one other person – it would always be the pretty girl.

I would not gorge myself with chocolate after not eating anything for three days. The result would be two doubled over nights on my luxury item.

When Jeff asks “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” I’d answer, “Wanna rephrase that just once because you get paid a ton of money and the least you could do is not spout the same idiotic catch phrases every freaking week?”

Another luxury item I might bring is a polygraph machine.

I would tell the producers that Keira Knightley is my girlfriend so they’d bring her over to visit me.

If I won a panel truck I would not sleep in the back of it with my mother. (What were you thinking, Colby??)

I would try to parlay my appearance on SURVIVOR to get a co-hosting job on the VIEW.

If it got down to me and a woman for the final two, if she wins I would immediately propose to her.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I Dream of Gina

The Sunday LA Times CALENDAR section ran a big article on the lack of great parts for women in features. It maintains that studios are reluctant to cast women in romantic comedy parts that shoulder the burden of comedy or make them appear unlikable. I can speak first hand that this is unfortunately true. A few years ago I thought it would be fun to write a balls-out R-rated comedy where the woman was the star. It’s always a man. Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Robin Williams, Rob Schneider (God help me). Why can’t a beautiful actress like Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, even Julia Roberts be the comic star? So I wrote the movie, I DREAM OF GINA, about an agoraphobic (Jimmy Fallon type) with a million neuroses who worships this goddess from afar, only to meet her and discover she is the wildest, raunchiest, most out-there girl on the planet. She winds up dragging him to Paris where adventures and hilarity ensues.

The screenplay was very well received. Several major producers wanted to be attached. I hooked up with one, developed it further with him, and when it was submitted to the studios they all passed saying, “we can’t cast it” and “she’s not likeable.”

With Lucy and Carole Lombard as my witnesses, I swear there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be given the chance to prove they’re just as funny or funnier than men.


Below is a sample of I DREAM OF GINA if you’re curious. Gina has just coaxed Hank (who has a fear of heights) to the top of the Eiffel Tower.


The elevator rises to the top platform.


The elevator door opens and a throng of PEOPLE disembark, Gina first. Last off is a rather green Hank.

Atta boy. You were very brave. Mama's gonna give you a hummer. (then) So let's check out Paree. Would love to hock a loogie off this thing.

She crosses to the railing and spits through the fence.

That's for the six cylinder Peugot!

Hank takes baby steps to join her. He peers over the side.
The entire city appears to be in miniature.

Oh God.

Hank gets a real blast of vertigo. He clutches the railing for support then begins sliding to the ground.

Y'know, I'm guessing you're one of those "therapy is for other people" kind of guys.

It's okay. I'm fine. Just a little dehydrated. I could use some water.

You got it.

She quickly crosses to a French SECURITY GUARD.

Excuse me, is there a drinking fountain up here?

The guard gestures that he doesn't understand.

What? You don't speak English? (he looks at her blankly)
How could you not speak English? Who do you think comes to the top of the fucking Eiffel Tower?

(from the railing)
Uh...Gina. That's okay.

(to guard)
How many people from Hooterville do you think speak French? This man needs Perrier.

Not anymore. Really.

(to guard)
Here's two English words you better learn --(enunciating slowly)Ep-cot Cen-ter. (then) 'Cause that's where we'll all be motherfucker.

Hank tries to get up but just can't.

Don't need the water. See? Look. I'm great.

The security guard calls for assistance.

What, you're going to call for help? Over this? God, that is so France. Well fine. I don't give a shit. Call your whole fucking army.

Two more SECURITY GUARDS join him.

You don't scare me. (taunting) ACHTUNG!

They begin shouting in French. She responds with a torrent of profanity.

Remember when I said my fantasy girl in Paris was Audrey Hepburn? Audrey Hepburn never said motherfucker.

Gina is really into it now. A SMALL CROWD begins to gather. The shouting escalates. Finally:

That is it! We workers are now on strike! Stop the elevator!


Hah! See I told you. You can speak English!


Sarah Silverman was born to play this role!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Diss 'n dat 4

If Stacey Snider moves over to Paramount from Universal expect her to bump Gail Berman out of her job. But don’t worry, Gail, Paramount appreciates your contribution and has a high level position waiting for you…at UPN.

It’s Spring Training and as usual there are fifteen players from foreign countries who have not yet reported because of visa problems. They’ve only had their reporting date for five friggin’ months! If someone was paying me $10 million dollars a year I’d show up on time even if it meant learning how to read a calendar.

The Bush Administration (i.e. “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight”) in their latest reprehensible move wants to examine millions of internet user’s search engine requests. Kudos to Google for fighting it. I’m especially worried, having recently searched for “bestiality Mother Teresa”.

Scales of Justice: They’ve once again legalized piano teachers in Burbank. Since 1998 it was illegal for them to give music lessons in their homes. Wouldn’t you love to see Vic Mackey and the strike team bust into a house and take someone down for teaching “Heart and Soul”?

A Samuel L. Jackson movie opened this weekend. That’s a big event. I think Sam has now been in more movies than Ron Jeremy. I wouldn’t be surprised if come this December he’s not one of the DREAMGIRLS.

Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has made a life size statue of Hilary Clinton. It has a better chance of being elected President than the actual Hilary.

Snowboarding is an Olympic sport but baseball isn’t? Maybe the sport was dropped because too many ballplayers had visa problems and didn’t show.

And somebody explain why Curling is an Olympic event? Did the ancient Greeks even have brooms back then? I guess the height of status in LA is having a housekeeper with a Gold Medal.

Luge is the human sperm competition.

I wonder if NBC would’ve paid its four trillion dollars and sacrificed having the NFL for years if it knew the Olympics would finish behind both SURVIVOR and DANCING WITH THE STARS?

But it does kick VERONICA MARS ass.

Michelle Kwan made a big deal to be a spokesman for Disney. Smart move to sign the deal now. In three weeks her only offer might be from THE SURREAL LIFE IV.

Forget the heartbreak of losing an Olympic Medal. Lisa Rinna was eliminated from DANCING WITH THE STARS. I blame the French.

Ever notice that the final score of the NBA All-Star Game is always West 185, East 176? It’s a joke. Just a Harlem Globetrotters inter-squad game.

Lisa Marie Presley is getting married for the fourth time. For the life of me, I still don’t understand why it didn’t work out with Michael Jackson or Nic Cage.

I hope satellite radio makes it. I know they’re hurting. Of course giving Howard Stern $500 million only to learn that people are offering free bootleg copies of his show on the internet hasn’t helped. (Pardon me for chuckling.) I have XM and swear by it. My only complaint: there’s a disc jockey on the 60’s channel, Terry “Motormouth” Young who is compelled to tell you if an artist has died while introducing his song. “Here’s Jackie Wilson. Had a bullet lodged in his heart for years, was in a prolonged coma and died. Let’s rock out with ‘Higher and Higher’!” “Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley who died of cancer!” “’Runaway’ by Del Shannon who had a bad reaction to Prozac and killed himself. But in 1961, boy was he cookin’!” It’s like I don’t feel old enough listening to and loving 40 year old music already? My daughter has renamed him Terry “Morbidmouth” Young.

Best reward challenge EVER on SURVIVOR was last Thursday. The “girls wrestling in the mud for the pillow”. Inspired!!! The more times I watch it the more I marvel. There’s not a bobsled competition in the world that can compete with that.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

And the winners were...

The Oscars are just two weeks away. Every year I review them...which is tough because it means I have to watch them. Just to get you in the mood, here is my report on last year’s gushfest.


Oscars 2005

Welcome to my 7th annual bitchy Oscar review. Where has the time and my feature career gone?

Hiring Chris Rock to host provided the only buzz and suspense of the show. His piece at the Magic Johnson theater said it all. No one outside of LA or NY has SEEN these films. It’s the Tonys but for two cities instead of one. And we’re supposed to watch to see stars? The nominees were Imelda Staunton, Sophie Okonedo, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. It'll be 2016 before any one of them appears on INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO.

Chris Rock was as funny as he could be under the circumstances. Certainly they didn’t need the five second “dull-ay”. But when he went into the Bush bashing you could hear a loud collective CLICK as 49% of the nation turned off the show and went bowling. Expect this to be the lowest rated Academy Awards show ever. ABC will wish it showed DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES instead.

Every time they came back from commercials you saw a stagehand running for backstage. For about an hour that was the only amusement.

Paul Giamati was robbed. He should’ve been nominated.

Thomas Hayden Church was nominated for being himself. The rest of the WINGS cast has been on suicide watch since the announcements.

The set looked like THE WEAKEST LINK.

Halle Berry now has a rival for most beautiful – Beyonce. Wow! And such an amazing singer. I could almost sit through all three of the nominated songs she sang.

I hope Natalie Portman enjoyed her nomination. She’s sure not getting one next year for STAR WARS VI: ENOUGH ALREADY.

Kathryn Hepburn wins Academy Awards even when she’s dead.

Adam Duritz from Counting Crows looked like a bottle washer.

Thank God the Pope didn’t die. The “In Memoriam” tribute is always dicey. I’d hate to see his photo followed by Russ Meyer’s.

And by the way, they forgot Sandra Dee.

Scarlett Johansson’s dress was a work in progress.

Steven Spielberg was a no-show. Guess if he’s not nominated there’s no need to come and support “the community”. I’m sure he’d say, “why sit through an excruciatingly boring three hour show?” and I would say “how do you feel the rest of us felt watching TERMINAL?”

Drew Barrymore came as Morticia.

Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz are stunningly gorgeous. But presenters have to actually be able to pronounce names.

The three trophy models (now there’s a job that requires an advanced degree) were all 6’ because as director Louis Horvitz said, “the stage has a lot of verticals. I wanted them to be very tall and thin so in the wide shots they blend in and become almost architecturally pleasing.” Mr. Horvitz, ‘NOW’ on line three for you.

$20,000 goody bags were given away again this year…as if Thomas Hayden Church or Sophie Oronedo wouldn’t have come otherwise. And KTLA was offering Tic Tacs.

Just remember – Cher has won an Oscar.

This just in – the Red States have voted and CATWOMAN is the best picture of the year.

As long as Robert DeNiro continues to do movies like MEET THE FOCKERS Thomas Hayden Church will have a better chance at getting future nominations

Laura Linney looked like a raccoon.

I loved the Johnny Carson tribute. Were the Academy Awards ever better, ever classier than when he presided over them?

I’d like to thank the academy for honoring Sidney Lumet.

And for showing his Jessica Rabbit daughter. Or at least, I think that’s his daughter. She was very architecturally pleasing.

It’s bad enough to be nominated and lose but to be on stage when it happens? Yikes. Talk about pulling the rug out at the last second. I wonder if the losers then got to go to the backstage interview rooms and not be allowed to speak.

When the winners were announced from the audience I thought I was watching “Stump the Band”.

Mike Myers is never funny. Robin Williams used to be.

Where else can you see Mickey Rooney and Prince in the same audience?

For best song why not just use anything from RAY?

Johnny Depp came as Alfalfa this year.

What could the fun motif be for the HOTEL RWANDA after-party?

Boy, I bet Kevin Spacey was surprised when he wasn’t nominated for best actor, director, producer, writer, art director, hair stylist, and Gene Hersholt award for BEYOND THE SEA. Maybe if there was a category for largest ego, best mimic, and creepiest 50 year old playing 20.

Every academy member who received a screener tape of SPANGLISH gave it to their housekeeper.

Annette Bening should have been in the AVIATOR since she is married to Howard Hughes.

My vote for movie of the year: THE INCREDIBLES. But in all fairness, I haven’t seen WHITE CHICKS.

Of the 28 billion people who supposedly were watching I was the only one who appreciated just how good the off-screen announcer, Randy Thomas, was.

If you have Tivo I bet you zipped right through the Gene Hersholt award. And every non-actor acceptance speech. And the last twenty minutes of Jaimie Foxx’s.

Prince and Rene Zellwegger had the same hair style, used the same motor oil.

I don’t care what Sean Penn says. Jude Law was in every bad movie. And contributed to each of them.

Okay, now that Hilary Swank has thanked everyone in the world let’s give the award to someone else.

My son, Matt, is convinced that Hilary Swank is a man. So he was less impressed with her performance since it was a man portraying a woman acting like a man.

Leave it to a writer, Charlie Kaufman, to make the most refreshing speech.

If ever there was a lock it was Jaimie Foxx. No way he’d be singing “Cryin’ Time” tonight.

Julia Roberts looked pretty good for a new mom. Assuming she wasn’t stuffed into that dress like a sausage.

Poor Martin Scorsese gets shut out again. And he talks fast. At least his speech would be quick even if he thanks a hundred people.

Clint Eastwood’s mom is still alive? I thought that was Warren Beatty.

Barbra Streisand is fast turning into Lainie Kazan. And seeing like Ray Charles.

The theme for the Best Picture nominees seemed to be “guy looking to cheat on his wife or girlfriend”. All except MILLION DOLLAR BABY. At Clint’s age all he can lust after now is pie.

I was happy MILLION DOLLAR BABY won….I guess. Oh hell, I didn’t care. And I’m sure at the Magic Johnson theater ticket sales for it won’t go up by one.

At least Jim Carrey wasn't on the show. See you at the DVD rental store.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Some kids write poetry...

….my darling children write rants. Here’s another from my Northwestern undergrad daughter, Annie. And one from my 23 year old son, Matt. Our family is hardly the Cosbys.


From Annie:

Theater Majors.

You must understand, that I didn’t want to do this rant. I tried to hold off due to the many many theater friends that I have. But I just had to do it. So, in order not to lose any friends (or so that I don’t have to sleep with one eye open every night), I shall confine my ranting into: Theater majors that fit into one of these categories:

1). The “I’m so unique and funny” major. These are the people who get cast solely for their willingness to look like an idiot on stage. And as a result, they ironically seem to think that this gives them the right to laugh at us. But that’s not what gets me…it’s how ANNOYING they are. And they fool you every time. You always think “Oh he’s so clever and funny” and then five minutes later you’re about to put duct tape on his mouth, tear out your hair and run around screaming “No more funny voices for the love of G-d!!” And if you are in a class with them, it’s the worst! Remember that class clown in elementary school who wasn’t actually funny, but you giggled because you always felt bad that he was sent the principal’s office daily? Well, that little second-grader’s humor far surpasses anything that I have heard come out of the overly ambitious mouths of these 20 year olds. People like this are the reason that quality of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE has gone to shit.

2) The pretentious majors. These are the ones you know best. The ones who serve your food at CPK, who carry combs around, who always have a headshot handy. I just have one question about this type of theater major and that is “Who the hell do these people think they are?!” I got news for them -- everyone and their grandmother has probably starred as “Nathan Detroit” in SOME production of GUYS AND DOLLS, they are nothing special! I think it’s wonderful that you got into the new musical, I could not be happier that you once played a child in a “Sunny Delight” commercial, now shut the hell up. If I ever start a sentence with “Well, back when I starred in…” just hunt me down and beat me back down to earth.

3) The “Do I know you?” major. Now it might be a bit difficult to follow all these categories because each one involves people whose egos could fill the large venues that they claim to have performed in. The “Do I know you” theater major is a little different in that there are times when you think that these people are normal. Those times include: a) when you’re paying them a compliment or b) when you’re doing them a favor. They have the sweetest tone when they ask you to help them with their costume, and when you say they did a wonderful job in the show they display a wonderfully false humility. However if you see them in a normal situation you must, I repeat you MUST, resist the urge to smile, say hi, ask a question or even stand too close. Because these vultures will stare you down! And the death stare has been perfected in such a way that no matter who you are, where you are, or how your day has gone you will immediately feel like you have been condemned to death. I could have just won a damn Nobel Prize, and yet some girl who played “Tree #7” in INTO THE WOODS will make me feel like I’m going to be flipping burgers for the rest of my life.

So the best advice that I can give you is this: If you happen to have one of these types as your server at a restaurant, and you want anything (e.g. your order to come out right), a little praise can go a long way. Who knows, you may find it’ll bring out the inner actor in you?


From Matt:

Valentine’s Day cards

So I know I'm not the child normally sending out the rants, but I couldn't resist after going to the store today to buy a Valentine's Day card. I've found the cards fall into three major categories:

1) Sappy. These are the one's that just make you want to puke. I don't know who can give them out without their significant other realizing that they are trying to b-line it for their pants. I mean, no straight guy ever, EVER, talks like this:

“It's so nice to know we're in this thing together... no matter what. We're partners to the end. It's you for me and me for you, forever...it's so nice to be in love with my best friend! Happy Valentine's Day”

2) Funny. These are the ones written by the writers who couldn't cut it on Heather Graham's new/expired sitcom. Topics of the "funny" Valentine's day cards:

Diary of the chocolate with the yucky apricot cream center, a guy who says "yes" to the question "Am I fat" (Uh oh, is he in trouble), and of course any type of pun

3) Cute. These are the easiest to spot. Take either a cat, dog, or other fuzzy animal and slap a picture of it on the front of the card. Is this supposed to get you laid? Are women really that shallow?

Now for the worst part, the combinations of the three categories. If you have a weak stomach I'd stop reading now. Imagine a card with a puppy on the front, a pun about "puppy love", and inside a puke-worthy story about how the card sender's life is worthless without the love of their life.

Am I a cynic? Of course. Am I wrong? Absolutely not. If anybody from Hallmark reads this, please, please end this shenanigan of a holiday that allows women to set the bar that much higher for any chance to get some that particular night.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The last MASH

In the news:

Last U.S. MASH unit bows out on humanitarian mission

“The U.S. Army bade "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" to perhaps its best-loved institution on Thursday when it decommissioned its last Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) and handed it over to Pakistan.

A legendary institution that gained worldwide fame through a long-running television comedy series and a hit 1970 feature film portraying a fictional 4077th MASH, has a history dating back more than 60 years to the end of World War Two.

The field hospitals served in U.S. wars since, from Korea to Vietnam and Iraq, saving many thousands of lives.

The MASH decommissioned on Thursday -- the 212th based in Miesau, Germany -- was based in Iraq until last year.”


I spent four years working on the TV series MASH and it was an experience I will always treasure. A few years ago we had a reunion at the Museum of Broadcasting. Standing with the cast and writers I really felt like I was part of a Superbowl winning team.

A few years ago 60 MINUTES did a segment on writers facing ageism (ironic since the 60 MINUTES correspondents range in age from 65-211). One industry idiot suggested that if a writer had a MASH credit he should leave it off his resume because it made him appear too old. To me that’s insane. I could not be more proud of my association with MASH and the day I take it off my resume is the day I start selling Marie Osmond dolls on QVC. (But for the record, I was 9 when I started on that show).

How many television series have books and scholarly papers written about them? Although I must admit, I’ve read these and they’re a joke. They talk about the brilliant symbolism, our deeper philosophical and empirical meanings, the clever use of the Anti-Christ, affectionate homages to classic literature – none of that is true. We were just looking to come up with a joke so we could go to lunch or a story beat for Radar so he’d leave us alone.

But we knew this: we had the best job in Hollywood, worked with the finest people, and it’s nice to know that as the last real MASH unit fades into history the show will live on and the sacrifice and heroics of those brave doctors, nurses, and corpsmen will be appreciated and celebrated long into the future.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Even more advice if you can stand it

More questions:

HIM: If I can’t get an entry level job in the industry what are the best jobs to get?

ME: Assuming that while you work you’re going to continue writing specs you need a job that pays enough to live on (duh) and you don’t take home with you after your shift. If you’re writing with a partner you obviously have to coordinate your schedules. Work at Starbucks so you can walk around and see what everyone else is writing. Work at an LAX parking toll booth. That way you only have to use .000001% of your brain. I taught idiots how to be disc jockeys at a Broadcasting School. What a jerk-off job that was. But I was done everyday at 6. And no weekends. The students needed that time to memorize how to announce weather forecasts.

HIM: There are sometimes ads looking for screenwriters. Is that something worth pursuing?

ME: I say beware. Usually these are not WGA signatories which means you get screwed. The pay is crap, you have no rights or protection, you’ll work like a galley slave, and chances are the movie will never get made. I know it’s tempting and you’d rather get a job using your skills than putting on a straw hat and serving "cups of dirt" at TGI Fridays, but trust me, your writing time will be better spent crafting a spec, which, if it sells, will pay infinitely more than some laundry magnate’s pet project on the man who invented Sanforizing.


We all have to start somewhere. At times it’s confusing, exasperating, demeaning, and depressing. But when you make it you will look back nostalgically at that period as one of the best of your lives. And for me there’s the added glow that I contributed so much to radio.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Advice for aspiring LA bound writers

An aspiring writer soon to move to LA had a few questions.

HIM: I will obviously have to take another job. The best jobs would seem to me to be production assistant (watching a show get made from the inside) and writers assistant (working with someone who knows what they're doing). How do I start looking for work in these areas?

ME: First off, it helps to know somebody. ANYBODY. This is the automatic answer to any question involving industry employment. Don’t sleep with anyone to get one of these jobs. Having to get sandwiches for them is demoralizing enough. Short of a connection, write to every show and offer your services. Write to the production companies and networks too. Find out what writer/producers have development deals. They may need assistants. Do a little homework. Who went to your college? Who’s from your hometown? Who got drunk and sang “My Heart Will Go On” in a karaoke bar one night? Shows start staffing around the beginning of June. New ones are the best. You’re not competing with any returnees.

HIM: I'm working under the assumption that PA and WA jobs are entry level. Is this correct? What skills should I emphasize for these jobs?

ME: You are correct. As entry as can be. The pay scale was set by the Triangle Shirt Factory in 1911. For Writers Assistant positions you must be very proficient in computers, can type like the wind, and can hold your tongue when you hear morons less talented than you pitch jokes that people on laughing gas wouldn’t chuckle at. For a Production Assistant -- have a car.

HIM: What does a writers resume look like?

ME: There isn’t any standard format that I know of. I think Kinkos provides a few sample templates although they may insist you xerox a thousand copies before they’ll let you see them. It’s pretty basic. List pertinent information. What you’ve written, educational background, any awards, previous experience that might be impressive. Leave out hobbies and special skills. You’re not an actor. We don’t give a shit that you can fence, yodel, or ride a horse.

HIM: What other jobs might you recommend that might help me as a developing writer?

ME: A script reader, providing coverage for a studio. Interning at a studio or network in their development or current departments. Mailroom in a talent agency (the Guantanamo prison of show biz). Personal assistant to a writer (if a writer can afford a personal assistant he’s probably somebody and helpless). Network page. Dialogue coach.

HIM: Where could I go to get an unbiased critique?

ME: It’s not a question of whether the reader is unbiased. It’s whether he knows a good script from GIGLI. Writing instructors often are a good source. Or fellow writers whose opinions you trust. I’d avoid the folks who want to charge you to critique your script. They’re usually bad writers with gambling debts.

HIM: Are there any contests, competitions etc. that you consider legit? For example if you were considering hiring a new writer what contest could they have under their belt which might make you inclined to give them a thumbs up?

ME: A Heisman Trophy. Actually, there’s no one contest that is the Pulitzer of specs. But any competition you win or place highly in is a plus… except maybe PROJECT GREENLIGHT. Winning the Diane Thomas Award from UCLA is pretty big stuff. You would certainly get agent consideration by acing one of these competitions. And whatever prize or bowling trophy you get is keen. If you win a playwrighting contest you might get the benefit of a reading or staged production of your work. That’s way more valuable than a plaque. But ultimately it’s your spec script that is going to sell you.

HIM: Are there any other examples of my work that a potential employer might consider? Sketches or short films? Could a DVD of my work ever be appropriate? (assuming I could get a few shorts made)

ME: The short answer is no. Sketch material and short films might help you secure an agent but won’t even be considered by producers looking to staff or hand out writing assignments on sitcoms. The last thing you want a producer to say when he picks up your sample is “What the fuck is this?” It’s all in the spec, baby.

ME TO ALL: Best of luck. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What love really is

Most guys don’t love Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday designed to trap them. If you’re dating more than one woman, you’re dead. If you get the wrong gift, you’re dead. If the gift is too cheap or too elaborate, you’re dead. If you get her a humorous card with Bush on the front you’re dead (although in that case you deserve to be).

Or worse, they love the gift and card too much. Then you’re REALLY dead.

My problem with Valentine’s Day is that it’s also my birthday. Try going out to a nice celebration dinner when every restaurant is packed, all the prices are jacked way up, and everyone is trying so hard to create a “romantic atmosphere” that when their date isn’t looking they’re popping Lexapros like Tic Tacs.

Still, not to be a cynic I would like to offer an explanation for what love really is. It comes from that font of romance -- an episode of TAXI (written by Ken Estin).

Louie is trying to win back his girlfriend, Zena. He asks if she loves him. She says she doesn’t know what love is. He tells her she’s in luck because he does. And he’s the only person alive who can say that. He’s read what everyone else says love is and they’re always wrong. She finally asks him what it is, and Louie says:

“Love is the end of happiness!

The end. Because one day all a guy’s got to do to be happy is to watch the Mets. The next day you gotta have Zena in the room watching the Mets with you. You don’t know why. They’re the same Mets, it’s the same room…but you gotta have Zena there.”

That to me expresses more heartfelt love than any bouquet or bling or blowout dinner. Maybe you should change your plans and just get together in her apartment. Especially if you planned on dining at the Lobster in Santa Monica. I’d like to be able to eat my dinner without being so wedged into a little table that the next person’s lobster is on my plate.

Thank you and happy Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The San Diego iPodres

When I was a disc jockey in San Diego in 1974 some idiot got the bright idea to call the city “America’s last resort community”. Would it surprise you to learn from that civic brainstorm that San Diego is staunch Republican? They use a different slogan today but little has changed. They’re still Republican and recently they went through three mayors in one month.

Since I was looking for something to do as a last resort this weekend San Diego seemed the perfect destination. I went to visit my good buddy and former radio colleague, Rich Brother Robbin. I never asked but I’m guessing that’s a fake air name.

Stayed at a quaint motel in Ocean Beach right on the water. “Quaint” is another term for “Bates”. For the perfect touch, on Saturday night it was a little foggy so a loud foghorn sounded from the nearby pier every thirty seconds all night long.

Ocean Beach is a terrific little throwback beach town. The main drag is Newport Ave. and is populated almost exclusively by ma and pa businesses. (the exception of course being Starbucks. I’m surprised there’s not one in the Vatican). Black’s head shop is exactly as it was in 1967 except they now take credit cards. So does the other head shop…two doors down.

There’s a tanning salon, which seems a little odd since it’s a block from the beach.

The Old Townhouse is the place to go for biscuits & gravy (if that’s the kind of thing you order please don’t frequent Black’s nude beach). The other breakfast nook is Day Break on Bacon Avenue. And the Chinese restaurant is run by Greeks so unless you like olives in your sweet & sour pork or fried cous cous I’d look elsewhere.

Other local establishments the OB chamber of commerce recommends: Dr. Jefe’s Body Piercing (see their website for patterns and diploma), Unbreakable Clothing, Karen’s Consignment Gallery, Mallory’s Consignment Gallery (that title was just too irresistible and catchy for one), Golden Seashell Jewelry (that’s real clam shell not Zircon), Cow Records, and of course the Electric Chair beauty salon.

For Target, Costco, Borders, Wall-Mart, Home Depot, Fuddruckers, and every other franchise in America there’s Mission Valley. In another two years I bet the whole ten square mile area will be paved.

San Diego is a Navy town. Always has been. When WWII ended, troops from the Pacific came home via San Diego. Apparently the local residents were not thrilled. A red light district was growing, sailors were rowdy, not considered a good influence and local leaders were complaining. The base admiral got an idea. For the next payday he insisted all personnel be paid only in two dollar bills. Within a couple of days the town was flooded with these two dollar bills and local residents got the message. Sailors meant money. They’ve been embraced ever since.

Checked out the new home of the Padres, Petco Park. Wonderful old time feel,great location downtown – every seat has a view of at least one new condo tower going up – but there’s absolutely nowhere to park. We had trouble finding a space and the stadium was empty. Unless the Padres are playing Colorado there has to be a huge mess every game.

This weekend the Padres held their annual “FriarFest” at Petco. For only $5.00 you could get your picture taken with Padre superstars Josh Barfield and Adrian Gonzalez.

Rich and I cruised around town in his candy red T-Bird convertible listening to old Real Don Steele KHJ airchecks and thinking we were really bitchin’.

Stopped down in Tijuana where, alas, no cockfights this weekend in honor of Colonel Sanders’ birthday. But next weekend is “RoosterFest” where for 5 pesos you can take your picture with Adrian or Gonzalez. Purchased the really “in” designer drugs (the antidepressants that advertise in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. Those people on Wellbutrin look like they’re having sooo much fun.).

Swung by the Hotel Del Coronado, featured prominently in SOME LIKE IT HOT. It looks the same. Charming, classic, elegant, and ready to crumple like a house of cards if a gardener accidentally points a leaf blower at it.

La Jolla is the Republicans’ Promised Land.

Skipped Sea World. No reason to ever go there without kids. They have a restaurant called Dine with Shamu where you can sit by the dolphin tank, watch Shamu do tricks and eat Mahi Mahi. Am I the only one who finds something wrong with that?

There are more people in San Diego just sitting on the beach or their front porches, drinking a beer and staring out into space than in any other city in the world. No wonder there are two head shops and they’re both doing well.

I thought I saw a surfer shooting the curl listening to an ipod. I do hope I’m wrong.

Surfers abound. Hippies still exist. And yet there’s not one radio station playing 60’s music.

San Diego’s premiere strip club, the Body Shop is still in business…which is a relief because I still have my lifetime pass from 1974. Only problem is, the strippers from 1974 are still there.

And Belmont Park remains open – home of the Giant Dipper rollercoaster, erected in 1925 and restored…one of the years since. Appearing daily: Reverend Jim – actually a hundred of them. They’re the park employees.

For weather, sheer beauty, beaches, breathtaking panoramas, nice people, pretty people, and bagpiping (another Ocean Beach available service) San Diego is “America’s Finest City” – a far better slogan than “Last Resort Community”.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Another Annie rant

A couple of weeks ago I posted a guest-rant by my daughter, Annie, who is a student at Northwestern. The responsive was very positive so since I’m proud to show her off….and I’m in San Diego chilling – here’s another Annie rant.


Today’s topic: The Chicago local TV News

Now, I guess I failed to notice this because I wasn’t as devoted to TV as I am now that Jack Bauer and his ass-kicking are back. But it is ridiculous.

First of all, why do we need news at nine o’clock? Second, let me go over some of the past promos I have seen. Keep in mind I am not making any of this up:

1) “People illegally parking in Handicap spaces!! Tonight at 9!!” I had to tune in for this gem in which they literally went up to random cars in handicap parking spaces and harassed these poor people who surprise surprise weren’t available for comment. Unfortunately they didn’t catch Steve Jobs.

2) “What is in this bag… (zoom in on a plastic bag that looks like it might contain a kid’s school lunch)…will SHOCK you!! Tonight at 9!!” Unless it’s where I left my frickin keys…I couldn’t care less.

3) “Members of a wedding party get food poisoning! Stay tuned!” I caught a bit of this dramatic episode. The grand conclusion: it was something they ate. Isn’t that what food poisoning IS?

Could it really be that there is so little going on in the world that a plastic bag is considered news? Yet if this is the case, it does seem a bit odd that the New York Times consistently comes up with relevant articles every morning. Well, I think they do. I mainly just go to the crossword puzzle.

Check out the ABC Chicago News website where the main headline is this:


"An Oklahoma woman takes whistling to a whole new low -- she whistles through her toes.

Betty Bell learned to whistle through her toes as a kid. She said she started her strange talent when she found she couldn't whistle through her fingers.

Bell is in New York trying to get a spot on David Letterman's late-night TV segment "Stupid Human Tricks." A friend painted a likeness of Letterman on one of her toes in hopes of bringing her luck.”

Friday, February 10, 2006


Same movie – very different reviews.

From the New York Times

Published: August 16, 1985

Take a healthy helping of ''Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' a dollop of ''The Bridge on the River Kwai,'' a dash of any Tarzan movie, a soupcon of ''Casablanca,'' a whiff of ''The Wizard of Oz'' and a stunt or two from a favorite Saturday serial, stir frenetically, and if you're lucky enough to have snappy dialogue by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, you may end up with as funny a movie as ''Volunteers.''

….There are lots of snappy exchanges. ''I thought you wanted to be my friend,'' Beth admonishes when Lawrence makes a pass. He replies, ''This is what I do with my friends.'' In refusing to pay his son's debts, Lawrence's father (George Plimpton) assures him that some day he will thank Dad for the gift of self-reliance and for the opportunity to learn to use a walker. It is a particular pleasure to report that although Lawrence naturally falls in love with Beth and goes through plenty of trouble to save her from being turned into a drug fiend, she does not make a better man of him.

Although the movie, which opens today at the United Artists Twin and other theaters, begins with film clips of icons of the early 1960's - John F. Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, Marilyn Monroe, Ed Sullivan - the spirit is very much of the 80's. But a little melancholy may blend with the laughter ''Volunteers'' draws at the expense of those earnest days when a President was urging people to ask what they could do for their country.
On the other hand….from VARIETY

Volunteers is a very broad and mostly flat comedy [from a story by Keith Critchlow] about hijinx in the Peace Corps, circa 1962. Toplined Tom Hanks gets in a few good zingers as an upperclass snob doing time in Thailand, but promising premise and opening shortly descend into unduly protracted tedium.

Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne 3d, an arrogant, snide rich boy from Yale who trades places with an earnest Peace Corps designate when his gambling debts land him in danger at home. Once ensconced in a remote village, contentious couple Hanks and cohort Rita Wilson and ultra do-gooder John Candy set out to build a bridge across a river. Kidnapped and brainwashed by the commies, the gung-ho Candy disappears for a long stretch.

With Candy absent most of the time, Hanks' one-note, if sometimes clever, attitudinizing wears out its welcome after a while. He also is deprived of anyone effective to play off.

Lensed in Mexico, pic features a muddy, truly ugly look. Also present is the most offensively blatant plug for Coca-Cola yet seen in the new era of Coke-owned entertainment companies.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I see that Tuesday night HOUSE got its highest rating ever. Following AMERICAN IDOL didn’t hurt but still, it’s developed enough of a following that I think I can devote a whole post to it.

For those who’ve never seen it, imagine BECKER meets CSI.

If you’re writing a spec episode of HOUSE, here’s the format: Vibrant attractive Fox-friendly hottie in her 30’s suddenly collapses for no reason. Opening credits. House says it’s nothing, send her home. She goes into convulsions. For the next forty minutes the earnest young doctors misdiagnosis her, send her into cardiac arrest, remove something that doesn’t need removing, break into her house for an illegal search, send House in to brow beat and traumatize her, and finally he figures it out. It’s something obscure like she licks stamps with cyanide or swims in a toxic waste dump. Five minutes later she’s cured and goes home. Last scene – ironic music plays over as House sits alone in his…well…house, pensive and tortured.

House must answer every question with a smart remark, the young doctors must roll their eyes at least ten times, House must break the Hippocratic Oath, show up Lisa Edelstein, discuss his love life with the bemused Sean Robert Leonard, and watch garbage TV (otherwise who would know he’s “quirky”?).

Four out of five weeks it’s revealed that the patient was lying all along, covering something up. So instead of just confiding in a doctor they allow themselves to get prodded, probed, cut open, and wrongfully medicated to the point of cardiac arrest and kidney failure.

So you took birth control pills, Julie Warner? You didn’t want to have another baby. Is that worth involuntary flailing, psychotic episodes, internal bleeding, and losing part of your liver? Y’know. your health plan has to pay for this.

The hospital itself is the only one on the planet with glassed in patient rooms. If I was sick in bed and had bedpan accidents I’d sure want people strolling by my room all day. And although they spared no expense on the modern design of the facility, apparently they forgot to include Recovery Rooms and ICU. No matter how major the operation the patient is right back in their private room two hours later entertaining visitors.

And still….it’s my favorite doctor show and I watch it every week religiously. And the episode where the mystery disease was IgA nephrophathy – I guessed it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Diss 'n dat 3

According to BonnieBernstein.com she was not fired by CBS. She just outgrew being a sideline reporter. If that’s the case why didn’t she quit her second week?

There’s no way to log onto BonnieBernstein.com without feeling like a complete uber nerd.

Maybe Bonnie could co-anchor ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT. Since Bob Woodruff’s tragic injury ABC is showing their unwavering confidence in Elizabeth Vargas by getting anyone short of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to co-host with her. And this is after one month.

Nice headline in the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER by the way: “Worry over Woodruff ups ABC ratings”.

Al Michaels has left ABC. Like Bonnie, he just outgrew it. Expect him to join NBC and call Sunday Night Football. He’ll be the best pick up for NBC since FRIENDS.

Among the Grammy winners: U2, Black Eyed Peas, and Les Paul.

Mariah Carey needs to go on the CELEBRITY FIT CLUB.

It’s getting hard to tell her apart from Aretha Franklin.

How many of this year’s Grammy winners will be out of the business by next year?

The WGA Awards were announced. For best staff writing in a TV comedy – Larry David for CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – the only comedy that has neither a staff nor written scripts. Why not give the award to Warner Herzog? That way it won’t have a staff, won’t be a comedy, won’t have a script, won’t be a show, and won’t be on TV.

Who needs the Winter Olympics when we have SKATING WITH CELEBRITIES?

Six more days until pitchers and catchers report.

Every time I turn on HBO they’re showing HE SAID, SHE SAID.

Motley Crue is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Doesn’t that totally make a mockery out of the stars for Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Ryan Seacrest, and Bugs Bunny?

This is pathetic. The Oakland A’s new flagship radio home is an all-podcast station. That’s the format. 30 minutes of animal husbandry followed by 30 minutes of “Worldbeat Radio with Jorgito Sol” then “Celtic Music News”. My mistake – I thought the Oakland A’s were in the Major leagues. Why don’t their announcers just stand on the roof and talk into a Mr. Microphone?

On the newsstands now: the best VANITY FAIR cover ever. Only thing better would be a DVD on “the making of the VANITY FAIR cover”.

AMERICAN PIE’S Natasha Lyonne is in a wee bit of trouble. Typical celebrity bad behavior. Seems she’s been charged with threatening to sexually molest her former landlord’s dog (this is TRUE…really). A conviction could hurt her chances for co-anchoring the ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT with Elizabeth Vargas.

The villain on 24 is named Erwich…which is also the name of an Executive VP of Fox.

CBS/Paramount is selling all of its theme parks. I hope that doesn’t affect the big plans to erect a NUMB3RS thrill ride.

In the tradition of great screen boxing trainers – you had Burgess Meredith in ROCKY, Clint Eastwood in MILLION DOLLAR BABY and now Jordana Brewster in ANNAPOLIS. It’s a different take on the part – the angelic waif trainer.

Big new musical opening on Broadway – RING OF FIRE (the music of Johnny Cash). It’s so good you’ll feel like you’re spending two hours in Folsom Prison. And if that doesn’t entice the Haddassah groups from Long Island to pre-order I don’t know what will.

Sunday’s Superbowl was the highest rated since the last time the Steelers were participants. Forget Dallas – Pittsburgh is America’s Team. (but you knew that)

Threatening to sexually molest her landlord’s dog???? Yikes! On the other hand, he was supposed to fix that drippy faucet. She called him twice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Since E! will never do a True Hollywood Story on VOLUNTEERS...

Yesterday’s post sparked a number of VOLUNTEERS questions. So here’s some more backstory.

John Candy had done SPLASH with Tom Hanks and the studio thought it would be great to pair them again. As conceived, Tom Tuttle from Tacoma was a short weasely guy. But we gave the script to Candy telling him we’d be happy to rewrite to accommodate him. He took the role and said don’t change a thing. John did every word exactly as scripted. One of my greatest moments as a writer was watching ESPN Sportscenter a few years ago when Washington State was in the Rose Bowl. They showed a shot of the crowd and the commentator said “I think I saw Tom Tuttle from Tacoma”.

My other highlight was getting the great Chick Hearn to do the basketball announcing. He did it all off the top of his head, perfect, one take.

The entire film was shot in Mexico, including the scenes at Yale.

It opened in Los Angeles at the Pickwood Theatre on Pico Blvd. It was a classic old theatre. Following our run the entire block was torn down to make way for the Westside Pavilion shopping mall. Not many movies can literally close a theatre. Ours is the first to close a theatre AND a bowling alley.

From our very first draft we had a scene where Lawrence Bourne III (Tom Hanks) takes the first step in disarming idealistic Peace Corps volunteer, Beth (Rita Wilson). She’s discouraged and homesick and he gives her a Coke -- a modest gesture at best but under the circumstances huge. There was no product placement intent. We were just looking for a device to help thaw their relationship. Three studios later VOLUNTEERS wound up at Sony/Tri-Star, which then owned Coca Cola. You can’t believe the shit we got for that scene. Yeah, we’re whores but we’re not taking the rap for that one.

My favorite line: “It’s not that I can’t help these people. It’s just that I don’t want to.”

Julie O. asked about the Burmese Prince. There’s a scene where Peace Corps supervisor/boy scout/CIA agent John (Tim Thomerson) gives Beth a small gift to show his affection. We wanted the gift to be a little off-center to signal to her that this guy may be a little weird. We discovered that there were these small Burmese statues that had huge penises. The perfect gift from any psychopath.

My partner, David and I were on hand for some of the editing, watching on a small movieola. There’s a point in that scene where the director had inserted a close up of the statue. We said we didn’t think that was such a good idea. He argued that the audience wouldn’t get the joke if they only saw the statue in a master. Later that week we had a test screening. When this GIANT close up of a penis filled the entire screen the women in the audience gasped and shrieked. David and I had to leave the theatre we were laughing so hard. Needless to say, the close up came out.

Other finalists for the part of Beth: Phoebe Cates and Kirstie Alley.

The evil war lord was Chung Mee which was the name of a Chinese restaurant on Ord Street in downtown LA that I used to frequent until health inspectors closed it down.

VOLUNTEERS was our first feature assignment. We did it for WGA minimum for a small company and a producer just getting started in the business, Walter Parkes. Today Walter is the President of Amblin Entertainment for Steven Spielberg and has produced a ton of great movies including GLADIATOR and MEN IN BLACK. He came to us with the basic idea – preppy joins Peace Corps to skip a big gambling debt. Walter’s college chum Keith Critchlow had that original notion and thus received story credit, which is only fair.

The initial tone was more of a dramedy along the lines of MASH. After two drafts it just wasn’t happening. We all decided to just pull out the stops and make it a rollicking comedy. But the company had no money for an additional rewrite. David and I agreed to do one more major draft for free so the project wouldn’t die. It was from that draft that the project really took off.

At an invited screening a friend of Walter Parkes came up to him in the lobby, took his hands, and said reassuringly, “Oh Walter, we love you anyway.”

We got a spectacular review in the New York Times, great reviews in TIME and NEWSWEEK, so-so in the LA Times and the LA Herald Examiner called us “Call Me Buana racists”. And I had to pay a quarter to read that review.

One day this weekend I'll post two contrasting reviews.

For whatever reason VOLUNTEERS always gets good ratings. It invariably airs during sweeps.

I’ve seen the DVD sell for $1 at Osco.

I can’t watch the movie without missing John Candy and marveling over just what a comedy genius he was.

Monday, February 06, 2006

How to get Tom Hanks to star in your movie

This is a true “Hollywood” story of how my writing partner and I got Tom Hanks to star in our 1985 movie, VOLUNTEERS (airing Tuesday at 3:45 pm and Wednesday at 7:45 am on AMC – okay, I’m shameless).

We wrote the first draft five years earlier (so far this is a “typical” Hollywood story). The movie centers around a preppy Yalie who ducks a gambling debt and winds up in the Peace Corps. Hilarity ensues (at least on the page). Sergeant Shriver, then the head of the Peace Corp, read it and said it was like spiting on the flag. I knew we were onto something.

The producer asked whom we thought might be good to star and we suggested this guy who at the time was in BOSOM BUDDIES on ABC – Tom Hanks. The producer scoffed. Tom Hanks couldn’t get a movie made.

We were at the same agency as Tom so for grins and giggles we sent him the script anyway. He loved it but reluctantly agreed the producer was right.

Flash forward a few years. VOLUNTEERS has gone through two studios, two directors, and nine drafts. HBO/Tristar greenlights it. Time to look for stars.

Tom had just done SPLASH. It was a huge hit. He was the Will Ferrell-of-the-month. Offered every project in town. He couldn’t find anything he liked (even BACHELOR PARTY II). So he said to his agent he had read a project about the Peace Corps several years back. What about that one? The agent said he would try to track it down but without even knowing the title it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

ONE HOUR LATER the agent gets a call from our producer. Would Tom be interested in a Peace Corps movie? The agent almost fell on the floor. He said to messenger it right away. We did. Tom skimmed it, recognized a Margaret Dumont joke we had in there, said “Yep, this is the one” and a half hour later the deal was closed.

Pretty cool, huh?

The person really responsible for making this deal happen was Cupid because it was on VOLUNTEERS that Tom met his wife, Rita Wilson.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stuporbowl XL

I can’t remember a Superbowl that was greeted with more disinterest. And then lived up to its billing. Hard to say what was worse – the game or the commercials.

I knew we were in big trouble with the Dr. Seuss feature. That’s how ABC chose to introduce the Superbowl? With a kindergarten lesson? Who do I throw the green eggs and ham at?

I still can’t get used to Seattle being in the NFC.

Don’t feel sorry for all the bettors who lost a fortune. There’s some poor schmuck who now has a whole warehouse full of “Seahawks 2006 Superbowl Champions” t-shirts and baseball caps.

Every movie theatre in America was empty during the game except the ones showing BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

And to think I was worried that ESPN would have to pad during their 72 hours of Pre-Superbowl coverage. Happily, every feature was essential…like Linda Cohn interviewing the “Commissioner of Tailgating” and Kenny Mayne redeeming his journalistic credibility after appearing on DANCING WITH THE STARS by learning how to make the ultimate nachos from Martha Stewart. But my favorite was getting to actually watch the guy paint the NFL logo on the field. I smell an Emmy.

It was great seeing all the NFL Hall-of-Famers. There must’ve been maybe three knees between all forty of them.

Who’s now larger, Steeler lineman Casey Hampton, Aretha Franklin, or Stevie Wonder?

There were people crashing into things or animals in every single commercial.

Are all beer drinkers slacker idiots? That’s how they’re portrayed.

Bring back the Bud Bowl.

It’s what we all assumed – the Hummer is the illegitimate child of a dinosaur and a robot.

Al Michaels proved once again why he is the best sportscaster in America. Not only was he right on top of all the controversial plays and calls, he was able to explain them in a clear concise way.

On the other hand, unless you’re Bill Belichick does anyone know what the hell John Madden is talking about half the time? Nickel D’s and 2-4 zones, and bootlegs right. There has to be some middle ground between that and Dr. Seuss.

But I do applaud Madden for this: he made mention of Bill King, the longtime Oakland Raiders announcer who passed away last year. Games should only be as exciting as he called them.

Chris Berman is the Joan Rivers of football.

Suzy Kholber is the Melissa Rivers.

Unless Suzy Kholber has a costume malfunction there’s no earthly reason for her to be there.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Bernstein, the best sideline reporter of them all is being let go by CBS. She was smart, accurate, asked tough questions, and made it to the national level with that nose. I’m sure there are a lot of Jewish boys who use her picture for their screen saver. I hope Bonnie lands another network job soon.

Is there a sporting event in the world more anti-climactic than the NFL Pro Bowl? Why not just give these players their free trips to Hawaii and show the Juice Man informercial?

Worst commercials: the Pepsi brown and bubbly spots. Bring back Joanie Sommers! Brownandbubbly.com sounds like the website P. Diddy goes to to get his hookers.

I loved the Rolling Stones. Mick is ageless. Very natural hair dye color too. Couldn’t help but notice he left out the word “cum” in the line “You make a dead man….”

I hope ABC didn’t mind that baby boomers were watching.

Didn’t it seem like every other play set a new Superbowl record? Most catches in the first period: now five. Wow. That’s one record I thought would never be broken.

How about this for a record – the most boring first half ever?

I was happy for Jerome Bettis. Even if Pittsburgh had lost he would be retiring a champion. The fact that they won made it even sweeter.

We’re going to miss him. Bettis was very, well…brown and bubbly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The "lost" CHEERS

The blog server was down for several hours Saturday. I really hate it when there’s a glitch in free services. It also did a whacky thing and deleted my Saturday post. Why it did that I have no idea but I've re-instated it. It's my "lost" post. And now another "lost" item, one far more rare and valuable --

It’s the “Lost scene of CHEERS”. My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote it, it was seen by EIGHTY MILLION people, (almost double the audience of the final episode of CHEERS)…

then never shown again..

I’m not even sure if a copy of the film still exists. For the first time in 23 years, here’s the lost script of that scene.

Backstory: People forget but Cheers wasn’t always an enormous hit. The first season’s ratings (1982-83) were terrible…as in “dead last”. In today’s world both UPN and Univision would kick our ass. In an effort to get better exposure NBC asked if we’d do a special scene to be aired sometime during the Superbowl pre game show. Pete Axthelm, the distinguished sports columnist for Newsweek and gambling tout for the Peacock agreed to appear. David and I banged out the scene. NBC aired it…right before kick-off. Talk about a good time slot.

Enjoy, trivia buffs:




Morning everyone.


You boys are here early today.

Superbowl Sunday, Diane. The only reason for living…not found in a mug.

We’re early because we gotta catch all twelve hours of the Superbowl pre-game show.

Started off this morning with the Superbowl Mass. Moved right into NFL ’82.

The next hour they’re going to trace the family tree of every player on both sides.

Ah, the big game. An American tradition. These athletes will test themselves for all they’re worth. They’ll spit farther than they’ve ever spat before. They’ll scratch in places no man has ever dared to scratch. That is entertainment.

Yeah. Superbowl Seventeen. Or as the French would say it, (IN JOHN’S UNIQUE FRENCH ACCENT) “Superbowl Seventeen”.


(TO SAM) Excuse me. Do you have a phone here? I’ve got the only bookmaker on the planet that I can’t get in touch with on Superbowl Sunday.

Yeah, it’s down the hall.

Hey, you’re Pete Axthelm.

That depends on whether you want to thank me or hit me for my selections this year.

Welcome to Cheers.


Hey, how come you’re not out there in Pasadena?

I should be. It’s the last time I book a flight through Jimmy the Greek’s travel agency.

Excuse me my ignorance, but I don’t know this gentleman. Will you introduce us?

This is Pete Axthelm. Pete’s the NBC house tout. Picks all the big games. He’s even right every now and then.

Actually I’m always right. It’s the players and referees that screw it up.

Oh, I see. You predict football games.

That’s right.

Oh what a worthy profession. I hope they pay you more than scientists and judges.


Pardon me, but it just seems ridiculous how you people place so much importance on the outcome of one silly little football game.


So Pete, forget about her, tell us who you like.

Well, I’m still feeding it all into my delicate computer – it’s a tough one, but I gotta start with that great Miami defense…

Miami?! Are you crazy?! That Thiesman person will pick them apart. You call him a prophet?


What’s going on?


Hey, what’s the name of this place?



(INTO CAMERA) Lots of abuse. I love it. My kind of place. You only find true peace at racetracks and saloons.


S is for Santa Barbara

For some reaason when the blog server went down it deleted this post. Don't know why but here it is again.

In honor of the Santa Barbara Film Festival (playing in Santa Barbara) I thought I’d share one of my travelogues from a few summers ago.

With both kids away this summer (I forget where) my wife and I snuck off to Santa Barbara for a long weekend. Other than the speeding ticket and dropping my cell phone in a pool it was a wonderful trip. Santa Barbara has become the land of the "smart writers who got out and bought when prices were still affordable". Now one must go to Buelton. So all enjoyment this weekend was tempered with deep envy. Thus the perfect vacation for a Jew.

"Golden Girl" writers have gorgeous homes up there. But I shall not dwell.

Every structure in Santa Barbara is made of stucco. Every floor is tiled. Every hotel room has pictures of the mission. Maybe one in a gazillion tourists come up to Santa Barbara to see the friggin' mission.

Shacks are referred to as "cottages".

We stayed at the Inn at the Spanish Gardens. Lovely hotel. Not as nice as Bob Zemickis' guest house but still. Walking distance to State Street and in a perfect location. Down the block from the Council of Drug Prevention and Acoholism. Across the street from Legal Services. And around the corner from the Probation Department. It was the San Ysidro Ranch of Watts.

The town was jumping as was to be expected. All the guys looked like Ashton Kutcher or Grizzly Adams. All the women looked like Demi Moore or Ashton Kutcher.

The writers of "Hope and Gloria" have an amazing house in Montecito.

By the way, nothing against all of these writers. They're lovely people one and all, completely deserving of all good things. I just hate that they're all smarter than me.

Sue Grafton, the mystery author, lives up in Santa Barbara. And so, in following her lead....

S is for Sushi -- There are sushi restaurants on every block. Typical small town America.

I is for Informercial -- My favorite store in Santa Barbara is called "As Seen on TV". It offers all the dandy items you see on television that you order by phone. From Vegematics to that miracle foam thing you put between your knees when you're sleeping, they have it all. My favorite is the Jane Fonda treadmill with the great added feature that there's nothing to plug in. It uses no electricity. You generate the belt moving by yourself! Excuse me, but isn't that called "walking"??? You're paying $200 to walk??? Shouldn't it be called the "Jane Fonda Hamster Wheel"? I overheard a customer say "How does this place stay in business if you can return stuff because none of this crap actually works?"

O is the Oxyclean kit we bought.

W is for the Wizard Pancake maker (which also makes donuts at no extra cost).

R is for Rain -- It rained Saturday. First time in late July in Santa Barbara since the Pleistocene Era. But did real estate values go down?? Nooooo.

P is for Polically Incorrect -- Santa Barbara boasts the first (and now only) Sambos restaurant. Noted without comment....except...come on guys!!

E is for End of an Era -- the mask store on State Street is going out of business. Where will people who eat at Sambo's get their masks?

H is for Heist -- I saw an officer of the SBPD tooling around on a motorized scooter. If you want to rob a bank and your getaway vehicle isn't a Kia I'd seriously consider Santa Barbara. Or if you want to buy a house in Santa Barbara.

G is for Great Food -- The Palace Grill and Andersons.

J is for Jezaira -- our waitress on Saturday. Take the mesc AFTER you take our order.

M is for Mission -- Okay, we went to a mission after all. Gorgeous, impressive, truly majestic. No wait, that was our friends Dave & Sally's new house in Ojai.

N is for Nude Beaches -- they have them in Santa Barbara. Considering that most people I saw shouldn't wear shorts much less go naked I did not visit.

D is for Dumbshit Capitol of the World -- Solvang. Didn't visit there either.

Z is for Zorro -- who, as legend has it, bought his first mask at the mask store on State Street.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The best testing story EVER

But first – the current testing process and how it works.

I tell any producer that has a pilot – do not (repeat) DO NOT go to the testing session. Picture the George Clooney torture scene in SYRIANA. That’s what it’s like if your testing goes well.

An audience is recruited. Only people who need four tries to pass their written drivers license test are eligible. They file into a screening room, their knuckles dragging on the ground. The producers are on the other side of a two-way mirror. You scan the group. Tattoos, mouth breathers, no foreheads. You’ve worked for a year on this pilot and these are the people who will decide its fate. (It’s the Presidential election all over again.)

They’re each given remotes. As they watch your show they’re asked to twist a dial to indicate their level of interest and approval. Ten minutes are required to give these complicated instructions.

You see the ongoing graphs. Blue for boys. Pink for girls. A rising blue graph means you have a lot of tit jokes.

After the screening they’re divided into two groups depending on sex. I think they should be divided by species but that’s just me.

Each group is led into a conference room where a moderator questions them. You watch unseen. And now these people who have never in their lives been asked their opinions about anything suddenly become Tom Shayles. Even if they laughed uproariously at your pilot they now have problems with it. I think back to my recent pilot.

The girl with the nose ring hated the lead actress. Why? “She wore that red dress.” The guy with the SHIT HAPPENS T-shirt thought the lead guy was a weak character. Why? “He drove a Passat.” When a woman was asked what her favorite new show was she said COSBY. This was in 2004.

I somehow managed to drive home while in a fetal position.

I wouldn’t mind testing if networks didn’t place such a reliance on it. If it was just used as a tool, another form of input (like studio audiences) that would be fine. Even welcomed. But all too often it’s not. All too often it’s the determining factor.

And even that would be okay except for one thing – they’re usually wrong!!! EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (yanked after one airing) tested well. STACKED tested well (duh!). Every cancelled show had high test scores. I dunno. There’s got to be a better way.


Okay, now the best testing story ever.

In 1939 the movie NINOTCHKA (directed by Ersnt Lutitsch, written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett) was being tested in a theatre in Long Beach. Following the screening the audience was asked to fill out comment cards. Lubitsch and Wilder were reading the cards in the back of the limo on their way home. Lubitsch read one and burst out laughing. He showed it to Wilder. It said:

“This movie was hilarious. I laughed so hard I almost peed into my girlfriend’s hand”.