Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mid-week misc-takes

Thanks to those websites who linked to my Aaron Sorkin parody. For you new readers, what you’ll find here are humor pieces, inside industry stuff, anecdotes, advice to writers, goofy travelogues, award show reviews, script samples, and once every five years a political piece.

A couple more prime time game shows are premiering, cutting out even more slots for scripted shows. I think in the next WGA contract they should insist that writers be contestants so at least we can win our money for the year.

The NBA season begins. I think they should just give each team 100 points and let them play for five minutes. As it is now there are 82 exhibition games until the playoffs.

On whatever the OUTDOOR NETWORK is now called there is a great show where BBQ chefs compete for $75,000. You can almost feel the grease coming out of your TV screen. One of the events is having them cook unfamiliar dishes. These good ol’ boys are stymied. “Lobster? Wha’ the fuck is lobster?” Then you see them flip it around and around looking for the ass to shove a jalapeño pepper in.

Rumors abound that STUDIO 60 will soon be cancelled. Darn. And I was so looking forward to that full page ad in the trades: “For your consideration: Sarah Paulson, best actress in a comedy.”

PRISON BREAK: Michael sets up this elaborate system of clues that even the Navajos couldn’t decipher to rendezvous with Sarah and he expects her to be there? I might’ve just sent a text message. But then, if my brother were on death row and I knew the floor plan of the prison, instead of going to prison myself to spring him I might merely phone and say, “Okay, bro, there’s a passageway under the laundry room. That takes you to a vent near the chapel. Climb up that vent for fifty feet then turn right…” etc.

HEROES: Save the cheerleader, save the network.

Note to movie theaters: Okay, I surrender. You can play commercials. Just don’t show the CATCH A FIRE trailer ever again. I’ve seen it sixty-five times. Please. I’ll even sit through the “Movie Fone” ad.

No comedy writer should be without the SGT. BILKO box set. The episode where Bilko gets a monkey processed and sworn into the army is worth the price of the DVD’s alone.

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! To the greatest show on earth! If there’s anyone who loves a circus more than kids, Twyla Tharp thinks it’s aged baby boomers. Her new Broadway show, THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’, the juke box musical of Bob Dylan hits (or, as my daughter Annie calls the genre – a “re-usical”) is inexplicably set under the big top. I guess the jugglers and the clowns will do their tricks for you. I despise circuses anyway (sad clowns are even worse than the CATCH A FIRE trailer) so I can’t imagine anything more horrible. To sit through this, truly, everybody must get stoned.

I love Elizabeth Mitchell. Even if she’s an “other”. To join the cast of LOST do you now have to take a breathalyzer test?

Fox is preparing a TSA action-drama, focusing on those brave men and women who make you put your computer in a separate bin.

I just saw ten minutes of MARIE ANTOINETTE (I ducked into another theater during a certain trailer) so it’s not really fair to comment. But what I saw looked like Romy & Michele with wigs.

Keith Urban checked himself into a substance abuse treatment center four months after marrying Nicole Kidman. Draw your own conclusions.

And finally…can you believe it’s November already??

Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween

I must admit I never got into those slasher movies. Seems to me they’re all the same story. The popular kids who were too good to ever go out with you in high school all frolic off to a cabin for some holiday and some disfigured skeesix in a goalie’s mask terrorizes and one-by-one graphically slices them up. Yes, it’s grizzly and horrible but isn’t that sorta what they deserve? Would it kill them to agree to dance with us just once??

Then there’s a sequel where the ones that survived go BACK to the cabin. You’d think maybe they’d hit the MTV beach house the next winter break instead?

And there’s always the backstory explaining how the psychopath became a killer…such as he was a bed wetter or flunked out of Benhinana Chef school.

I have what I believe is a great idea for a slasher movie. I’m sharing it because I’ve had it registered (in other words, you can’t steal it!!!). But it seems to me the key to this genre is creating a truly terrifying slasher. My idea is to hire Gordon from SESAME STREET as the psychopath. Can you imagine how disturbing THAT would be to anyone who grew up with that show?

“You didn’t eat your vegetables!” “AAAAAAAA!!!” Slice! Hack!

“Can you spell ‘help’?” “H-E-L-AAAAAAAAAAA!!” Stab! Slit!

“One of these limbs is not like the others!” Chop!

“Today I’m brought to you by the letters D.O.A.!!”

I can hear the screams now. Freddie and Jason and Chucky, eat (or cut) your hearts out. Plus, I’ve got the sequel all storyboarded. Only this time it’s Maria.

Happy Halloween, kids.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Goodbye Radar

A reader asked me about the “Goodbye Radar” episodes of MASH. They were the last MASH scripts my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. We wanted to title the show “Goodbye Levine & Isaacs” but CBS nixed it.

The episode was originally scheduled to wrap up season seven but the network worked out a deal with Burghoff to come back season eight for six shows and do the finale as a two-parter during November sweeps. We left the series after season seven as well but agreed to return to write the two-parter.

The first problem was that this decision to push back the finale was made at the last second so we had to scramble for that final episode of season seven. David and I wrote “Night at Rosie’s” over a weekend and it began filming the next day.

When it finally came time to film “Goodbye Radar” Gary decided he didn’t want to wear his hat. This became a big issue and remains a sore spot with me to this day. Our contention was that without the hat he no longer looked like a kid, he looked like a balding man rocketing into middle age. Also, for reasons I still can’t fathom, he chose to play the character somewhat angry throughout.

Trivia note: in the show he hooks up with a future girlfriend. We named her Patty Haven, one of my former girlfriends.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the final result. Charles Dubin’s direction really elevated it.

The one thing David and I wanted to avoid was a lot of schmaltz. We did not want long gooey farewell speeches with a lot of crying and hugging. So we devised a story where choppers arrived with injured patients just as Radar had to leave. Farewells were delivered on the run. And this is how we ended the show:



Tired and sullen, Potter, Hawkeye, and B.J. (still in bloody surgical garb) EXIT. O.R. and head towards “The Swamp”.

Pierce, you were a good boy in there. You only threw one instrument, and two tantrums.

Well, the finger’s improved. It’s up to excruciating.

(looking up) Warm night. Maybe I’ll take a walk and unwind.

Sounds relaxing. I’ll get a couple of flashlights. You can look for minefields, I’ll check for snipers. (beat) Where do you think he is now?

Doesn’t matter. He’s away from here.

I really miss the kid, you know?


I’m going to name my first wife after him.

They reach “The Swamp”.

Well, I’ve walked enough.

Me too. Let’s see if the bar is open in this place.



Potter, Hawkeye, and B.J. ENTER.

He’s probably halfway to Hawaii by now.

B.J. flops on his cot. Hawkeye is at the still, fixing three drinks.

(yawning) I don’t want to think about it anymore.

Potter stops, looking down at Hawkeye’s bunk.

Hey, boys…

Yeah? What?


Lying on his pillow is Radar’s teddy bear.


Touched, Potter picks up the teddy bear, hands it to Hawkeye.

(to teddy bear) Good-bye, Radar.



A brief comment on this weekend's post

I rarely use this blog as a political forum. I am anything but a wonk. Earlier this year I filled in for Stephanie Miller on her radio show and just immersing myself in current events for two days was enough to send me screaming for a Xanex. But I do try to stay topical and we are nearing a big election.

It saddens me to think there are readers who will discontinue coming to this blog because I don't agree with their political beliefs but so be it I guess.

Although I'd feel better if you left because you thought I wasn't funny.

Onwards and sidewards. A new post on MASH is upcoming.

Joe Esterhaus action figure

Was at a newsstand last night and happened to glance through Scr(i)pt Magazine. One feature in particular caught my eye. I think it was called NEW VOICES. They must’ve selected the three most pretentious new writers who were lucky enough to sell a script and profile them.

Each answered a series of questions. What writing quirks did they have? One had to write when the sun was down (and I assume could not have a cross in the room) . Another couldn’t work unless he played a song that fit the mood of the scene he was working on. What? No deprivation tanks or a Joe Esterhaus action figure in your pants???

For upcoming projects most were just rewriting their current project or putting together exciting new things (i.e. they had nothing). One said he was trying to attract actors for his “amazing must-read other screenplays.” As Woody Allen said in ANNIE HALL, “what I wouldn’t give for a large sock of horse manure.”

Finally, they had the audacity to give advice to writers – based on their eleven minutes in the business. That’s like Kellie Pickler giving a master class in singing.

One rookie scribe offered that writing is a marathon not a sprint. (Gee, never heard THAT one before). Another said writing was a mountain not a plateau and that writers had to continue to strive to learn. Which Learning Annex Writing Seminar teaches clichés?


If I may offer some advice, and granted I’m not a hot new voice – I would suggest that writing is a very humbling exercise. And the minute you think you’ve got it down, the instant you think you’re the “Prince of the City” – BAM!!! You are in for a fall. A BIG fall. I would love to read a follow up on these three guys in five years… after they’ve been rewritten, had four “amazing must-read” specs that didn’t sell, done the tenth rewrite of the sizzling screenplay they sold last month, and applied for a teaching position at a middle school.

If you’re an aspiring writer and do sell your first script. Congratulations. That’s fabulous. Enjoy it. But instead of viewing it as validation of your own brilliance, appreciate that this is just the start and your longevity will depend on your continuing to grow, luck, relationships, and keeping some perspective.

I guess I can kiss goodbye any feature article about myself in Scr(i)pt Magazine. Oh well, writing is a mountain not a plateau.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The end of the World...series

This is the most depressing weekend of the year. The end of baseball and the end of Daylight Savings Time. I hate it when it gets dark at 2 in the afternoon.

And now for my weekend post – something REALLY controversial. Again, a reminder, when you write your angry hate comments on this upcoming piece, include your name.

Here are my World Series final thoughts:

When Jeff Weaver wins the clinching game of the Fall Classic you know we’re living in a world gone mad.

If the Tigers weren’t so young and inexperienced I’d wonder if we didn’t have another Black Sox scandal brewing. (And still I’d like to know who Tony Soprano had money on.) It was staggering how many errors the Tigers made, not to mention baserunning blunders, and inept hitting. Far from a championship team, they looked like a fat man’s picnic out there.

And they STILL beat the Yankees.

Now I know why the A’s fired their manager after being swept by this bunch.

Was there ever a more boring World Series? When “Schmootzgate” is the big story, you know you’re not seeing one for the ages.

Hope you got the chance to hear Jon Miller’s play-by-play on ESPN radio. He made the World Series sound, well…exciting even.

Did you ever think the Cardinals would win a World Series where Pujols batted .200?

Joe Buck on TV was his usual excellent self. And even on those very rare occasions when Tim McCarver made a good point (when he didn’t have the wrong score or was misidentifying a player) he repeated himself six or seven times until you still wanted to kill him anyway.

“Now it counts” – that big All-Star win for the American League giving them homefield advantage really was important.

I-Rod had a World Series worthy of A-Rod.

I loved the sign at Busch Stadium “Clone Suppan”.

So typical. the network showing series stars in the stands. Of course, since it’s Fox, the biggest star I saw was the crazed guy who plays Tea Bag on PRISON BREAK.

Maybe fielding practice for pitchers should not be exclusive to Spring Training.

With all the rainouts I was kinda hoping for a World Series/Superbowl doubleheader.

In victory or defeat, Jim Leyland is the classiest manager in baseball.

David Eckstein was a worthy MVP… although a case could be made for Yadier Molina.

Doesn’t it seem like one of the Molina brothers is always in the World Series?

Tiger fans can take great comfort in knowing Kenny Rogers WOULD have won the sixth game if there was one.

MLB is selling DVD’s of this year’s World Series. Biggest seller should be the rainout night when Fox showed a WAR AT HOME marathon.

Commissioner Bud Selig called this World Series a remarkable end to a remarkable season. Bud, that champagne is for spraying, not drinking.

How many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Friday, October 27, 2006

From the pen of Larry Gelbart

Larry Gelbart (brilliant writer of MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, SLY FOX, CITY OF ANGELS, etc.) just emailed me this and I wanted to pass it on. You're welcome to do the same.



For Election Day – Lest We Forget

Abu Ghraib
Evil Doers
Evil Do Gooders
Outsourcing Jobs
Quitting International Criminal Court
The Kyoto Protocol
The Geneva Conventions
Leaving Habeas Corpus for Dead
Civil War Abroad
Uncivil War at Home
Sound Bites
Unsound Policies
The Middle East Mess
The Middle Class Collapse
Predictably Unprepared
Perpetually Unequipped
Unmatched Ignorance
Unbridled Arrogance
Unwarranted Phone Taps
Unprecedented Powers
Compassionate Imperialism
Faith-Based Fascism
Total Dicktatorship
700 Club
700 Mile Border Fence
Over 700 Presidential Signing Statements
Unmatched Incompetence
Unparalleled Corruption
Ethic Cleansing
Governor Bob Taft
Governor John Rowland
Governor Bill Janklow
Stuff Happens
Stuffed Shirts
Tailored Suits
Tailored Stories
24/7 Spin Cycle
Executive Privilege
Privileged Executives
Surrogate Samurais
Draft Dodging Doges
Potomac Pattons
A Coven of the Craven
Representative Tom Delay
Representative Roy Blunt
Representative Ken Calvert
Representative John Doolittle
Representative Jean Schmidt
Representative Jim Gibbons
Representative Tom Feeney
Representative Patrick McHenry
Representative Christopher Shays
Representative Katherine Harris
Representative Barbara Cubin
Representative Joe Barton
Representative Jerry Lewis
Representative Gary Miller
Representative Marilyn Musgrave
Representative Richard Pombo
Representative Rick Renzi
Representative John Sweeney
Representative Charles Taylor
Representative Curt Weldon
Representative J.D. Hayworth
Representative Don Sherwood
Representative John Patterson
Representative Rodney Alexander
Representative Roy LaHood
Representative Bob Beauprez
Representative Bob Ney
Representative Randy Cunningham
Representative Chris Cannon
Jeff Gannon
Representative Mark Foley
Representative Dennis Hastert
Representative Jim Kolbe
Representative John Shimkus
Representative Tom Reynolds
Over Paid
Over Reaching
Over Logging
Under Armored
Under Suspicion
Beneath Contempt
Senator Bill Frist
Senator George Allen
Senator Conrad Burns
Senator Joe Lieberman
Senator Rick Santorum
Senator Trent Lott
Senator James Inhofe
Senator Pat Roberts
Senator Sam Brownback
Rubber Stamps
Robber Barons
Senator Larry Craig
Craig Schelske
Ken Blackwell
Lester Crawford
Crawford, Texas
Brian Bilbray
Margaret Spellings
Media Consolidation
Homophobia on the Range
The DNC (Do Nothing Congress)
DC (Dutifully Corporate)
Family Valuables
The Far Wrong
The Far Righteous
Reverend Jerry Falwell
Reverend Pat Robertson
Reverend James Dobson
Reverend Lou Sheldon
Ralph Reed
Gary Bauer
David Safavian
Vice Presidential Energy Task Force
Seventy Dollars a Barrel
Three Bucks a Gallon
Record Oil Company Profits
Anwar Pipeline
Anbar Province
Arthur Anderson
Adelphia Communications
Eli Lilly
AOL Time Warner
Bristol-Myers Squibb
CMS Energy
Duke Energy
Nicor Energy
Reliant Energy
Peregrine Systems
Global Crossing
Global Warming
Global Boiling
Lee Raymond
Tribe Bribes
Mike Scanlon
Grover Norquist
War Profiteers
War Privateers
Carlyle Group
Custer Battles
Kellogg, Brown & Root
George Tenet
Unanswered Questions
Questionable Answers
Adam Kidan
Timothy Flanigan
Lawrence Lindsay
Jessica Lynch
Jim Ellis
John Colyandro
Donald Keyser
Peter Roskam
Katherine Gun
Garrett Lott
Armstrong Williams
Talking Points
Pointless Talking
Chuck McGee
James Tobin
Thomas Scully
Kenneth Tomlinson
Allen Raymond
Claude Allen
Harriet (Miers)
Cut and Run
Run on Cuts
Bring It On
Dead Or Alive
Terri Schiavo
Bill Frist, MD
John Bolton
Florida, 2000
Ohio, 2004
North Korea 2006
Selective Diplomacy
Preemptive War
Sleeper Cells
Stem Cell Research
Dubai Ports World
Swift Boat Hit Men
Max Cleland
Douglas Feith
Mumming the Press
Dumbing the Proles
Roger Ailes
Sean Hannity
Bill O’Reilly
Fred Barnes
Morton Kondracke
Brit Hume
John Gibson
Ann Coulter
Laura Ingraham
Michelle Malkin
Glenn Beck
Neil Cavuto
Neal Boortz
Neil Bush (No Brother Left Behind)
Rush Limbaugh
David Frum
David Horowitz
Golden Parachutes
Shrunken Pensions
Sunken Bipartisanship
Bernie Kerik
Eminent Domain
J. Steven Griles
Numerous Convictions
Occasional Confessions
Social Security Privatization
Abrupt Resignations
Porter Goss
Dusty Foggo
Zero Accountability
Even Less Credibility
Michael Chertoff
Homeland Insecurity
Ahmad Chalabi
Baghdad Museum
Tora Bora
Taliban Resurgence
Iraqi Insurgents
General William Boykin
General Eric Shinseki
General Janet Karpinski
General Ricardo Sanchez
General Anthony Zinni
Mission Accomplished
Lawbreaking Lawmakers
Impeachable Sources
Suppressed Medicare Costs
The Donut Hole
Intelligent Design
Intelligence Failures
Ari Fleischer
Scott McClellan
Tony Snow
Tony Perkins
Tony Rudy
Tony Blankley
Tony Blair
Downing Street Memo
The Late Great Britain
Ken Mehlman
Dennis Prager
Wayne Simmons
Frank Gaffney
Expiration of Assault Weapons Ban
John Ashcroft
Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Fernandez
Danny Diaz
William Bennett
Stephen Hadley
Karen Hughes
Bunnatine Greenhouse
Richard Grasso
Brian Doyle
Thomas Noe
Ted Van Der Meid
Tan Nguyen
Michael Gerson
Michael Medved
Michael Reagan
Michael Maloof
Michael Savage
Aluminum Tubes
Valerie Plame
Joseph Wilson
Scooter Libby
Robert Novak
Richard Armitage
Brent Bozell III
Paul Bremer III
Gulf II
Non-Regime-Changing Regime Changers
Ex-Non-Vet Vulcans
Playing to an Enraptured Audience
Armageddon Uber Alles
Paul Wolfowitz
Richard Perle
David Wormser
Elliott Abrams
James Woolsey
Zalmay Khalizad
William Kristol
The Coalition of the Dwindling
Staining the Course
WMD (W’s Mass Denials)
Mad Cowboy Disease
Mad Cowhands Disease
Kissinger Redux
Duck Cheney
Blossom (the Turd)
George (the Fourth):Son of a Higher Father; Uniter, Decider, Flatulater; Reader of at least three Shakespeares, Camus’ “The Stranger” and “The Pet Goat;”
Prematurely discharged National Air Guardsman, missing in inaction, who describes members of the political party that successfully prosecuted two world wars as quitters.
Billions Missing in Iraq
Trillions Missing in D.C.
Missing Limbs
Missed Lives

On to ’08 ...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back-up scripts

Networks are beginning to give freshman series additional script orders. On the surface this seems like a vote of confidence. Actually, it’s just Lucy teeing up the football one more time for Charlie Brown. If networks really had confidence they’d order more episodes. In most cases you’ll still be cancelled but now you’ll also have to do extra useless work. Last year those coveted additional script orders went out to THRESHOLD, E-RING, and OUT OF PRACTICE. In the case of the latter, they eventually got a production order, made the episodes only to be cancelled and never aired. Tee it up, Lucy!

In an earlier post I described the back-up script that David and I wrote in a half an hour (with an included portion). Here's that entry.

But that's not my favorite story. Many years ago, we were show runners for a series at 20th Century Fox that got axed after we wrote a commissioned back-up episode. (I should note here that none of the executives involved are anywhere connected with 20th anymore.) The President of the studio at the time called us, told us of the cancellation – there was the usual balloon juice about how stupid the network was, yada yada – and said he wanted us to stay in the 20th family and offered us a development deal. We thanked him, were very grateful but said this was all very sudden and we’d need a little time to decide what we wanted to do next. He understood and repeated his pledge that there would always be a place for us at the studio.

An hour later a business affairs person called and said they weren’t paying us for the script. We told her it was part of the network back-up order, it was already written, and even printed out with a 20th cover. She said, tough, they’re not paying. So we called the union and fifteen minutes later she was informed that indeed they WERE paying.

Ten minutes later she called to say we had to be out of our office within the hour. Great way to treat such valued members of the 20th “family”. So we packed up and left, and you’ll be amazed to know declined their development deal.

Flash forward two months. Michael Douglas hires us to rewrite JEWEL OF THE NILE, the sequel to ROMANCING THE STONE. We tell him we have two conditions – a secretary (we write scripts by dictating them to an assistant) and an office…but not just ANY office. We wanted our old office (which was still vacant) and told him why. Michael loved the story, is always up for a good tussle with the studio, and sure enough later that afternoon the same business affairs bitch who threw us out of that office had to call and arrange for our moving back in.

This tiny victory was additionally sweet because it was on the same lot that Darryl F. Zanuck reportedly once said about a writer, “throw him off the lot until we need him again.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

If Aaron Sorkin wrote a show about baseball

This is how I imagine a typical scene would go.



You can’t get a good lobster in this town.

Last I checked we were in Kansas City.

4.6 billion pork ribs sold every year and 18.9 tons of beef consumed annually since 1997 –

They like their beef, what can I tell ya?

But you’d think just for variety’s sake.

I can still throw my curve.

For strikes?

I’m not throwing enough?

I’ve seen more lobsters.


It’s just that…

What? Kathy?

No. Cabs. There’s no cohesiveness on this team. After road games, 25 cabs for 25 players. There used to be a thing called “the greater good”, forgoing your needs for the betterment of the team and community who looks to us for their identity and self worth. When I’m trying to save a game I’m really trying to save a factory. If baseball is a metaphor for life, then responsibility is its first cousin simile. And Kathy.

That’s a “1” on your back and not a “2”.

I can’t help it. She knocks my sanitary socks off.


(in thick accent) Hey, Skip. You know where we could get a lobster around here?

Order a steak with butter sauce.


I only became a pitcher because of her.

Does she know that?

She knows that a human arm is not supposed to throw a baseball 100 miles per hour. And she knows that Jesus Christ could strike out Babe Ruth every at bat for ten years without so much as a rotator tear. But to answer your question – what was your question again?

Can you still throw your curve ball for strikes?

No. The other one.

Does Kathy know you became a pitcher for her?


Look up in the stands, guys. Not four black faces. Would Jackie Robinson even want to break into this game now? If this sport speaks to minorities now it speaks in Spanish. Afro-Americans make up less than 5% of the major leagues. Compare that to basketball, football, or even golf. Satchel Paige said, “don’t look back, something might be gaining on ya.” I just did. It’s now hockey.

Play a little closer to the line.


I think she knows.

But do you really know if she knows?


Then you know what you’ve got to do.


Throw strikes.

Right. Thanks.

And when you get home –


Tell her.

I’ll take her out for a lobster.

What do you mean, 25 cabs for 25 players?



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Knowing when to stop

Sitting down to start writing each day is tough. And so is knowing when to stop. If the two events are usually within fifteen minutes of each other pick another profession. But if you’re really putting in the hours, and there’s no foreman telling you when quitting time is, when is quitting time?

Some screenwriters go by number of pages. Others set a time limit. One I know eats chocolate covered coffee beans all day and when his hand starts to shake that’s the time to wrap it up. There’s no right answer, except maybe the last one.

A lot of writers will hang in there until they finish a scene. They like that sense of closure. There is something to be said for that peace of mind. Especially if you’re neurotic and from what I hear, one or two writers are.

On the other hand, I like to stop when I get stuck. It’s usually in the middle of a scene. (Ernest Hemingway used to stop in the middle of a sentence. I always wondered if he wrote a suicide note that read: “I’m sorry, I just can’t go…”)

Instead of gutting it out, I will walk away from the computer and just let my subconscious mind work on solving the problem. I know that sounds very “Yanni” but for me, a relaxed state is when I do my best thinking. I’ll keep a notepad by the bed and in the morning just lie there like a slug and let my mind run free. Very often the answer will come. Similarly, the shower is a good place to problem solve, and one of the few shower activities you can admit to.

The added benefit of allowing yourself the night and morning to break through your problem is that when you sit down to start writing again you’ll already have a head start. You won’t have to face the “tyranny of the blank page.”

Writing is rewarding but never easy. We resist starting and constantly fight the temptation to stop. Kurt Vonnegut talked of the difficulty. He said whenever he’s in a room with writers they’ll all be bitching about how hard the process is. All except one. He’ll say it’s a breeze. Every day it just flows. Invariably HE’S the worst writer in the room.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My kind of town

Since it was 80 degrees in Los Angeles in late October, I figured, what better time to go to Chicago? Visited our daughter, Annie, who has so many projects and activities going at Northwestern we were lucky to have time to take her out for nice meals and buy her things at Target.

Our stewardess was Roy Rogers’ granddaughter. From one stuffed horse to another, she now works for Southwest Airlines.

I always love going to Chicago. Great food, great people, and statues of baseball announcers. If only their weather didn’t combine the worst of Siberia and Death Valley.

The weather forecast for our arrival was snow. It was 63 degrees and clear. Who are these weathermen and why aren’t they the President’s foreign advisors?

It was the big Northwestern homecoming weekend. In an attempt to silence once and for all those who believe their football program is a perennial embarrassment, the Wildcats took a commanding 38-3 lead over Michigan State late into the third quarter. They lost 41-38. It was the greatest comeback in Division 1-A history. The headline in the Sun-Times was “A Cat-aclysmic collapse”. On the plus side, they weren’t playing the University of Miami so none of their players got hurt in a brawl.

Not a lot of celebrating in Evanston on Saturday night. The big homecoming event was disassociating yourself from the university. 38-3 then lose?????

Stephen Colbert appeared in the homecoming parade. Ferris Bueller did not.

First snowfall this year in Chicago: October 12 – earliest on record. But there’s no Global Warming.

Everyone talks like Joan Cusack.

God has retired. Lyle Dean, the legendary local radio newsman has hung up his headphones after forty years of scaring the shit out of listeners on WGN and most notably, WLS, Chicago (back in their heyday). When HE said it was going to snow, even if it was 63 degrees you’d drive around with chains on your tires. What an incredible voice. What a nice man. A recent publicity photo of him just shows a burning bush.

Lame tourist attraction: the nearby city of Cicero, home of Al Capone. Not much has changed. The mayor is currently serving time.

The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon was Sunday. As I watched the only 40,000 healthy people in Chicago take off from the starting line, I thought to myself, “Some of these people have to die before me.” The Boston Marathon has its “heartbreak hill” which is really a killer. The equivalent here is that runners have to go by Gino’s East Pizza.

Temperature at the start of the race: 35 degrees. They should rename the event the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center Marathon.

My daughter’s friend is a theater major at Northwestern. One of her courses this quarter is “Fairies in Musical Theater.” Is a comment even needed???

There’s an egg salad recall in Illinois. People are advised to stick to their diets of gyros, steaks, and pork ribs.

No wonder there are so few Oldies stations anymore. The one in Chicago had a commercial for urinary incontinence.

But at least John Records Landecker is back on the air. Listeners can “save a thousand dollars a year on pads” and hear one of their favorite D.J.’s.

Wind chill factor: nature’s botox.

Sunday is the end of Daylight Savings Time. Chicagoans are being asked to turn their clocks back one hour and take in any ceramic swans that are still on their front lawns.

Nice to see Roger Ebert back reviewing movies in the Sun-Times. Thumbs up on his recovery.

In the Evanston Barnes & Noble the “Diseases” section is right next to the “Cookbooks”. Egg salad recipes appear in both.

Bowling is illegal in Evanston (this is true). So is skipping, snowball fights, and trick or treating. There are a lot of eight year old Spidermen and princesses with rap sheets.

What should be illegal are ceramic swans and blowing a 35 point lead late in the third period. Sarah Lawrence couldn’t do that.

I bet on ebay you can find a lot of Northwestern “Homecoming 2006” garb this week. CHEAP!!

Must go. Light snow flurries have begun and there’s fear they’ll close O’Hare for six months.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Give John Candy his star

Thanks to reader, Doug Thompson for pointing out that there should be a star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame for John Candy. Local LA disc jockeys have stars. If you don’t live in the 310 area code do you have any idea who Johnny Hayes is? He has a star.

From what I understand you offer to pay the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce a certain amount of money. It used to be $20,000, I’m sure it’s gone up. The committee then votes. But again, Johnny Hayes has one.

To nominate John Candy here's where you go. If ever a star deserved recognition it's John. Especially now since his body of work is fading into DVD and VHS remainder bins and the TBS late night movie package.

I was privileged to work with John on VOLUNTEERS. He was a true comic genius. "Tom Tuttle from Tacoma" was a two-dimensional character until John got ahold of him. He had that rare ability to play silly and real at the same time.

Doug suggested we get up a grassroots campaign to get John Candy a star. Finally, a cause this election season I can get behind.

Here's an example of John's work from VOLUNTEERS.

Late in the movie. Lawrence Bourne (Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson) are rallying the villagers to blow up the bridge they built for the Peace Corps. Tom Tuttle (Candy) has been away, brainwashed by the Communists. He enters the hut with a stick of lit dynamite.

Fools! Yankee imperialist swine, running dog, lackey, capitalist vermin, foul-breathed counter-revolutionary terrorists. You didn't really think I was gonna let you get away with this? The word of the people will continue to march over that bridge long after we have become specks of useless matter carried on the wind.

Tom, guess what? It's my birthday. Can I blow out the candle?

I'm not afraid to die. Not for a cause. Sure, there'll be stuff I'll miss. Tuna casserole with little potato chips on top. I love those. And Sandra Dee. I've never told anyone, but I like Sandra Dee. And some day I would have gotten her. And she would have left Bobby Darin for me. But now that can never be. Happy birthday, Larry.

(They grab the dynamite stick and put it out.)

Bring him over here. I'm gonna light this and shove it down his pants.

Beth leans over Tom and slaps him lightly in the face.

Tom... Tom, what's wrong? Why did you try to kill us?

We must unite with the masses. The more of the masses we unite with the better.

Here, let me try.

He slaps him hard.

(singing) America, America, God shed His grace on thee...

Lawrence slaps him again.

The people's army must become one with the people so that they see it as their own army. Such an army will become invincible.

Lawrence slaps him again.

(singing)... And crown Thy good with brotherhood...

Those days he spent in the jungle ... something must have happened out there.

Lawrence slaps Tom.

Stop! Stop it! I'll read the book, I'll see the film, I'll wash the people's truck. I'll do whatever you say... It's the commies. The commies made me do it. They want the bridge. They used me. Y'see, they wouldn't let me get any snooze time in, they kept talking... they never shut up ... I challenged myself to resist, but who was I kidding...?

Tom, what are you talking about?

Let me hit him again.

The commies... They're gonna come. They're gonna take over the bridge and the village... And I did it for them. (sobbing) How's that gonna look on my resume? "Peace Corps 1962, turned village over to Communists" ... Who's gonna hire me?

The Prestige

Hello from the Cineplex in Evanston, Illinois where I just saw THE PRESTIGE.

It’s SPY VS. SPY with pretty assistants, it’s TIN MEN with stupendous water chambers. Don’t worry, no spoilers. All I will say is whoa! Never piss off a magician! The only deadly contraption not featured was a guillotine but you could see one of those in Theatre 3 which was showing MARIE ANTOINETTE.

I come away from every Christopher Nolan movie feeling the same way – great premise, lavish production, dazzling sequences, and ultimately – HUH??? What the hell was going on? I felt that in MEMENTO, BATMAN (I also had big Katie Holmes problems in that one), and now this. Nolan is a terrific filmmaker but always seems just too clever for his own good. It’s fine to have a lot of twists and turns, but Chris, we’re watching the movie in REAL TIME, buddy.

As I was watching this I felt I had seen it before. Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, London, magic – no wait, that was SCOOP. Now if Woody Allen had played the Christian Bale part then you’d have a scary movie.

THE PRESTIGE – Rated PG. Not recommended for doves or rabbits.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Another idiot blogger with World Series thoughts

Some playoff and World Series thoughts for my weekend post as I wing to Chicago to visit my daughter at Northwestern. Back to the usual TV talk and nonsense next week.

I imagine most of the country and certainly Cub fans will be rooting for Detroit.

Why is baseball so great? Because Yadier Molina, who had a .216 average this season gets the biggest hit of the year.

You have to love the NY POST. Their Friday headline: ALL METS ARE OFF.

The Mets scored 2 runs or less in four of the seven games. Losing was a team effort. Don’t blame Aaron Heilman for blowing the series.

Endy Chavez’s catch and starting that double play was every bit as spectacular as Mays’ 1954 World Series web gem. Had the Mets won we would be talking about it for generations.

One of the many problems with Tim McCarver is that he never listens to his partner. At least five times a game he will blurt out some observation that Joe Buck made two minutes prior (and articulated better).

For the best coverage, turn down the sound on your TV and listen to Jon Miller on ESPN radio. Except in Los Angeles where the idiotic station doesn't turn off the 7 second delay.

The Yankees have finally determined who was responsible for their collapse. PR man, Rick Cerrone was just fired after eleven years. But A-Rod remains.

I know Detroit is heavily favored but don’t count out the Cardinals. They still have So Taguchi.

I feel I’m living in a world turned upside down. George Bush is our President and Jeff Weaver is in the World Series.

The Tony LaRussa-Scott Rolen feud is no big deal. It’s been blown way out of proportion by the media coverage. Truth is, this kind of stuff happens all the time on every team.

Yadier Molina??????

Who is more upset that the Cardinals won – Mets fans or Fox? Even NBC’s dreaded “scripted fare” might beat them in the 8:00 hour.

Since I’m sure Jim Leyland reads this blog religiously: Start Kenny Rogers in game two. You can use him again at home later in the series. And what a contrast after Justin Verlander in game one.

Another reason why I hate interleague play: It takes a little luster off this match-up when you consider the two teams already met once this year, in June. The Tigers swept the Cardinals in a three game series in Detroit. So Taguchi didn’t play.

Please please PLEASE stop showing those Tommy Lasorda promos!!!

Tiger Stadium has not been torn down yet. I say, for fun, play one of the games there.

Did John Rooney pick the perfect year to move from the White Sox broadcast booth to the Cardinals broadcast booth? He's becoming the Lonnie Smith of radio (Smith played for four different World Series teams -- Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Atlanta).

How much does luck play in all of this? Detroit couldn’t sign Kyle Farnsworth to a multi-year deal and shipped him off. As if that wasn’t fortunate enough, they got Zach Minor from Atlanta for him. Minor made 16 starts this year and really bailed out the rotation.

Detroit has some flameflowers but ask Houston closer, Brad Lidge. Albert Pujols (or “Luis” Pujols, as Tim McCarver calls him) can hit a 100 mph fast ball… a long lonnnnng way.

Jeff Suppan is a free agent after the series. Ca-ching!! Especially since the only other blue chippers are Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito.

Based on the 2004 World Series, don't expect to see LaRussa use Jeff Suppan as a pinch runner anytime soon.

The DH will be a big help to the Cardinals. (Pujols DHing while Duncan plays first???) Maybe the National League throws the All-Star Game every year so they’ll have four DH chances instead of three in the World Series. Nah, they just suck,

Yadier Molina???????


For more (and better) observations, check out my son's blog DirtyWatah.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What a great time to pitch NBC

How’s this for good timing? Friday afternoon my partners and I are going to NBC to pitch a comedy pilot.

In fairness, I did say to the assistant setting up the meeting, please don’t schedule it for the day after NBC announces sweeping cutbacks and the firing of 700 loyal employees. But that’s what we’ve got.

I like the executives we’ll be pitching to. They’re smart, alive (not always a given), and supportive. I never take rejection personally. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. That’s just the nature of the biz. But I hope they’re still there on Monday. I hate when I have to pitch to people packing boxes.

The other part of the NBC announcement was that they were going to discontinue programming comedies and dramas during the 8:00 hour. Too expensive. Better to just run cheap game shows and reality shows. And it’s not like NBC was a haven for comedy anyway. They have only four, with two on life support after only two weeks. Our chances are really good. And making the task even harder, our idea is not a behind-the-scenes look at SNL.

Putting my own little needs aside, eliminating 8:00 comedies seems to me like a really short sighted idea. Remember the last time NBC was in last place? What show completely saved their ass? Hint: it wasn’t THE WEAKEST LINK. COSBY in the 80’s and more recently FRIENDS became the saviors of the network.

In this new “reorganization” I question whether NBC will even need a comedy department. Perhaps those duties could just be added to the Facility Manager’s responsibilities.

Oh well. Maybe our idea will be the one that completely turns things around. Although, at the moment, I’m just hoping the guard at the front gate hasn’t been fired otherwise we’ll never even get in the building.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This week's ratings

GREY’S ANATOMY was number one. It’s a can’t miss concept. ER with sex. CSI is trying to counter but finding it hard to make necrophilia sexy. Perhaps with the right stunt casting…?

1 vs 100 opened big. Three models from DEAL OR NO DEAL are in the “mob” of 100 contestants going against the main player. If the main player answers a question wrong and all three models answer it right the player is not only eliminated, he’s killed for being too stupid to live.

HEROES is a legitimate hit. SMALLVILLE on a real network.

Matthew Perry’s new post-FRIENDS show, STUDIO 60 retained just 54% of its lead in audience. Matt LeBlanc can now feel better about JOEY.

Remember when we all went to CBS for our news? Now we go to COMEDY CENTRAL.

Katie Couric’s newscast is dead last among the big three. Maybe her signoff should be, “Please don’t leave, too.”

TBS will air the NLCS next year. First time a baseball championship series won’t be on over-the-air TV. Maybe that’s because no over-the-air network wanted it. Ratings for this year’s playoffs are so bad a boxing match on SPIKE beat an AL game (seriously). Fox is actually looking forward to the day it can put STAND OFF back on the air.

NBC is crowing that they’re the only network with increased 18-49 audience. What they don’t say is that it’s because of FOOTBALL! MY NAME IS EARL at 41 is not bringing up the average.

If ESPN were eligible, MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL this week would have ranked 27th in the national ratings.

More NBC spin: 30 ROCK (which finished third) drew 32% more 18-49 viewers than E-RING did last year in that time slot. Kick ass! Omitted from the story was that E-RING was immediately cancelled.

New sitcoms are tanking left and right. Is it because audiences no longer want to see sitcoms? No. It’s because audiences no longer want to see BAD sitcoms. Recycled TV stars in inferior vehicles with inferior writing. How many times do we have to see Jere Burns?

Selma Hayek will guest on UGLY BETTY during sweeps. The show will be renamed that night UGLY EVERYONE ELSE.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS deserves a better time slot.

THE NINE might not make it to eight.

Going through the ratings I discovered, hey, THE BACHELOR is still on.

And finally…

QUE HAY DE NUEVO on Telemundo finished last at 139. And I thought it was one of their better episodes.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Preparing for MASH

Many years ago on this date I arrived at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to begin my basic training. I got my ass into the reserves eleven minutes after the draft lottery (in which my number out of 366 was 4). I was maybe the worst private EVER. And I made a vow. At the time I thought, as the years go by and bad memories fade into the mist, you only remember the good times and think “it wasn’t that bad.” My vow was that no matter what I forgot it WAS that bad.

If I ever write a book, a large chapter will be devoted to the Army’s futile attempt to turn me into a feared fighting killing machine. What they did teach me was the insane military mindset that proved vital in writing MASH.

But here’s a typical incident. We were not allowed to go to the PX (Post Exchange: Army-speak for the base 7/11). I was always ravenous and would sneak out to the PX at night to buy bags of cookies. If we received homemade cookies in the mail they had to let us keep them (but we had to get rid of them that night).

One delightful evening we’re in the barracks putting sneeze sheets up on our bunks or some other idiotic thing when the Drill Sergeant and Company Commander enter and announce a snap inspection. A bayonet was missing – like one of us was going to steal it because there are so many practical uses for the M-9 Multipurpose bayonet.

We all stood at attention at our lockers. They approached mine, opened it, and an entire bag of Chips Ahoy cookies spilled out onto the Drill Sergeant’s boots. I was in big trouble.

He turned to me angrily and snarled, “Veen, (he could never pronounce Le-Vine) you fuckin’ dud! You know the rules. No cookies unless they’re from home!” Still at attention I responded, “My mother works for Nabisco, sir!”

I spent the next month cleaning latrines with a toothbrush…but it was worth it.

Monday, October 16, 2006


My email server has been down. At least I hope it's Adelphia's problem and not mine. In any event, I feel completely cut off from the world. I suppose if I really need to get a hold of somebody I could use the phone. But that just seems so...so 2003. I remain helpless and alone.

You can breathe a sigh of relief. None of the LOST sets were damaged in the Hawaii earthquake.

Fox Sports fired baseball analyst, Steve Lyons last week for making “insensitive remarks”. I heard the remarks. They were stupid but not cause for immediate termination. And what did Fox expect? They hired a guy whose nickname is “Psycho”!

A worse offense to me was play-by-play man, Thom Brenneman having the wrong pitcher in the game last Sunday night. Ooops. Thom, as someone who has done that myself I feel your pain. Although it didn’t happen to me on national television…but still. It reminds me of the great story about old time radio sportscaster, Bill Stern, who if he had the wrong receiver running with the football would just have him “lateral” it to the correct guy. Then he screwed up the Kentucky Derby once and someone said, “I guess you can’t lateral a horse.”

Martin Scorsese has announced that THE DEPARTED will be the last big budget movie he will make for awhile. His next film will be an adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel "Silence," which tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who travel to Imperial Japan and witness the persecution of Japanese Christians. If he can’t make a tiny picture like that for under $200,000 there’s something wrong.

I hope Air America stays on the air now that it’s bankrupt. Maybe if they had one affiliate that wasn’t twelve watts at 1590 on the AM dial they could amass some listeners.

Bruce Willis got his star on the Hollywood Blvd. Walk of Fame. He follows recent Hollywood legends Ryan Seacrest, Charlie Tuna, and Porky Pig

The Walt Disney Co. will begin serving more nutritionally balanced meals at its domestic theme parks. However, they insist that churros are a vegetable.

And finally…

XM’s 60’s channel now runs old Wolfman Jack shows, conveniently leaving out the fact that he’s dead. My favorite moments are when he takes requests. What’s the number? “Hello, Wolfman, can I speak to Natalie Wood?”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Jerry Belson 1938-2006

When David and I were starting out, writing spec scripts, we watched the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW every afternoon. We played a little game called “guess the writer”. The writing credit always came at the end. Easiest to predict was scripts written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson. They were always funnier, sharper, better. And they were our inspiration. Our career goal was to be the next Marshall & Belson, to have our scripts be considered that cut above.

Jerry passed away last week. He was 68. He always said that on his gravestone it was going to read, “I did it their way”. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Jerry was truly an original. His work was always a little daring, verrrry dark, his comic voice was always strong. Satisfying the mainstream was not his goal. He’d pitch a joke and Garry would say, “Jerry, only four people will get that,” to which Jerry would say, “More than enough.”

I worked with Jerry on CHEERS. He was an uncredited punch-up man, coming in one day a week. Invariably we would put in eight Belson jokes, five would go because the actors couldn’t deliver them as funny as Jerry did, and the three that remained were the three biggest laughs of the show.

Jerry never spoke. He whined. And he was such a presence that pretty soon everyone around him whined too. I was once in a rewrite session on the TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW and there was Jim Brooks, Sam Simon, Ken Estin, and Heide Perlman all whining along with Jerry. It sounded like dueling Jewish mothers.

Jerry once pitched a joke on CHEERS and when the Charles Brothers politely rejected it, he said, “But it got a big laugh on THE ODD COUPLE.” A perplexed Glen Charles asked why he would pitch it here if they used the same joke on THE ODD COUPLE? Jerry’s whiney reply: “Hey, what went before is good, too.”

After one table reading, Shelley Long was upset about the script and came up to the writers room to discuss it. She stated her objections for about five minutes and Jerry just got up and headed for the door, crossing right in front of her. Shelley was stunned. She stopped in mid-sentence and asked where he was going? Jerry said, “Honey, this ain’t in my deal” and walked out. Hardly behavior from a guy who did it “their way”.

Jerry wrote a great movie in the early 70’s called SMILE about a local beauty contest. It was the GUFFMAN of its day. If you get a chance Netflix it. The movie was adapted for a Broadway musical, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, his PLAYBILL bio read, “SMILE fulfills a lifelong dream for Mr. Belson – to be paid twice for the same script.” Jerry was not known for his sentimentality.

Garry Marshall tells the story of how he finally married his wife, Jo Ann, 30 years ago. She had given him an ultimatum: “Marry me or I'm flying to Europe.” As he waited with her at the airport, she repeated the demand.

"What do you want? Should I take off or stay?" she said.

Belson quickly whined: "Can you take off and circle?"

When I won my first Writer’s Guild Award the first person I thanked was Jerry Belson. He was my friend, my colleague, one of my mentors, and in a world of extremely funny people he was one of the funniest.

So many great Jerry Belson stories. His tales of growing up in comedy mecca, El Centro, bragging about writing for Chilly Willy, but my personal favorite is that when my son was born he sent a gift along with a very touching hand written card that said, “Dear Matthew, always remember I was funnier than your father.”

He was.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Don't stab the frog

A post from the beginning of the year worth re-posting.

A reader 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.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ig Nobel Prizes announced!!!

Hollywood isn’t the only town to recognize greatness. Last Thursday night the 16th annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was held at Harvard. The Ig Nobel Prize celebrates out-of-the-ordinary research that first make people laugh and then think. Mostly they’re thinking “who the hell signed off on these grants??”

Anyway, here are a few of this year’s winners along with my heartiest congratulations.

ORNITHOLOGY: Ivan R. Schwab and the late Philip R.A. May for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don't get headaches.

PHYSICS: Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch for their insights into why, when you bend dry spaghetti, it often breaks into more than two pieces.

PEACE: Howard Stapleton for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant -- a device that makes annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers.

ACOUSTICS: D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake, and James Hillenbrand for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

MATHEMATICS: Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed

LITERATURE: Daniel Oppenheimer for his report "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly."

And my personal favorite:

MEDICINE: Francis M. Fesmire for his medical case report "Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage”.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

My TV reviews

A few thoughts on the TV season so far.

30 ROCK – Uneven but funny. And what an interesting spin, all the people who produce a sketch comedy show aren’t wonks. Alec Baldwin was inspired casting. The other brothers should be pissed now. Not only does he have the looks but also the funny. Tracy Morgan was good too and you could see the comic potential of that wacko character. But when they weren't on, when it was just Tina Fey and misc. cast members, my mind drifted to how much better THE OFFICE is. Still, 30 ROCK is easily the best of the many behind-the-scenes-at-SNL shows this year. I want to coin a new term: Situation Cartoon.

STUDIO 60 – Just continues to get worse. Last Monday night’s episode was absurd. Not a single moment that rang true, either story wise or relationship wise. As my writing partner, David says, “it’s Aaron Sorkin’s COP ROCK.”

TWENTY GOOD YEARS – Baby boomers get one show geared to them and it's this clam. Swell. When John Lithgow passes away the cause of death will surely be “choked on scenery”. His performance is too big for an IMAX screen. And after ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and LARRY SANDERS, Jeffrey Tambor must feel he’s back in dinner theatre. How does the multi-camera format of television ever hope to survive when the only new four-camera shows the networks are putting on are hackneyed derivative stiffs like this and THE CLASS?

THE NINE – Compelling so far. But I’m getting a little tired of conspiracy cover ups. (I expect the raccoons in MEN IN TREES to start gaslighting Ann Heche.) The cast of THE NINE feels like an expansion baseball team draft. You can pick one from PRISON BREAK, one from EVERWOOD, one from WINGS, etc. But Tim Daly is great, Chi McBride has now been on every one hour drama since 1998, and I guess Kim Raver will no longer be on 24. Good. Jack Bauer’s got enough shit in his life saving the world without having to deal with that harpy.

UGLY BETTY – America Ferrara is a find. But the show should be a half hour. Or move faster than the TV Guide crawl.

TIL DEATH – Brad Garrett have you met Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, MacLean Stevenson, George Wendt, Lisa Kudrow, and the other second bananas who thought America just wanted to see them, the writing wasn’t important?

HELP ME, HELP YOU – Ted Danson deserves better material. Maybe the smarmiest new sitcom on the air (that’s not on Fox). In the pilot he climbs into his ex-wife’s bed while she’s there with another man. The guy leaves and Ted winds up sleeping with her. So does that mean she bangs the boyfriend and then her ex-husband a half hour later? The following week Ted is in the closet overhearing his daughter have sex with that same middle aged boyfriend. And the topper is, the sex lasts for hours. The “ick” meter goes right off the charts.

GREY’S ANATOMY – I’m so thrilled it’s beating CSI. Maybe now CBS will hold off on CSI:DES MOINES and LOS ANGELES CSI OF ANAHEIM.

HEROES – X-MEN with no costume budget. J-Crew models that have super powers. Can do things with mirrors, walk through walls, fly, read people’s minds. In other words, a typical Cirque du Soleil troop. Fun comic book fare.

DEXTER – I hear it’s good. I don’t get SHOWTIME. Who does? I’ll wait for the Emmy consideration DVD.

The NLCS -- Great to hear Joe Buck. Tim McCarver in the first two minutes of Game One calls Albert Pujols "Luis". We must get him off the air.

So far I think I’m like most Americans. A few of the new shows seem promising. I’m not hooked yet but will try them a time or two. My favorite shows are still from last year. And thanks to Tivo I have no idea when anything is on – which night, what time? Nobody does actually. I think the networks make the schedules confusing on purpose. I mean, why else would NBC buy a show called FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and put it on Tuesday?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Scene from a bad creative marriage (complete)

I talked recently about doing the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle, MARY for CBS in 1985. Got a few requests for a sample of the pilot script (written by David Isaacs and me). And since you’ll never see the show on the air, even as cable channels grow to the thousands, I figured, it’s either here or nothing.

CBS wanted an updated version of her old show, believing that Mary’s audience would only accept a more mature version of Mary Richards. We listened to them instead of doing our original idea. That was our first mistake.

The premise everyone agreed upon was that Mary, a high class fashion writer found herself out of work when her magazine folded. She winds up working at a Chicago tabloid, the kind that views the Sun-Times as if it were the NY Times. We tried to put her in a much funkier, edgier arena than WJM. And we tried to give her a love interest. Our inspiration was HIS GIRL FRIDAY. We wanted someone who was handsome, charming, and kept Mary completely off guard. Was he a cad or just pushing her to be better? We hired James Farentino who was GREAT. Here’s the scene where they meet – Mary’s job interview. To make it easy to read I just re-posted the whole scene.







(INTO PHONE) Of course the cop won’t let you take a picture of the body. You slip him fifty bucks, he turns the other way, you go in and get the shot. Do you want the Pulitzer or not?! (TO MARY) Come on in.

Did I get you at a bad time?

(WITHOUT LOOKING UP) Not at all. (TO BARBER) Keep a little in back. (THEN) Tully, how many S’s in “disappear”?



In the headline!

Oh. Three.

(TO MARY) Unions. I have to keep a legally blind copy editor. (TO TULLY) There’s two! Should be one. Fix it and print it.

Big deal, so I’ll take out an “S”.



Frank DeMarco.

Nice to meet you, Mr. DeMarco.

Please…Frank. You got some samples of your work?


Yes, well, this article from 1980 won an award from the fashion writers of…


Hold on. (INTO PHONE) Yeah…


(INTO PHONE) What do you mean he won’t take fifty bucks? This is Chicago! All right, for one picture we’ll get him floor seats for a Bulls game.


Look, if you’re busy I could…

(YELLING) Tully!!


Let’s do it now, Mary. This afternoon it’s gonna get crazed.


You know the drawing the Sports Department is having for the Bulls tickets?


We just got a winner.







Well, Mary, what do you think?

About what?

The hair.


Mary, if you’re gonna work here you have to have an opinion.

Am I going to be working here?

I don’t think so.


See you Friday.


Son of a gun, no change. Mary, you got a buck?


I’m getting no help today, Henry. Catch you next time.


Mary, just looking at you I can tell you’re a very talented writer.

I am.

But the thing is, see, I’ve only been here three months. It’s my job to turn this turkey around. And that’s fine ‘cause that’s what I like to do. Storm into town, make a lot of noise, rattle some cages, leave a silver bullet, and move on. Look around you. I don’t need fashion talk. Most of our readers use this paper for clothing.

Then why did you agree to see me?

Because I do have an opening, but I don’t think you’re right for it.

Oh, what is it?

You really wanna know?

Not really, but I’m here so what the hell!


Sorry, Frank, the guy’s already picked up his tickets.

Thanks, Tully, you’re a big help.

You can’t fire me, you know.

Get outta here.


You know, Frank, you’re probably right. I don’t think I really fit in. Actually, I just came here as sort of a last resort but there must be resorts even worse I can try.

I want to start a consumer “Help Line” column. Readers send in all sorts of problems. Our advocate fights like hell, cuts through the red tape, and we print the best stories.

That’s the job?

Sensation sells papers, Mary. But above all what I want for the Eagle is credibility.


(INTO PHONE) Yeah…The cop went for it, huh?… Good. Okay, take the picture and tell him you’ll drop by later with his circus tickets… What? Basketball tickets? Where am I gonna get basketball tickets?


Well I should be going. I’ve been here… (CHECKING HER WATCH) Whoa! Two whole minutes.

Sorry to waste your time. But I doubt if a woman with your background could handle auto mechanics, immigration, city hall –

(IMMEDIATELY) How do you have any idea what I can or cannot do? You don’t know anything about me. I have faced more than my share of crises with a great deal of poise.

Personal crises?

That’s none of your business. And as far as a car mechanic is concerned, I’d rather face one of them than an irate designer any day. Let me tell you about the time –


Oh for godsakes…


(ON PHONE) Yeah… He doesn’t want me going with the story? Tough! He’s an elected official. As long as he’s got his hand in the till, I’m gonna be on his back.


… Let me tell you about the time they wouldn’t let me into a showing at… what elected official?

It’s confidential but I’ll open my closet if you’ll open yours.

No, thank you.

I knew I was safe. Now, you were saying?

I was going to tell you about the time…

That’s well and good, Mary, but have you ever read the Post? A lot different style than Woman’s Digest.
I can write anything. I’ve done all kinds of material… short stories, novellas (PROUDLY) .. rejected by some of the finest publishers in this country!

Where do you find the time to write all that?


Oh, nights.. weekends.


Don’t you have a social life?

That’s none of your/my business.

Bottom line, Mary, I just don’t think you’re tough enough.

I am tough enough.
Prove it.





I’ll try ya.


(STILL DEFENSIVE) It sounds like fun.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wining and dining

L.A. is always crazy nuts during the Columbus Day weekend so the lovely Mrs. L. and I decided to escape to Northern California.

Flew from Burbank airport (now Bob Hope International Airport) Friday morning. Thank God the departure monitors aren’t cute and say “On the road to San Jose”, “On the road to Tucson”, etc. It’s disconcerting enough to hear “Thanks for the memories” when you take off. Departed from the Dottie Lamour terminal. Arrived in Oakland (Bobby Seale International Airport), which is now under construction for your inconvenience.

Struggled to find the rental car lot. No wonder we got lost. It’s on Earhart Street. Who names a street after the most famous woman who disappeared and was never found?

New security rule – all your little liquids must be presented for inspection and must be in a plastic bag. What if you don’t have a plastic bag, you say? No problem. The gift shop has them for the price of a small dinette set.

The Hertz “Never Lost” system hated me for some reason. In the middle of the Oakland Bay Bridge it said, “Make a hard right turn. Now!!!”

This was Fleet Weekend with big air shows at the waterfront. Great fun. Grid locked traffic and being strafed by the Blue Angels.

The Bluegrass Festival also took place in Golden Gate Park. Not that anyone heard any of the performers with an air show roaring overhead and the ground shaking.

Another great San Francisco landmark bites the dust. Tower Records at Columbus & Bay has gone belly up, a victim of the internet. This, two weeks after radio legend KFRC abandoned its heritage to play Ricky Martin records. If Janis Joplin didn’t kill herself 35 years ago or any day since, this would have done it.

At least Capurro’s on Fisherman’s Wharf is still serving the best Italian food in the city. Been there for sixty years and probably safe until you can download cannelloni.

One institution that should close is Sears Fine (?) Food. My son waited an hour for a mediocre steak and when it finally arrived was told they were out of steak knives, it would be another five minutes. Maybe that was because you needed a steak knife even for their famous Swedish pancakes.

After seven corporate sponsor name changes Candlestick Park has returned to its original name – WorstStadiumInAmerica Park.

Big showdown there this weekend as the 49’ers played the Raiders. Week 5 and between them – one win. Kinda like bragging rights between Spam and Head Cheese.

There was a Mariachi Festival in San Jose. The mayor has applied for federal disaster relief.

Needed to get a Bat Mitzvah gift so swung by Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. Couldn’t decide between the water bong or the color changing hand blown glass pipe. Ultimately went with the pipe. She’s conservative.

Had a lovely dinner Friday night in Berkeley only two blocks from the 119th shooting in the area this year – all part of the city celebration for the A’s winning the AL division title.

Big sex trafficking scandal exposed. Who knew the Asian Massage parlors (that seem to be on every block) were not on the up-and-up? Of course it doesn’t help that most have massage permits issued to them through the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Nearby Modesto has a minor league baseball team. No joke, they’re the Modesto Nuts. Seems the area is known for its dry fruits with one seed, testicles, and crazy people.

On Sunday drove to Napa Valley (made famous as the setting for ENCORE ENCORE). Knew we were almost there when we saw the first outlet mall. If San Francisco is “Baghdad by the Bay” then Napa is “Tuscany by the Target”.

EVERY place in the Napa Valley has a gift shop selling wine, candles, glasses, sesame mustard, and lavender soap. The Arco also offers brake fluid (but from ’97, a really exceptional year).

There are 260 wineries in the Napa Valley. Mogan David is considered a soft drink factory.

Doesn’t take long to get into that pretentious wine tasting spirit. Stayed at Villagio Inn which was playfully articulate. Had dinner at Brix which was saucy yet aggressive.

Didn’t get to Coppolas’s winery unfortunately. It’s in Geyserville ( or Geezerville). Was hoping Francis Ford would be there, greeting people and assuring them he could ship anywhere. And I could ask him what he was thinking letting Kathleen Turner try to pass for a teenager in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED.

During public wine tasting sessions my wife was the only one doing the brucha.

When you tour any winery you’ll notice it smells just like that guy who is always out in front of your local 7/11.

The movie title SIDEWAYS refers to the way wine bottles are stored. The other question about SIDEWAYS no one could answer – how did Sandra Oh become the biggest star to come out of that film?

There’s a Jelly Belly Factory tour. If you go to a few wineries first you’ll be saying, “Jesus, these grapes are chewy.”

Skipped the hot air balloon flight. I just don’t want my obit to read, “died in a balloon.”

All in all, a great time. We celebrated Columbus Day just like Columbus – by getting hopelessly lost at every turn. If Chris had had the “Hertz Never Lost” system they’d be celebrating his day in Rangoon.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How we saved a movie...in ten minutes

To underscore what I said yesterday about “trailer moments”, my writing partner and I were called in last year to help out on a trailer. A major studio was assembling the trailer for their big January comedy and realized, there wasn’t one big joke in the entire movie. What’s astounding is that it took them that long. They couldn’t tell from the script? Or the dailies? Or the rough cut? Or a preview screening?

But once they did realize they had a 90 minute comedy with less laughs than a C-SPAN briefing they snapped into action. But instead of spending the money to fix the film, they decided to improve the trailer. David and I were hired to write ONE JOKE. They would reshoot a scene to include our joke although it wouldn’t make the final cut of the film (because who needs one laugh?).

So we did, the trailer played, the movie was just as bad as always and it became a boxoffice success.

And now I’m praying for a sequel.