Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh no! Christmas songs again!

In every radio market at least one station scraps its regular programming to play all Christmas music. I wish it were the right wing talk station but alas it’s usually the New Wave or Celine Dion station. The ratings are always huge. I’m surprised some stations don’t keep the format on all year. But it brings up the question, which Christmas songs do you love and which do you hate?

Personally, I get a warm feeling when I hear Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” for the first time each season. By the 50th, not so much. The Phil Spector Christmas album is still my favorite. Putting aside that he killed someone, we thank Phil for a real musical gift.

And Darlene Love's , "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" which is a recent parody of her own work on the album is maybe the funniest Christmas song ever.

I fancy the oldies. Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”, Bobby Helm’s “Jingle Bell Rock”, and the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick”.

The Boss’s Xmas ditty is pretty catchy as are the King’s.

Re: “White Christmas”, give me the Drifters over Bing. (Interesting that so many classic Christmas songs were written by Jews.)

Some obscure holiday songs I recommend: “Run Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Four Seasons, “Monster Holiday” by Bobby Boris Pickett (that one always tears me up), and “Santa Claus is Watching You” by Ray Stevens. Super obscure but worth finding is “Lost Winter Dreams” by Lisa Mychols. And for the motherlode of bad taste fun, try to find Claudine Longet singing “Winter Wonderland”. Before she shot skier Spider Sabich in cold blood she and husband, Andy Williams, were the first couple of the season. Their annual family Christmas special was a must-see. They even have a kid named Noel.
Songs I can’t stand: “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano, “Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, and “the Little Drummer Boy” by anybody. Whey do stations overplay TO DEATH the songs that are the most repetitious? Also, anything sung by kids usually makes me cringe.

I’m only sorry Kurt Cobain left us before he could give the world his Christmas album.

For a more vocal pop sound, you can’t beat Linda Eder’s holiday album. Her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” would bring a tear to a glass eye. Listen for it the next time you’re in an elevator. Streisand is great but there’s more ornamentation than on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Johnny Mathis is a little too sugar plum fairy for my tastes, and you can always count on “Mr. Peace and Goodwill to All Men”, Sinatra. The Carpenters have their fans too. Best new CD: The Manhattan Transfer just released an Acapella album that is gorgeous.

But if I had to pick my all-time favorite Christmas song, the one that most expresses my feelings about the holiday season, it would have to be “The Christmas Song” by the Chipmunks. Sometimes the right song and the right performers just combine for sheer perfection.

What songs do you love or loathe?

Who needs comedy writers?

Is improvisation the savior of the sitcom? A number of articles I’ve recently read suggest that it is. I’m not so sure.

Several cable networks have launched comedies that rely on the actors improv-ing (as opposed to “improving”) within scenes. Their showrunners and network execs tell every reporter who will listen that they’re making groundbreaking television, that the old “set-up, joke, set-up, joke” sitcom format is passé and a thing of the past. They’ve come along to rescue the genre. Thank you soooo much. All that’s fine except for one thing – are these new improv comedies really FUNNY?

So far the answer is no.

Even the same TV critics who hail this new form admit in their reviews that the shows are quiet, amusing in spots, the tone is more naturalistic, the actors are likeable, but there are very few big laughs. And that’s understandable because unless your cast includes Robin Williams, Sasha Cohen, Elaine May, Will Ferrell, or the Christopher Guest road company you are putting too much comedy burden on the actors. It’s not their job. It’s not their gift.

I think we all saw an example last week of just how funny Michael Richards is when allowed to improvise. How beloved would Kramer be if Richards had free reign over that character?

This format does work for a couple of shows. I love THE OFFICE (primarily scripted but with some leeway) and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIAM. But at their core are supremely funny people like Steve Carell and Larry David. And even then, these shows can be uneven. CURB seems to be running out of gas, and I worry that THE OFFICE relies so much on getting laughs from people caught in awkward and embarrassing situations that it might start to get old. I hope they can keep it fresh because like I said, I really enjoy that show.

I did improv for many years. Still do on occasion. I’m pretty good at it. Very quick. But even in my best days I was nowhere near good enough to be a performer on network television. I’m going to do the same job as Ted Danson? Not a chance.

And likewise, I’m sure if you asked Ted to improvise a half hour show that will make ten million strangers laugh he couldn’t do it to save his life. Which is fine because he’s not supposed to. He’s an amazing comic actor.

I agree the old multi-camera sitcom style is stale. But I blame that more on bad writing, mediocre network approved casts, reliance on research, and suffocating interference. SEINFELD was multi-camera. So was FRIENDS, FRASIER, RAYMOND, and any number of shows that still hold up as being really funny. Audiences count the guffaws, not the cameras.

The trick is not to make a sitcom different, it’s to make one BETTER. Whatever the number of cameras, style, or technique. And it all goes back to getting the funniest people you can and allowing them to make the funniest show they can, doing the thing they do best.

In the words of the “Great One”, Jackie Gleason: comedy is the most exacting form of dramatic art, because it has an instant critic: laughter.

Notice he didn't say "smiles".

Monday, November 27, 2006


The way to showbiz stardom is not winning a reality show, it’s becoming a runner up. With the release of DREAMGIRLS, Jennifer Hudson’s career will skyrocket past Fantasia’s. Fellow loser, Diana DeGarmo has a nifty Broadway career and will probably eclipse Fantasia too. (Fantasia’s already done the MOW on her life. That’s usually the last stop until Disney on Ice). Meanwhile, Ruben Studdard is eating Clay Aiken’s dust (even with the bad haircut).

And it’s not just AMERICAN IDOL contestants. SURVIVOR winner, Richard Hatch is rotting in jail while runner-up, Elisabeth Hasselbeck is a co-host on THE VIEW (although in this case, I’d rather be Richard).

But of all these close-but-no-cigar players, none will take off like Jennifer Hudson when DREAMGIRLS is released. Her performance was nothing short of mind blowing. I know Jennifer Holiday wowed ‘em on Broadway in this role, but when Hudson (it’s hard to keep my Jennifer H’s straight) sings the big show stopping number it’s as thrilling an experience as you are likely to have in a movie this year. The audience cheered loudly, which is always odd to me because you’re cheering at a screen. Jennifer can’t hear you, folks!!

The movie itself was terrific. When Dreamworks was hyping it with teasers in the theaters a year ago even before they shot one foot of film, I was leery. Recent memories of the giant misfires that were RENT and THE PRODUCERS danced through my head. But writer/director, Bill Condon really pulled it off. DREAMGIRLS is the Supremes meet CHICAGO. It has Oscar written all over it, unless the movie is a bomb and then it’s like “what the hell were they thinking?’ But I got a feeling the movie will be a hit. It’s a little long (I make that complaint so often these days I should just get a stamp), but vibrant and visually exciting throughout. I imagine even the coveted “youth market” will go for this film because a lot of the songs are those Whitney Houston type big belting “Believe in yourself, Follow your dream, The only way I can be me for you is to be me for me” numbers. And Beyonce. Hard to imagine Beyonce not being the best singer in the movie, but even as number two she kicks ass. And she looks scrumptious. Diana Ross never looked that good even in her prime and with all the air brushing in the world.

The third girl, Anika Noni Rose, was also great but so overshadowed by the other two I don’t think even her parents noticed she was in the movie.

Jaimie Foxx played the part Billy D. Williams would have played twenty years ago. Loretta Devine, one of the original DREAMGIRLS, had a small part, a nice nod to the Broadway production. And John Cenatiempo as Thug #1 gave his usual solid performance.

But the real pleasant surprise was Eddie Murphy. Even if this movie sells only three tickets he will get an Oscar nomination, and probably a win. Not only is his acting superb and comic timing impeccable, but Jesus, he can really SING. Think Marvin Gaye before his father shot him. You watch him in DREAMGIRLS and say, “Eddie, what the hell are you doing wasting your talent prancing around in fat suits doing fart jokes?”

The movie musical is once again alive. And if Hollywood wants to do a big screen version of JERSEY BOYS, the story of the Four Seasons, might I suggest casting Bo Bice, Boston Rob, Chris Daughtry, and Johnny Fairplay.

Casino Royale

James Bond is back. Daniel Craig is so good he’ll make you forget all about George Lazenby.

And every other Bond other sans Sean Connery.

CASINO ROYALE was terrific. A little long but great action sequences (that didn’t depend on gadgets) and a Bond girl you could actually believe is smart (unlike the time we were asked to buy that Denise Richards was a nuclear scientist, the single greatest conceit in motion picture history). Eva Green was radiant, and more important, nude in most of Bertolucci’s 2003 release, THE DREAMERS – just ordered from Amazon.

How refreshing that the stakes in CASINO ROYALE were real. There was no madman plot for world domination, no giant secret compound/fortress/Norad that served as the super villain’s lair. (I always wondered how such mega complexes could be constructed and thousands of gun toting guards could be hired without anyone knowing about it. I mean, how did they get the building permits approved?) The Magoffin was $150,000,000 – which is not pocket change but still less than it cost to make the movie.

But the revelation was Craig.

I never bought Roger Moore. I’m sorry, James Bond does not have liver spots. Moore probably needed a stunt double to do his walking scenes. Timothy Dalton never lived up to his potential from THE ROCKETEER. And Pierce Brosnan was good but a little too slick and pretty. Like the Fox television version of 007. If Brosnan wasn’t available they’d insist on Rob Lowe.

Craig however, was real, he was gritty, and I mean this as a genuine compliment -- an asshole sometimes. You really saw how that job takes its toll on you, both physically and psychically. Although I understand it’s still an easier job than being a staff writer on CYBILL.

With CASINO ROYALE I feel the producers saved the franchise. And just in the nick of time. Because in 2006, James Bond’s biggest rival isn’t Goldfinger, or Ernst Blowfeld, or Dr. No. It’s Jack Bauer.

I'm in a movie reviewing mood. Tomorrow -- DREAMGIRLS.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maui memories

Usually we go to Hawaii for Christmas. We're not this year, but it's enough to be able to relive past trips. Here's our sojourn from 2001.

"NO SIGHTSEEING!" That's what the kids said when we first piled into our rental car on Maui. No bike rides down crators, no twenty mile scenic drives through the most gorgeous countryside imaginable. I was thrilled. Welcome to another Levine vacation.

This year we went to Maui. Usually we go to the KaHollywood Manderin Oriental Asian but this year they wanted to put us on a waiting list (despite going there for many years). Amazingly, on Sept. 12 they called with the joyous news that rooms were suddenly available. Could they book us for ten days? Or fifty? But by then we had made other plans. Went to the Grand Wailea on Maui but could only get in for five nights so made arrangements to move up the road to the Renaissance (about which we heard good things). That was a mistake but more on that later.

The Grand Wailea is a true luxury resort but HUGE. It should be called the MGM Grand Wailea. Gorgeous accomodations and a sprawling compound. Lagoons, spas, thirty million dollars in sculptures that no one notices and is primarily used as jungle gyms for kids, its own chapel (tan with Jesus), exclusive shops with prices that were staggeringly ridiculous. You'd have a better shot finding a Jew in the Chapel than at the cashier stand of one of these stores. But the big attraction is water slides. My wife could be on those things all day.

Another exclusive feature is their Grand Spa where a massage is just part of the package. Unfortunately the other part is not a "happy ending". It's an absurd beginning. You're invited to go through a series of kelp baths, loofah sponge baths (administered by a guy named Thor), sea salt exfoliation treatment, and a Japanese Furo bath. You're then offered a selection of massages. My favorite: they pour hot oil on your forehead. All this for only five times what a normal massage would cost (WITH a happy ending). Plus, there is a handout of "spa etiquette". Among the entries: "menstraual cycle ladies on their cycle are asked not to utilize the Terme. The Terme may be used on a seperate day".

Their thatched hut tropical lagoon restaurant is actually named (this is no joke) Humuhumunukunukuapua's. Annie says when she goes on SURVIVOR that's going to be her tribe's name. Lobster at $38 a pound, two pound minimum. Not a lot of Jews there either.

Saw a woman with two cellphones. That was new. Fashion tip: women who could pass for Fran Drescher or K.D. Lang should not wear bikinis. And no guy should wear Speedos. I needed a hot oil forehead massage after one day of gazing at this crowd.

Christmas is always a time of tradition at the Grand Wailea. Japanese carolers in the lobby did their best with "Have a Jolly Holly Christmas". You can imagine.

No Hollywood celebrity sighting. We did bump into Mariner relief ace Jeff Nelson and saw more of a sighting of him than we would have liked. We were all in the ocean when a big wave pulled down his bathing suit affording us a moon I'm sure was intended for the New York Yankees.

Alas, on the 26th we moved to the Marriott Renaissance. If the Grand Wailea is a world class hotel, the Renaissance is where KRTH winners stay. And the appalling thing is that they charge practically the SAME as the Grand Wailea with practically none of the amenities. I guess it's Marriott's attempt at luxury and in their mind it's the chain's crown jewel along with the Courtyard in City of Industry. No fear of bumping into big Hollywood celebrities here. Even UPN executives would rather go to the Travelodge up the road. We stayed in the refurbished Tiki Tacky wing.

Their spa treatment was somewhat more streamlined than the Grand Wailea. Cabana boys will rub you down if no one wants an umbrella plunged into the sand.

But much better snorkling at the Renaissance. And scuba lessons when the cabana boys get done setting up the chairs.

Friday night is luau night. All the big hotels (and the Renaissance) hold luas complete with poi, tropical drinks, lots of pork (you do see Jews here) and shows for the tourists. We strolled along the shore and sampled all the shows. At the Grand Wailea hula dancers swayed to a medley of some traditional Hawaiian song and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. At the Outrigger there was an authentic Somoan fire-eater who twirled flaming batons (and you wonder what kind of careers are out there for majorettes...). Finally, the Renaissance where cabana boys on the main stage cut papayas. I couldn't help but notice there were no Hawaiian comics. Although one emcee did ask "how many of you are from out of town?"

All in all another spectacular vacation and it was great to have the whole family together for a week. Hope your holidays were just as nice.

And now we have Marriott points so we can stay a night free at their luxury resort in Lubbock, Texas.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving leftovers

I have a new tag line for ABC's DAY BREAK: "What if you could live one day over and over again and it happened to be the day you watched GROUNDHOG DAY?"

Denmark has a GREAT new way to get motorists to adhere to the speed limits. I like this so much better than radar guns.

I loved CASINO ROYALE and will offer my thoughts on Monday.

Saw the trailer for ROCKY BALBOA. Everyone in the theatre laughed and booed. When is Stallone going to give it up? It's sad already. Like watching 80 year old Paul Anka sing "Puppy Love".

Robert Altman was one of the great American directors. He never won an Oscar for directing. And yet Kevin Costner has. Maybe next year for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION had some laughs but was nowhere near WAITING FOR GUFFMAN or BEST IN SHOW. The Christopher Guest movies have become sketches that are stretched out to the point of Joan River's skin. And am I the only one who finds Eugene Levy one-note and tiresome?

O.J. Simpson said he was doing the new book and reprehensible special for "blood money", to provide for his children financially. Yeah, it's all for the kids. The man's in the holiday spirit already!

Guess I'm not the only one who didn't love THE FOUNTAIN. Neither did the LA Times. Yes, there are some critics who praised it (not many) but I chose to focus on this one.

You will not find me in a mall from now until January 2nd. And not in a Target until February.

TV LAND has announced its 100 greatest TV lines. The medium should be proud. Included are: "Aaay!" (Fonzie, Happy Days), "Bam!" (Emeril), "De plane! De plane!" (Fantasy Island), "Denny Crane" (Boston Legal), "Heh heh..." (Beavis & Butthead), "Holy crap!" (Everybody Loves Raymond), and my favorite, "Oh, my nose!" (Marcia Brady, The Brady Bunch. Oh, and Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech is also included.

STRANGER THAN FICTION is fun while you're watching it. Then you go home and realize NONE of this made any sense. But you could say the same thing for THE BIG SLEEP. I'd recommend both.

Spotted in Westwood: a giant Hummer with a handicap placard.

Michael Richards should never speak unless Larry David writes his dialogue. He can apologize all he wants. He's an idiot. And not funny.

God, I'm sick of turkey.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Honeymooners

We all have our own cherished Thanksgiving traditions. Enjoying Grandma’s famous stuffing recipe (which oddly tastes a lot like Stove Top), the game of touch football on the lawn (they still talk about the year Uncle Ed’s stitches came loose), weird cousin Marla’s holiday decorations (festive paper turkeys with hatchets), everyone bringing their favorite dish, renewing the argument over whether cousin Marla should be hospitalized, etc. My fondest tradition was watching THE HOONEYMOONERS marathon on one of the local LA channels. The last few years it’s been discontinued but thanks to DVD’s, I now own all 39 classic episodes and can gleefully watch them again for the nine millionth time.

Produced in 1955 for one season only, THE HONEYMOONERS remains my favorite all-time sitcom. I don’t think there’s ever been a more inspired cast than Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows. And Joyce Randolph was okay too.

I wonder what people in their 20’s would think of the show. Would it seem too retro? Would the black-and-white cause a disconnect? Would the comedy still hold up? I’d like to think it would. I’d like to think any generation would marvel at Art Carney demonstrating a golf swing, or Jackie Gleason learning to mambo.

If you’ve never seen THE HONEYMOONERS, or haven’t in a long time, I invite you to get the DVD collection and have your own Thanksgiving marathon. But JUST the classic 39 episodes. The collected sketches from Gleason’s variety show or the “lost episodes” don’t hold up. But those 39, for my money, are sitcom perfection. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Some of my favorite episodes are:

The Golfer
Better Living Through TV
Oh, my Aching Back
The $99,000 Answer
Young at Heart
Unconventional Behavior
Hello, Mom

I bet as you read this I’m watching one of them right now.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy sitcom Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. I look forward to the holiday, never writing about it. Every sitcom I’ve ever worked on, we’ve had the obligatory Thanksgiving episode. How many variations can you have on the big family dinner going awry? I think I’ve written the “turkey gets burned”, “relatives clash”, “nutty friends invited”, “can’t find a restaurant”, “kids break something”, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner variation, “Meet the Parents variation”,“football gambler loses big”, “tofu turkey substitute”, “someone accidentally gets dragged seven blocks by the Mr. Potato Head balloon”, “mom’s a terrible cook”, “relative accidentally not invited”, “someone is allergic to something in the stuffing and has a funny seizure”, “power outage”, “thawing frozen turkey last minute”, “food fight”, and “the pilgrim re-enactment” episode fifteen times.

Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your ACCORDING TO JIM spec script halfway written.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading this blog.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Santa Claus Lane Parade

When I was a kid growing up in LA, the Thanksgiving weekend always began Wednesday night with the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Blvd. I looked forward to it every year. Unlike parades with elaborate floats and impressive marching bands, this had Hollywood B-actors, second bananas, local fringe celebrities riding in cars with their names hand painted on the sides, and a few 100 year old guys from an American Legion Post playing trombones. The big finale was the arrival of Santa Claus, usually on a float that looked like a Cub Scout project gone horribly wrong.

The parade began in 1928 as a way to lure shoppers to Hollywood. In the 30’s and 40’s big stars would participate. It was the only time Bette Davis would get within a hundred yards of real people. In 1946, the parade inspired Gene Autry to write “Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Santa Clause Lane”.

By the 50’s the luster had worn off and instead of Natalie Wood you’d see the kid who played Whitey on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Once Bing Crosby was the Grand Marshal. By the late 50’s it was Oscar Levant who by then had a local TV talk show on KCOP, Channel 13. I was never sure if he was waving to the crowd or just having another seizure.

The parade was always televised locally on KTTV, Channel 11 in black-and-white, hosted by Bill Welsh. He’d interview all the “stars” as they passed. That was my favorite part. How do you ask Gypsy Boots what his next project was with a straight face? Gypsy Boots was a local health nut who dressed ridiculously and did anything he could to draw attention to himself. He was the Melrose Larry of his day. His next “project”??? Appear in next year’s parade.

Bill once asked Monty Montana, who had appeared in a bunch of B Westerns, what his next project was? His answer: giving a lasso demonstration at a local elementary school.

I was nine years old. I found this hysterical. Tomorrow I would watch the Macy’s Parade and there would be the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY, elaborate floats, a 200 member marching band from Ohio State, and those magnificent giant balloons. But tonight I was seeing Bill Welsh ask Iron Eyes Cody about his new book.

I never actually went to the Santa Claus Lane Parade. My parents were not about to wade through a million people so I could see local newscaster, George Putnam, on a horse. But I didn’t care. It was a TV event anyway.

The parade has been renamed the Hollywood Lane Parade and is now on Sunday night. And KTLA, Channel 5 televises it with Bob Eubanks and usually Lee Meriwether. It’s in color. It’s syndicated. It’s not as good. But every so often there’s a flash of the parade’s past cheesy greatness. The 2000 Co-Grand Marshals were Frankie Muniz and Dennis Hopper.

I love holiday traditions. Happy Thanksgiving!!

The Fountain

People ask me why I do a blog and I’ve never had a good answer…until now. If I can save even one person from going to see THE FOUNTAIN then I’ve provided a real public service. Yes, I know I’m going to take a lot of heat in the comments section but I don't care. Some things are too important and warning the population is something I just feel morally bound to do.

As I watched this quest for eternal life I wanted to kill myself.

For you Los Angeles readers, my wife said it was a 90 minute KCRW ad. In other words, artsy-fartsy, overblown, dialogue as bad and stilted as STAR WARS: EPISODE I and GLEN OR GLENDA, and making no sense whatsoever. An utter mish-mash. A complete disaster. It achieved the near impossible, it made Rachel Weisz look bad. And the writer-director, Darren Aronofsky, is her husband! She should sue for spousal abuse.

At least SHOWGIRLS had nudity. And stupifying lines like: "it must be weird, not having anybody cum on you."

Aronofsky is the Emperor’s New Genius. It’s one thing when he makes five-million dollar bizarre little art films. So what if nobody knows what the hell is going on? Everybody’s stoned. It’s the midnight show at the local revival theater, part of a double bill with PINK FLAMINGO. But a $53 million studio holiday release? What was anybody thinking? Forget that THE FOUNTAIN is not remotely commercial. Even the art crowd thinks it’s a turd. It was rejected by Cannes, the New York Film Festival, and when it showed at the Venice Film Festival it received loud angry boos – and these people think every Woody Allen movie is a masterpiece.

When directors start thinking of themselves not as storytellers but “artists” you can almost bet another FOUNTAIN will be hatched. When they want to become the next Kubrick give them a wide berth. If you hear the words “metaphysical journey”, “exploring unanswerable questions”, and “Mayan mythology” RUN!

I saw it at a screening where Aronofsky participated in a Q&A afterwards. He was asked what the theme of the movie was, and he said, “he didn’t know.” HE DIDN’T KNOW???? $53 million dollars and he didn’t know? He said he was still discovering it and that’s the cool part.

Knowing your theme is the first thing they teach you in the Beginning Screenwriting Course at the Learning Annex… for only $53 dollars.

Admirers will say if you want to be challenged by a movie see THE FOUNTAIN. I say see THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Let the debate begin!

The O.J. special is off

Fox has pulled both the special and the book. I never knew the power I had with this blog. I will try to use it for good.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanksgiving travel tips

The Thanksgiving holiday is the peak travel weekend of the year (in America. The rest of the world could give a rat’s ass about Thanksgiving.) So as a public service, here are some travel tips:

Leave for the airport NOW. Especially if your flight is on Wednesday.

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay.

Southwest has no reserved seating. Get in one of the latter groups boarding. You don’t want to be one of the first to sit then watch as fifty people glance at the empty seat next to you, then to you, and decide to sit somewhere else.

If you have children under the age of five tell your relatives one has an ear ache and make everyone come to YOU.

Those people in the Stand-By line – those are the same people who think they can get rich selling Amway products, and the Tooth Fairy really exists. Don’t fly Stand-By unless you like sleeping in airport terminals for five days.

If you rent from Hertz plan on a two hour wait just to get your car. Unless you’re one of their “preferred” customers in which case allow only one hour.

When rental car companies recommend you use premium gasoline put in regular. It’s cheaper, it’ll run just fine, and it’s not your car.

Before you pull off the road to a Chuck E. Cheese for lunch, remember their namesake is a rat.

Three words of advice if you’re driving a long distance: XM satellite radio. Especially if you’re crossing Texas and want to listen to Air America.

Air travelers: avoid O’Hare. Better to land in Dallas, even if your destination is Chicago.

If you’re dropping someone off at the airport don’t even think you’ll be able to stop. Have your travelers practice the tuck and roll from a moving car. The first couple of times they’ll bounce but by the fourth or fifth try they should have it down.

Watch the DVD of HOSTEL on your laptop. The bigger the screen, the better.

There’s more legroom in Exit rows. When the flight attendants ask if you are willing to help out in case of emergency just say yes. Like it’s going to make a big difference anyway if you crash.

There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.

When you’re stuck in St. Louis and all flights are grounded (and trust me, you WILL be), grab lunch at Mike Shannon’s.

If you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t have reserved seating never sit next to anyone whose already eating or reading Ann Coulter.

Before you fly to New York and have to negotiate JFK just remember – the parade is on TV. And it’s the same balloons as last year. The only difference is that the stars of NBC’s big new hit from last year, COMMITTED won’t be there.

Never pay to see an in-flight movie starring Debra Messing.

Put a big strip of duct tape on your luggage so you’ll recognize it easily. And it makes a nice fashion statement.

If you’re flying with small children see if there’s such a thing as “Flintstones Valium”.

In-flight alcoholic beverages are expensive. Better to drink heavily at the airport before boarding.

And finally, watch PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES again and think of it as a “best” case scenario.

Happy trails to you all.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The nadir of network television

Has FOX lost its mind? After painstakingly repositioning itself as a quality network, with such fare as HOUSE and 24 and no longer the home of JOE MILLIONAIRE and TEMPTATION ISLAND they go off and schedule an O.J. Simpson special?? Just when you thought no network, not even FOX could sink lower than WHO’S YOUR DADDY? they unleash this.

O.J. will tell how the murders would have gone had he committed them (wink wink). I’m sure it will be rich on detail because, y’ know… he has such a great imagination. I’m surprised he has the time since he’s been on this one man tireless crusade to find the real killer. From what I gather he's narrowed it down to someone on a golf course.

The special stems from an upcoming book published by Judith Regan. To contact Ms. Regan you don't call her, you drive by her street corner and roll down your window.

If this special gets ratings expect to see the sequel with Robert Blake for February sweeps. And then for May, Barry Bonds could talk about what his career would be like if he took steroids.

Personally I’m appalled and only hope the Goldman and Brown families attach every penny this murderer makes from this unconscionable stunt.

The only way to REALLY show your displeasure and disgust is to not watch it. Let's hand O.J. the verdict he deserves.

And as for FOX, they already have as many Simpsons as they need.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The list

Every writer gets stuck. You hit roadblocks. Hard to concentrate with your felony trial pending, that sort of thing. In the past I've talked about a few ways I've tried to break through it. Taking a shower, dumping the problem on my partner, admitting I'm a fraud and giving up. But I found that fellow blogger, Maggie has compiled a far better list of things you could do. And these are actually helpful. In fact, they're fabulous. And for those that care, her post features pictures of Tahmoh Penikett as well, whoever he is.

Here's the post.

And here's just a sample:

7) This one is evil but fantastic: open a new file and write the thing again, without looking at your current draft, no matter how many times you've rewritten it. Oh, so evil! Because you'll hate it and you'll be so mad and then, oh my goodness, you write something SO GREAT! Because you've been working on that story for so long now, you're so ready to write that thing! You're a pro at writing that thing, but you're not letting yourself write it, only rewrite it.

It's like you've been practicing a piece of Bach. Only you recorded your very first time through, and you've been tweaking that recording all this time. Play it again! Write it again! Let your characters talk. They're sick of having the same conversation over and over. What would they do if they had the chance to live that scene over again?

8) Study something fabulous. This is how they train composers. And I know because I went through this at the conservatory. We studied certain pieces of music so closely that when I hear Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra or Wachet Auf or the others, I almost can't breathe. Break it down, diagram it, watch/read it over and over for the structure of it. Write it from memory. (That is a particularly wicked exercise we had to do. Write Bartok from memory!)

9) Start listing things you love. It's simple but it works really, really well. You can put margaritas on there a couple of times if you want! And Joe Flanigan and Tahmoh Pennikett! And Mt. Hollywood and pizza. Blueberry tea and pink kitty toes. The New Zealand All Blacks and the South African national anthem. Kaylee! Vines. Vintage dresses on Ebay. Amelie! Margaritas! Ben Browder! Bagroll! Anglo-Saxon poetry! Royal blue! Cello solo! The point (and I do have one) is to get back to the place where you remember why you're doing this in the first place. Yay!

10) Write something else. Boy howdy, that works great! I'm sure that 95% of writing-is-not-working crankiness is because you want to be writing and aren't. So write! Write ANYTHING! Write about what you would write if you could be writing and exactly how good it would be, because it would do this and this and this and this and this...and because you're a writer, pretty soon you've worked your way out of whatever knot you didn't even know you had.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Random Ax

Wow. I’m BLOWN AWAY by all the nice comments from yesterday. Thank you all. I'd much rather tell all these stories to you than the grizzled comedy writers who commandeer the back booths at Nate N' Al's. So thanks again...and on to year two.

From last Sunday’s LA Times CALENDAR SECTION. Page E3, a teaser for an article that says: “Shawnee Smith gets to stretch her range in her latest flick – SAW III.” I doubt if Shawnee would find that insulting since in the article itself she considers the SAW series as her “coming out” as an actress.

Hormel Meats, the fine folks who make Spam are upset that the word is used to describe junk email. They believe it’s derogatory to their most excellent product of chopped pork shoulder meat, salt, water, sugar, and Sodium Nitrite.

Neil Patrick Harris is gay??? No????

Carrie Fisher has a one-woman show at the Geffen Theatre in LA. It’s worth seeing. She discusses her rather colorful life. It’s called WISHFUL DRINKING but could easily be renamed WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU ONLY MAKES YOU FUNNIER. And more good news: The Princess Leia wig still works on her.

Times are a’changin’: ESPN’s Monday Night Football occasionally out rates NBC’s Sunday Night Football. A cable station kicks a major network’s ass. Of course NBC does ESPN a favor by counter-programming with STUDIO 60. (Was this Monday night’s episode the worst??? Sorkin is turning into Captain Queeg.)

Plans are underway for a SEX AND THE CITY movie. Film it fast! In another minute it’ll be MENAPAUSE AND THE CITY.

When Justin Timberlake is a big pop star it’s time to coax the Hanson Brothers out of retirement.

The Boston Red Sox have a national fan base. So the term “Red Sox Nation” makes sense. But now the L.A. Clippers have adopted the term. “Clipper Nation”?? They’re not even the most popular basketball team in Los Angeles. In fact, they’re not even number two. UCLA has that honor. Instead of “Clipper Nation” it should be “Clipper Senior Quad”.

Speaking of the Bosox, after a brief hiatus my son has resumed his highly entertaining Red Sox blog, Dirty Watah. Check it out. But don't mention the "Clipper Nation" thing. It'll really piss him off.

Nine -- count 'em, NINE Christopher Walken impersonators perform at the Paul Gleason Theater in Hollywood every Monday night through December 18th. But what separates the men from the boys? The ones who can dance on walls.

When you think of great movie moguls, you naturally think of Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn, and Tom Cruise.

I’m still waiting for my invitation to his big wedding. It’ll be aboard the Scientology luxury yacht, SHIP OF FOOLS 2.

Al-Jazecra, the Arab news network launches an English language channel this month. More competition for CW.

New York Yankees Public Address Announcer, Bob Shepherd is 96. He had been lying about his age, saying he was only 90 I assume so he could still get chicks. No one has ever introduced a player better. Hearing him call your name is like Hirschfeld doing a caricature of you. I hope he’s behind the mic for another 96 years.

Will somebody tell ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that in their SOUND BITES feature, it’s not the actors who come up with these nifty quotes, it’s WRITERS. Have any of you ever heard Teri Hatcher speak??

VARIETY has a new feature: “The Knife”, clueing you to where celebrities dine. Allow me to do the same. Spotted at the Gardens on Glendon in Westwood: Art Linkletter. Otherwise known as Bob Shepherd’s wingman.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My first anniversary

Yes, what a milestone. I began this blog a year ago because (a) I'm looking to raise my visibility so someone will publish my travelogues (so far it hasn't worked), (b) I have this constant desire to write, and (c) I have this constant desire to put off writing anything I'm being paid to write. I must say it's been a liberating experience. It's great to be able to write whatever the hell I want without the benefit of notes, focus group feedback, star servicing, or comparisons to FRIENDS.

When I began I was told by more seasoned bloggers to post frequently, at least a few times a week to attract an audience. I decided to post every day if I could. So far I haven't run out of topics although it helps that I can criticize anything, whether I've seen it or not.

The reaction to this blog has far surpassed my wildest expectations. It now has an audience larger than an inner office memo. Thanks to all of you for finding and staying with it. Please tell your friends. I'm too cheap to advertise. Also thanks to Howard, MK, Lee, Mark, John R., John A.,Tabloid Whore, Bob S., Lance, James, and all the other kind bloggers who've added links to this site.

As I've done in the past, I'm asking you to write today, tell me where you're from, how you found this site, and what you'd like to see or not see in the future. I've also offered any sexual advice you might need but so far no one's taken me up on it.

As I head into year two, I thought I'd link to some of my favorite posts from year one. Since I have a lot of new readers and no one reads archives anyway, what the hell? Enjoy and thanks again.


Porn Star Karaoke

My cruise

My cruise part 2

2006 Emmys review

When the MASH cast had too many notes

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What the puck is this?

Among the many things I know nothing about are computers, women, and hockey. Last night I was invited to an L.A. Kings hockey game where the other two things I know nothing about were nowhere in sight. A friend offered to teach me the sport so I figured, what the hell? It was a night out at the Staples Center and I needed more three-hold paper. The mighty Kings had lost 9 of 11 so getting tickets was not a problem. In fact, they said if we were running late, call, and they’d hold the game for us.

Big difference from a Laker crowd. Celebs for the Lakers include Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington. Here it’s actor, Larry Mann and Jaimie Farr. More Hollywood stars used to attend Kings games when Gretzky was playing for them. That was back at the Fabulous Forum. They would sit right on the glass in the seats actual fans could never afford. There was a lip protruding from the glass which these celebs thought was for putting their drinks on. They didn’t realize players would be crashing into it. Goldie Hawn and company were unceremoniously drenched. It was a beautiful thing.

Different dress code, too. Laker fans come all pimped out. Kings fans all wear jerseys. More than a few should also be wearing goalie masks. But they were loud and boisterous and unlike me, seemed to know what was going on.

I sat next to a lovely gentleman who had had seven Red Bulls. But he assured me that until nine he was okay. Meanwhile, he spent the last two periods doubled over with his hands covering his head. Now I know why the Kings are off to such a poor start. I suspect he is one of their scouts.

Two 17 minute intermissions made for a lot of beer sales. By the third period everyone was rowdy. A Shark player got hit in the kisser with a puck. As he staggered over to the bench fans were yelling, “Get back on the ice, you baby!” The NHL is the official sport of the American Dental Association.

The P.A. system at the Staples Center is the worst. It was like how the Peanuts characters used to hear their teacher. Of course it didn’t help that every hockey player has fifteen consonants in his name.

As a novice I had just as much fun during the intermissions. Fans were invited to send text messages that would be posted on the scoreboard so we tried to send cleverly veiled obscene ones. I’m guessing we weren’t the first. None got posted. But truthfully, who gives a shit about “Hi, Mom,” “Kings rule”, and “Jess, would you marry me? Alex”?

The game was good but not nearly as exciting as the human bowling event between the first and second periods. The only way to be eligible to play was to fail a breathalyzer test.

No major brawls which was disappointing. Although there was a lot of physical contact. A penalty is defined as something that maims a player for life. Usually that’s a two minute punishment.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Sharks actually have a player who’s Afro-American. Mike Grier. That’s even more astounding than a white guy in the NBA. (His dad, Bobby Grier, is a coach for the New England Patriots).

Hooked up after the game with the Sharks radio announcer, Dan Rusanowsky. Even the broadcasters have long unpronounceable names. Boy, you REALLY got to be a fan to listen to hockey on the radio. “Tverdovsky over to Kostopoulos, now to Visnovsky, intercepted by Nobokov.” It’s like a Russian novel book-on-tape.

One thing I do know about hockey, it’s wall-to-wall action, great fun. And when you get down to the last five minutes and the game is tied, it’s totally wild. The Kings won 4-2 and the human bowler knocked down four pins.

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Holiday Movies Preview

Here’s the conclusion of my Holiday Movie Preview. If you haven't read the first part it's the post below.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB – Version number twelve. This one is live action with Julia Roberts, Thomas Hayden Church..and I never thought those two names would ever appear in the same sentence. I look forward to revival theatres playing this on the same bill as Roberts’ “The Closer”.

DREAMGIRLS – The ads and trailers would lead you to believe this is a big deal event. Based on the Tony winning musical about a Supremes-like group. I’d give a nickel for everyone under 25 who’s even heard of the Supremes.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD – Matt Damon as one of the first CIA recruits in this Robert DeNiro directed Cold War drama. Teens love the Cold War so it should do boffo.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM – The exhibits of the Museum of Natural History come to life at night during Ben Stiller’s guard duty. Cautionary tale on drug use.

ROCKY BALBOA – Dear God, why?????

BLACK CHRISTMAS – Slasher film with a holiday theme. Those aren’t toys in Santa’s sack, Virginia.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL – Cate Blanchett as a London teacher who has an affair with one of her students. He breaks it off upon realizing he would have gotten an A anyway.

MISS POTTER – Rene Zellweger as author Beatrix Potter who has an affair with her editor. She breaks it off upon learning he would have published Peter Rabbit anyway.

– “Eating Raoul” but with perfume. People walking around literally wearing “Scent of a Woman”.

FACTORY GIRL – 60’s “it” girl Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. “Capote” but groovier.

THE DEAD GIRL – Certainly the catchiest title of the holiday season. Not to be confused with DREAMGIRLS. Brittany Murphy stars as the corpse.

CHILDREN OF MAN – Sci Fi yarn has Clive Owen protecting Julianne Moore who is the only pregnant woman on the planet. Rod Stewart of course is the father.

See ya at the movies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Holiday Movies Preview

Tired of all those Fall “quality” movies? Good news. It’s almost time for the holiday season. So here is my Holiday Preview of what we’ll all be flocking to see at our local Cineplex.


DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE – The perfect film to kick off the season. Gore and death on a tropical island. Bring the kids.

APOCALYPTO – Mel Gibson’s savages-as-metaphor-for-Jews movie. I’m only sorry he wasn’t eaten by a lion during production.

BLOOD DIAMOND – “The Constant Gardener” meets “Romancing the Stone.”

BREAKING & ENTERING – Jude Law so right away, caution. A guy falls in love with his burglar’s mother. Expected line of dialogue: “What a coincidence. That ring you have is just like the one I was going to give you.”

MR. LEATHER – Documentary on Robert Redford.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS – Five kids running amok in an airport. Kind of the “Muppet Babies” version of “Terminal”.

ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES – CGI adventure from master children’s storyteller, Luc Besson. Hopes to bring the same fun and magic of his “Fifth Element” to a family fantasy involving wizards and a princess.

PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS – Will Smith enlists his real life son to help him in his perpetual quest to be Denzel Washington.

THE HOLIDAY – Writer/director Nancy Meyers so you know – glossy, formula, a romantic comedy that will have three laughs, all for the trailer. The kind of “date movie” that keeps guys from ever wanting to see “date movies”.

ERAGON – “Lord of the Rings” meets Puff the Magic Dragon. Can “Wind in the Willows: the Trilogy” be far behind?

HOME OF THE BRAVE – Samuel L. Jackson as a returning vet from the Iraq war having trouble readjusting. Sample line: “There are motherfuckin’ snakes in my head!”

FAST FOOD NATION – playing at a Drive-in and Drive-through near you.

THE FOUNTAIN – Just simply the worst movie of the year. But if you want to take your date somewhere on a Saturday night where you two can be alone, take her to an 8:00 showing of THE FOUNTAIN.

VENUS – 100 year old Peter O’Toole hooks up with pretty twentysomething niece. Woody Allen is already preparing a remake.


The conclusion tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November in New York

I'm still hoping to find a publisher for these damn travelogues. Here's where I was a year ago today.

Back from Gotham where I helped out on a musical going into workshop production called THE 60’s PROJECT. It’s a fun and poignant journey through the decade, complete with all the music and assassinations you remember. My main contribution was getting them to take “Who Put the Bomp?” out of the Tet Offensive section. But it’s a terrific show despite the fact that an audience member called it “important”.

Stayed again at the Shelburne Murray Hill. But no Diane Lane this time. They should tell you that when you make your reservation. Seven whole days I stayed in that dump!

The tree is back! The world’s largest Christmas tree was delivered to Rockefeller Center this week. It was their second attempt. The first time no one was there and they had to leave a note. Usually city workers decorate the 75 foot Norwegian Spruce, adorning it with 25,000 lights. This year the task goes to Martha Stewart’s APPRENTICES.

Big Broadway show in town is the revival of ODD COUPLE with Matthew Broderick, and inexplicably, Nathan Lane as the slovenly “guy’s guy” Oscar Madison. I know it’s stunt casting but Jesus. Why not just go the whole way and cast Carol Channing?

Best panhandler: the guy at Broadway and 42nd holding a sign that reads: “YOU CAN YELL AT ME FOR A DOLLAR”.

Close second: The Naked Cowboy. This skeesix has long blonde hair, wears nothing but a Speedo and a guitar. I would still believe him as Oscar Madison before Nathan Lane.

Had a meeting at NBC at 30 Rock. The security has gotten ridiculous. They now even take your picture for a visitor’s pass. If they were really worried about someone bringing down their network they should just keep the producers of FEAR FACTOR out

There is barbed wire around the Plaza Hotel. It is being converted to condos. But the Oak Room will remain. The city was able to get its upscale hookers at the bar registered as historical landmarks.

Had breakfast at “Friend of a Farmer”. New York has officially run out of restaurant names.

The best pizza in New York is no longer Ray’s. It’s now John’s. So expect “Original Johns”, “John’s Original”, “Jon’s”, “Original Jon’s”, and “Jon’s Original” to pop up all over the city.

There’s a Home Depot on Lexington Avenue in Midtown. How do people get anything home? They have to lug their new garage doors or Jacuzzis or lumber on the subway?

Went to Carnegie Hall for the first time to see singer Linda Eder. Both were quite spectacular . (Andrew Carnegie, for those who didn’t know, was one of those American robber barons who made his fortune in fatty corned beef.) Linda received a standing ovation the moment she appeared. Very different from her July performance at an outdoor venue in San Diego when the only person who stood was a guy in a Hawaiian shirt trying to flag down the vendor for his fifth pina colada.

There are five balconies. The top one is above the timber line. Scalpers could easily sell $35 top balcony seats for $2000 saying they were the only Barbra Streisand tickets still available.

The only weird moment of the concert was when Linda said “Judy Garland had a huge influence on my life” and I was the only man in the audience who didn’t say “me too”.

The after-show party was fun. And when people asked what I was working on now I was able to say Broadway musical instead of failed Fox pilot.

There is a strange woman who always makes and hands out commemorative Linda Eder refrigerator magnets. Mine will be proudly displayed next to the Clippers 2003 home schedule.

You are no longer allowed on Avenue of the Americas unless you have a Blackberry. There are checkpoints.

A hotel was bombed in Jordan so currently there is extra security and SWAT teams at certain NY hotels. (Nothing at the Shelburne. They don’t even provide valet service). So now for your $700 a night at the Parker-Meredian (actual charge this week) you are in the heart of the theatre and terrorist target district.

Debby flew in just in time for the best sidewalk food vendor announcement. A bratwurst hawker on Broadway who was presented his award and arrested for not having a permit.

Cathy Rigby is doing her final performances of PETER PAN at Radio City. Next year she segues right into ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

Meanwhile, Nathan Lane is segueing from THE ODD COUPLE to PETER PAN.

With all the amazing Italian restaurants in New York there is an Olive Garden. And it was packed. This is why “three card monty” takes in more money annually than the Statue of Liberty.

Languages spoken by my cab drivers: Urdu, Russian, Czech, Farsi, Klingon.

Forgot to set my alarm (all five days) for 5 a.m. so I could stand in the window of the TODAY SHOW, wave my arms like an idiot, and hold up a sign that says “HI JANE! HI BRYANT!”.

Now that all hotels employ recorded wake up call messages, this should be the one they use: “Good morning. This is your wake up call….(beat) Hey, fuck you too. You asked to be called.”

A street vendor on 6th Avenue was selling one of our SIMPSONS scripts for $15. Linda Eder magnets were going for $20.

Went to my favorite museum – the Margo Feiden Gallery, home of the glorious Al Hirschfeld collection. I was there so long I counted 4,362 Nina’s.

Latest fashion trend: kids wearing Yankee baseball caps two sizes too big. They all look like Sluggo.

Actual radio station press release: Clear Channel Urban WWPR (Power 105) and PREMIERE syndicated morning duo Star & Buc Wild have replaced newsman “Crossover Negro” (Reese Hopkins) with “Chris the Queer” (aka Chris Hart).

Bring back Dan Ingram!!

The MET LIFE building will always be the PAN AM building.

Annie flew in from Chicago for the weekend. First stop was Long Island and a big gathering of Debby’s relatives. We all met at an Italian restaurant on Queens Boulevard (Friend of an Undertaker) and had lunch. Just like a Sunday dinner scene in the SOPRANOS except Tony and the family never said “No cheese, I just had meat”, “what comes with that?”, “are the capers fresh?”, “I can make the same thing at home for fifty cents,” and “the last time I had cannelloni I went into labor”.

Stephen Sondheim came to our show on Sunday. And wound up sitting next to Annie. She’ll be dining off that story for years. The performance went very well until one of the leads, in the middle of “Sugar Sugar” broke into “Being Alive”.

If you put a Linda Eder refrigerator magnet together with a Barbra Streisand refrigerator magnet would they attract or repel?

JFK has been remodeled and refurbished, now sporting humongous Tomorrowland-like terminals and a monorail system. Once Zagat rated the worst airport in America, now with all the improvements it’s rated even worse. Instead of building bigger terminals how about providing more than two ticket agents at 6 pm on a Sunday?

Spending a week as part of the New York theatre scene was very heady indeed. Everyone was so friendly, so gracious. All of that will end of course when they find out I write for TV. But at least I met Stephen Sondheim. And he and Annie are now exchanging recipes.

Thanks so much to Janet, Richard, cast & crew, Dave, Ronni, Linda, and the Naked Cowboy for everything. I feel very lucky.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Borat -- love it or hate it??

I mentioned last week that I loved BORAT. I wasn't proud of myself for laughing at a lot of it but I did. Then, judging by the audience reaction and feedback from friends and readers I assumed pretty much everyone loved it.

Not so.

A comedy writer I very much respect hated it. Then a few other friends did too. And it seems they're not alone. This article in New York magazine really pans it and explains why.

So my question to you this weekend -- did you love it or hate it and why? I look forward to your comments.

Coming Monday: my Holiday Movie Preview.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More Mary Tyler

Thanks to all who liked the scene I posted a few weeks ago from the MARY pilot David and I wrote and unfortunately got on the air in 1985. Here's that post. For those who requested more, here’s another scene. For anyone writing a spec pilot it gives you an example of how to set up characters.

As a refresher, the premise was that Mary (as in Tyler Moore) was a high class fashion writer whose magazine folded. She winds up working at a sleazy Chicago tabloid. This is the scene right after she accepts the job.

Tully is a legally blind copy editor. David Byrd plays him. Katey Segal plays Jo Tucker, a Fran Liebowitz type columnist, and John Astin is theatre critic Ed LaSalle.



This will be your desk.


What do I do for privacy?

Go home at night.

Who has the desk facing me?

Jo Tucker. Good luck.


You’ll need it.

Jo Tucker…isn’t he that nasty bitter man who writes the “Main Line Chicago” column?


Yes, I am.

You’re Jo Tucker?

Yes, and I don’t like being called bitter. I prefer…macho. So, you’re going to do the Help Line – solving problems for Chicagoland’s great unwashed. (THEN) You’re not going to keep little stuffed Care Bears on your desk, are you?

I’m only here until something better comes along. (TO HERSELF) Like a job in a limestone quarry.



No. I don’t smoke.

Might as well. You’re going to die sitting across from me.


Ed LaSalle.


(SHE DOESN’T) Hello…Mary Brenner.

Ed LaSalle.

Mary Brenner.

Just wanted to welcome you aboard, Mary Brenner. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life. The Second City. The Windy City. The Big Shoulders. Hog Butcher to the World. Chi-town, my town. You’re going to love it here.

I’m from here.


(IMPATIENT) The theatre critic.

Oh. Of course.

You like theatre, Mary Brenner?

Yes, yes I do.

There’s a lot of great theatre in this town.


Never saw it.

Oh. How about “Dreamgirls”…?

Uh-uh. Mary Brenner, that’s all commercial pap. I cover the real theatre. Chicago’s theatre. Daring, experimental, the raw side of life. Emotions stripped bare. The refuse of the human condition that can be rated on a scale of one to ten. You know what’s the worst part of being a critic, Mary Brenner?


No. Most nights I have no one to accompany me. Are you married?


How come you aren’t wearing a wedding band, Mary Brenner?

Well, I’m not…technically married.

Then, it’s the Big D.

Well, yes.

(LEANS IN CLOSE) Good. Then, it looks like you are going to be (POINTEDLY) “steppin’ out with Ed LaSalle”.

Well…maybe. We’ll see.

Steppin’ out with Ed LaSalle.


Steppin’ Ou ---

That’s the name of his column.

Thank you. (TO ED) And a very clever name it is.

If you need any help in naming your column…

I know where to come, thanks.


I don’t suppose I could ask you –

Not if it would end world hunger. I like to smoke. Y’see, by nature I’m a very private person. I don’t care for people or things much, so I keep to myself… mostly in my apartment. It’s a rather dull existence. (HOLDING UP CIGARETTE) So these give me that chance to live life on the edge.

Have you ever tried cyclamates?


13 and out – which should be the name of our production company.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hollywood's Next Generation Class of 2006

Just got my Hollywood Reporter “Next Generation” special issue, profiling the 35 hottest hippest new suits in show business. If they have one thing in common it’s not background, education, or career path – it’s that they’re all real good looking. Also they have a shared mastery of clichés like “I love a challenge”, “I love working with passionate people,” “I love being part of a creative team,” and my personal favorite – “my job is to help the filmmaker/writer/director/client/racquetball partner realize his/her vision.” But those can be learned. Being good looking – you’re either in the Lucky Sperm Club or you’re not. You could be the next Irving Thalberg and Brandon Tartikoff all rolled into one but if you look like Randy Johnson or Randy Johnson in a wig you’ve got no shot.

The popular kids from high school have just traded their table at the cafeteria for one at Maestro’s.

I’m not saying the chosen 35 don’t deserve to be there. I’m sure many are talented, smart, charming, and good hearted. And hopefully one or two will hire me someday. But I couldn’t help but notice that the same people who cast GREY’S ANATOMY seemed to cast them.

Now, writers on the other hand. First let me give the disclaimer that this doesn’t apply to everyone, but on the whole, I’m sorry to say, we are not a pretty union. I’ve been on many picket lines with my fellow WGA brothers and sisters and yikes, there are a lot more Rob Schneiders than Rob Lowes.

But (as one of them) I can take heart in this: If looks weren’t a pre-requisite, a lot of hot young nerd writers could step in and do those executive jobs as well or better than Ken & Barbie. But if the 35 Hollywood Reporter young turks had to write a script I bet they couldn’t do it to save their lives.

And I'm sure most writers would agree with me they'd rather have that gift than just good looks.

Right, guys?



Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meet Fritzell & Greenbaum

I bet some of your favorite episodes of MASH and the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW were written by writers you don’t know. Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum. You’ve seen the names I’m sure. But just who were these guys??

First off, they were two of the funniest comedy writers in television. And expert craftsmen. Their scripts always had a flow, the sentences were short, sharp, with never a wasted word. The jokes were on target, fresh, and at least five were from the “where the hell did they come up with that?” category. They had a great ear for dialogue, a love of Americana, and there was always the signature Jim & Ev scatological joke in every script. Klinger would pull out a rectal thermometer and say “It’s 103 in Pittsburgh.” A visiting general would be delighted the latrines were in pairs – “Good. The men can encourage each other.” That same general made the pronouncement: “Prunes – greatest invention since the gatling gun.” Hawkeye once observed that the medical profession has come a long way. "It used to be that proctologists used candles."

They started way back in live television. For two years they produced and wrote every MR. PEEPERS episode. 39 a year, aired LIVE. That fried them and they fled to California.

Over the next thirty years they wrote for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, GOMER PYLE, REAL MCCOYS, THE ODD COUPLE, and 24 episodes of MASH. They also penned the Jack Lemmon movie, GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and many of the Don Knotts flicks.

Everett flew planes, wrote jazz, built bizarre sculptures out of pipes and everyday items. (they’re featured in GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and also an episode of MASH), and after Jim passed away Everett launched a very successful second career as an actor and voice over talent. He appeared on SEINFELD, THIRD ROCK, MATLOCK and numerous other shows and commercials. One of his best friends was Marlon Brando, who he roomed with briefly in New York.

Jim preferred to spend his time at the Tail O’ the Cock restaurant in the Valley.

Ev also went to MIT, and was a Navy fighter pilot. You know – just your typical comedy writer resume. He wrote an autobiography called “The Goldenberg Who Couldn’t Dance”.

Of their many MASH episodes the one that’s best remembered is “Abyssinia Henry”, the one where Henry Blake gets killed.

I’ll leave you with a typical Jim & Ev line. From Klinger in the episode “Bug Out”: “A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores. “

They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. I sure wish they did.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Queen

One of these is the Queen of England and the other could easily play her in the "Legends" impersonator show in Las Vegas.

I recently saw THE QUEEN. Excellent movie. Jolly good. Well done. Bob’s your uncle. Helen Mirren has come a long way since CALIGULA. THE QUEEN provided great insight into the British Monarchy (although it still doesn’t explain why Queen Elizabeth refused my offer to read the Esskay Meats Out-of-town scoreboard when she attended an Orioles game I broadcast). Here's the post.

A few years ago when the Queen Mum passed away there were thousands of messages left on her Board of Remembrance. What follows are ACTUAL examples. See the movie and they’re even funnier.


"She was a marvelous woman, and a wonderful lover".



"Once again the Queen is not upset enough for my liking, the woman should have a bit more compassion, how would she feel if it was her mother?"

W.Waugh, Richmond.


"I have been unable to masturbate for five days, and will not do so again until her majesty is buried"

E. Gorman, Derbyshire.


"When Diana died I swore I would never smile again, but eventually I did. Now the Queen Mum has gone I cannot imagine that I will ever smile for the rest of my life, but I will probably break that one too".



"She was one of the old school, all the remaining royals are shit"

J.Clement. Grantham.


"I thought she would never die, she has let us all down very badly"

D.Holmes, Somerset.


"She was a trooper and she never gave up. I remember one time she was visiting a school and I asked her if she would like to make a visit to the cloakroom before she left. 'No' she replied, 'I didn't give in to the Nazis and I won't give in to the bladder'. That's how she was, a fighter, who refused to be beaten by anything. She pissed herself later though, it was sickening".

B. Forrester, North Yorkshire.


"I am absolutely devastated, at least we could have got the day off".

S.Wilson, Bristol.


"How refreshing to be able to mourn the death of a member of the Royal family without being accused of being homosexual".

J. Fletcher, High Wycombe.


"Her death should act as a warning to others who think it is cool to experiment with drugs". E. Franks, Cheshire.


"On behalf on all blacks, I send the sincerest condolences".

T.Watson, Ilford.


"I am sure the Queen Mum will not let this setback put an end to her public duties".

N. Wallace, Swansea.


"I hold Princess Margaret in no small way responsible for this terrible event"

E. Thompson, West Lothian.


"We must do all we can, send blankets, food parcels, jumpers, anything to help these brave souls who are queuing up to walk past her coffin."

R. Thompson, Bath.


"Whichever way you look at it, it just is not as exciting as Diana".

G.Williams, West Midlands.


"She was one of us, and by that I don't mean she perpetrated insurance fraud or lied about expense claims. She was like us in a good way. God bless you ma'am".

L. Weller, Harlow.


"If only I could get my hands on that fish bone right now, you heartless bastard!"

J. Hedges, Cowdenbeath.


"She had such a difficult life, always battling against adversity and misfortune. Let us hope that if there is a next time round she is given a life of privilege and comfort"

T.D.Wainwright, Hastings.


"Perhaps if we automated her old golf buggy it could still drive around The Mall on its own and bring pleasure to the tourists".

Y. Howell, Slough.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat and the state of television

I never go to big hit movies the weekend they’re released. It seems stupid to stand in long lines when the same film will be there in a week or Wednesday at 5:30. It’s not a once-only concert, it’s a movie. But I broke my rule this weekend for BORAT. I had to see it. And I was not disappointed. It was HILARIOUS. Yeah yeah, it was a scathing satire on our culture – I’ve read all the bullshit articles – but it was just fucking FUNNY!!! Small wonder it was a boxoffice smash. People want to laugh. Even if they know some of the jokes will be offensive, even if they know they will groan at some things, deliver solid laughs in any form and there will be a stampede to your door.

The same was true a couple of years ago on Broadway with THE PRODUCERS.

So what about television? Is comedy dead? No, not if SEINFELD premiered today. Not if THE SIMPSONS premiered today. But the sitcom form has been so formulized, so homogenized so bastardized that it’s sinking under its own weight. I’m not saying do BORAT as a series (although, watch – next year there will be fifteen Borat-type pilots... and they'll all be lame), I’m saying the networks are looking for the wrong thing.

Every year before development season they go on retreats. They spend four days between spa treatments deciding what their comedy agenda should be that year. Family comedies with emphasis on dad? Family comedies with emphasis on mom? Stress the kids? Downplay the kids? Buddy comedies? Ethnic buddy comedies? Young single urban female driven workplace comedy? Urban people in rural setting? Rural people in urban setting? A vehicle for Paula Marshall?

What they should be saying is this: who are the writers who are REALLY FUNNY? Who has proven that they can make an audience laugh? And go by the individual not the credit. Greg Garcia (MY NAME IS EARL) comes from YES, DEAR and is a much funnier writer than a lot of the FRIENDS alums who went on to big deals and multiple failures.

Hire the funniest people and tell them to create the funniest shows. Single camera? Multiple camera? Doesn’t matter. 25 year old writer? 55 year old writer? Who cares? And let them cast their shows with the funniest actors they can find and not recycled sitcom vets or pretty faces. Leave them alone and let them flourish. Never give the note “make her more likeable” or “we need to up the stakes” or “can we show he has a good side too?”

Will every show be a gem? Of course not. But one or two might, which is a whole lot better than what they’ve got now. Last week NBC’s comedy block of 30 ROCK and TWENTY GOOD YEARS not only finished behind C/W but also Univision. It’s time for a new model.

Networks shake their heads and say there’s no audience appetite for comedy anymore. Of course there is. Now more than ever. Just look at the lines for BORAT, a character, who by way, began in television.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bob Redford on the phone. Tell him I'm busy.

With the election coming up on Tuesday I’m getting three calls an hour from my “close personal friends” Ed Begeley Jr. and Sally Field pimping some candidate or proposition. If I’m on the fence over whom to vote for do I study up on the issues or take the word of the Flying Nun?

Granted, the RICH LIST contestants actually believe it IS Robert Redford calling them but for the rest of us it is just annoying. Besides, do I want Martin Sheen knowing my home number?

I have half a mind to call Senator Barbara Boxer’s office, get her on the phone and say, “Yes, I'm returning your call.”

Here’s a novel concept: how about thinking for ourselves? Or at the very least realizing that celebrities are there to merely amuse us and when we do need to seek the council of others we turn instead to people who actually are qualified to help – namely BLOGGERS.

The Rich List

We have finally found the stupidest people in America. They are all contestants on THE RICH LIST, the newest and easiest game show on television UNLESS the players are dumber than a tree stump and these contestants would need tutoring to reach that level.

This is another import from Great Britain by the same annoying folks who brought you THE WEAKEST LINK. Same pinball machine type set, same overly dramatic techno music punctuating every sentence the imported host (Nathan Lane with an English accent) has to say.

The hook here is that they only find village idiots to play. One mismatched pair of morons squares off against another. They are given a category. TOM CRUISE MOVIES, STEVEN KING NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES, THE TOP ONE HUNDRED NEWSPAPERS, BEST PICTURE WINNERS, DISNEY ANIMATED MOVIES (INCLUDING PIXAR). How many can they list? One group said they couldn’t list five major newspapers. Another had trouble after just a few Steven King stories even though there are 175 to choose from. One group could only answer six Best Pictures. And my favorite, this same team of cretins could only name six Disney animated features. They got TOY STORY then couldn’t think of another one. Even TOY STORY 2.

Here’s what’s scary. REALLY scary. These people serve on juries. These people drive cars. And on Tuesday these people vote. Maybe we’ll be lucky and the concept of punching holes in a ballot or pulling a lever will be too confusing for them.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The renewed life of Brian

Drugs and therapy work!! I saw Brian Wilson perform at Royce Hall at UCLA Wednesday night and am happy to report it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. Absolutely electric. And with any Brian Wilson concert there’s the added appreciation of just how far this guy has come from a year in bed to being able to perform in major venues without so much as a sandbox at his feet.

There’s always a price for genius and Brian has not only paid for himself but the whole room. The resulting music, however, is extraordinary. I hear “God Only Knows” and think, I’d be over-the-moon thrilled if just once in my lifetime I could write “Little Deuce Coupe”.

His backup group, the Wondermints, is far better than the Beach Boys ever were. (I guess the “Beach Boys” now play minor league baseball stadiums, County Fairs, and Jiffy Lube openings.) And to make the night extra special Brian was reunited for the first time with original Beach Boy, Al Jardine.

They played for two-and-a-half hours, the highlight being the recreation of the entire “Pet Sounds” album which was absolutely thrilling. Although he didn’t include my favorite Beach Boy songs – In My Room (in German), No-Go Showboat, and All Dressed Up for School – he did feature many of the group’s big hits and was in great voice and spirits. The ecstatic crowd, mostly baby boomers (or as the TV networks call them – “dead for all we care”) was on its feet for much of the show…not easy to do anymore with their knees. A few even bought the Brian Wilson action figure that was being sold in the lobby. Yes, there is an actual Brian Wilson action figure (You can now play “Meet me after the show” with Malibu Barbie).

In addition to the great orchestrations, innovative chords, and lush harmonies I was struck by how evocative the music was of the time and how ambitious it was, even the early stuff. For every song about surfing there was one about teen angst. And they each strike such an emotional chord that even forty years later they still resonate.

It hasn’t been easy for the Pepsi Generation. We survived a war, drugs, civil unrest, Nixon, disco, midlife crises, the economy, raising children, caring for parents, 9-11, and nothing to watch on ABC. And we had it EASY compared to Brian Wilson. But there he was, still going strong, still singing his heart out. Damn it, we can STILL have fun fun fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away!

If you get the chance to see Brian Wilson in concert, do it. Even if you’re grounded. Sneak out.