Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hey, who stole my flamingo?! favorite pitch meeting ever.
In 1978 my partner, David Isaacs and I were head writers of MASH. That fall we also signed on to write a pilot for CBS. Our producer was Allan Carr (pictured above). He was this rather flamboyant character famous for throwing lavish parties in the “King Tut Disco” in his home, producing such films as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE, and winning a Tony for producing LA CAGE AUS FOLLES on Broadway. He looked like composer Paul Williams -- short, cherubic, bespectacled.

We arranged a meeting to pitch our pilot story. Since we were dealing with MASH all day the meeting was set for 6 PM at his Benedict Canyon mansion (“Hillhaven Lodge”, complete with a giant eight foot Oscar statue in the driveway.)

We show up and are told by the butler he’s not ready. The butler ushered us onto the lovely outdoor patio where a bottle of wine was waiting for us as well as a Chasen’s ice mountain of fresh seafood. An hour later we’re still waiting although the bottle is now empty. And we start getting a little giddy. We were wondering how we could steal one of his ceramic flamingos. Would Allan notice the two long flamingo legs sticking out of my briefcase? We were really starting to get punchy.

Finally, we hear “Hello, hello” and quickly put on our serious game faces. A moment later Allan sweeps in wearing nothing but a flowing white caftan…and a layer of thick white cold cream all over his face. Holy shit! We almost lost it.

And now, not only must we somehow maintain decorum, we have to pitch a complete pilot story. Behind Allan sat the flamingos, making it even worse.

We somehow managed to get through it. Imagine this surreal scene – a normal pitch meeting, the producer and writers polishing a story, trading ideas, everyone acting as though there’s nothing unusual even though the producer is in a dress with Crisco dripping from his face.

We wrapped up the meeting, said goodbye, shook hands, he closed the front door, and we rolled around on his front lawn for 45 minutes laughing.

The pilot didn’t go thank God because shortly after that Allan had his stomach stapled. Lord knows what the story meetings were like following that.

Two GREAT quotes!

From Christopher Lloyd, co-creator of MODERN FAMILY. This comes from a current article about the show in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. If I can read between the lines, I think he's happier at ABC than he was with his previous network.

"Getting notes on creativity from Fox is like getting notes on fashion from the Braille Institute."

And from Jewish Punk Rocker Patrick A. or "Aleph", the 26-year-old founder of Punk Torah, an outreach effort to inspire Jewish spirituality:

"When I'm on stage screaming, hitting my face with a microphone and pouring beer on my head, at least I'm singing about the Torah."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

This has always been one of my favorite holidays, especially when the kids were little. Taking them trick-or-treating and seeing them so excited and happy was one of the true joys of parenthood. And then eating the candy they collected was fun too. Of course there’s always that one eccentric house. We had a dentist who gave out toothbrushes. Thank goodness he wasn’t a proctologist.

And where I live, near UCLA, there was always a second wave of trick-or-treaters. Later, after the kids had turned in for the night, sorority girls in yummy costumes would ring the bell. I’d be holding the candy bowl for them in one hand and my Emmy in the other.

During Matt & Annie’s elementary school years there was also the annual Halloween carnival. This was a public school catering to the local neighborhood but we were hardly a typical neighborhood. One year I volunteered by making snow cones and Hugh Hefner and his six bimbos strolled up to my cart. He had a kid in the school. A noted soft-porn actress whose children attended the school offered this for the silent auction: A two hour nude session where you could photograph or paint her. The principal graciously declined that offer but I bet it would have brought in a lot more money than the autographed WINGS script I donated.

For the school’s “Haunted House” Gene Simmons participated. He would pop up and stick out that four-foot tongue. One mother was so freaked she literally sued the school.

Ah, good times.

One thing I learned though, Halloween is an OUTDOOR holiday.

My son’s birthday is November 2nd. (Happy upcoming birthday, Matt!). When he turned five Halloween night fell on a Saturday. So for his party we invited a bunch of his friends to the house where I would take them all out trick-or-treating and then they’d come back for pizza and cake. 5-7 PM. No muss. No fuss. Great plan.

Except it rained. No, it POURED.

First off, as parents deposited their kids they asked if we’d take siblings since they couldn’t take them trick-or-treating in the rain. Of course we said yes, and so at 5:00 I had forty screaming crazed children running around my house – chasing each other with hatchets, and fairy wands, and Star Wars phasers. After relentlessly trying to wrangle this supercharged mob I finally sat down on the stairs and took a breath. I was so proud of myself. I had gotten through it. It’s almost 7. Then I checked my watch. 5:20.

If you have little kids enjoy these precious Halloweens. Soon enough they’ll outgrow you, want to be with their friends instead, and trade phasers for tequila shooters. At least I still have my memories… and the sorority girls keep coming around.

One last Halloween note: I’ve always found it odd that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in this holiday so they stay home…on the only night of the year when people would actually open their doors to them.

Happy Halloween.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Working with the director of VOLUNTEERS

It’s Friday question day. Only one today but it required a long answer. What's your question???

From Brian Doan:

I was reading Nicholas Meyer's new memoir on a plane this weekend, and he has very kind things to say about the script you and David Isaacs wrote for VOLUNTEERS, how much he loved working on the film, and how he remains proud of the movie, even if it wasn't the big hit everyone wanted it to be.

Just wondering if you have memories of working with Meyer on the film, or stories you might want to share?

We had a lovely experience working with Nick. Best of all, he really did respect the script and only changed it minimally.

Once a film director comes on board the only input and involvement the writer has is what the director graciously allows. All too often the writer will turn in his last draft and the next thing he sees is the finished product a year later – often with horrifying results.

Nick welcomed our involvement from day one. We got to weigh-in on screen tests. We were encouraged to spend time with Tom Hanks to share our vision of the character.

We were invited to Mexico to watch some of the filming but had to decline because we were busy rewriting JEWEL OF THE NILE at the time. Still, we were permitted to watch the dailies that were sent back to LA.

Once the film went into post production we were invited to editing sessions.

Nick always heard us out. He didn’t always follow our suggestions but that’s more than fair.

Our only real disagreement, and I’ve talked about this elsewhere in the blog, was the moment where he had characters break the fourth wall to read a subtitle. We felt it destroyed the reality of the picture and sapped it of any suspense. He argued that it got one of the biggest laughs in the film. How could we take out one of the biggest laughs? He won that battle.

We won another. There’s a scene where the Peace Corps advisor gives volunteer Beth a gift – a Burmese prince (you can watch it below). The joke is that the little statuette had a huge penis. These actually exist, by the way. I have a collection... no, just kidding.

We’re watching the scene on the moviola (a very small screen) and notice that he cuts to a close-up of the statue. We said, that’s not going to play well on the big screen. The penis will be too big. He argued that if we stayed in the master the joke might not be apparent. We said, fine, we’ll see how it works in the test screening. I'm happy to be wrong if it means a moment works.

So we have the big test screening for several hundred people and that close-up of the penis fills the giant screen. And every woman in the audience gasped and shrieked. David and I bolted for the lobby where we laughed so hard we missed the next ten minutes of the film. Needless to say, it came out.

But how’s this for graciousness? That test screening cut was well over two-hours. The goal was to get it down to 90 or 95 minutes. Nick felt he was too close to it and actually let us take a pass and offer cuts. Many of our suggestions he took. Trust me, that's almost unheard of.

Are there things about VOLUNTEERS I wish were different? Sure. Performances, moments, certain scenes and choices. But there are also things that Nick added to the film that were big improvements over what we had intended.

So all in all, a hugely positive experience. Nicholas Meyer is one of the brightest people I ever met and it was a joy just to be in his company, much less collaborate with him.

I’m also envious that he got his memoir published.

Here’s a ten minute segment of VOLUNTEERS that features the Burmese prince scene. It’s about 5 minutes in. This segment also features the famous “Time” joke.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shawnee Smith

Not to be a name dropper but as we approach Halloween I can honestly say I’m friends with “the Queen of Scream”, “the Goddess of Gore”, “The Whore of Horror?”(no, that doesn’t sound right). Anyway, it’s Shawnee Smith, star of SAW, SAW II, SAW III, SAW IV, SAW V, and because there are still so many unanswered questions: SAW VI.

She is an absolute sweetheart.

I actually go way back with Shawnee. One of her step-parents lived in the same condo complex as my folks in the 70s. I first worked with her in the mid 80s when she was a regular on the sitcom ALL IS FORGIVEN and I did punch-up work.

Quick aside: ALL IS FORGIVEN is a forgotten gem. Created by the Charles Brothers and Howard Gewirtz and Ian Praiser, it was about life on a soap opera and despite great reviews, NBC cancelled it. They were number one then and although ALL IS FORGIVEN was in the Top 30, it wasn’t high enough in the Top 30 for them. More people probably watched one episode than the number of weekly viewers for Jay Leno. I don’t know if ALL IS FORGIVEN is available on DVD or YouTube or the black market, but it’s worth checking out. Meanwhile…

Shawnee went on to do a bunch of movies and plays – I tried to live off the laurels of doing punch-up on ALL IS FORGIVEN -- and we reconnected when Dave Hackel cast her as the ditzy receptionist in BECKER.

I got to direct quite a few BECKERS and discovered her to be a brilliant comedienne.. Everyone thinks it’s easy playing dumb. It’s not. To make a character dumb but real is exceedingly hard. The irony is you have to be incredibly smart to play dumb. You need expert timing, you need to really commit to the character, and you have to make us believe that the stupid things you say are not stupid to you. For my money, the two comediennes who played dumb to perfection were Judy Holliday and Gracie Allen. Both had IQ’s off the charts.

And now Shawnee's delighting audiences wriggling out of reverse bear traps, knifing people, and sorting through entrails. As Amanda, she’s kind of the Kate Hepburn to Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw.

I couldn’t be more thrilled for her success and once everyone in the world is gruesomely tortured and killed I hope she’s return to comedy.

Here’s a montage of her work on BECKER. For SAW clips you’re on your own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: BODY HEAT

Okay, I’m going to start talking film noir in a few minutes but let’s cut to the chase – I love BODY HEAT for the sex. That’s why I went to see it, that’s why I went back to see it, that’s why I’m recommending it. There’s noir and great breakout performances but all that is a bonus.

BODY HEAT, released in 1981, marked the directorial debut of Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote the film. Today he’s known as Jake Kasdan’s dad but back then he was writing STAR WARS sequels and INDIANA JONES movies – enough Hollywood currency to warrant a directing nod.

The movie is very noir. I don’t actually know the definition of that word but it seems to be the genre that encompasses night, mood, lust, guilt, illicit passion, double-crosses, triple-crosses, seduction, and if really done right – a hopelessly confusing plot. BODY HEAT satisfies all of that plus a lot of nudity!

The film stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a two-bit lawyer in a small Florida town who meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), an unhappy rich married woman. There’s an instant smoldering connection. They’re both horny, wildly attracted to each other, and share the same penchant for talking like a Raymond Chandler novel.

It’s hot (100 degrees at night), they’re hot (one reviewer actually used the word “slender” to describe her back then), and the heat is never turned down.

In short order Ned and Matty are in her mansion getting it on as often and graphic as possible. You are so wrapped up in the steamy sweaty animal sex that you don’t ask the question, “Hey, if she’s so rich and lives in a mansion, how come she can’t afford air conditioning?”

Matty eventually talks Ned into killing her husband (that’s how good the sex was) and the plot takes off. If this sounds a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY that’s because it’s almost a direct lift. But you never saw Fred MacMurray giving it to Barbra Stanwyck from behind.

Some notable other performances: Ted Danson as the tap dancing D.A. (this was well before CHEERS) is a riot and Mickey Rourke as an explosives expert (well before he went nuts) is riveting.

The ending gets very confusing and Byzantine so you might want to rewind and replay it a time or two. Just like guys will be rewinding and replaying the first part of the movie twenty times.

BODY HEAT – see it with someone you hope to get lucky with.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Social Network Rejection

First off, get well soon wishes to Earl Pomerantz. He’s having robots operate on him or something. I’m not sure whether the WGA Health Plan doesn’t cover actual surgeons or robots are next big thing, but in any case – have a full and speedy recovery.

Earl, as many of you know, is a fellow comedy writer and blogger. He asked me to remind you that during his medical “hiatus” he is running “Best of” posts. So it’s a good chance to either acquaint yourself with Earl or catch up. You can find his blog here. Tell him Ken sent ya.

One topic that Earl brought up awhile back that I’ve been thinking about as well is “Social Network Rejection”. You must get this too. I’ll check my Twitter page and see two or three people have unsubscribed. And I wonder – hey, what did I do? Did saying something nice about Patty Heaton cause you to leave? Did you think to yourself, “Jesus, if I see one more goddamn post about MASH I’m going to scream”? After a couple of months did you just realize I'm not the Ken Levine who created BIOSHOCK? Did I misspell just too many words for you? What???

I accept the fact that readers come and go, but still – there’s a tiny part of me that wonders, “should I take this personally?”

Do you feel this way too?

Do you see that four friends have dropped you from Facebook and think, “Gee, sorry I’m not interesting enough for you.” Your next reaction is usually “screw you” but you still wonder… did they drop you but keep Heather who tweets every time she coughs up phlegm?

I mean, face it, we all drop other people. If someone wants me to join 72 causes I usually dump them by cause 20. I used to follow a certain baseball beat writer because I like their writing. Then I started getting a hundred updates a day on the Houston Astros. I couldn’t unsubscribe fast enough.

People drop former romantic partners; that I understand. But other people FIND OUT they’re being a dropped by reading Facebook. When your girlfriend’s status goes from “in a relationship” to “single”, well, there’s now 51 Ways to Leave Your Lover.

The point is, there’s usually a reason. Enough of a reason that you’re willing to seek out the unsubscribe icon and click on it. Not saying the people you purge from your life are not lovely but there’s something about them that clearly bugs the shit out of you.

The other, even greater personal rejection, is when you ask to befriend someone – someone you KNOW, someone who IS a friend in real life – and they ignore or reject you. You’re not asking them to donate a kidney, you’re asking to add your little picture icon to their friends page. This can be particularly painful when members of your immediate family dump your sorry ass.

Or maybe I’m just being too sensitive. I’d start a Facebook Group – “Coping with Social Network Rejection” but what if no one signs up?

Charlize Theron Kisses Woman For $140,000

I can’t get enough of these HuffPost Headlines for the important stories YOU need to follow. Just from today…

Charlize Theron Kisses Woman For $140,000

Billy Mays' Son Sponsoring Contest For Halloween Costumes Of His Dead Dad

Edward Norton's Maasai Marathon, Twitter & Vaselined Nipples

Diddy's Brazilian Vacation: 'Ass! Ass! Ass!'

Faizon Love: No Sock In 'Couples Retreat' Nude Scene

David Cross: I Snorted Cocaine 40 Feet From Obama

A free society depends upon the populace remaining informed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My trip to Philadelphia

For you new readers, whenever I'm allowed out of the 310 area code I write up a travelogue of my trip. This saves you from having to actually go anywhere yourself. Here's the latest.
If it weren’t for the Dodgers being swept by the Phillies, my sojourn to Philadelphia to cover them would have been sublime. But that “losing the pennant thing” really puts a crimp in your trip.

Philadelphia is the home of Rocky Balboa, Dick Clark, Gogi Grant, Danny Bonaduce (actor, alcoholic), Broderick Crawford (actor, alcoholic), Eddie Fisher (singer, homewrecker), World B. Free, Lola Falana, Betsy Ross, Suzy Kobler, George Jefferson, John Coltrane, Michael Douglas (the former talk show host, not father of the felon), Pink, Teller, Fabian, Chaka Fattah, Chubby Checker (who absurdly believes there should be a statue of himself at the Rock n’ Roll Hall-of-Fame), Mohini Bhardwaj (no description necessary), funnymen Larry Fine, W.C. Fields, and Richard Gere, two of the most admired women in the world – Grace Kelly and Tina Fey, G Love and Special Sauce, and of course Henry “Box” Brown, an abolitionist who escaped slavery by literally mailing himself to Philadelphia from Richmond, Virginia. (Book rate yet!)

Philadelphia is also one of Hollywood’s favorite locations. It’s been the setting for MANNEQUIN and the TONY RANDALL SHOW. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY however, was filmed in Hollywood.

The Eagles are still the number one sports team in this town. And that’s with Michael Vick (who shouldn’t be in the NFL. He should be locked in a room with 15 hungry pit bulls and a pork chop tied around his neck.). On Sunday night the Fightin’ Phils won 11-0 (and the game wasn’t as close as that score would indicate) and most of the coverage in the next day’s sports section was “what’s wrong with the Eagles?” The Phils are the Norman Maine of Philadelphia.

Meant to get out to the Mutter Museum, founded originally to educate doctors of the 19th Century and HMO’s. Big attractions include conjoined twins and a catalog of foreign objects removed from bodies.

The first few nights a Nor’easter blew through town and it was colder than Faye Dunaway’s sweater meat. But then the sun came out and temps rose from 30 to 70. It’s not always sunny in Philadelphia but when it is it’s glorious!

I love that the area has regional delicacies – hoagies, soft pretzels, Goldenberg’s peanut chews, Tastykakes, and the most famous of all: Philly Cheese Steaks -- thinly sliced slippery gristle and melted cheese whiz on a long roll and somehow it tastes great. But only in Philadelphia. Everywhere else it’s a grease trap on a bun. There is much debate over who serves the best cheese steak but many locals agree it’s Jim’s.

And then there’s Scrapple. This is a mush of all the pork parts not used elsewhere. And considering what they use in hot dogs that pretty much leaves the sphincter, doesn’t it? Contestants on FEAR FACTOR won’t even eat that crap.

See the Liberty Bell. Yes, it’s a real touristy thing to do but it’s worth it.

City statues pay tribute to the three most honored figures in Philadelphia’s rich history -- Benjamin Franklin, Mike Schmidt, and Sylvester Stallone.

This is the birthplace of two major revolutions – the American and shopping. It is in nearby Westchester that QVC is located, which is why I thought I saw Marie Osmond at baggage claim waiting at the carousel for 42,000 dolls to come down the chute.

Walked by the Eddie Haskell Hair Studio. Didn’t you always wonder whatever happened to that little shit? “I think those highlights look very becoming on you, Mrs. Cleaver. Please give my best to young Theodore when you see him, will you?

Citizens Bank Park, the new home of the Phillies, is a terrific venue, a vast improvement over Veteran’s Stadium, which was the world’s largest spittoon. Beyond centerfield is the skyline of the city. And in a refreshing change from all the other new-designed-to-look-like-old parks, there are actually portions that aren’t luxury boxes. It’s very fan friendly even though the fans are anything but friendly. Philadelphia fans are tough. Their idea of rally towels is torches and pitchforks. But they’re passionate, knowledgeable, and extra intimidating in frigid weather all bundled up in red jackets and hoods. Imagine a Unibomber convention.

And the Phillie Phanatic is the mascot’s mascot. He’s the Chaplin of big furry blobs.

The Phils also have two terrific announcers – Scott Franzke and Tom McCarthy. But I miss Harry Kalas. Not as much as the fan though who showed up at one of the games sporting a Mohawk with the initials “HK” cut into one side. Although he could’ve just been honoring Harvey Korman.

For some reason taxis and even buses have the right-of-way over ambulances in the inner City of Brotherly Love.

The Phillies had a great slogan last year: “Why Can’t Us?”

People say LA is weird but in Sunday night’s game the Fightins’ former catcher Darren Daulton threw out the first pitch. He currently talks to lizards, preaches unconventional theories regarding human existence, and time travels. Even Lauren from THE HILLS doesn’t do that.

In anticipation of the Phillies clinching the pennant the Philadelphia Municipal Authority greased every pole near the stadium so that rambunctious revilers couldn’t climb them. Streetlights, bus signs, even trees were coated with a slippery yellow goo. After how many beers do you ask the question: “Hey, how would a squirrel celebrate?”

The charter flight home was long and somber. Arrived back in L.A. at dawn. Yes, it would have nice to have 20,000 appreciative fans there to greet us but we were more than thrilled just to see the shuttle vans.

Thanks to the Dodgers for a fabulous year. Their season was like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Great movie but the ending sucked. Yet it was still worthy of the Oscar.

Hopefully next year they’ll be greasing the trees around Dodger Stadium.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Guest blogger today. My daughter Annie files her review of the hit musical PARADE, now playing at the Mark Taper Forum in LA. It's won numerous Tonys but none of that matters until you've been accepted by the Los Angeles theater crowd. So how did it stack up? Here's Annie's report.
Parade is a musical about the Leo Frank case, which took place in Atlanta in 1913. A young girl named Mary Phagen who worked at a pencil factory was murdered, and Leo Frank, who ran the factory, became the number one suspect primarily because he was Jewish and from Brooklyn. It already sounds like a toe-tapping good time, doesn’t it? Luckily, while it might not be a feel good musical, it is a beautifully written one. Alfred Uhry’s book and Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics make the show captivating, touching and thought-provoking. Plus it probably isn’t nearly as depressing as Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show.

This production of Parade began in London's Donmar Warehouse where it had been reworked for a smaller cast and a smaller venue. As a result, there was a lot more double casting than there was in the original production. I found it really confusing. There was only one man playing all of the African-American male parts. My heart goes out to the casting director. She could only find one African-American man in Los Angeles who was able to sing, dance and act? I guess it’s a miracle that she was able to find the one. Also, the guy who played both the lead reporter and the governor of Georgia looked a lot like John Hamm, which begged the question “Jesus, how many secret identities does Don Draper have?!”

I was surprised/concerned at how many children I saw in the audience. I have a little suggestion for parents: please read the synopsis of the musical, not just the title, before taking your 7 year old. Parade isn’t about the balloons at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ragtime isn’t a re-usical of Scott Joplin hits, and Les Miserables should be obvious (and yet there are always children there)! But I digress.

I had heard very mixed things about T.R. Knight’s performance as Leo Frank, but I thought he did a very nice job. His acting was excellent, and though I don’t expect him to be doing any duets with Andrea Boccelli soon, his singing was quite good as well. I do feel bad for the guy though. First he gets attacked by Isaiah Washington for being gay, and now the entire South is against him for being Jewish. He can’t win, can he?

Lara Pulver, who played Lucile Frank (Leo’s Wife) and Tony winner Christian Hoff, who played prosecuting attorney, Hugh Dorsey were both wonderful. The role of Hugh Dorsey calls for a very large performance, and Hoff was definitely up to the challenge. He chewed up every inch of scenery --I don’t think there was a single Confederate flag left without teeth marks on it.

I was lucky enough to see this performance from the front row, which at the Taper Forum is basically sitting on the stage. I was very excited about this, until I started getting spit on. I don't mean a little--I mean I was wringing out my shirt by the end. I guess I can't complain that they enunciated poorly.

All and all, it was a very successful production, and one I highly recommend.

There you have it. A success! Ends November 15th. Thanks, Annie.

My season in the sun (photo album)

My baseball season is over. But it's been a great ride. Here are a few snapshots of my year with the Dodgers.

Opening Day in San Diego. The Padres were undefeated when this picture was taken.
He's the best manager I've ever worked with. Joe Torre... who reminds you all to try Bigelow Green Tea.

The Milwaukee Hot Dog racers in a rare relaxed moment.
My work station in the press box. Unlike the stands, very few fights.
If I'm not in the booth I'm here waiting to grab a player for a postgame interview. Only the ones who don't speak English agree to go on with me.
The great Jerry Coleman, Hall of Fame broadcaster and my partner when I was with the Padres. He's in his 80s and he could still kick my ass.
The day of the big Station Fire in Los Angeles. It looks like we've been attacked, doesn't it?
Traveling with the team I got my first glimpse of the Mets' new home -- CitiField. Shea Stadium was demolished but they played there three more years anyway.
Just some of the respected journalists who cover Dodger games.
The KABC studio where I broadcast. As you can see, I'm all about baseball.
Coors Field in Denver. One of my favorite parks.
Two of my heroes -- Hall of Fame broadcasters Marty Brenneman of the Reds and Vin Scully of the Dodgers.
The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Doesn't that cloud formation look like smoke coming out of those smokestacks?
The Dodgers won the division. I got to be right in the middle of it. Some were so delirious with joy they even hugged me.
On to the playoffs and St. Louis. What a surprise! There's a Budweiser sign.
Me and Chip Caray. We were partners in Seattle and I don't care what anyone says. He's a great guy and knows how to call a good game.
Here's how it ended for us. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies have just won the pennant. You'll notice when the other team wins my vantage point is just a tad farther back than when the Dodgers win.
Good luck to the Phillies and whoever they play. I was hoping for a ring but I guess they don't give NLCS Championship Series consolation rings.

During the offseason my partner Josh Suchon and I will be on 790 KABC (and on-line on KABC.COM) every Sunday from 5-8 to talk sports... okay, mostly baseball but we will mention the Superbowl.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nothing beats a good story

My thoughts on Soupy Sales

You have to take my word for it. Soupy Sales was a brilliant physical comedian.

Those of us of a certain age (middle… not old yet. Don’t rush us.) remember Soupy Sales fondly and are very saddened by his passing. The vast majority of you I suspect don’t even know who he is.

And it’s not like I can just point you to some movies. Soupy’s milieu was live television. And worse, live local television most of the time. So not a lot of his work exists and even the snippets that do don’t really tell the story. You just have to trust me on this one.

Soupy’s brilliance was that he created this whole comic world. And to be fully appreciated you had to watch everyday. Offstage noises, wise ass puppets popping up in the window, eight foot dogs, sound effects, girlfriends with hairy arms, old film clips, lip syncing songs, classic comedian monologues, zany props, a barrage of corny jokes, slapstick sight gags, and plenty of pies in the face – that was the world of Soupy Sales, coming at you in rapid succession from every which angle. It was so unrehearsed and spontaneous that half the time he didn’t even know what the hell was happening. You could hear the crew offstage laughing, you knew that the set and entire budget was so cheesy the biggest expense was probably all the shaving cream used to make the pies.

But that was part of its charm. Again, trust me. It was wonderful. And hilarious. Most of the time Soupy was just the straight man, unselfishly letting the hairy arm or hand puppet get the big laughs.

And at this point I need to stop a moment and salute the man whose arm and offstage voices were the key to this inspired lunacy. Clyde Adler, a former stagehand, was a master of comic timing. Together he, Soupy, White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie, Hippy, and Peaches made magic.

For a brief moment Soupy was the rage. ABC even went national and prime time with him briefly. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra no less, would come on and get hit in the face with pies (although in Frank’s case I’m sure he had the thrower killed).

Soupy went on to a successful career in radio, appearing as a celebrity panelist on game shows (where he showed off his Wake Forest education and proved to be quite smart and well read), and performing live shows.

But it was those early afternoon shows on KABC Channel 7 I will remember and revere.

I’m right about this one. You just gotta believe.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How we come up with character names

TGIFQD – Thank God it’s Friday Question Day.

Scottmc asks:

How much thought goes into a character's name? (Some feel that in 'The Odd Couple' Neil Simon already had his Act 3 joke in mind when he came up with the name 'Felix Unger'.) Sometimes a show can be on for years before a joke, or episode, about a character's name is used-was the joke always there?

Selecting names is always a bitch. We go out of our way not to make them jokey. We don’t want to take the audience out of the show by giving a character a silly name. The only exception is when in BIG WAVE DAVE’S we named a character Jack Lord. But that was clearly someone taking the name and we even had an explanation as to why he chose that pseudonym.

Many times we’ll use names of friends or people we know. Several of my former girlfriends have seen their names appear on shows my partner and I wrote.

We never use a name expecting to do jokes off of it but sometimes it happens. We named Charles Winchester’s sister Honoria. I went out with a girl named Honoria in college. I asked if she went by a nickname like Honey or something and she was very offended. I was to refer to her as “Honoria”. So when we were searching for a name for Charles’ sister and wanted something a little haughty Honoria fit the bill. After a few episodes Hawkeye referred to her as “hano-rreaha.” But the point was to needle Charles not just make a gratuitous name joke. We did not have the joke in mind when we named her.

On MASH it seemed there were always new patients and soldiers on every show. To make it easier on ourselves for season seven we just used the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers. You’ll find Hooten, Rhoden, Lopes, Garvey and even Vic Davalillo. On the X FILES one of the lead characters was named Scully (as in Vin) and Mulder’s replacement was Doggett (as in Jerry, Vin’s longtime broadcast partner).

If you’re going to pick names at random, high school annuals are a good place to start.

We look for names that are somewhat distinctive but not bizarre and not difficult to say. Usually we try to avoid alliteration but not always. Tom Tuttle from Tacoma is one of our most remembered names.

In a pilot with lots of characters to introduce we give them first names starting with different letters to avoid any confusion. If you have a Bob, Bill, Ben, and Brett the reader is going to get hopelessly lost. I also avoid giving girls guy’s names. No Sam, no Alex, no Max. As a rule, you don’t want the reader’s head to explode.

Woody Allen said in an interview that he tries to assign characters short names like Jen or Al or Tom because it’s less to type when writing the screenplay. Uh, has he ever heard of marcros?

One warning of caution if you use names of real people – don’t make those character unflattering. Have some sensitivity to the fact that they may receive some un-asked-for notoriety and it’s a real misuse of your power to set them up as a target for embarrassment.

Even when we used Honoria, we never used a last name. She could be modeled after any one of the thousands or Honoria’s out there. Or six.

From friend of the blog Mary Stella:

During the Phillies playoff games on TBS, TNT is heavily promoting the upcoming new series "Men of a Certain Age". It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher.

When original series like this show up on TNT, does it mean that they ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX all passed, or is TNT aggressively shopping for original programming and backing it up with big bucks?

Sometimes both. Sometimes a writer will pitch a project, usually to a major network first because there’s generally more money, and if they pass they’ll pitch it to cable networks. But other projects are much more suited to cable and writers are inclined to pitch there first. A pilot David and I wrote on spec we sold to FX and didn’t even bother with the majors. We knew that the subject matter was way too edgy for mainstream networks.

Today cable networks like TNT, TBS, FX, USA, and Disney have strong development departments. They each have their own identity and look for shows that fit their brand. Which is not to say that major networks don’t at times think they have brands to uphold as well.

Once, years ago, we were pitching a family pilot to NBC to an executive who later got promoted to a position of great power. At the time SANFORD & SON and CHICO & THE MAN were on their schedule. He passed on our family show saying, “People think of NBC as the network for two character/multi camera/tape comedies.” Oh really?? That’s what people think? “Y’know Marsha, I’m in the mood tonight for a good two character/multi camera/tape comedy. Let’s turn on NBC. Hey, there’s a three character/multi camera/film comedy! What the fuck! Turn that off! Have they gone nuts over there?!”

What’s your question?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Have Blog Will Travel

As I fly home from Philadelphia (travelogue coming early next week), thought I’d share some random thoughts and rants on travel.

It’s been eight years now. How can people NOT understand the concept of airport security checks? I guess this isn’t too surprising when every night at Dodger Stadium there’s at least three couples on the Jumbovision board who can’t grasp the intricately complicated concept of “Kiss Cam”. But seriously, in every security line there’s guaranteed at least one moron who says, “I have to take my shoes off?” Another who doesn’t have I.D. Putting your laptop in its own bin completely befuddles seven out of every ten travelers.

And now airlines have automated baggage check-in? Are they kidding? Half these Neanderthals don’t even know how to zip up their luggage.

The new National I.Q. Test should include the following categories: Negotiating TSA security lines, finding your boarding gate, figuring out how to turn on your reading light, and when you arrive at your hotel and you’re trying to find your room – if your room is 283 and you walk down the hall and see the numbers are 200, 202, 204, 206… how many rooms until you realize they’re even numbers only? One point is lost for every room you pass past 204. And the test for genius: fitting your bag in the overhead compartment.

Anyone spending more than $100 on Sky Mall purchases should be led off the plane in a straight jacket.

How much do you tip housekeeping?

When planes touched down passengers used to cheer. Now they dive immediately for their cellphones.

New scam on U.S. AIRWAYS (and probably other carriers as wel): “Choice Seats”. You buy a ticket at one price, try to make your seat selection and discover there’s nothing available but middle aisle back of the plane. However, for an extra $20 you can get a “choice seat”, which essentially is any aisle or window in the first 30 rows.

And only preferred “Dividend Miles” club members or some such shit can book exit rows. I guess they figure the type of person who won’t help out in an emergency is the type of person who won’t take advantage of their frequent flier program.

Remember when all coast-to-coast flights used to feature movies? I understand cost-cutting but how expensive is it to pop in a tape of THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND?

Remember when car rental lots were in the same zip code as the airport?

Remember when flying from one US city to another was called “travel” not THE AMAZING RACE?

When airlines say: “For Your Safety” what they really mean is “For Our Convenience”.

Why do big city hotels give you complimentary copies of USA TODAY and not their local paper? This doesn’t apply to that growing number of major cities that no longer have local newspapers.

What room amenities do you steal?

Some hotels are now offering free phone service! Wow! What an incentive! We already have free phone service. It’s called our CELLPHONES.

When a baby screams on take-off or landing it’s because of the changing air pressure and their ears can’t handle it. Always travel with some hard candy like a lollipop for them to suck on. It greatly helps relieve the pressure.

Considering how prices fluctuate from moment to moment, buying a ticket on Travelocity or Expedia is like playing the stock market. And we all know how smart it is to play the stock market these days.

How much money are hotels losing on Adult Pay-Per-View movies now that most everyone travels with laptops? One time when I was with a ballclub one of our TV techs figured out how to break into a large hotel’s Pay-Per-View system. We could piggy-back any skin flick that someone else in the hotel was watching. On Saturday night at midnight, as you’d expect, there were about 200 subscribers to one of these soft core pornos. But Sunday morning? Church time? 150. I can vouch for this (but don’t ask me how).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When your girlfriend's father HATES you

Last week I presented another brief installment from my upcoming book on growing up in the 60s in the San Fernando Valley. It prompted a comment from fellow classmate Alexis along with a request:

contrary to what you remember, I remember thinking you were cute, funny, and...well, cute and funny will have to suffice.

You should relate the "Helene" story...

I'll settle for cute and funny. Here's the "Helene" story. Remember names have been changed to protect me from physical abuse.

My actual dating life wasn’t much to speak of. I thought there was some promise with Helene Papadakis but that didn’t turn out swimmingly. A good start though. I took her to see “Thunderball” and then Bob’s Big Boy. She let me put my arm around her during the underwater fight sequence. She ate a French fry off my plate (always a sign of intimacy). And at her front door – the BIG moment – she let me kiss her goodnight. It was not a big kiss mind you. And lips only. But it wasn’t the handshake and “I had a really fun time, thank you” and the subtle door slam.

I was so confident I called her for a second date on Monday. Usually I needed at least three weeknights to get up the courage. She accepted and all was right with the world.

But on date #2 I met her father. These are always awkward encounters. They look at you like you’re going to knock up their daughter, get her hooked on heroin, and coerce her into joining a cult. We are always assuring them that we’re really nice young men, we wouldn’t dream of touching their daughter (much less do any of the things we fantasize about while masturbating nightly to them), and we all want to be astronauts. Still, I sensed a hatred that went beyond mere suspicion and apprehension. I started getting the vibe of Jew Hater.

Helene and I were hitting it off though, so I chose to rationalize that he wasn’t anti-Semitic, he just preferred suitors of any other religion in the world. On date #3 I drove her home (arriving safely before the midnight curfew), kissed her goodnight, got back into my 1960 Comet, turned on the ignition… and the car wouldn’t start. Shit. Probably a dead battery but maybe I had flooded the engine. So I waited five minutes, tried again, and still nothing. I went back to the house, tapped lightly on Helene’s bedroom window, and told her I needed to use the phone to call the Auto Club. She let me in but by now was wearing a bathrobe. Nothing sheer, just a big comfy terrycloth robe. I called the AAA and we sat in the kitchen waiting for the tow truck. About five minutes later her dad entered the room and almost had a seizure. There was his daughter in a state of disrobe (even though she WAS wearing a robe) with this…this… red sea pedestrian!! I hastily explained why I was there, trying desperately not to use any Yiddish expressions. Finally, I said, “My battery is dead” and he snarled, “It better be!”

With that he dashed out to the car and told me to start it up. I turned the key just praying it wouldn’t start. Thankfully, it didn’t. He stomped off to the garage and returned a moment later with jumper cables. In short order he got my engine to turn over.

I politely thanked him very much and then he leaned into me and said, “Your fucking car is blocking my driveway.”


That was the last time I ever went out with Helene.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to tell a bad sitcom

Charlie Hauck is a terrific comedy writer (FRASIER, MAUDE, etc.) and a hilarious author. His comic novel about a writing team launching a sitcom starring the diva from hell is both hilarious and all-too-real. The book is called ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES and well worth reading.

On one page he explains how you can tell a bad sitcom. Simple rules, worth repeating here.

1. Any show in which any character at any time during the life of the series says the words “Ta da!” is a bad sitcom.

2. Any show in which one character says to another, “What are friends for?” is a bad sitcom.

3. Any show in which a character says “Bingo!” in the sense of “Eureka!” is a bad sitcom.

4. Any show in which an actor or actress under the age of seven says cute things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

5. Any show in which an actor or actress over the age of seventy-five says vulgar things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

6. Any show that resorts to the use of Dr. Zarkov dialogue (named for the villain in the FLASH GORGON series, where one character tells another character something they both already know, for the benefit of the audience) is a bad sitcom.

7. Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.

And if I may add a few of my own:

8. Any show where the studio audience says “Awwwwww” and the producers leave it in is a bad sitcom.

9. Any show that makes a Willard Scott joke is a bad sitcom.

10. Any show with opening titles that show close-ups of the cast and then freeze frames to catch zany expression on each is a bad sitcom.

11. Any show with Jim Belushi is a bad sitcom.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hangin' in Philly with the President of the U.S.

Hi from Philadelphia. The last time I was in the City of Brotherly Love in October it was with the President of the United States. We hung out in someone’s backyard.

I guess you want an explanation, huh?

Fall 1980. My partner David and I sold a pilot to ABC. It was about the White House Press Corps. We sort of pictured the young David Letterman as a hotshot reporter who slept around. Even though he wasn’t strictly an actor we felt he could play that. Judging by recent headlines I’d say we were right.

For research purposes we managed to obtain credentials to temporarily join the press corps. We spent two days at the White House. All that great banter you heard on WEST WING as staffers moved through the halls – we heard none of that. For the most part journalists are confined to the press room where crackling dialogue is replaced by constant bitching.

On the third day we got to make a campaign swing. President Jimmy Carter was vying for a second term. He had as much chance as Al Sharpton but we didn’t know that at the time.

This was the President’s itinerary: Fly to Dayton, Ohio. Speak at a town hall meeting. Fly to Philadelphia. Motor to Upper Darby and speak at an informal backyard town meeting. Then fly back to D.C…. in time for dinner.

We awoke and watched the TODAY SHOW where Jane Pauley rattled off the itinerary and showed the house. How bizarre to think I was actually going to be there.

We zipped out to Andrews Air Force Base and boarded the press plane. When the President travels there is always a press plane that accompanies Air Force One. He takes off first so we can cover that and then we land first so we are in place to cover his arrival. Air Force One has to basically kill time in the air for a few minutes while we land and get settled. I always thought they should do some loop-de-loops, have a little fun up there in the air.

We completed the Dayton portion of the campaign swing and headed for Philly, Pa. There was no such thing as seat belts and tray tables up . These reporters were forever walking down the aisles, leaning over backrests, having conversations while powering down candy bars and beer. Even through heavy turbulence. David and I meanwhile, strapped ourselves in and had death grips on the armrests.

Landing in Philadelphia we were ushered to a waiting bus. Once President Carter arrived and shook hands with Jack Bauer or whoever was in the greeting party we joined Carter’s motorcade and headed for Upper Darby. If you ever get a chance to be in a presidential motorcade do it. Rush hour in Philly and we barreled right through the city. All the streets were blocked off and there were stopped cars for miles. It must’ve really sucked for those million-plus commuters but it was sure cool for David and me, speeding through red lights. Yeah, baby!!

We pulled up at this suburban house (it looked better on the TODAY SHOW) and scrambled off the bus. We were led to the backyard. These were the days before cellphones (if you can even imagine that) so a bank of phones had been nailed to what seemed like a 2X4 nailed to a backyard tree.

Chairs were set up for about fifty hand-picked blue-haired supporters. We were in a roped off area – unfortunately within arm’s reach of a large platter of homemade cookies. Within seconds they were gone.

President Carter came out of the house and addressed the group. I thought to myself, “this is just surreal. Here I am, standing in a stranger’s yard in a town I’ve never been, elbow to elbow with Sam Donaldson, Robert Novack, Helen Thomas, and Leslie Stahl, mere feet away from the leader of the free world, who is perched on a high stool, the family barbeque shoved into the corner. On the other side of the wooden fence are armed gunmen in the alley. Overhead is a Marine helicopter. I was sure one of the shooters in the chopper was going to take out one of the reporters for hoarding a bunch of cookies.

Two hours later David and I were eating lobster in a Georgetown seafood grotto. We stopped at one point to say, “What the fuck just happened?”

The pilot never got picked up. And of course, neither did Carter. But it was one of the great days of my life. And now I’m back, hanging with another icon who will be forever remembered in the pages of United States history – the Phillie Phanatic.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to interview a celebrity

As a public service to any toadie journalist assigned to do an inane starlet profile here is the style sheet YOU MUST FOLLOW!!!

Whether it’s for the LA TIMES, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, PARADE, or MERCENARY LIFE there is a specific protocol you are advised to follow to the letter. So please take note:

The interview must be a lunch date at a chic café, clearly identified.

The celebrity will arrive late. You must report how late and what her excuse was. And you must forgive her. Even if the excuse is, “I forgot” or “I had to liquor up to do this because I find you repulsive” you must be charmed.

It’s important to describe her outfit. Is Natalie Portman wearing jeans? Lead with that. Gwen Stefani has new sunglasses? Hold page one! And for godsakes, whatever you do, describe the celebrity’s hair. Was it pulled back? Tousled? No one gives a shit what Claire Danes thinks but they sure as hell need to know whether her hair was red, blonde, or strawberry blonde? You spent five years in journalism school at Northwestern. Use your tools.

Painstakingly note whether she picks at an egg white omelet or a Waldorf salad. Celebrities don’t eat, they “pick at”.

Note that she eats healthy and it’s paying off. You must compliment a celebrity’s appearance. Jennifer Aniston is “glowing” and “radiant” and when Courtney Love shows up looking like the dog’s breakfast she is dressed “casual” and “fun funky”.

Once the budding young diva starts yammering learn what is print-worthy and what is just utter brain-dead nonsense. Listen carefully because often you won’t be able to distinguish one from the other.

She will tell you that she is now in “a good place”. Report that. She’s learned some real “life lessons” on her last movie. At this point she’ll start talking real fast and you might have a tough time getting it all down. So make it easy on yourself. Write it all out before the interview.

She’ll tell you what she thinks of the world situation. She’ll have suggestions for how to fix it. Ignore!!! All of it. Complete balloon juice. This is where you can pick at your food.

She’ll gush about her latest movie. That’s the only reason she’s there. It’s certainly not to spend time with you. Should you excuse yourself after lunch and go to the bathroom for three minutes, by the time you get back she’ll have no idea who you are.

The thing about this film was that the director (just fill in the blank here) who is a “genius” allowed her to tap into an inner place she didn’t know even existed. He unleashed the “little girl” in her and maybe two or three past lives. It was really “scary” and “profound”. She “suffered” as a result but that’s okay because she is “all about the art”. It’s okay to eliminate all the “y’knows”, “ums”, and “likes”, but you must keep every “I’m all about...”

Do not bring up anything negative. Yes, she killed that pedestrian but it was only one and it was before she was in her “good place” and besides, she’s all about Africa now, so that’s what you need to focus on.

Never EVER talk about yourself or bring up any topic other than her. She will stare at you in disbelief like you just killed her puppy. A call to the publicist (who’s sitting at the next table with five of her best handlers) is certain to follow.

By now she’s sipping her cappuccino (which must be duly reported as well as whether she stirs it lazily, holds the cup with two hands, etc. This is vital information.). Very gingerly, bring up boyfriends. She may volunteer that her relationship is “in a good place” and then you’re home free. Again, no negatives. Do not mention that she ruined a marriage or broke up a home. Listen for these words: “(blank) has given me a real sense of self and opened my eyes to so many things.” It means she’s wrapping it up.

Thank her for taking the time. She will shake your hand and thank you. She’s amazed you got so much information out of her. She usually never is that revealing. You’ll look away for a second, a gesture of modesty. Poof! By the time you look back she’ll be gone.

If you get back to the office, write up the story, and see that you’re short you can always slug in the following: She gets great gas mileage on her Prius (even though she drove up in a Porsche). She never actually sees any of the movies she’s in. She’d like to do a comedy someday because people don’t realize it but she’s soooo funny. Harry Potter changed her life. And she’s all about the truth but she also just discovered power walking.

Write that up, see it three weeks later as a cover story in PEOPLE, and request a transfer to Iraq.