Friday, April 30, 2010

You won't believe this rain delay

You don't have to be a baseball fan to find this HILARIOUS. Here's what happened during a rain delay of a college game.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

James Burrows

It’s Friday questions day but I’m only getting to one because my answer is so long. Next week I’ll blast through a bunch. And as always, feel free to ask yours in the comments section.

This week’s query comes from Stephen.

What is it about James Burrows that makes him such a popular director? Obviously at this point he has a great track-record with directing popular shows but in your experience of working with him, what makes him *so* good?

In baseball we talk about a “5 tool player”. That’s a player who can do it all (hit for average, hit for power, great speed, great defense, great arm). We’re talking Willie Mays here, and as you can imagine, there are very few.

James Burrows is the Willie Mays of directing. If a multi-camera director is proficient in two of the facets I’m about to list he’s considered a good director. Jimmy is the best at all of them.

Primary of course, is his ability to work with actors. Jim speaks their language, he understands their needs and concerns. He also realizes that each actor has his own process and timetable for getting to where he needs to be. Jim works with them individually and establishes the optimum creative environment. Bottom line: actors trust Jim Burrows. And he always justifies that trust.

He also “adds” things to the production. He has a keen sense of what’s funny (his father was the great Abe Burrows so it must be in his DNA) and he’s not afraid to add to some physical business or find little ways to improve any scene he directs. Most directors are traffic cops.

Jimmy appreciates the importance of story and the script. After runthroughs he goes back to the writers room and is involved in the rewrite discussions. I can still hear Jimmy in my head saying, “This is weeeeeird.” He knows dramatic structure and is a great help in shaping the script. Quite a few directors come from a technical background, not dramatic, and are intimidated by the writers. They feel very uneasy coming back to the room. Not Jimmy.

As for technical aspects, Jimmy is a marvel. No one camera blocks a show faster. I sit at the quad-split and carefully instruct each camera operator. I’ve spent the weekend preparing my shot list. Jimmy does it on the fly… without even LOOKING at monitors. Even complicated scenes (say a big wedding) he knows just what he needs and gets it. His shows always edit together perfectly. You never say “Geez, why don’t we have a two-shot here?” when Jimmy is directing. He knows the jokes and knows how they will best play on camera. And just as he adds business to the performances, he finds interesting creative shots. Watch the first year of CHEERS. You’ll see fabulous shots looking down hallways or shot from unusual angles. He really sold the bar as a character.

Most directors take all day to camera block a show. He can do it in about 90 minutes.

Like all good directors, he pays great attention to the details. Wardrobe, props – nothing escapes his eagle eye.

And then there’s show night. Hopefully you’ll be in the audience of a Jim Burrows show one time. He’s a trip. As the scene is playing he’s gently pushing cameras over to get better shots. He never watches the monitors. He paces the floor and doesn’t even watch the show. He LISTENS to it – listens for the flow, the pace, the delivery.

Of the many things I’ve learned from Jimmy, these two stand out. I once asked him about certain camera angles and he said if the story is right you can place one camera in front of the stage, shoot a wide master for the whole show and it’ll work. But if the story is wrong than all the technical wizardry in the world isn’t going to save it.

Second, I can usually tell a Jim Burrows’ directed show just by watching it. How? A lot of the camera angles aren’t perfect. In some cases there are shots that look downright sloppy. But Jim understands that performance and energy are more important than precision. So if an actor doesn’t exactly hit his mark, so what? The payoff is that the scenes have more energy and the actors seem looser, more natural… funnier.

There’s no one in his league. And just imagine how many more home runs and more MVP awards Willie Mays would have had had he been able to play for 35 years. Say hey, Jimmy!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My one-nighter

One of my favorite radio legends, Dale Dorman read my recent piece on playing the same records as the competition at the same time, and reminded me of another chestnut from my checkered radio career.

For years (decades really) WLS Chicago was a monster Top 40 radio station. Clear channel from Chicago (that meant no other stations on that frequency), you could hear WLS at night almost coast-to-coast. Teens in far away hamlets in Iowa and Arkansas would thrill nightly to the likes of Dick Biondi, Art Roberts, Steve Lundy, and others. I used to hear them in Los Angeles.

So WLS was a station I always wanted to work at.

As fortune would have it, in 1988 my father became the General Manager of WLS. By then I was on staff of CHEERS. But when dad asked if the family would come out to Chicago for Thanksgiving I said, “Yes, under one condition. I want to do one all-night shift on WLS”. He must’ve really wanted to see his grandkids bad because he agreed to that.

So we arrive in Chicago a few days before Thanksgiving and he says I can go on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Remember, I had been a disc jockey for a number of years at this point and was quite comfortable in the role.

I arrive at the station at 11:30, enter the studio, and see the memo that my father had posted. It said: “My son Ken will be doing the all-night show from midnight-to-six.” A better way of putting that might have been “Ken Levine will be doing the all-night show from midnight-to-six.” It’s the “my son” part that made it look like “bring your kid to work day”.

At one time WLS had engineers who played all the songs and commercials and jingles. The disc jockeys just talked. Now the disc jockeys also did their own engineering. I prefer that actually; gives me more control.

The jock on duty was surprised to see this new person. He obviously hadn’t read the memo. When he did he said, “Uh, there’s a problem. No one is scheduled to run the board and I have to be somewhere at 12:15. It’s going to take a while to get somebody down here.” Obviously, he thought this was just some lark. The bosses’ kid always wanted to be on the radio so what the hell?

I decided to have a little fun with him. I said, “I don’t need an engineer. My dad said I could do everything myself. “

The jock gulped and with great hesitation said, “O-Kay”.

The control board was very standard. Slide pots, one for the mic, one to bring up network news, one to bring up the phone, and the others for the cartridge machines to play all the music, jingles, promos, commercials, whatnot. You pushed a button to turn on a channel, you raised and lowed the volume with the slide pots. It’s far more complicated today with computers.

Anyway, this was pretty much the conversation:

HIM: Okay, well this is the control board.

ME: Where are the records?

HIM: Records? We don’t play records anymore. All the songs are on carts.

ME: Carts? What’s that?

HIM: (holding one to demonstrate): These. They’re called cartridges.

(I knew full well what cartridges were. Anyone who’s been in the business eleven seconds knew what cartridges were.)

ME: Oh. Cool! Where do they go?

HIM: Uh, in these slots. We have eight cart machines.

ME: Give me a second. I want to take notes.

(By now this poor guy is dying. WLS is a 50,000 watt powerhouse and this rube is going to go on the air… unsupervised?)

ME: (now with pad in hand) Okay. Ready. Carts go in those slots.

HIM: On the board here are numbers corresponding to the cart machines. So if you put something in cart 5, it’s number 5 on the board.

ME: (scrawling) … Number 5 on the board. Got it.

HIM: (biting his lip) You turn the volume up and down with these slide pots.

ME: Volume? Is that how loud it is?

HIM: (ready to kill me and my father) Yes. That’s how loud it is. You press the red button and it goes on the air.

ME: Simple enough. Where’s the microphone?

HIM: Pot 1.

ME: How will I hear the songs?

HIM: You have these headphones.. That’s what they’re for. No disrespect but, have you seen a radio show before?

ME: Sure. It’s just that Dr. Johnny Fever didn’t wear phones and he heard the music.

(Just one of the many inaccuracies of WKRP IN CINCINNATI).

HIM: You need headphones.

(By now it was time for him to sign-off and go to five minutes of ABC network news at :55. He had me sit down.)

HIM: Okay, now at the top of the hour you have to play this jingle.

ME: Which jingle?

HIM: (ready to explode) The one that says “Top of the Hour”.

ME: Oh.

HIM: What’s your first record?

ME: You mean “cartridge”.

HIM: Yes, what’s your first cartridge.

(I selected it, and inserted it tentatively into the machine.)

HIM: Now what you have to do when the news is over is pot down the news here, play the jingle here, and when it sings “WLS Chicago”, right after you hear Chicago play the …rec, uh “cartridge”.

ME: Let me write this down. News…jingle…cartridge. When do I turn my mic on?

HIM: Once the song starts.

ME: Then I’m pushing two buttons at once.

HIM: You can turn it on earlier… or later. Whenever you want.

ME: Okay, I’ll give it a try.

(Sweat is pouring off this poor guy. The news ends. I turn on the mic, pot down the news, fire the jingle, blast the song and say:

ME: 12:00 in Chicago. My name is Ken Levine. I’ve been on the radio in Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. But never at the same time. THIS is WLS!

(And talked right up to the vocal. Once I turned the mic off: )

HIM: You asshole! You’ve done this before!

ME: Yes. Of course. Do you think my father is going to put someone on a 50,000 radio station who’s never done it before?

For the life of me I don’t remember the name of that jock. But I owe him a nice dinner… and maybe a month’s worth of therapy.

And by the way, being on WLS in the middle of the night was just as cool as I always imagined. Maybe more. Today of course, you can hear just about any station anywhere through the internet but it’s not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Michael Douglas helped us stick it to 20th

Everyone in Hollywood has great Hollywood stories. Thought today as I sit in Cincinnati I’d share one of mine.

My partner David Isaacs and I were hired by Michael Douglas to do a rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE, the sequel to the hugely successful ROMANCING THE STONE. One of the great movie star perks, especially when you’re hot, is being able to wield a little power. Michael did that on our behalf and I’m still grateful.

Two months before we were producing the notorious AfterMASH for 20th Century Fox. We had a great office on the lot in a building that looked like a Swiss Chalet. You’ve seen it in a million great shows and STARKSY & HUTCH.

The president of the TV division called us one morning with the tragic news the show had been canceled. We feigned the obligatory “No? CBS is crazy! Can’t they recognize quality?” all the while silently pumping our fists in the air. The prez then offered us an overall deal. We were part of the 20th family. We thanked him profusely but said this was kind of sudden, we needed a little time to see what we wanted to do next. He understood and reiterated that 20th would love to keep us in the fold.

An hour later we got a call from business affairs. They weren’t going to pay us for the backup script that CBS had ordered. We reminded them they had to and they said “tough”. So we called the Writers Guild and ten minutes later business affairs called back to say. okay, they’d pay us. But they wanted us out of the office in one hour. What happened to “we were part of the 20th family???”
We got an office and secretary as part of the rewrite deal. I noticed that our old one was still vacant. So I told the story to Michael and asked if we could have THAT office. He gleefully got on the phone. The facilities people freaked. That was a television division office, not features. It couldn’t be done! The answer to that of course is:

“Do you know how much money I’ve made for this Goddamn studio?”

Ten minutes later that same business affairs weasel had to sheepishly call us and welcome us back. It was a beautiful thing. We were thrown off the lot again when we finished the rewrite but still!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Summer Movie Preview 2

Here's the conclusion of my annual Summer Movie Preview.

GROWN UPS – a movie not intended for people who are.

MARMADUKE – when they’re down to making this comic strip into a movie the only one left is Bazooka Joe .

KILLERS – Katherine Heigl as a Kathleen Turner ROMANCING THE STONE-like character. Yeah, but we LIKED Kathleen Turner.

INCEPTION – A Christopher Nolan movie starring Leo DiCaprio. They’re being very hush-hush on the storyline. Even knowing nothing about it I’m more interested to see this than anything else this summer. Just the fact that it doesn’t have a 2 at the end of its title is enough to get me into the theater.

KNIGHT AND DAY – Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a stuntfest with one-liners. Before you see it, do the math. Out of every boxoffice dollar Cruise probably gets twenty cents. And a good portion of that goes to the Church of Scientology. Wouldn’t a better use of your money be setting it on fire?

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU – Part thriller, part love story, part political drama, and part science-fiction. I’d trade all of that for part porn but it’s still intriguing. Stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. I like those parts.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT – when your father is an anonymous sperm donor, what do you get him for Father’s Day, a subscription to HUSTLER and a cup?

THE PREDATORS – The original did so well the studio demanded a sequel… 16 years later.

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE – Jay Baruchel plays Mickey Mouse in this remake of the classic cartoon from FANTASIA. For the sake of authenticity Baruchel had two fingers removed.

THE LAST AIRBENDER – M. Night Shyamalan makes one bomb after another and not only still gets movies greenlit, he gets bigger budgets. That’s his true genius. This is adapted from a Nickelodeon cartoon show. Hollywood’s new motto: “Anything but an original idea.”

EAT PRAY LOVE – Julia Roberts proves her versatility as an actress by doing all three.

GOING THE DISTANCE – Raunchy sex swearfest starring Drew Barrymore… I mean, “romantic comedy” starring Drew Barrymore.

LOTTERY TICKET – I just want to see the marquee. Stars Bow Wow and Ice Cube.

THE EXPENDABLES – Dirty Dozen type action movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke. When their retirement village is threatened it’s time to mobilize!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Summer Movie Preview

Hello from New York. It’s time once again for the Summer Movie Preview, a look at all the explosions, sequels, prequels, and spinoffs Hollywood will be offering to get your last entertainment dollar.

SALT – Action adventure developed for Tom Cruise now starring Angelina Jolie because they wanted someone more masculine.

ROBIN HOOD – Russell Crowe adding extra dimension to the legendary character. For the first time ever Robin Hood sleeps with all of Maid Marion’s friends and is hostile to hotel employees.

PRINCE OF PERSIA -- Jerry Bruckheimer turns another video game into a movie. Coming this holiday season from Jerry: FREE CELL in 3D.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS – Taken from a very funny French film, LE DINER DE CONS, it stars Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd. The comedy is supposed to be very rough. So far, what’s not to love?

MACGRUBER – Saturday Night Live sketch that always felt like it was 90 minutes long now actually is.

SOLITARY MAN – Michael Douglas juggling various relationships. Unfortunately, Michael’s real life drama seems more interesting than the movie.

SEX AND THE CITY 2 – The first of a thousand sequels this summer. This time Manhattan’s adorable sluts head off for ribald adventures in the party capital of the world – the Middle East. SEX AND THE SUNI.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER – What difference does it make? It’s all about the opening weekend and selling DVD’s.

IRON MAN 2 – Not that they’re stretching things just to pop out a sequel but Iron Man faces his biggest challenge – an evil genius with a can opener.

MOTHER AND CHILD – Drama exploring mother/daughter dynamics, zzzzzzzzz. Hot sex scene between Naomi Watts and Samuel L. Jackson! I don't know if he plays the "evil" man in this or the "righteous" man but he sure plays the "lucky" man.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK – Reprise of the whacko English rock star from FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. So not a sequel but a spinoff. Jonah Hill must escort him from London to LA. And do every drug joke imaginable before they get there. They achieve their goal by Omaha.

A-TEAM – B-movie.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE – Another Twilight movie? How many is that in the past year? Five? Six? It’s the Octomom of franchises.

THE KARATE KID – Well this one needed to be remade. They left out two kicks.

TOY STORY 3 – Yes, another sequel but this is from Pixar so expect it to be funny, fresh, and original. And it gives Don Rickles some work.

Part 2 2morrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Even I can't get an agent

As I head into New York from Washington D.C. with the Dodgers I'm reminded of this delightful NY rejection from my storied past.

The difficulty in securing an agent is not confined to those writers just starting out. I tried to get a theatrical agent when I wrote my play a few years ago and hit a brick wall, even with my resume. And I didn’t list AfterMASH so I know it’s not that.

The Hollywood literary agency that represented me did not have a theater department so when I wrote my play a few years ago I decided to get a second agent to handle that facet of my career. Unlike these major conglomerates with three letters that handle screenwriters, theatrical agencies are all boutique. Going down the list it seemed every Jewish girl who wouldn’t go out with me now has an agency.

I made a few calls and found no one was interested. The fact that (a) I wasn’t 25, and (b) they couldn’t cash in on movie rights made me persona non representita. And this was before anyone even bothered to read my play.

Through a playwright friend, I was referred to one agent – we’ll call her Beth B. I had a nice conversation with her, she said she really wasn’t looking to take on new clients but wanted to read my play. So I sent it along with a resume. Two weeks later I get a letter from her. The first sentence was “Ohmygod, I had no idea you co-created ALMOST PERFECT!” She went on to say it was her favorite show, the writing was brilliant, she wrote a letter to CBS complaining when they cancelled it, it was like we were in her bedroom, and she was often confused for our star, Nancy Travis. I thought – I am IN!

Next paragraph – pass. Okay. Whatever.

A few months later I was in New York and decided to call her again. Sometimes when people meet they click and who knows? Maybe she’d have a change of heart. She agreed to meet with me.

It took three trains to get down to her agency. Every other agency was in mid-town, in the theatre district. This one was in the land of discount sneakers and checks cashed while you wait. Once there, after waiting a good half hour, Beth B. finally appeared and ushered me back to her office. My first thought upon seeing her was – Nancy Travis? The only thing she had in common with Nancy Travis was that they both breathed air. Beth B. was large, horn rimmed glasses, and had giant frizzy Carole King hair.

After the pleasantries, she explained that she liked to represent hot young playwrights who lived in New York. The key to her was they’d be able to go to openings and readings and be seen in all the right places.

I said, “what if I produced my play in LA and it got good reviews?” She said that would be disastrous for it ever getting mounted in New York. I suggested that maybe the New York theatre scene was a tad elitist, fully expecting her to back off and say “No, no, not at all.” Instead, she said proclaimed, “Yes, that’s right.” I was a little thrown and wondered if New York had the theatre to support it. “Seusical? Thousand Clowns with Tom Sellick? There weren’t exactly new Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams pieces starring Brando or Burton coming in this season.”

It was clear we were not “clicking”. So finally, I asked Beth B. what advice she could give me? She thought for a moment and finally said, “Write”. I said, “Excuse me?” She repeated it. “Write. I find that the first play is an introduction, the second gets a reading, the third gets a workshop, and the fourth maybe gets a production. So just keep writing.”

I nodded and finally said, “Beth, that’s great advice. In fact, it’s the same advice I’ve been giving young writers… for THIRTY YEARS. But since I’ve had more of my work produced on a national level than all your clients combined times ten I think I can SKIP A STEP.”

I know it’s discouraging when an agent doesn’t want you, but always remember, there are plenty of agents out there that YOU don’t want. If it takes more time to find a better match it’s worth it.

Vin Scully as Darrin Stephens

What a bizarre clip this is. I see Vin Scully everyday at the ballpark. I didn't know he once co-hosted the Rose Parade with Elizabeth Montgomery. Here is a rare promo for it featuring Vin Scully in BEWITCHED. Thanks to blog reader Michael for the tip.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Washington DC -- home of two of our failed pilots

Hello from Washington D.C. My partner David Isaacs and I once wrote a pilot set in this town (well, actually two pilots but the same theme). It was set in D.C., we spent several days in Washington doing research only to learn that all of the great dynamics we thought were in the premise did not in real life exist. Plus, ABC was nervous that the subject matter might be too controversial. So what we were left with was a show with no conflict and no bite.

Today, that would be enough to stop us. Today we’d go back to the network and say we can’t write this. There’s no show here. If we had to produce 13 of these we’d end up in ICU. But then we were young so we wrote it anyway. ABC was thrilled with the script. But they didn’t pick it up. It was STILL too controversial.

We actually breathed a sigh of relief. But a month later HBO called. They had heard of the project and wanted us to re-develop it for them. Except they wanted it super edgy. Our only guideline – don’t make it anything like any other sitcom you might see on traditional TV.

So we wrote that script. It was a very funny scathing satirical piece about Washington.

We had a deal at Lorimar at the time and its president, Lee Rich so hated the new version he tried to fire us from our deal. Everything HBO asked for was everything he despised. Needless to say, that project died. He cooled down and didn’t fire us. But CHEERS came along and we left there so fast you can still see skid marks.

I still say Washington D.C. is fertile ground for a sitcom. Just not the ones we wrote.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Actors should never eat

Hello from our nation’s capital. I guess they don’t answer questions here; they have “press briefings”. So here is your Friday “press briefing”. Hands please.

Yes, you sir. l.a.guy.

Do you still actively look for episodic work or did you make a conscious decision to focus your energies on other projects?

I’m having way too much fun hosting Dodger Talk on 790KABC and that’s a seven-to-eight month commitment (depending on whether the lads get into the playoffs). So no, I’m not actively pursuing staff work or assignments -- by choice I’m happy to say. But my partner David Isaacs and I have a few projects under the radar, including a pilot.

And I’m mounting an LA production of my play for this winter so who knows? As I like to say – I have a lot of irons in the freezer.

Who’s next? Jeff Badge in the back row there.

How many table reads are there on a sitcom, and how animated are they? Is there a lot of laughing? Is laughing/not laughing a political thing? (Any other general thoughts on table reads appreciated.)

There is usually one table read per episode although for pilots so much is riding on the table reading and so many important executives (“important” meaning the ability to fire people) that often times now there will be a pre-table table reading for just the producers. This seems insane but it’s not. It gives the producers a preview of what to expect and a chance to patch some holes going in. That said, I’m sure the day will come (probably next week) when pilots will have pre-pre-table readings before the real pre-table reading.

In theory they’re supposed to be just part of a five-to-seven day process, a way for everyone to hear the script for the first time and begin to shape the show. But now, Jesus. One show I worked on a few years ago was IT’S ALL RELATIVE for ABC. It was a co-production of two studios with a pod (non-writing) production company attached. After each table reading the producers got separate sets of notes from the pod producers, two studios, the network, and standards & practices. That’s about seventeen different people with seventeen different opinions, many contradicting each other. How can anybody do a good show under those conditions?

Hopefully there are a lot of laughs. The writers are analyzing what works and what doesn’t. The laughs are just one aspect of the show. Does the story work? Can we make a trim here? Does a character seem to drop out of the story? Are story turns confusing? Are big moments earned? Is this guest actor up to par? You get the idea.

I don’t expect actors to perform full-out at table readings but at least give a reasonable performance. Don’t half-ass it, don’t mumble.

And that brings me to my two pet peeves: actors that don’t read the script beforehand and worse, actors who EAT during table readings. It’s rude, it’s insulting to the people who worked very hard to make them look good, and it’s useless as a source of input.

You can’t believe how helpful it is to writers to actually “hear” the script performed. If you’re writing a spec, round up some actor friends, hide all food, and have a table reading. Or at least a pre-table reading.

As usual in these press briefings there’s only time for a few questions. But you are welcome to submit yours in the comment section. Thank you for your attention. Good day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A tribute to WINGS on its 20th anniversary

Hard to believe but it’s been 20 years since WINGS premiered on NBC. I was with that show for most of its run as a one-night-a-week creative consultant (“We need a Fay joke, hotshot!”). My partner David and I also wrote six or eight episodes (including the one where Frasier and Lilith come to Nantucket), and I got my first directing assignment on WINGS as well.

WINGS was created by Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell. They would later go to create FRASIER. For whatever reason WINGS never got the respect it deserved. How much so? The only acting Emmy nominations it received were for Kelsey Grammer and Tyne Daly. None of its actual cast members were recognized. And that was a terrific cast. Steven Weber, Tim Daly, Tony Shaloub, Thomas Hayden Church (who later got an Oscar nomination so I’m not crying for him), Crystal Bernard, Rebecca Schull, Amy Yasbeck, and the hilarious David Schramm.

WINGS was supposed to be a Fall show but the producers had a bitch of a time casting it. They wanted really special people, and faces you hadn’t seen on seventeen other shows. As I recall, the hardest one to cast was Helen. In any event, production of the pilot got pushed and the show premiered very late.

I remember the week of the pilot (beautifully directed by Jim Burrows) our big hurdle was explaining how Helen, who had grown up on Nantucket with the Hackett brothers, had a Texas accent.

Some great comedy writers were involved with WINGS. Dave Hackel who went on to create BECKER, Steve Levitan who later created JUST SHOOT ME and then reunited with another WINGS alum Christopher Lloyd to create MODERN FAMILY. Other WINGS writers went to on become show runners of MURPHY BROWN, THE CLOSER, and one now lives on a boat!

WINGS was shot on Stage 19 at Paramount, which is cavernous. They needed a big stage to accommodate an airport hanger, terminal, and any additional sets. Trivia side note: We shot the pilot of ALMOST PERFECT on that stage and since we had no budget for sets, for Nancy Travis’ house we just repainted Helen’s house set. It was either that or say she lived in a plane.

Ratingswise, WINGS did okay but was never a breakout hit. Ironically, once it went to cable (seen twelve times a day on USA), ratings for the first-run episodes on NBC went way up. More people were discovering the show.

For my money, WINGS holds up better than most sitcoms over the last 20 years. It is a very funny show. The stories are clever, the jokes are sharp, and the performances are top notch. WINGS doesn’t feel dated.

In the final episode all of the writers are used as extras. I’m in one scene sitting in the terminal. My agent says that’s not enough for a full reel but that’s just him being lazy.

I’m as proud to say I worked on WINGS as I am to say I worked on CHEERS and FRASIER. I even still wear the show jacket. Happy 20th!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How we plotted stories on MASH

MASH episodes tend to be complicated and I’m often asked how we plotted out stories. So here’s how we did it.

First off, we chose the best stories we could find – the most emotional, the most interesting the best possibilities for comedy. Plotting is worthless if you have a bad story. Chekov would pull out his hair trying to make “B.J.’s Depression” work. (Side note: stories where your lead character is depressed generally don’t work in comedy. Moping around is not conducive to laughs. Better to make them angry, frustrated, lovesick, impatient, hurt – anything but depressed… or worse, happy. Happy is comedy death.)

We got a lot of our stories from research – transcribed interviews of doctors, nurses, patients, and others who lived through the experience. But again, the key was to find some hook that would connect one of our characters to these real life incidents.

Some of these anecdotes were so outrageous we either couldn’t use them or had to tone them down because no one would believe them.

For each episode we had two and sometimes three stories. If we had a very dramatic story we would pair it with something lighter. The very first MASH we wrote, Hawkeye was temporally blind and Hawk & Beej pulled a sting on Frank.

We would try to mix and match these story fragments so that they could dovetail or hopefully come together at the end.

All that stuff you probably knew. What you didn’t know is this:

We broke the show down into two acts and a tag. Each act would have five scenes. Brief transition scenes didn’t count. But go back through some episodes. Five main scenes in the first act and five in the second. As best we could we would try to advance both of our stories in the same scenes. But each story is different and we tried to avoid being predictable.

Usually, we wrapped up the heavy story last. That’s the one you cared most about.

The tag would callback something from the body of the show, generally drawing from the funny story.

And then we had a rather major restriction: We could only shoot outside at the Malibu ranch for one day each episode. So no more than 8 pages (approximately a third of the show). And that was in the summer when there was the most light. By September and October we could devote 6 pages to exteriors. And once Daylight Savings was over that was it for the ranch for the season. All exteriors were shot on the stage. So if we wanted to do a show where the camp is overrun by oxen we better schedule it for very early in the summer. Those 20th guards never let oxen onto the lot without proper ID.

If possible we tried to do at least one O.R. scene a show. We wanted to constantly remind the audience that above all else this was a show about war.

We always feared that a sameness would creep into the storytelling so every season we would veer completely away from our game plan for several episodes just to shake things up and keep you off the scent. That’s how all format-breaking shows like POINT OF VIEW, THE INTERVIEW, and DREAMS came about. And during our years we extended that to a few mainstream episodes. We did NIGHT AT ROSIE’S that was more like a one-act play. Everything was set in Rosie’s Bar. (I wonder if a series like that but set in Boston would work?) We moved them all to a cave. We did an episode set exclusively in Post-Op and assigned each of our characters to a specific patient. Letters-to-home was another nice device.

I should point out here that I didn’t come up with the MASH guidelines for storytelling. That was all Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds (pictured). We just followed the template. And for the record, in all my years in the business, no one is better at story than Gene Reynolds. It was amazing how he could zero in on problems and more impressively, find solutions. The story had to constantly move forward, it had to have flow, logic, surprises, the comedy had to real as well as funny, and most of all – the dramatic moments (especially during the conclusion) had to be earned.

So that’s how we did it, based on how they did it. And when I occasionally watch episodes of MASH from our years there are always lines I want to change or turns that could be made more artfully or humorously, but those stories hold up beautifully. Thank you, Gene Reynolds.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In appreciation of Elizabeth Montgomery

Last week I tweeted that Elizabeth Montgomery would have been 75. This is the type of vital stuff you only get if you follow me on Twitter. But some have wondered how I knew that factoid. It’s because I have had a crush on Elizabeth Montgomery for &^%# years (gee, something must have gone wrong. The number didn’t print.) Let’s just say since BEWITCHED. There were a lot of TV actresses who were hot back then. But Samantha Stephens was the only one I wanted to marry. And not just because she could turn my math teacher into a Chia Pet. Sam truly was adorable. And funny in that unassuming way you rarely see in witches and genies.

Plus... guys, back me on this – how sexy was that nose twitch? It’s like, if she could do that, what else could she do?

When I became a weekend disc jockey at KERN in Bakersfield I turned my love for Liz into a running bit. The KERN Top 30 survey distributed at record stores featured Ms. Montgomery on the cover every week. That’s what they get for having me design it.

In the early 70s when my partner David and I were writing spec scripts David worked in the film department of ABC. Elizabeth Montgomery starred in a Movie of Week as Lizzie Borden. David called and said “get your ass down here!” Turns out for European release there was a nude scene. I practically drove on sidewalks to get to the studio where we screened then re-screened (and re-screened again) the scene in question. Ohmygod! Samantha Stephens, naked, blood all over her, holding an ax. Be still my heart!

I only saw her in person one time. And I never actually met her. It was about ten years later. There was a restaurant in Santa Monica called the Maryland Crab House, which featured the whole Chesapeake crab experience – butcher paper, a pile of spiced crabs on the table, wooden mallets, buckets. Liz and her husband Robert Foxworth came in and sat right across from me. Ironically, I would direct Robert years later on LATELINE. (He’s the one I thought should run for the senate). So picture this. The goddess I’ve adored forever… chomping on crabs, ripping them apart, contorting her face, sucking claws, swilling beer, juice running down her arm. And I was STILL ENTRANCED.

Anyone I’ve ever talked to who worked with her said she was a dream. Professional and kind and giving as an actress. She made everyone on the set feel comfortable from fellow actors to the lowliest crew member.

Most of her work was in television although she did a few movies, most of them forgettable like one with Dean Martin and a cameo in HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI. But if you can find JOHNNY COOL with Telly Savalas, that’s a good B-movie pot boiler. I imagine some of her TV movies survive. If so, A CASE OF RAPE shows just how good a dramatic actress she was. And her episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE was killer. For sheer camp check out A KILLING AFFAIR in which she has an interracial affair with O.J. Simpson.

She was outspoken against the Viet Nam War when that was not a popular position. She was a volunteer for the Los Angeles Unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a non-profit organization which records educational books for disabled people.

Elizabeth Montgomery was only 62 when she passed away. But she’ll remain forever young, forever Bewitching, and generation after generation will continue to fall under her magic spell.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When you read this I may be over your house

I’m hitting the road with the Dodgers. Will be going to Cincinnati on Monday (Yes, I will give Skyline Chili another chance), Washington D.C. (let’s see if Senator Franken remembers me), and Gotham. I’ll be doing my Dodger Talk shows from those venues. One tiny complication – this pesky viral infection I have in one eye that has rendered it almost blind temporarily. Slowly it’s improving and I can now make out blobs! You do not want me filling in doing the play-by-play. “There’s a fly ball into the oil dissolve you see whenever a show does a flashback.” The station might get some calls.

But I’m armed with a million eye drops and steroids. By the time we hit New York my head should be the size of Barry Bond’s. One of the drops needs to be refrigerated at all times so that’s going to be fun maneuvering. It sounds like my own personal AMAZING RACE challenge. Still, I’m sure there are fans who do it with beer.

The good news is I don’t have to worry about driving. I just get on the bus. However, if you hear a Dodger game is cancelled this week you’ll know it’s because they asked me to drive the bus.

Last year in Cincinnati I met a number of fans of the blog. Would love to do that again in all three stops. And hopefully my vision will improve enough that I and hopefully by then I’ll be able to see you. At the moment my recognition is limited to mascots. But email me if you’re going to games in any of those cities and we’ll try to hook up.

And if you’re a Reds, Nationals, or Mets fan, take heart. Even though I can now easily hit 30 home runs, I promise not to play. Although I bet hitters would sure hate facing a guy on the mound that who can only pitch to the plate if his catcher whistles first.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back in the days when radio was fun

The best career choice I ever made was getting out of radio and into television writing. Well... actually it was all the radio stations that fired me that helped nudge me in that direction. But in between my long stretches of unemployment and pleading for all-night shifts in Fresno I did have a lot of fun... and compiled a lot of stories.


There once was a time when Clear Channel didn’t own every radio station in America. There used to be such a thing as “competition” (an arcane word you may have to look up in the dictionary). In the mid 70’s in San Francisco there was quite a battle raging between KFRC and KYA. I was a disc jockey at KYA at the time (as Beaver Cleaver), working the coveted 10 pm – 2 am shift. Across town, KFRC countered with Beau Weaver (pictured). Despite this “heated” rivalry, Beau and I were friends and I would usually meet him for a bite after we got off the air (unless I got a better offer from one of the hot young listeners. In other words, I met Beau every single night.)

KFRC’s playlist was very rigid. At KYA I could pretty much play anything except “the Unicorn Song”. One night I had an idea and called Beau on his hotline. I had him tell me the songs he was going to play that hour and in what order. I then played the same songs at the exact same time. The phones at both stations went nuts. People were breathlessly telling me that KFRC was playing the same songs I was playing. I told them that was ABSURD! I hated those motherfuckers! Beau told his flabbergasted callers the same thing. Why would he play the same songs as those pathetic losers at KYA?

We got a good chortle out of this and decided to repeat the stunt…every night from midnight – 1:00. The listeners were just going bat shit!! One called the Guinness Book of Records. Another sent the probability tables. Eventually, the KFRC program director found out about this, blew a gasket, and that was the end of that. It was great fun while it lasted.

And then the ratings came out. From midnight - 1:00 Beau Weaver creamed me. And I thought to myself, Jesus how bad am I when we played the exact same damn records???

It’s a lesson I learned in television, and when I was on MASH and we were up against THREE’S COMPANY, no matter how much they begged, I wouldn’t give them any of our sucking chest wound jokes. I like to think it’s the reason MASH lasted 11 seasons instead of six. Thank you, Beau Weaver.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dodger Talk for Lovers

Usually I don’t mind long baseball games. Especially if I’m there. It’s like I’m getting more for my money. No one bitches that Springsteen concerts last four hours (well maybe Mrs. Springsteen who doesn’t want to look at his cheating ass for four hours but you get the idea).

And yet, every so often…


Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium was one of those Ugh!!! nights. 11 innings. FIVE hours. By the time I got on the air it was close to 1 A.M. Dodger Talk for Lovers.

You sort of understand if it’s a playoff game where so much is riding on every pitch or a Yankees-Red Sox game where so many commercials are riding between every pitch, but the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondback on game eight in April???

So how does it happen? Well, let’s see. Sixteen pitchers to start with. That’s sixteen pitching changes. In another inning, second basemen were going to be pitching or Don Newcombe was going to come out of retirement. There were twelve walks; nine issued by Dodger chuckers. Nothing’s more exciting to watch than “low ball two”, “high ball three”. Add to that pitching coaches, managers, catchers, and infielders calling time for meetings on the mound and you have the WAR & PEACE of baseball except instead of battle scenes you’re treated to the troops sitting around polishing their boots.

433 pitches were thrown, twice as many as a regular game. It was like was like watching a bad doubleheader.

Yes, there were hits. There were also errors, errors of omission, runner’s interference, and a poor catcher trying to catch a knuckleball.

And midway through the game there was a problem anchoring second base. This could be very dangerous so needed to be repaired immediately. That was ten or fifteen minutes. Kudos to Dodgers’ radio man Charley Steiner for observing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”.

The great Vin Scully, calling the Dodger telecast, is still the best prepared broadcaster in the business. By the 10th he still had facts and interesting stories about all these guys. But I’m sure by inning 13 he would have been giving their dental records.

The great thing about baseball is that there are no time limits. You can’t run down the clock. You have to earn all 27 outs. Or 30. Or 33. Y’know, come to think of it, if you’re paying the sitter, and you have a long drive home, do you really need the Boss to launch into a medley of “Tunnel of Love” songs at midnight?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Writing for THE SIMPSONS

Friday questions anybody??

James gets us started.

How was it writing for The Simpons vs. live action shows? I take it you didn't have to deal with stars asking for rewrites, and you could write a story about Homer having a pet hippo in his back yard if you wanted to. Was it better, worse, or just a different circle of Hell?

There certainly is more freedom when you write animation. It costs just the same to have Homer at the Million Man March as it does to have him sit in the kitchen. But sometimes that freedom can be a trap. When you can do anything, selecting the best thing can sometimes be difficult. THE SIMPSONS always serve the story first, which to me is why it’s still so great after 67 seasons.

I can’t speak for all animated series but on THE SIMPSONS we had table readings just like live sitcoms. So if the actors had a problem they did have an opportunity to express it. And although it always pains me to say it, often times they were right and the script improved because of their objections. Doh!!

My musings asks:

I very recently started blogging (just moved from New York to Zurich, so there's plenty to write about), and was wondering about your approach to blogging. How much in advance do you plan your posts? Do you have a general idea about what you want to write on a weekly basis, or are you more spontaneous than that and pick your topic on a daily basis?

It depends. The idea is to post as much as I can without the blog becoming a burden. The zero income I get from this endeavor makes that policy easy to follow.

I try to post something new each day but there are days when I’m just too busy or just don’t feel like writing. So I try to have a few non-time-specific posts in the bank. Stuff like excerpts from my 60s book and general writing advice. But most of the time I’ll write about what’s currently going on. That’s the beauty of a blog – you can serve it while it’s hot. I watched the AVN awards last Sunday and knew THAT’S my post for Monday. And of course reviews of AMERICAN IDOL get posted immediately. By Thursday no one even remembers they saw the show.

The challenge is to keep thinking of new things to write about. I’m surprised I didn’t run out of topics by 2007.

A lot of you have said you really like when I answer questions so I decided to devote Fridays to that. Otherwise, I don’t want to restrict myself and be locked into daily features. This isn’t the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB where every Monday is “Fun with Music Day” and Thursday is “Circus Day”.

And finally, from Scott:

It seems like a lot of people who have been in the business for a while say that this is the worst it has ever been for writers. I am just wondering Ken if when you were writing and producing shows, did you have older writers saying that things were much better back in their day and that it just seems to be getting worse?

Writers always think that things were better back “in their day”. They have selective memories. It could not have been fun being on MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and getting the network note: “A Martian wouldn’t say that.”

Today’s writers will be saying “You kids don’t understand, but back in our day we still had broadcast networks!”

However, I will admit that writers of TV westerns did have it better in previous decades. Same with variety show scribes.

As for the business being the worst it’s ever been, that’s just cyclical. In the early 80s everyone felt that sitcoms were dead. The future was in light dramas like MAGNUM P.I. but the strict half-hour form was quickly heading for extinction. And then COSBY came along. Ten years later between the networks, cable, and first-run syndication there were something like 60 sitcoms on the air. Thanks to terrific new shows like MODERN FAMILY , the half hour comedy appears to be making a comeback yet again. Thank God.

As Carly Simon once said, “These are the good ol' days”.

What’s your question?

AMERICAN IDOL results show

America got it right this week on AMERICAN IDOL, never a slam dunk. They didn’t vote off Crystal, Lee, Siobham, or the African-American just because his, uh… size is different from all the others.

Two were sent packing this week since Big Mike was saved by the judges last week, who recognized that he had the talent to be there and shouldn’t be penalized because of his, uh… size.

Andrew Garcia went first. That was a given. He’s lucky the judges sent him to Hollywood even though he lives in Los Angeles.

For the second eliminee (a word I just made up but applies) it was between Katie Stevens and Big Mike, the Zoftic-American. Katie got the ax and Ryan made a point of saying Big Mike wasn’t even in the bottom three. But then what was he doing up there? Was IDOL just trying to build up ratings in the south?

I skipped through most everything else. Nice to see Brooke White again as she slowly morphs into Nancy Sinatra. And Adam Lambert needed lasers and cloud effects to help sell the message, “What Do You Want From Me?” I guess it makes sense if he’s supposed to be Zeus.

Next week is AMERICAN IDOL GIVES BACK so I won’t be reviewing it. Who cares? It’s their self-serving, heart-on-their-sleeve, chance to squeeze one more week out of the season. The sincerity will ooze like a sucking chest wound. It’s a ratings ploy. If they could get away with it they’d just as soon stage AMERICAN IDOL GIVES HEAD.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For all you millions of OPEN ALL NIGHT fans...

Here's a portion of one of the scripts my partner David Isaacs and I wrote for OPEN ALL NIGHT. Wish I had the video to post but this will give you some idea of the short-lived ABC series that has become a cult classic. Or... at least a few people still remember it. I recently posted some examples including the theme song.

OPEN ALL NIGHT was set in a 24 hour convenience store and was very edgy for an 80s sitcom. We were encouraged to be a little bizarre. The creators and show runners (Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses) oversaw the best years of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and created BUFFALO BILL among other credits. Individually, Tom created ALF; Jay created THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD. Ironically, they’re both the same show.

George Dzundza played Gordon, Susan Tyrrell played Gretchen, and the punker was played by David Paymer (pictured) who went on to a very successful screen career (based solely on this guest starring appearance I'm sure).

So here’s an example of OPEN ALL NIGHT.




PUNKER: Happy Halloween.

GRETCHEN: (appalled) Same to you. What are you supposed to be?

GORDON: Don’t you recognize the costume, Gretchen? That’s Johnny Vomit.

PUNKER: This isn't a costume. But later I'm going as Dudley Moore. (then) You guys got anything you want here, right?

GORON: You name it, we’ve got it.

PUNKER: I’d like some Astro-turf.

GORDON: (snapping his fingers) Just sold the last hundred yards.

PUNKER: You got “Les Miserables” on video cassette?

GORDON: Expecting a shipment tomorrow.

PUNKER: How ‘bout some kitty litter?

GORDON: That I got.

PUNKER: Well, at least we eat.

GORDON: (after a beat) I’ll get it. You just stay here in the light. (crosses to Gretchen) I’ll be in the back for a second. Keep an eye on him. He’s perfectly safe. He’s near death.

GRETCHEN: Okay. Hurry.


GRETCHEN: (eyes closed) Can I get you something else?

PUNKER: I’d like a pumpkin gurgle.

GRETCHEN: Small or large?

PUNKER: Small. I just want to freeze my nose.


GRETCHEN: What can I do for you?


ROBBER: (desperate) You can give me all the money in the register.


ROBBER: You heard me! All of it! (to punker) Outta my way, Captain Tinfoil.


PUNKER: Ow! I think I’m hurt… Thank you!

ROBBER: Let’s go, mama. I'm late for a party.


ROBBER: Right in there. (Gretchen obliges) Throw in a a Lotto ticket. All right. Nobody moves and not a peep.


GRETCHEN: That wasn’t a peep. It was a whimper. There’s a big difference.


PUNKER: Great! A permanent bruise. (calling) Thanks, again!


GORDON: Here you go. This brand’s got chlorophyll crystals for extra flavor. Three dollars. Bon appetite.


PUNKER: (delighted) There’s no feeling in my leg. (to Gordon) I love this place! I’m gonna tell all my friends!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Look, you can’t blame them? It’s the 9th season. It’s hard to keep any show fresh for nine seasons. See how much you love GLEE when those kids have already graduated high school and college, gotten nowhere on Broadway, and wind up back home working at Jiffy Lube and developing drinking problems.

AMERICAN IDOL seems to be flailing this season. Out of 181 kids flown to Hollywood they clearly did not select the best, most interesting, most diverse twelve. They assembled Fox’s answer to the SMALLVILLE cast.

The judges keep hammering the contestants for not sounding “current” or “contemporary". But the weekly topics they give them are Elvis songs, old R&B tunes, the Beatles catalog, and Rolling Stones chestnuts.

How is anyone going to sound current singing “Blue Suede Shoes” when the last person who wore a pair of blue suede shoes was run over by a DeSoto in 1959?

Don’t get me wrong. Singing classic vintage songs is fine. Just don’t ask the kids to turn Patsy Cline into Lady Gaga.

The weekly topics always stay within the kids’ limited range too. There’s always a chance for Crystal and Casey and Katie and Siobhan to sing the blues. Big Mike can always croon “When a Man Loves a Woman” just with different lyrics. In the first season Kelly Clarkson had to sing a big band number. What about standards? Hip hop? Klezmer, I dunno? Just something out of their comfort zone. And if someone fails badly – COOL! It’s live TV.

And America hasn’t helped this year either. They’re voting off the wrong people. There’s a scene in the movie WHERE’S PAPA where Ron Liebman is trying to hail a cab in a gorilla suit. Meanwhile, there’s an African-American also hailing the cab. The cab speeds by the African-American and picks up the gorilla instead. That’s what I thought of last week when the country kept the far inferior Andrew Gomez over African-American Michael Lynche.

Anyway, Elvis week. The celebrity mentor was recent Idol contestant Adam Lambert. Because he was so smart and original when he competed, I found myself really wanting to hear what he had to say. And I was impressed with his advice.

Crystal Bowersox opened the show with “Saved”, trotting out her blues riffs. Kara thought the lyrics were controversial in their day. Oh yeah. “You know I like to lie. And cheat. And step on peoples’ feet.” Not sure why Kara finds that so objectionable. Maybe as a songwriter she's jealous that the author could actually make words rhyme.

Andrew Garcia was his usual terrible self singing “Hound Dog”. If he survives this week look for Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton to both get involved.

Tim Urban rose to the occasion with a lovely ballad – “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”. Even the judges liked it, much to their utter shock.

Lee Dewyze is the contestant the judges deemed the worthy opponent to Crystal so they pretty much love everything he does. Tonight they fawned all over his rather pedestrian version of “A Little Less Conversation”. I’m sorry. He’s not so on the cusp of stardom that “smiling more” will put him over the top.

Aaron Kelly, whatever you do, stay off of those “blue suede land mines”.

Kudos to Siobhan Magnus, not so much for her singing (although I quite liked her every-musical-style-except-Gregorian-Chant rendition of “Suspicious Minds”) but for standing up to Simon and saying she sees no need to label herself.” The crowd (and by that I mean the cast of GLEE) went wild.

Big Mike sang “When a Man Loves a Woman” but changed the words to “In the Ghetto”.

Katie Stevens to me is Crystal-light. The blues for teens. She sang “What Do You Want Me To Do?”. She drew upon the angst of getting caught by a hall monitor for being tardy to a class to really sell the pain.

And finally Casey James wasted the pimp spot with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. Jesus, the Elvis channel on Sirius plays “Clambake”, “Five Sleepy Heads”, “Kissing Cousins”, and “He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad”- before that stiff.

AMERICAN IDOL needs to shake things up. Maybe they can take a cue from “the King” himself. About 9 years into Elvis’ career he re-invented himself. Fat Ryan in a white bejeweled jumpsuit. Yeah, I could watch that. Even with Kara.

Opening Day photos

Thanks to Howard Hoffman for the pix. Here's a brief photo essay of opening day at Dodger Stadium..

I'm on the air on 790 KABC with Peter Tilden (left) and John Phillips. We're debating the coal mine safety reforms and Supreme Court candidates.
On Pre-game Dodger Talk I predicted this guy would hit a home run and he actually did. The fact that he's hit 546 of them already notwithstanding, it was a bold move on my part.
New at Dodger Stadium this year. Four pound pretzels. They still weigh more than Victoria Beckham.
And finally, what would a bar mitzvah reception or opening day be without the obligatory fly-over. I'm far more impressed when they do this in indoor stadiums.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My short-lived fling with Ann Jillian

Here's another brief installment from the book I'm writing about growing up in LA in the 60s. It's 1963/4. I'm in Junior High in the San Fernando Valley. I have a huge crush on classmate Ann Jillian (who already was a child star).

That entire freshman year I was on a cloud. We even went bowling once!

From time to time she would be away for a month or so filming an episode of WAGON TRAIN or the television classic – SAMMY, THE WAY OUT SEAL for the Sunday night DISNEYLAND program. Those were always long months and I never allowed myself to consider that she probably wasn’t missing me (and if she thought of me at all it was when she had to dance with the seal) but she always returned and things went right back to normal.

But one time she didn’t come back.

Her parents enrolled her in St. Mel’s, a Catholic school. I was devastated. Persuading my parents that St. Mel’s wasn’t that Catholic and I should transfer didn’t really fly. Life was suddenly very empty. I’d come home everyday and just go to my room and draw dark comic books. I don’t remember who the superhero was. I just remember the arch villain was always the Pope.

In time the pain for Ann began to fade. And the Dodgers sweeping the Yankees in the ’63 World Series didn’t hurt. I tried to keep in touch but it was hard. She was always going off to film a BEN CASEY or TWILIGHT ZONE episode (So in addition to Ringo, I now had to worry about hunks like Vince Edwards and Rod Serling stealing her away.) We eventually drifted apart but reconnected about thirty years ago and have remained friends ever since. My schoolboy crush has been replaced by enormous admiration for all she’s accomplished and the inspiration she has selflessly given to others.

Anyway, I was determined to learn something from this experience. I would never make that same mistake – I would never again give my heart to someone I knew would never return my affections.

My next crush was my teacher.

Miss. Perlman was probably 25. It’s hard to tell with older women. I was 13. She taught Public Speaking. Yes, there was the slight age difference but on the plus side there was no religious conflicts and I never had to worry she’d go off for a month to film a GILLIGAN’S ISLAND episode. But she was engaged and I found that to be a hurdle I couldn’t quite clear by dazzling her with my speech on federal embargos.

So I would just gaze up at her in class, fantasizing about us both being naked, doing things I had only heard about, she calling out “Ohh Kennnny!” and me calling back “Ohhh Miss Perlmannnn!”

Still, I thank her for at least diverting my attention from Ann and serving as a nice transitional infatuation until my hormones were ready to move on. And she once told me to tuck in my shirt. So she had to be looking at my crotch.