Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Movies Preview

Aloha from Hawaii.  Not sure I'll get a chance to hang out with Roseanne this trip, but who knows?  In the meantime, here's my annual Holiday Movies Preview.  The fact that I've seen exactly none of these pictures should not undercut in any way the validity of my opinions.  

ANOTHER HAPPY DAY – Ellen Barkin takes time out from dating Barry Levinson’s 26 year-old son to star in a movie he wrote and directed.   Barry discovered her thirty years ago for DINER.   He must be so proud. 

A DANGEROUS METHOD – Freud & Jung -- the Popeye & Bluto of psychoanalysis -- mix it up over Olive Oyl (Keira Knightley). Wonder what Freud would say to Barry Levinson. 

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS – Breathe easy. Russell Brand is nowhere to be seen. Motion-capture pic by the WALLACE & GROMIT guys so should be good.

HUGO – Martin Scorsese's first kid film.  Got great reviews and a big opening weekend.  Plans already underway for his second -- a claymation version of CAPE FEAR.  

THE MUPPETS – All your favorite socks come back to life. Co-written by Jason Segel so expect some good laughs and frontal nudity.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – from the popular series that includes THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WITH SOMETHING EXTRA (originally a ‘70s sitcom starring Sally Field).

THE DESCENDANTS – George Clooney learns his wife has been unfaithful and is in a coma, and he must somehow draw upon all of his strength to cope by living in Hawaii.  Getting sensational reviews.  Co-writer/director Alexander Payne may soon be saying "Mahalo" to the Academy.  

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN – Speaking of Oscars, Michelle Williams might win one playing Marilyn Monroe, an actress who couldn’t win one herself.

RAMPART – Woody Harrelson as a scary L.A. cop who pistol whips people while singing “Kelly Kelly Kelly”.

THE ARTIST – Black & White silent movie. So I’m guessing it’s also not in 3D. Word is this might be the movie of the year. Either this one or 1911. 

ANSWERS TO NOTHING – Movie about the recent Republican debates.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DOWN – PART 1 – Edward & Bella get married and have a kid who’s half vampire. He doesn’t drink blood, just gargles it. In PART 2, problems arise when he starts teething.

SHAME – Not to be confused with Barry Levinson's reaction to his 26-year-old son dating a 57-year-old woman.  Michael Fassbender as a sex addict who moves in with his younger sister, Carey Mulligan.  She begins to suspect there's a problem when he sleeps with the hosts of THE VIEW. 


THE SITTER – Jonah Hill as irresponsible baby sitter. I wonder if that's how Ellen first met Barry Levinson's son.

NEW YEAR’S EVE – Essentially a sequel to VALENTINE’S DAY. A mish-mosh of romantic stories featuring every bankable movie actor who will be doing television in a year.

The conclusion of the previews tomorrow.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hey, Siri

Just got the new iPhone with all them schnazzy features.  So far I'm having trouble with Siri.  She refuses to pronounce my name correctly.   To make the point, I called her Say-ree and she started to cry.  I  dunno.  Me and women.  Otherwise, the new phone is cool.  How do I make calls on this thing? 

Location shooting or... I can't get out of my driveway!

One of the perks/problems with living in LA is that you encounter location shooting. Same story in New York, Vancouver, Toronto, and Saugus.

The cool part: Who needs Universal tours when Hollywood comes right to you? The top of your tree is seen in a major motion picture. Hollywood technicians have employment. You can usually steal a donut off the craft-services table. Big stars hang out on your front porch.

A few years ago I took a walk after dinner and encountered a shoot for CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. They were in the long process of setting up a shot and everybody was just milling around. I saw the director just sitting off by himself, casually watching the activity. I walked up and said hello. We knew a lot of mutual people in television so breaking the ice was easy. Long story short, I spent the next half hour chatting with George Clooney. (Happy to report he’s as nice, unassuming, handsome, and charming as you’d hope he’d be in person – the bastard.)

The uncool part: Location filming, especially if it’s on your block, is a major hassle and inconvenience to the entire neighborhood. The homeowner of the house they’re using gets paid handsomely. The neighbors just can’t park, there are strangers sitting on your lawns eating, you can't get out of your driveway, incessant walkie-talkies, and there’s just a general level of intrusion. They will generally allow you to watch them film, but there’s that old line in Hollywood:

The first day on a movie set is the most exciting day of your life. The second is the most boring.

It’s a very slow process. That’s just the way it is. And what they’re shooting is not always that glamorous. Recently, a Ford commercial was filmed two doors down from me. (The photos today are from that shoot.)  I wandered over (to steal some donuts) and when I expressed my disappointment to some crew guy that there were no stars he said: “Are you kidding? You get to see the new Ford.” Yeah, well... that's fine if it's Harrison. 

All in all, location shooting is a good thing. I’ll trade the inconvenience for the stimulation in the local economy and the nostalgia of watching old movies filmed in LA and seeing landmarks that no longer exist. It’s a time machine experience not many cities are afforded.

No one’s ever used our house for filming. We came close once. A location manager was interested in our backyard for the pilot of DOLLHOUSE. I was crushed when it didn’t happen. Imagine being paid a lot of money to have Eliza Dushku swimming in your pool.

Neighbors a couple of blocks away let their house be used for the pilot of ONCE AND AGAIN (starring Sela Ward). Inside and out they shot at their home. Then the show got picked up. At this point the production company had to completely replicate their living room and kitchen on a soundstage. How weird to watch a show with people in your kitchen every week? Assuming they didn’t watch something else.

Earl Pomerantz created a series about a writer like himself and he too had his living room reproduced on the stage. What a benefit that has to be if you’re selling your home. How many sellers get 20,000,000 visitors to attend their Open House?

My parents had friends who were extremely wealthy and lived in the San Fernando Valley. They had a big house at the end of a cul de sac, which provided plenty of privacy. They would routinely rent out their house to porno studios. My parents were afraid to sit on any of the couches.

But that’s the beauty of L.A. Everywhere you go, any house, any street. Cary Grant may have uttered famous lines from movies right where you’re standing. Or Nina Hartley might’ve been sodomized. They don’t call this place the Dream Factory for nothing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

My comments regarding your comments about my comments.

When there's no appropriate photo I always use Natalie Wood
Thanks to everyone who responded to my blog anniversary request to chime in with who you are and what you'd like to see on the blog.  A special thanks for all the lovely things you guys said.  I was really touched.  Who needs Google Ads when I can receive that?  

One suggestion a lot of you had was that you'd like me to participate more in the comments section.  First off, know that I read every comment.  They're emailed to me.  So sometime I'm not in a position to respond.

I do toss in a comment now and again, but for the most part I want you to feel like it's your forum.  Last year when I had that cyber-feud with Roseanne I noticed that if any commenter on her blog disagreed with her even in the slightest she ripped them a new one.  I don't want to be overly defensive and (as long as you leave a name) I want you to feel comfortable offering an opposing point-of-view. 

But I will try to enter the fray a little more in the future.

I must say that on numerous occasions the commenters and the discussions in the comments section are far more entertaining than my actual posts.   Not to mention some of the uh... debates that have occurred.  As long as they don't get personal or ugly I try to stay out of the way.   (The Doug McEwan vs. Diana DeGarmo's mom pitched battle was particularly high theater.)

But again, MANY THANKS.


My 6 year blog anniversary. What is 6 years -- velcroe?

This month marks the 6th anniversary of this blog. Who can even remember 2005? It was an experiment – stretching exercises for a writer. I thought it would be nice break from writing scripts. No format. No notes. Writing actual prose. The whole notion seemed so liberating.

Only two hitches. What the hell do I write about? And how the hell do I get anybody to read it?

A blogger friend suggested that for the latter issue I should post something new every day. That way you build an audience. When people log onto you and see the same post they read a week ago they stop coming back. That made sense. At least to start.

But it made the first issue an even bigger hurdle. Not only do I have nothing to write about; I have to write about it every day?  Yikes!  I’ll be honest, I thought this experiment would last six months. I’d get tired of it, I’d have exhausted every topic I know, or after half a year I’d have twelve readers.

And now, six years, 2,585 posts, and 8,500,000 page views later here I somehow still am. Out of the clear blue sky TIME magazine named this one of the top 25 blogs of the net. I’m still baffled (but delighted) by that.

This was my first post:

For everyone who has said to me "you should start a blog" here it is. Now what?

So until I figure that out, I thought I'd post the kind of stuff I have been writing -- namely humorous travelogues and award show reviews that up until now have only gone to those unfortunate souls in my address book. As I learn how this works and come up with original thoughts I shall add to it. Or take requests. Or go on to podcasting.

Interests will include pop culture, show business, baseball, radio, the 60's, the theatre, baby boomers, bragging about my kids, hawking my various projects, and general bitching.

I’ll be honest again – to this day the toughest part of this blog is coming up with topics. Once I get a topic I’m usually off to the races. But there are plenty of days I’m just praying for Roseanne to do something stupid or a new idiotic reality show to premiere. I live for Anime conventions, pornstar karaoke, Michael Bay movies, Katherine Heigl interviews, Gwyneth Paltrow cleansing diets, and the Golden Globes.

All in all, it’s been well worth the effort. I’ve been very lucky in this industry and have had some remarkable mentors. I’m glad for the opportunity to pay it forward. I’ve met many wonderful new people through this blog… including YOU. And yes, I’ve sold a bunch of books through this site (have you ordered yours yet? What are you waiting for, for crying out loud?), and have sold out five Sitcom Room seminars.

So it’s onto year seven. What I like to do on these occasions is ask you to participate. Especially you new readers and longtime lurkers. I’d love to know who you are, where you’re from, how you found this blog, how long you’ve been reading it, and whatever suggestions you may have. Please tell me what topics you like and don’t like (Yeah, yeah – baseball). Ultimately, I write about whatever the hell I want to (it’s not like I have to maintain a certain audience level for Google Ads), but the day a writer disregards his readers is the day he stops being read.

Anyway, thanks for six great years. I won’t say I couldn’t have done without you because that’s not true. But I will say I wouldn’t have done it without you.

Thanks in advance for your responses.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Spec Script Eitiquette: What NOT to do

I’ve had several people ask me what NOT to do when trying to get someone to read their spec. It’s a case by case basis of course but I’ll just share some of my own personal experiences or things I have witnessed.

I’ve had people give me spec scripts at high school reunions. Not a good idea unless it’s from the person you always had a crush on and they haven’t gained 300 pounds.

A well known comedy director was in temple during High Holiday services one year when a fellow congregant reached inside his tallis and pulled out a spec script. Not kosher.

When I was announcing for the Orioles I once got thrown out of Bobby Valentine’s office for asking tough questions. He was then the manager of the Texas Rangers. Fifteen minutes later I was summoned back, obviously to receive an apology. No. He had heard I was a writer and pitched me a movie. Try not to be an asshole first.

And then there was the time I was in a funeral home with my father making final arrangements for my grandmother who had just passed away. At one point the mortician asked what I did. When my father said I was a writer the ghoul launched into a twenty minute movie pitch. If my dad wasn’t there no one would believe that story. But it’s true. Pick your spots.

What you need to do is first introduce yourself and try to establish a relationship. How intimate is up to you. But here’s my favorite story. Years ago I and another writer, Larry, were asked to speak at a UCLA extension class. I was a story editor on MASH at the time and he was story editor of RHODA. As we stood in front of the class lecturing, a friend overhead one young woman saying to another: “I think I’ll fuck Larry. I’d rather do a RHODA”.

This is why you need to follow me on TWITTER

Thank God for Twitter! Without that invaluable service I could never share with friends the really important moment-to-moment details of my life. In case you’re not following me I’ve reassembled the Tweets you most recently missed.

Having a colonoscopy tomorrow.

Going out for magazines.

Is it just me or does Susan Boyle look like John Madden?

Okay. Starting to take the stuff.

Ugggghhh! It tastes terrible. Mood: Irritable.

Thinking of a Stay-cation this year. Any suggestions where I could stay?

It’s been a half hour. When is this stuff supposed to work?

45 minutes. Still nothing.

53 minutes and counting.

An hour. What’s the deal???

Just filled out my All-Star ballot.

HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kill me NOW!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay. I can breathe. Whew.


It’s working.

8rXX3 thinks Susan Boyle looks like… wait a minute….


How long is this supposed to last?

Oh Christ! I forgot. Today’s the day we scheduled an OPEN HOUSE here.

Dennis Franz. That’s who 8rXX3 thinks Susan Boyle looks like.

No, you can’t see the bathroom! It’s currently occupied!

I would trade my Emmy right now for a Tums.

Wow, there are a lot of ads in VANITY FAIR.

Bowel mood: very irritable.

Hey my legs have gone to sleep. Has that ever happened to you?

There are eight people walking through my house. I almost knocked one down during the last urge.

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m in hell.


Thanks you guys. Hearing your colonoscopy stories have really helped. LOL.

It’s been three hours.

And two rolls.

No offers on the house yet.

How stupid am I part two? Choosing to do this on the day of the TOP CHEF marathon?

Okay. I think the worst is over.


Seriously. Someone. Kill me.

Oh great. My real estate agent just dumped me. For some reason she feels my house doesn’t “show well”.

I’m whipped. Better get some sleep. But here’s the good news: I convinced the doctor to just give me a local. So I’m bringing my laptop and you can expect tweets during the procedure. Please check back every five minutes.

Note:  The preceding was a complete fabrication.  I'm not really selling my house or (to my knowledge) having a colonoscopy.   But this is the kind of Tweets you all too often read... before unfollowing the person. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

(Black) Friday Questions

But first, I have a question: Why the hell do people shop at 3 A.M.? It’s just the first day. Do you really think Macy’s will be cleaned out by 9:00?  Anyway...

Steve B. asks:

Ken, from and writing and producing standpoint, which do you prefer, single cam or multi cam? It would seem like single would give you more artistically to work with, but multi brings that immediacy of working with a crowd that can't be replicated.

Uh, I think you answered your own question. There are advantages to both. Having worked in both formats, I can honestly say it depends on the idea itself. Some shows like MODERN FAMILY benefit from being able to bounce from family to family. Others, like BIG BANG THEORY that are primarily set in one or two locations are structured more like plays and benefit from having an audience.

I suppose, of the two I’m slightly partial to the multi-camera format. I like actually hearing the laughter. And there is an energy that is created by having a studio audience.

Also, is one much more expensive than the other?

Single-camera is more expensive. More sets, takes longer to shoot. Generally more ambitious.

Anonymous has a question. (Please leave a name in the future. Thank you.)

Curious about network show promos. Does the show runner or writer(s) suggest the clip or clips used to promote an upcoming episode? Or is that the judgment call of someone in the promo department? Did you ever have battles over promo content?

Constant battles.  

The showrunner does not have any say in the promos. It’s the network promo department. And depending on who they are, they can be very good or downright abysmal. Showrunners sometimes suggest clips but nine-times-out-of-ten they’re ignored.

Promo people manage to constantly give away plot points, ruin great jokes, and diminish the integrity of the show. Most comedies come off as loud, stupid, frivolous burlesque revues. Drama promos are all the same. “A killer is loose. Can _________ find him before it’s too late?”

And it’s the old joke about the guy who hates a restaurant because the food is bad and the portions are too small – showrunners are always complaining that they don’t get enough promos (even if they’re bad).

And where the promos are placed is also a major factor. Who cares if you get a promo in PAN AM? You want it in ONCE UPON A TIME.

A personal pet peeve is your show is on the second-half of an hour and the 30 second promo is 25 seconds for WHITNEY and then 5 seconds for you. The network then tells you you had a 30 second promo. No you didn’t. (Of course, if you follow WHITNEY, promos are the least of your problems.)

From Chris:

Why do on some shows the creator writes some episodes every season and on others they just write the pilot and maybe the finale? (Assuming they don't leave the show for all its run).

If the creator is the showrunner, chances are his thumbprints are on every script, whether he takes credit or not. How many he actually writes himself depends on how much else he has to do in producing the show, how much he trusts his writing staff, how prolific he is, and how much lead time he has.

I tend to co-write a lot of episodes of my series, especially early on. We’re still trying to find the show and also provide a clear voice for other writers to follow.

Generally, once the show has been established the creator will write special episodes, season premieres and finales. Or episodes that introduce new characters.

Personally, I like to write as many episodes of my show as I can. But that’s just me. I like writing first drafts. Other showrunners would much prefer rewriting off of existing drafts. Let me amend that – most showrunners would prefer an outside writer turn in scripts that are so good they can be shot as is. If you know of that writer, tell me!

And finally, from Drew:

I was watching a sitcom, which will remain nameless, from the 1980s a few days ago. It was a big hit, but most of the actors on the show have since vanished. So my question is, how do actors survive after their hit shows go off and nothing comes their way? Do they just live off the money they made while the show was on? Try to get a guest star gig once a year to keep them afloat?

All of the above. The good news if you’re on a long running hit that remains in syndication you still get royalties. The bad news is you sometimes get typecast and it’s hard to find subsequent work.

This is especially true for character actors.

But even if these actors have trouble landing another series they still enter the category of “celebrity” (or, as I like to call it "America's Guest"). So they still appear as guest stars, panelists on game shows, guests on talk shows, and they still command a large following if they do theater or even dinner theater. I imagine Jamie Farr is doing THE SUNSHINE BOYS somewhere in America right this moment.

Some write books, pursue other interests (their “name” is a big help in launching a product or business), become soccer moms, get into voice-overs, sell dolls on QVC, play in bands, teach at universities, get arrested, or donate their time to humanitarian programs they feel strongly about. Mike Farrell of MASH is deeply committed to several extremely worthwhile causes.

Oh, and one other line of work seems to attract former sitcom performers – U.S. Senator.

What’s your question? Write it now before you run back out to Kohl’s to buy those fleece vests. Hurry! Only 7,000 left… at each location.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Live (3 hour delay) tweets from the Macy's Parade

Today's Thanksgiving Marathons

It used to be that Thanksgiving was the day of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE HONEYMOONERS marathons. Now practically every channel has their own marathon scheduled for today. Here’s a list (along with a few comments from yours truly). And this doesn’t include local station marathons or tomorrow's marathons (of which there are many). Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

AMC (11:30am - 4:30am): THE GODFATHER Movie Marathon. Have a traditional horse head for Thanksgiving!

Animal Planet (9am - 5pm): HILLBILLY HANDFISHIN' Marathon. Do you even have to read any further????

Animal Planet (5pm - 6am): TANKED Marathon

BBC America (8am - 5am): STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION Marathon

BET (8am - 5pm): MY WIFE AND KIDS Marathon. Really?

BET (5pm - Midnight): REED BETWEEN THE LINES Marathon

Bravo (6am - Noon): TOP CHEF Marathon. That should make you hungry.

Bravo (Noon - 6pm): THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS Marathon. Be thankful you’re not them.

Cartoon Network (9am - 7pm): TOM & JERRY Marathon. Celebrate the holidays with the most violent cartoons ever.

Centric (8:30am - 6am): THE WAYANS BROS. Marathon. There’s a network called Centric?

Chiller (6am - 4pm): BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Marathon.

Cloo (6am - 6am): Cloo Thanksgiving + Weekend Western Movie Marathon. Indians don’t take enough abuse today.

Cooking Channel (2 - 8pm): NADIA G'S BITCHIN' KITCHEN Marathon. A tradition since 2011.

Discovery (9am - 8pm): AMERICAN GUNS Marathon. Gather the whole family.

Discovery Fit & Health (11am - 2am): Pregnant Marathon. For those who are stuffed.

DIY (7am - 4am): COOL TOOLS Marathon

Food Network (6 - 10pm): CHOPPED Marathon

fuse (6am - 6am): BEEF Marathon. Someone should have a “chopped beef” marathon.

FX (Noon - Midnight): Animated Movie Marathon

GMC (Noon - 11pm): THE WALTONS Marathon. Goodnight, John Boy.

GSN (8am - Midnight): DEAL OR NO DEAL Marathon. No deal for me.

HGTV (7am - 1pm; 3 - 8pm): PROPERTY BROTHERS Marathon

H2 (8am - 8pm): HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES Marathon. You might want to eat your dinner in from of the TV so you don’t miss South Dakota.

History (8am - 8pm): IRT DEADLIEST ROADS Marathon. Another family favorite.

The Hub (7pm - Midnight; 1 - 6am): ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5TH GRADER? Marathon. I’m not making this shit up.

ID (7 - 10am; 2pm - 2am): DEADLY WOMEN Marathon

IFC (6am - 6am): ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Marathon. Alright!!!

Lifetime (Noon - 4am): Christmas Movie Marathon

Military (10am - 3am): WORLD WAR II IN COLOR Marathon. Spend the holiday with Hitler.

MTV (9am - 1pm): FRIENDZONE Marathon

MTV2 (11am - 3pm): RUN'S HOUSE Marathon

MTV2 (3pm - 9pm): MARTIN Marathon

Nickelodeon (Noon - 3pm): SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS Marathon

Nickelodeon (4 - 7pm): ICARLY Marathon

Nick at Nite (9pm - 5:30am): FRIENDS Marathon

NickToons (Noon - 9:30pm): SPEED RACER - THE NEXT GENERATION Marathon

OWN (5pm - 3am): WELCOME TO SWEETIE PIE'S Marathon. Huh? Has anyone ever even heard of that show?

Oxygen (7am - 7pm): ROSEANNE Marathon. You know I’ll be watching.

Oxygen (7pm - 2am): LAW & ORDER - CRIMINAL INTENT Marathon

Planet Green (4pm - 3am): MALL COPS - MALL OF AMERICA Marathon

ReelzChannel (10:30am - 6pm): Lethal Weapon Movie Marathon. More Jews will be watching the Christmas movie and WORLD WAR II IN COLOR marathons.

Science (6:30 - 10pm): PUNKIN CHUNKIN 2011 Marathon

SOAPnet (5pm - 1am): Walker Family Thanksgiving Marathon: BROTHERS & SISTERS Marathon

style (6am - 3am): SUPERNANNY Marathon

Syfy (8am - 5:30am): James Bond Movie Marathon. 007 of your favorite movies!

TLC (6am - Noon): CAKE BOSS Marathon

TLC (Noon - 8:30pm): CAKE BOSS - THE NEXT GREAT BAKER Marathon

TNT (10am - 8pm): BONES Marathon

TNT (8pm - 2am): CSI: NY Marathon

Travel (9am - Noon; 8pm - 4am): MAN V. FOOD Marathon

Travel (Noon - 8pm): MAN V. FOOD NATION Marathon

truTV (9am - 3pm): BLACK GOLD Marathon

truTV (7 - 11pm; Midnight - 3am): WORLD'S DUMBEST Marathon

TV Guide (3 - 8pm): DESIGNING WOMEN Marathon

TV Land (8am - 7:20pm): THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Marathon

TV One (6am - 4pm): MARTIN Marathon. Hey! Someone else already has a MARTIN marathon.

TV One (4 - 8:30pm): Michael Jackson Marathon. Does not include the recent trial.

USA (10am - 8pm): NCIS Marathon

USA (2 - 8am): BURN NOTICE Marathon

WE (10am - 1am): BRAXTON FAMILY VALUES Marathons. Is this about Toni Braxton? I’m unfamiliar. 

Thanks to   And again... HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I'm thankful for...

Besides my family, here are some of the things I’m thankful for this year.

Claire Danes
Claire Dunphy
The Seattle Mariners
Twitter followers
Jenny Johnson
New Yorker cartoons
Carl Reiner

Vin Scully
Lobster at The Lobster
Jon Stewart
Facebook groups
The yellow line in football
Flavored Tootsie Rolls
My daughter is not dating a vampire
Don Draper
Rebecca Hall
Opening Day
The iPhone (when it works)
Rachel Maddow
A one cent residual when MASH plays on the internet a thousand times.
Hula dancers
Hawaiian sunsets

Bob’s Big Boy
Spam filters
Frank McCourt is selling the Dodgers
The Gigi salad
DVD screeners
Morena Baccarin
Clayton Kershaw
Aaron Sorkin

Joe Torre
Louis Black
Louis C.K.
Peter Luger's steak sauce
Manhattan Transfer
Alicia Florik
Dinah Washington
Denzel Washington
Diablo Cody
Red Eye Radio
Patton Oswalt
The Bilko box set
Coffee Bean Ice Blendeds
Tallulah Moorehead
7 game World Series
Jon Miller
The Crab Cooker
Brian Wilson
Jenna Fischer

Stephen Colbert
Antenna TV
Ricky Gervais
Christina Applegate
Milk Duds
Cassell’s hamburgers
Red carpet shows
Nicole Atkins
Amoeba Records
Fellow bloggers
On Demand
Our troops

Care to add your own?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

As the holidays approach...

General Thanksgiving musings:

The Macy’s Day parade is fun to watch only when it’s raining, snowing, windy, or five degrees. Otherwise, what’s entertaining about Al Roker interviewing second bananas from the NBC “hit” comedy, ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?, a production number from CHICAGO (probably now starring Shaquille O’Neill), guys on unicycles, marching bands performing Sondheim, Wal-Mart 3 A.M Sale commercials, the Hello Kitty balloon, and the phrase “for children of all ages”? And now, even when there IS a balloon accident they make no mention of it.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade, once a proud LA tradition, is now pathetic. And it’s not even because it’s no longer safe to go to Hollywood at night. It'll be this Sunday night, unless it's canceled. Gone are the days when TV stars like Lucy and Jack Benny would be in the parade. Now they don’t even get Gypsy Boots, lasso expert Monty Montana, and Iron Eyes Cody hawking his new line of jewelry. Today it’s the disc jockeys from KTNQ and maybe Santa Claus if they can pour him out of the Frolic Room.

Oh God, holiday music begins. The only Christmas songs I like are “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Linda Eder and the Chipmunk Song.

And then there are the Christmas themed episodes on sitcoms. These stories all ran out in 1957. What to buy? I forgot to get a present for X. Oh no, I have to work, etc. All episodes end in a living room in front of a roaring fire or at the homeless shelter. And everyone learns a lesson they should have already known since they were five.

Some radio stations are now flipping to Christmas music-only format.  Usually they are adult-contemporary or smooth jazz stations.  But there's an all-sports station in Victorville, California that's going all Christmas music.  That can't be good news for that format.  

Since they always SAY the day after Thanksgiving is the worst shopping day of the year, with the biggest lines, why do people go????

Worst Thanksgiving songs: "The Turkey Trot" by Little Eva and "Turkey Lurky" from PROMISES PROMISES (the absolute nadir of the Bacharach-David songbook).

This is the one week a year when those idiots who never take down their Christmas lights are the smart ones.

Drive, fly, and eat carefully.

Results on the shows YOU'VE cancelled

Thanks to so many of you for participating in yesterday's audience participation exercise.  In sifting through the 100+ comments it seems the following shows are the ones most of you had axed. 

HOUSE -- A mass exodus.
THE SIMPSONS -- After season 5 people started fleeing.
BONES -- Lots of disenchanted former fans of this show.
WALKING DEAD -- A lot of you are disappointed with the second season.
THE OFFICE -- Mixed reviews on James Spader
COMMUNITY -- Although to be fair, there were a lot of people who really stood up for this show.
UP ALL NIGHT -- After a big premiere viewers seem to be leaving in droves.
DEXTER -- I'm not alone.
HAWAII FIVE-O -- You guys don't even like Scott Caan in this show.
BIG BANG THEORY -- The feeling is the show is getting too silly.
GREY'S ANATOMY -- "Meredith" seems to be a buzz word to former fans.
HARRY'S LAW -- I didn't know anyone watched that in the first place.
TERRA NOVA -- You love the dinosaurs, hate the people.
WHITNEY -- Almost universally reviled.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES -- You feel has run its course.
30 ROCK -- Although, again in fairness, it hasn't been on this season yet.

Thanks again.  A new post with some Holiday thoughts follows in a couple of hours.  Grab your first egg nog and come back.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

What shows have YOU canceled lately?

In a sense you’re a network president. We all are. Especially with DVR’s, ON DEMAND, and streaming video. We program our own “networks” per se. The only real difference is that we don’t decide what shows to put on. But we do decide which shows to cancel.

My heart goes out to producers. Mounting a hit show was always next to impossible. Now it’s damn near impossible. Too many other channels, too many other options. You’ve got to grab an audience right away. And that game plan does not always lead to the best television shows.

The feature world is now built on that strategy. All Hollywood studios really care about is whether their movies open, whether they have big first weekends. That’s where they make most of their money, over that initial three-day stretch. So movies have to be splashy, they have to hook you in with big stars, or big explosions, or Shrek for the ninth time. A movie can be bad but if it’s marketed well, if the trailer is decent, or the big stars agree to go on Letterman to promote it, studios can profit off a turd. So what if no one shows up the second weekend? They’ve already got their payday.

But here’s the thing – in television for a show to make money you have to come back. Not just once but every week… for years. No one gets away with hit & run accidents in television.

Network presidents are in a bind. If a show struggles out of the gate, is it worth sticking with because like CHEERS and HILLSTREET BLUES it sometimes takes time to find your stride and audience? Or are you throwing good money after bad. Just like studios will never make MARS NEEDS MOMS II, why should they shell out the money for PLAYBOY CLUB XIV? And only developing shows to hit home runs out of the gate often leads to disaster when viewers don’t return. Things get GRIMM, so to speak.

That’s why every year freshman shows that the networks promote in October as “America’s #1 New Comedy” and “America’s #1 New Drama” get canceled by January. Meanwhile, the producers of BAD TEACHER are all in Hawaii celebrating.

So bringing it back to you – or more specifically, me (but you again soon): I program my own network. Thank you (semi) trusty DVR. I have season passes for certain shows. I have my “must see” shows like THE GOOD WIFE and “sure, why not?” shows like CSI now that Ted Danson is on it. I have my comedy nights if I’m in the mood, my movie nights when a title strikes my fancy. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the time slots of most of the shows I watch. I think PARKS & REC is on Thursday but don’t hold me to it. All I know is that it’s there on the weekend. LOST was the last series I had to watch the night it was on. And before that, INSTANT BEAUTY PAGENT. But other than that, unless it’s a sporting event, I’m catching it on my schedule.

Or canceling it.

I set season passes for quite a few new series, and one by one this year I have canceled them. I beat NBC by a week on FREE AGENTS. UNFORGETTABLE (excuse me… THE REMEMBERER) was zotzed week two. PAN AM lasted three weeks. PERSON OF INTEREST just went bye-bye this week. (That lead is not Christian Bale no matter how much they try to make him Christian Bale). Actually, the only new series that remains is ONCE UPON A TIME. And so my average is about what a regular network’s is – I keep approximately one out of ten.

Then there are the established shows that I once liked (or loved) and now have gotten off the train. DEXTER. Maybe my favorite show the first two or three seasons. It dipped then came back strong the John Lithgoe year. But last year didn’t move me and this season I began watching and by the second episode I said, “God, this is tedious. I don’t give a shit about Angel and Maria and the office politics and the foul-mouth sister shacking up with another slimeball, and the cockamamie ‘code’, and yet another bizarre serial killer that the police mis-analyze but Dexter doesn’t, and the dad popping in to say he can’t do whatever it is at the moment he is doing even if it’s brushing his teeth.” I just reached a point where CLICK – no more dark traveler.

Same with COMMUNITY. I know fans are outraged that NBC put it “on hiatus” (read: kiss of death), but it just got too uneven for me. I appreciate how innovative and ambitious the show is, but with each format-bending episode I cared less and less about the characters, and if I’m not invested in the characters, ultimately I go away.

I was ahead of the pack on leaving GLEE. More and more Gleeks or Gleeniacs or whatever they call themselves now add an “ex” to the front of their title. And patients are coming in with Klingon diseases now on HOUSE. I don’t remember exactly when I canceled HOUSE but Cutthroat Bitch has been in three series since.

I imagine HAWAII 5-0 is the leading show that has been canceled over the last two years. And everyone who does says the same thing: “How did I keep this as long as I did?”

So now I throw it back to you. I’m curious. What shows have you canceled on your "network" and why? This will be less accurate than a Nielson survey but I bet way more fun. Thanks.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Hollywood tradition: My Thanksgiving Travel Tips

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

Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the last week .

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are NO bargains in the Sky Mall magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy trails to you all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

JACK & JILL could be the worst movie of all-time

From Youtube contributor, pbonanno comes this hilarious video of George C. Scott watching the trailer for the new Adam Sandler er, comedy. It's my reaction exactly.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Justice for Natalie Wood

Can't tell you thrilled I am that they're re-opening the Natalie Wood case and it is being investigated as a homicide.   As many of you know, I am mildly obsessed with this case.   Not much additional info was shared at the press conference this conference.  They said Robert Wagner is not a suspect.  But...

Do the math.  There were only three other people on that boat.  RJ, Christopher Walken, and the captain.  So unless there was a mermaid in the area I don't know who else they'd be investigating.  And the captain is the one who has come forward with this new "information".   You also have to figure that if they're re-opening the case after 30 years that they've got to have some pretty substantial evidence.

Anyway, for more updates on this, watch your favorite news source (I imagine FOX News is claiming that Obama did it) or wait until next week when LAW & ORDER has their version of the case.

Hollywood never gave Natalie an Oscar.  They should at least give her this.

Lamest pilot title maybe ever.

Ready for some Friday Questions?

Mr. Ace has two to start us off:

1. How do the show creators come up with the names for their shows?

They get real liquored up and play Pictionary.  Seriously, I don't know.  I'm sure each creator has his own method for coming up with titles the way he has his own way of writing scripts.

I’ve found that either you can come up with a title in ten seconds or it takes forever and often you still never find a great one. Ideally, there’s something in the subject matter that leads to a clever or descriptive title. For my money, the shorter the title the better.

Quite often titles will change between the initial pilot and the final show. The series, UNFORGETTABLE had maybe the worst title ever originally. THE REMEMBERER. Can you believe that? “I’m the lead detective on this case. For this investigation I’ve enlisted the help of a forensic expert and the Rememberer.”

2. I have read that guys like Sidney Sheldon wrote most if not all of the episdoes of his shows. I was wondering how common is that nowadays?

Rarely, but it happens. Aaron Sorkin writes practically all of his shows. So does David Kelley (even when he has two or three on the air at the same time). Larry Gelbart wrote most of MASH for the first four seasons. Carl Reiner scripted most of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOWS the first three seasons (and they did 39 episodes a year). And of course, Matthew Weiner of MAD MEN (yes, that's only 13 at a time but wow-- those 13 episodes). 

My partner and I wrote most of the 7th season of MASH. If we didn’t write the drafts ourselves we rewrote all the others. I look back and wonder: how the hell did we do that?

I’m in awe of writers like Sorkin and Kelley who can be that prolific and that GOOD week after week, season after season. One year of it and I was ready for the drooling academy.

Steve wonders:

Do you have an opinion on backdoor pilots? I remember Golden Girls did one in 1987 to set up Empty Nest, and just a few years ago Grey's Anatomy gave up two episodes of its season to setting up its spin-off Private Practice; but do you think these are cheap cheats at getting a mass audience to sample the new show or is simply a smart business tactic?

Smart business for several reasons. You save a big chunk of money on a pilot and, as you suggested, you have a built-in audience. This practice goes way back. In the early ‘60s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was a backdoor pilot from THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW. What’s interesting about that is that THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW was about a nightclub performer in Manhattan and Andy Taylor couldn’t have been less show bizzy or New York if he tried. Still, that character was cleverly introduced and made the necessary impressive impression.

In the ‘70s, Norman Lear used ALL IN THE FAMILY episodes to spin off both MAUDE and THE JEFFERSONS.  I'm sure there are dozens of other examples.

But to me, the most bizarre backdoor pilot was introducing Robin Williams as MORK on HAPPY DAYS. I’m surprised the expression isn’t “Jumping the Egg”.

And finally, from Andy Cook:

How is it handled when one character has to say something personal and derogatory about the appearance of another – e.g. they’re fat or ugly i.e. some nasty description that actually applies to the actor.

Do writers shy away from it? Does it make the rehearsal process awkward? How do you call for actors for the fat/ugly part and what’s the audition like?

That’s a great question, Andy. Yes, writers do have to be sensitive to actors’ feelings when it comes to slamming their physical shortcomings in front of twenty million people. It’s best to diplomatically ask the actor in question if he’s okay with it. And if he’s not, respect that. On MIKE & MOLLY the series is pretty much built around fat jokes. The actors knew that when they signed on. But on CHEERS we tended to shy away from Norm fat jokes. And we didn’t feel we were losing that much in terms of comic opportunities. There were enough other avenues for laughs that we didn’t need to resort to fat jokes at George’s expense.

On THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW a staple of comedy was Morey Amsterdam making fun of Richard Deacon’s baldness. But Deacon was a great sport.

And it’s important that whoever the target character is, that character gets to give it right back.

What’s your question?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My idea for how they should end MAD MEN

Matthew Weiner, the brilliant creator of MAD MEN, said earlier this week that he plans for the show’s saga to end in 2011. This could be the final scene from that final episode.


85-year-old Don Draper has just emerged from an iron lung. 72-year-old Peggy is there.

DON: Where are my cigarettes?

PEGGY: You shouldn’t be smoking, Don.

DON: Don? Is that my name?

PEGGY: Well, that and Dick Whitman.

DON: Jesus Christ! I can’t remember one name. And now I have to remember two?

PEGGY: The doctor said you have to give up smoking and stop proposing to the nurses.

DON: I need to be in a relationship. That’s the only way I can experience inner peace. Ask my eleven ex-wives.

PEGGY: Believe me, I’ve had long conversations with the other ten.

DON: Where’s Sally? Why hasn’t she come to visit me? After all the nurturing and comfort I gave her as a child!

PEGGY: Don or Dick, you remember. She’s serving a life sentence for killing her mother.

DON: Oh. Right. Y’know, I still keep a picture of Betty. It’s right there on my nightstand.

PEGGY: It’s hard to recognize her with all that blood.

DON: She’ll always be my little “Exhibit A”.

PEGGY: You’re lucky she wasn’t executed.

DON: She was. Shot point blank. They still talk about it at Gelsons.

PEGGY: No. I mean Sally. She should have gotten the chair.

DON: Well, Governor Pete Campbell owed me a favor. Where’s Roger? How come he never visits me?

PEGGY: He’s dead.

DON: Oh. I might’ve heard that. Let me guess – he drank himself to death.

PEGGY: Yep. Christmas Day. 1968. 

DON:  Was it painful?

PEGGY: No.  He died in Joan's breasts.

DON: It’s a tragedy he wasn’t around to watch his illegitimate child with Joan grow up or see the grand opening of the new BevMo store in Alhambra.

Bobby enters with a DVD. He’s in his early 60’s.

BOBBY: Hi, Dad.

DON: Roger? Roger? Is that you? Those BevMo stores deliver!

BOBBY: No. It’s your son, Bobby.

DON: Oh. Right. Roger’s dead. I've got to put up some post-its.

BOBBY: It’s good to see you, Dad.  I brought you a movie.  BRIDESMAIDS. 

DON: Thanks.  Which Bobby are you?

BOBBY: The third one, Dad.

DON: The one who wears dresses?

BOBBY: No, that’s Bobby number two.

DON: The one who’s living on the streets?

BOBBY: No, that was Bobby number one, and he thanks you for that five-dollar check for his birthday.

PEGGY: You gave your homeless son five dollars?

DON: He was my favorite.  Joan had a nice rack, by the way.

BOBBY: No, I’m the one that opened the daycare center.

DON: Oh. Right. How’s that going?

BOBBY: Could be better. Do you remember the name of Sally’s lawyer?

DON: I need a cigarette! Or a new wife!

BOBBY: The doctors gave you strict orders: No re-marrying.

DON: I hate my life! I hate everything about my life. Do you know what it’s like to live a lie for 85 years. Well, live two lies. No, three. Eight. No more than ten. But it’s a private hell with no escape. Have I made some mistakes in my life? (CONSIDERING) No. Not really. But would I do things differently? (CONSIDERING) Well, Dick would but Don wouldn’t. Still, the point is that over all this time I’ve been searching for some meaning, some reason for it all. And I can never find it.

BOBBY: Well, surely you’ve come close.

DON: No. All I’ve come up with are metaphors and symbolism and they’re too subtle even for me. Oh well. I guess that’s what BevMo is for.

PEGGY: “That’s what BevMo is for”. Brilliant! They’ve been looking for a new slogan.

DON: Yeah. Hey, I’ve still got it!


“The Unicorn Song” by the Irish Rovers begins to play.

DON (V.O.): Hey, what’s that music? “The Unicorn Song”? What does that even mean? See, there’s that Goddamn symbolism again! Seriously, what the fuck does that have to do with anything? And why is it now dark? Uh oh. Am I dead? Christ! They won’t even tell me I’m dead? Roger? Roger, are you around?  God, I  need a cigarette!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Comedy Actress Litmus Test

How can you tell if an actress is really funny? When you cast pilots you read upwards of a hundred different women for a single part. And they’re all accomplished. By the time they reach your office they’ve guested or have been regulars in enough sitcoms that they know where the jokes are in a script and can deliver the punch lines proficiently.

So how do you know? How can you tell the professional actress from the true comic actress if they both get the same laugh?

It’s an inexact science to be sure. Some you just know. They have the physicality, the look, the timing, the whatever Carol Burnett has. But those are few and far between. Sorry, Whitney.

For me there’s a way to separate the Lucys from the Lose-ees.

Can they cry funny?

This is a very unique skill. You have to get the audiences’ sympathy while still getting laughs. If you play it too real the audience just feels sad or uncomfortable. If you play it too broad there’s no emotional connection. You have to walk a very fine line between reality and exaggeration. When it works it’s magic. When it doesn’t it’s like catching your grandparents humping.

I’ve mentioned before how Kirstie Alley is fabulous at this. She did a great scene in CHEERS in an episode David Isaacs and I wrote called “Finally Part II”. She’s heartbreaking and hilarious all at the same time. (I had the scene posted but YouTube took it down. You’re going to have to actually watch the show.)

Nancy Travis is great at this. So is Jenna Elfman, Patty Heaton, Lisa Edelstein, Suzanne Pleshette, Shelley Long, Jennifer Aniston, Wendie Malick, and Christina Applegate.

But the all-time champ -- the woman who set the gold standard -- was Mary Tyler Moore. This is a clip from an early DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Feeling the romance has gone out of their marriage, Laura Petrie (MTM) is talked into bleaching her hair. She has second doubts, decides to dye it back. It starts about 7:00 minutes in.  Her explanation monologue to Rob is a comic tour de force.

That makes me laugh and cry every time I see it.

Unfortunately, this Litmus Test does not extend to comic actors. (Except for Stan Laurel.) I really don’t want to see Larry David cry. Ever.

So I’m still looking for that Litmus Test for guys. I just have to watch more film on Herman Cain. But I’ll get back to you when I have something.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reports from the Anime Convention

Yesterday I reported on the writing seminar I held last weekend. But for today, a report on the other lesser event that took place there – an Anime convention. 1500 wildly costumed conventioneers invaded the LAX Hilton. I wonder if the stunned guests from Iowa and Georgia knew that there was a convention or just thought this is the way it always is in LA. I took some notes. And pictures.
Overheard by a guy dressed as a giant bee. “Why is everyone is looking at me?”
A gentleman in a star fighter costume (not the future Anthony Weiner pictured above) with loin cloth, feathers, and giant sword was told he couldn’t stay in the lobby because he was shirtless. He was pissed. “The fucking Rainbow Brite bitch was practically naked.” I commiserated. “Whoever heard of a galactic warrior wearing a shirt?” “I KNOW!” he said and stomped off to the Coke machine.
I asked one girl if she was dressed as anybody specific? “No, “ she said. I had to follow up with: “Are you in costume?”
Amazingly, there was no one in the karaoke room. I guess no one wanted to look foolish.
Hental porn is Anime. Where were those re-enactments?
Nice to see Eddie Munster making an appearance.
Scanning everyone dressed up in the lobby I thought, “this must be what RuPaul’s memorial service will look like.”
“Pikachu” spotted my name tag and almost gasped. He said I was like a God. Then I realized he thought I was the Ken Levine who created BioShock. Imagine both of our disappointments.
There was a meeting room where Autographs were offered. Autographs? By who? The actual cartoon characters?
Was Michael Jackson an Asian Anime character because eight people came dressed as him… or it.
Got in an elevator with a Japanese flight attendant in uniform. I asked her who she was supposed to be? She didn’t see the humor. Even though she was standing between Astro Boy and Vash the Stampede.
Overheard in an elevator: “Hey! Watch the wings!”
All kidding aside, they all were a nice bunch of kids, dressing up, and having fun. If you want to see REALLY weird – just check out the regular customers at the Carl’s Jr. next door.