Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Questions

Here are Friday Questions to close out the week...and month.

Chris starts us off:

How come Everybody Loves Raymond only had one act break? (At least the first 3 seasons) I mean, I know Phil Rosenthal wanted to create a classic, back in the day family style sitcom, but why didn't CBS push for more ad space?

Networks air the same amount of commercials whether it’s two acts or six.

When RAYMOND began in the mid ‘90s all half-hour sitcoms had a two-act format. It really wasn’t until the ‘00s that networks went to three acts hoping to better hide their inflated commercial loads. The result is it’s harder to tell stories with two act breaks rather than one, but networks aren’t remotely concerned with that.
Jon Wolfert asks:

When and how did the term "show runner" enter the TV lexicon? I don't remember hearing about "show runners" in the 70s and 80s. There were producers, directors, head writers, writers... but "show runner" sounds like a term made up by someone with a third grade mind. (I thought the same thing when I first heard "I am the Decider".) Any insight?

I first heard the term used in the '90s. I don’t know who coined it. Maybe the same guy who named the ballpark in Arlington “the Ballpark.”

For many years Executive Producer was the official title for the person in charge. Then writers moved up the ladder and several shared the title. There were also co-Executive Producers. In an effort to cut through the bullshit someone came up with the more generic but less pretentious "show runner."

So the term has been around awhile. It's only the last fifteen years or so with the internet that the general public started recognizing the contributions of the behind-the-camera staff and learning just who the show runners were.

The job itself has never changed. Only the unofficial title.

Hamid wants to know:

By all accounts, the 80s was a legendary decade in Hollywood for excess and wild parties, the era of Don Simpson's infamous antics. You worked on one of the biggest shows of the decade right in the heart of Hollywood at Paramount, so my question is how much of those legendary wild times did you personally witness and was it a lot of fun?

Uh, none. I have heard stories of writing rooms where they would have cocaine in a sugar bowl, but CHEERS was most definitely NOT one of them. We’d have some wine with dinner at times and enjoy a Heineken after rewrites but truly, that was about it.

In the mid ‘80s TV GUIDE did a whole cover story on the rampant use of cocaine in Hollywood. At the time David and I were "show running" a short-lived series for Mary Tyler Moore. We received a letter from a viewer. This is how it began: “I read a recent article on all the drug use in Hollywood and thought they must be way exaggerating. And then I watched an episode of your show…”

And finally, from Timothy Wintour:

When writing a spec for an existing show, would you recommend writing a very self-contained episode by trying to use only the main characters and main sets (which is very difficult to pull off without it feeling boring) or would you recommend creating new sets and one-time guest characters (which shows often do)?

Definitely lean towards containment. Don’t write an episode that would cost their entire season's budget to produce. That’s a rookie mistake. And you can certainly have outside characters, but clearly center your show on the main characters and primarily focus on them.

Another rookie mistake is to introduce an outside character and make the episode about him. We had that several times in CHEERS. One of the barflies would write a spec in which HE was the star of the show that week. Like that would ever happen.  

As a general rule, if you're writing a show called THE MINDY PROJECT the story should probably be about a character named Mindy. 

As always, best of luck with your spec.

What’s your question?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

LABOR DAY: My review

2014 is young but maybe the dumbest movie of the year is already here. LABOR DAY. It will be released tomorrow. I've seen it already because they laughably thought it was Oscar material and sent out DVD screeners. This is author Joyce Maynard’s masturbatory fantasy about a big hunky escaped con hiding in a lonely but sexy single mother’s house for a long weekend and becoming the perfect lover, father, and handy-man.

The screenplay was adapted and directed by Jason Reitman who used to be a terrific director. What the hell happened between UP IN THE AIR and this?

It stars Kate Winslet playing a less interesting version of the character she played beautifully in LITTLE CHILDREN. And Josh Brolin, who you always think got the role after seven better actors turned it down.

She’s a depressed mom and he’s your standard convicted murderer with a heart of gold. So naturally they click. What morose woman wouldn’t fall in love with a killer on the lam and vice versa?

LABOR DAY refers to the process you'll be experiencing while watching this movie.  
The narrative is so stupid on every level that you’ll spend half the film shaking your head (and the other half checking your watch). There’s an APB out on this guy in the sleepy little town. Police cars are patrolling the streets. Cops are going door to door. Neighbors are stopping by to make sure our sweet Kate is okay. You’d think Josh would keep a low profile. But no. He’s out in the yard teaching her kid how to hit a baseball. He’s cleaning the storm drains, fixing the car, repairing things in the yard – all right out there in the open.

But wait! Brolin was also stabbed in the abdomen during his escape, but that doesn’t stop him from doing everything.  You'd think raking would cause internal bleeding. 

And still there’s more. He bakes pies! There’s a ten minute segment of this dud where we see him show Kate & son how to bake a pie. Ten minutes. I kid you not. Shots of him cutting peaches. The three of them kneading the dough. Every step is explained and demonstrated. The Food Network doesn’t spend that much time showing you how to bake a friggin’ pie.

I bet back at the prison the inmates were in an uproar because there would be no French apple pie to go along with their shit on a shingle.

As a friend pointed out, there’s zero suspense because Brolin is about as threatening as Mr. Rogers.

Trust me, January is usually the dumping ground for bad movies. If this clunker were any good – especially with decent names attached – it would have been released in November.

The film is oozing with schmaltz, waaaay too long, and as believable as KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. A couple more of these and Jason Reitman will be directing episodes of HONEY BOO BOO.

Spare yourself. Better to take the money, go to Marie Calendar’s and buy a pie.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting started as a director

Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became a full post.  Once I start writing about myself I just seem to go on and on and on and on...

The question is from Rick Wiedmayer: 

and on and on and on...

In a previous post you said that you wanted to become a director while David wanted to remain just a writer. How did you make the transition to director? What hoops did you have to go through to become a director?

There are numerous factors to TV directing; some I knew better than others going in.

I had spent many years going down to run-throughs, working with actors, shaping performances, and at times re-blocking. So the dealing-with-actors part of the job I felt somewhat secure with. That said, I got waaaaaay better at it. I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

My years as a writer taught me how to evaluate whether a scene or a story was working.  This was invaluable.  At the end of the day, if the script works you could just shoot the entire episode in one wide shot and you’d still have a good show.  Yet, all the fancy camera angles in the world won't help a show with a sub-par teleplay. 

I also had spent years in editing bays so I had a familiarity with that aspect of the job. I can’t tell you how many times I’d say to the editor, “Give me a reaction shot here,” he’d say “We don’t have one,” and I’d go, “How can that possibly be? The whole joke depends on her reaction.” “ 

Shit! I can do this job as good as this idiot” is the motivation for most jobs in Hollywood.

What I knew nothing about was the technical stuff. Especially in multi-camera comedy it’s very complicated. You have four cameras all moving at once. Their assignments change every time even one actor moves. Plus, you have to set for reactions, entrances, and you need different sizes and angles of the same scene so you have a choice in editing. And you have to have yourself covered if you want to lift portions of a scene that didn’t work for the audience or just make trims if the show is too long. People compare it to a Rubik’s Cube and I say it’s worse. When you’re figuring you a Rubik’s Cube you don’t have a hundred crew people staring at you and a producer reminding you that you’re on the clock and every wasted minute costs money.

So I spent about two years auditing Jimmy Burrows, Andy Ackerman, David Lee, and Jeff Melman. I’d sit behind them at the quad-split (four monitors) and watch how they camera blocked the show. Honestly, for the first year I didn’t know what the fuck I was looking at. Especially with Jimmy Burrows. He moved so fast. I was completely lost. He’d block an entire wedding scene in three minutes. Then you’d look at it on the monitors and it was perfect. Talk about intimidating. Eventually I started to get the hang of it.

Then I would test myself. I stopped sitting behind the director. I showed up for the runthrough following camera blocking, jotted down the stage blocking, and went home and tried to camera block myself.

My daughter, Annie made me some little clay men. I would recreate every scene with them and slowly figure which camera would cover who or what.

The next day I would compare what I did to what the director actually did. The trouble is, if you make one changes. Let’s say you decide to use Camera A for the close up instead of Camera B that changes every assignment for every camera from that point in the scene.

So not only do you have to prepare, you have to be able to adjust when things change (and they ALWAYS do).

That was about another year, doing that exercise.

Finally, I felt I was ready. Here is where I am forever in debt to Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell. You have to find someone who will take a chance on a new director and hire you.  Not easy to find.  Sometimes impossible.  They gave me that chance to direct an episode of WINGS.

I had consulted and written on WINGS since the pilot so I had a long relationship with the actors going in and that helped enormously. They were extremely patient and supportive. I’m forever in debted to them too.  Especially Crystal Bernard who called me at home when the episode was wrapped and I was home in a fetal position to say what a good job she thought I had done. 

Before camera blocking day I went up to David Lee’s house with my clay men and he helped guide me through the camera assignments. Of course, they all changed once I got on the floor but at least I knew exactly what I needed. It was just a matter of figuring out which camera to get it. That figuring took hours and hours though.

Eventually it all came together and I was on my way. The next hurdle was developing confidence so I could fool my cast and crew into thinking I knew what the hell I was doing. That just takes time and experience.

Ironically, now my favorite part of the process is camera blocking. It’s puzzle solving, it’s hanging with great crews, and it’s just fun. Jimmy still does it ten times faster though. How the fuck does he do that?!

Being a good TV director takes time, luck, experience, luck, patience, luck, psychology, luck, talent, and did I mention luck? Thanks again to everyone who helped me on my way.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Best Red Carpet Dress and other Miscellany

Haven’t done this in awhile. Here’s a hodgepodge of stray thoughts, questions, and uncalled-for snark.

The Grammys used to have star power, but this year? Sure, it featured the reunion of the remaining Beatles but where was Miley Cyrus?  I mean, why bother?

TRUE DETECTIVES is quite extraordinary. Best use of toupees in television. And terrific performances by Woody & Matt. My writing partner David made a great observation. “Matthew McConaughey put on a shirt and became an actor.”

After TRUE DETECTIVES, doesn't JUSTIFIED feel downright cosmopolitan?  At least some of the roads are paved.

Best Red Carpet dress EVER: Thank you, Joanna Krupa. (And YOUR mom wouldn’t let you go out in public when you wore shorts.)

To answer your next question: She’s a Real Housewife of Miami. That’s how they all dress down there.

I hope it’s 5 degrees for the Super Bowl. Then winter is over the next day and it’s 65 everywhere in the east for the next month.

Denver vs. Seattle – the Cannabis Bowl. It’s legal to smoke pot in one city and soon will be legal in the other. Go Seahawks!

This was the longest Grammy Awards show in 22 years.

Note to bartenders: Coca Cola mixed with 7-Up is not ginger ale. If you don’t have ginger ale say so.

How many of this week’s Grammy winners will be out of the business in three years?

True story:  This year's Denver County Fair will have Marijuana Contests. 

Another true story:  Amy Herbst, an opera singer, claims that due to a botched surgery she can no longer perform without farting.   Hey, she could win AMERICA'S GOT TALENT.

When I go to a hotel, why do they always seem to assign me the handicap room?

The Kings played the Ducks in an NHL hockey game outside at Dodger Stadium Saturday night where it was warmer than inside the Staples Center. Why go to an outdoor hockey game if you're not going to get snowed on? 

People can not talk about wine without sounding pretentious. Larry the Cable Guy couldn't say:  “Yes, it’s playfully articulate with a fruity overtone” without sounding like a pompous ass.

How important is scheduling? Fox debuted a new comedy, ENLISTED and it bombed. They moved it to Friday night and suddenly it got way better numbers. Of course, let’s see how it does this week, but still.

Who’s more connected with the music industry and Grammys than Julia Roberts? They couldn’t get anyone to introduce Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr who was actually alive when the Beatles first performed on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW fifty years ago?  Oh, right, Miley Cyyrus wasn't available.

Seriously – does anyone care that Jay Leno is leaving THE TONIGHT SHOW February 6th? When Carson left it was a national event. This is like the Pro Bowl.

The latest hit musical on Broadway is BEAUTIFUL, the early life story of Carole King. How can you go wrong with her amazing songs? And the good news is she’s written so many of them that they could easily do a couple of sequels. BEAUTIFUL 2. STILL LOOKS DAMN GOOD.

I can’t wait for THE AMERICANS to return.

The Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka for $155 million. He’s already pitched 1315 innings – an astronomical amount for someone his age. Fortunately, arm problems are so rare with major league pitchers.

How must Yu Darvish feel? Like Tanaka, he pitched in Japan, he was an ace, and a couple of years ago he got a third of what Tanaka signed for.

Now that Chris Christy’s bid for the presidency has stalled on the George Washington Bridge, the Republicans would be smart to draft Kevin O’Leary from SHARK TANK.

Are you on the Paleo Diet? My son Matt reminds you that Paleolithic humans lived to be about 20.

I’m like three weeks behind on DOWNTON ABBEY. They’re just sitting on my DVR. I think that’s telling me something.

Macklemore’s greatest song was a tribute to late Mariners’ announcer, Dave Niehaus.

83 great reviews for my book, MUST KILL TV (well 76 of the 83). Only $2.99 on Kindle. What are you waiting for for Godsakes? You can read the reviews and order it here.

Laurence Juber is one of the greatest guitarists in the world. For a long while he was member of Paul McCartney’s group Wings. One day he received a small box in the mail. There were several random pieces and a set of instructions. He followed the instructions, assembled the pieces, and that’s how he learned he had won a Grammy.

Happy Birthday, Hawkeye.  Alan Alda is 78.  It was an honor writing for you, sir. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Who is allowed in the Writers Room?

The Writers Room needs to be a safe environment – especially for comedy writers. Seven or eight highly talented but bat-shit crazy people are locked in a room for hours on end and can not leave until they’ve fixed the script that’s currently in production. That could be as the rest of the world is going to work at 8 in the morning. It’s a lot of pressure and one way writers let off steam is by being hilariously cruel and politically appalling. There are no sacred cows. One time in a room the staff made merciless fun of someone for a half an hour until one person observed, “He’s only one day old.”

And those are the tasteful jokes compared to the sexual references. Personally, I go by the Carl Reiner code. He doesn’t care how dirty a joke is as long it’s really funny. And if you’re in the right room with the right group, you will laugh your ass off every night. Imagine going to the best comedy club in town and they pay you.

The thing is though, writers have to feel uninhibited. And we can’t when there are outsiders in the room. Many times I’ve had friends ask if they could just sit in on a rewrite, and I always politely tell them no. You’d be surprised how fast seven people become self conscious when someone’s cousin is in the corner.

One time on a show, one of the executive producers let one of the cast members come up and sit in on a rewrite. She was just curious and wanted to watch the process. What she saw was eight people who sat for an hour and didn’t say a word. Eventually she left and the rest of us almost killed the exec producer.

The Writers Room is the ultimate Las Vegas. “What happens in the Writers Room stays in the Writers Room.” Obviously, there’s no control when an outsider is in the room. The CIA leaks more secrets than seasoned staff writers.

And all that is not the worst. When I was on a show, one of the executive producers was friends with a highly renown drama writer who was curious as to the process with a sitcom. Could she sit in? Since this was a fellow writer we said okay. An hour into the rewrite she started shooting down ideas. The staff glared at the exec and mouthed “What the fuck?!” We said, “Let’s call it a day” and broke. Once the drama writer left we reconvened and continued the rewrite.

If for some amazing reason you are allowed access into a Writers Room, do not pitch jokes and do not call out things like, “I don’t believe he would do that.” An agent I know came into the room once and started pitching jokes. I thought his client was going to strangle him. Warm-Up guys have been notoriously guilty of this. It's a good way to lose your job. 

John Rich was a legendary TV director – from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW to ALL IN THE FAMILY and hundreds more. One day he’s on the set directing a show for ABC. The ABC president’s son walked on the set. He wanted to observe. John chased him off. The crew couldn’t believe it. Sure enough, an hour later, the president of ABC was on the phone wanting to talk to John. John picked up the phone and before the prez could speak said, “Hey, I was just about to call you. My son is 13 and wants to come to your office and sit across the desk all day and watch you work. That wouldn’t be a problem, right?” The exec got the message, laughed, and told John to have a good runthrough. And no, John Rich was not fired off that show. He directed many more episodes.

But my favorite story involves the writers of THE NEW MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. That was the series done in Orlando that featured, among others – Britney Spears. The Writers Room was on the ground floor and had a big picture window. There were no drapes, no blinds, nothing to cover them. Why? Because they were a stop on the Disney lot tour. Every fifteen minutes another tram would pull up to the window and thirty tourists would gawk at the writers for two minutes. Talk about a buzz kill.

So please don't take it personally if you're not admitted into a Writers Room.  We're just trying to do our job.  And of course the irony is: you can’t get in, but we can’t get out. And 90% of the time we envy you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Should you attend your high school reunion?

A lot of people I know have been invited recently to their various high school reunions. They all wonder whether they should go. And if the hair plugs will look natural in the next two months. It’s a hard question to answer, whether to go. I guess you have to ask yourself – how much do you want to see these people again? There’s always a risk. That cheerleader who snubbed you might not weigh more than a Ram Charger and the prom king may not be homeless. Romy & Michele might actually be doing better than you.

I’ve been to a couple of my reunions (Go Taft!!). The last one I attended was my 25th. Interesting dynamic. The statute of limitations on harboring feelings apparently expires sometime around twenty years. It was okay to admit, after all these years, that you had a crush on someone. If you admitted that to a girl back in the day you left yourself open for a devastating rejection. But now you probably make her night.

The years play tricks on your memory. I encountered one girl who said she so remembers fondly that period we were going out together. Only problem is – we never went out. I asked her but she blew me off. Big time. I have a VERY good memory when it comes to girls who had nothing to do with me.

But this put me in a very odd position. She must have thought she actually did go out with me. Why else would she leave herself open to me saying, “What are you talking about? You treated me like shit!”? So I figured she probably saw my name on TV and told people she knew me in high school. And that evolved into we were friends and eventually we were a couple.

I decided to just be gracious and agree that it was a wonderful time.

Still, as I walked away I thought, there had to be a better more pithy response than that. A few minutes later I had it but of course it was too late.

And then, an hour later, the exact same thing happened with another girl! This time I was ready. I just smiled and nodded when she told her friends what a blast we had together, how funny I always was on our dates. The only time she really laughed was when I asked her out. So I listened patiently and finally I clasped her hands in mine and said, “You know, you were only the second girl I ever slept with.” That jarred her memory. You should have seen the look of puzzlement and horror on her face. Mission accomplished, I kissed her on the cheek, wished her well, and moved on.

Sure you should go to your reunion. Where else are you gonna find moments like that?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Being interrogated by Phoef Sutton

The eclectic Phoef Sutton who writes sitcoms (like CHEERS), hour shows, movies, and novels has added blog to his repertoire.   Welcome to the dark side, Phoef.  Recently he interviewed me and you'll notice not one plug for my book (which everyone who loves television, comedy, and cheap literature should buy). 

Here's that interview if you're interested.  While you're on his site, look around.  Good stuff.  Thanks, Phoef. 

Fiddler on the Roof Medley -- by the Osmond Brothers

This you've GOT to see.  That's all I've got to say.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Questions

Not to get lost in the excitement of the big NFL Pro Bowl Game this Sunday, here are this week’s Friday Questions.

vic-tori-a valdez is first up.

Have there ever been any actors that you specifically kept an eye on for future roles? For example, I recall reading (correct me if I'm wrong) that Ted Danson was remembered by James Burrow after auditioning for a pilot that never made it.

These are the actors who I kept an eye out for and was lucky enough to work actually work with. And in every case, they exceeded expectations even though expectations were super high.

Kurtwood Smith, Lisa Edelstein, James Tolkin. David Ogden Stiers.

From Kathleen Pal Andrade:

What if you're a new writer who wrote a great pilot (with a partner) and the production company you're working with is going to pair you with a showrunner. What does one look for in that meeting?

First of all, congratulations for being in that situation. The main thing to look for is a showrunner who won’t run with your idea and leave you in the dust. How collaborative is he? How arrogant? Do you get the sense he will defer to you and help you realize your vision? Or does he seem like someone who will steal the credit and charge forward, surrounding himself with his own people?

Is his office grandiose, filled with tributes to himself?  That's usually a good clue.  

These days you have the advantage of doing your homework on these potential showrunners. Check out their credits. Google them. Has he been fired off shows? Why? Has he been involved in a lot of arbitrations over credit? Are there blog entries by staffers saying how much they love him? If you Google his name and “mentor” does anything come up?

Ask about his process, his take on the show, how he sees your involvement. And then get it in writing.

I’ve known writers who have been in your situation who have been miserable and others who have blossomed as a result. Do your due diligence. And good luck.

Marie wonders:

This week's "New Girl" revealed that Coach's real name is Ernie, which I took as a nod to "Cheers." What's the best pop-culture homage your work has been on the receiving end of?

The Albuquerque Isotopes, the AAA minor league affiliate for the Los Angeles Dodgers was named after the Springfield Isotopes from the SIMPSONS episode that David and I wrote. We came up with the name of a baseball team. Other than an Emmy, I can’t think of a greater nod.

From Teresa Hutton:

I've been writing spec scripts for a while now but my script outlines feel somewhat amateurish in Microsoft Word.

My question is: Do you think you can share some advice on writing a solid outline or if possible an example of an outline you have written (preferably Cheers because it was one of the all-time greats)?

Last summer I unearthed an old CHEERS outline of ours and posted a few pages. You can find that post here.

YEKIMI queries:

Catching up on some TV show's DVDs and I notice on some that are some two-parters where part one may have director A & part two may have director Z. Why do some shows do this? It seems like you would want to have the continuity of the same director over both least in my opinion.

I assume you means one-hour dramas. Or even single-camera sitcoms. Directors are given several days of preparation for each episode. They can scout locations, plan their shots, coordinate stunts, etc.

But generally there’s no break between shooting the end of one episode and the beginning of the next. So if principle photography of part one ends on Tuesday, part two begins rolling on Wednesday. The director of part one has no time to prep for part two. That’s why two different directors are employed.

One other note: before each episode the director sits down with the showrunner for a “tone meeting.” The showrunner goes through the script scene by scene and explains exactly what he’s looking for. So the director of part two knows exactly what went before and what the showrunner is looking for in part two. So there is hopefully little difference in style, tone, and continuity despite two different directors.

What’s your question? I answer as many as I can. Thanks.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Today I am making a major announcement

I was going to go to the store, but now I’m not.

That is a major announcement. A bombshell.  It's ramifications will ripple throughout the industry.  I expect you all to be talking about it for days. I imagine it will be trending on Twitter. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the top story this evening on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT.

Why am not going to the store? I wrote a shopping list, gave it to a six trusted friends, and one of them somehow leaked it to the public. So I’m not going. Whatever it was that I was going to buy, you won’t have it because I’ve cancelled my trip.

Maybe I’ll just publish the shopping list now that it’s out there. You all can discuss and debate it, but you won’t get the items listed.  Because I'm not going. 

I hope you are all happy. One careless person has now ruined it for all of you. Will I ever go to the store again? Maybe in five years… IF you have all learned your lesson. But for now, despite all your pleading, I’m staying home.

I might go to another store at some point. I don’t know. I’m too depressed right now. You say, “but it’s just a shopping list.” Yes, but it’s MY shopping list and as everyone knows, MY shopping lists are on a level of brilliance others can only dream about. And as an artist (and shopper) I feel violated and betrayed.

So I was going to go to the store, but now I’m not. And it serves you all right!

From Tuesday’s DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD: EXCLUSIVE: Learning today that his script The Hateful Eight leaked after he gave it to a small circle of actors, Quentin Tarantino tells me that he’s so upset that he has decided that he will not direct that film next

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gadget Goes Hawaiian

Thanks to my trusty iPhone I am never without a camera or the GreatBigRadio app.  Yesterday I filed my travelogue.  Thought for today I'd share some of my best and weirdest photos.
The Kahala resort with no Hollywood types in view. 

How many divorced couples have their picture in front of this waterfall?
This is a month when the waves are the highest and most dangerous at the North Shore.   Above is an action shot of some of the brave surfers attempting to defy death. 

Sunrise in Hawaii.  Yes, I was up that early.
This house probably sells for $4,000,000. And the inside isn't as nice.

Who says no man is an island?  SURVIVOR will come here for a season when their budget has been severely cut.
Just your simple amazing coconut dessert at Alan Wong's.
There are beauty shots like this everywhere you look. Notice how beautiful the lounge chairs are stacked.  Only in Hawaii.

My wife's Meth Lab.
You'd be happy too if the Kahala Resort pampered you for 25 years.
Even parking lots are gorgeous. 
The Wicked Witch of the West now has a place on Oahu.
The recent cold snap has hit everywhere.  Here's a delightful scene of kids in Hawaii frolicking in the snow.
He's alive and living on Oahu.  You'd think he'd drive a better car.

One can not go to Hawaii and not pay respect to the "Lord."   Jack Lord's statue in the Kahala Mall parking lot.
If Monet lived in Hawaii...

I'm really proud of this shot.  Notice how the light reflects off several lounge chair covers.

There are famous golfers in this shot.  I don't recognize any of them.  Do you?  Who are these guys?

I never knew how much the Emperor looked like Jerry Stiller.

As the sun sets on another blog post...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Aloha Oy

Like swallows returning to Capistrano or Alex Rodriguez to Biogenesis, my wife Debby and I once again fled to the Kahala Resort on Oahu, Hawaii. This was the first time in ten years, however. We used to go every Christmas back when it was the Kahala Hilton and then Kahala Mandarin Oriental Redundant. Back then we had to fight 800 other guests for the remaining two lounge chairs because Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jeff Wald reserved all the rest. The one great feature the Kahala Whatever-it-is-now has is a dolphin lagoon filled with playful dolphins. And this time we were able to see them. They weren’t assigned to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s bathtub for the week.

The hotel has been renovated since we were there last. One spiffy new feature is a Toto toilet in every room. Instead of using toilet paper (that's so "5th-20th Century"), a jet stream of water is blasted up your ass. It combines the best features of a Water Pik and an enema.

We arrived just in time for the big Sony Open Golf Tournament played at adjacent the golf course. Like it’s not hard enough getting a tee time without a PGA tourney going on. Since the course is on the hotel grounds, I’m sure a lot of guests normally just sneak on and play a few holes. I can imagine a scene where Fuzzy Zoeller is on the 11th fairway and there are two old Jews trying to hit out of a sand trap.

Most of the golfers were staying at our hotel. Many very famous names and faces that I didn’t recognize. It’s a good thing Jeff Katzenberg wasn’t staying at the hotel because they might never get starting times.

Jimmy Walker won the $1,000,800 first prize money, which then allowed him and his wife to have dinner at Hoku, the Kahala’s high-end restaurant.

We lucked out and got upgraded to a spectacular room. (Maybe Bubba Watson didn’t make the cut and left early, I dunno.) Ocean view only one floor above where Jeff Wald used to hold court every year. Little chance bumping into him this trip since rumor has it he has been banned from the facility. I don’t know why, but I do know the locals celebrate this day more than statehood.

I come to the islands every year for the breathtaking beauty, beaches, weather, papayas, culture, dolphins, sunsets, umbrella drinks, recreation, and Joe Moore still anchoring the news on Channel 2. I love his laid back style. Unsaid but understood, every story ends with “whatever.”

Unlike the show HAWAII FIVE-O, there are not murders on every street corner, vicious mobs do not gun each other down during hotel luaus, and everybody doesn’t drive a Camero5 Chevy (their sponsor).  If you watch that show you’d think Hawaii is the land of extreme violence, shameless product placement, and terrible acting. In fact, it is my favorite place on earth. And if HAWAII FIVE-O wanted to really rid the island of evil-doers they’d go after Commercial Developers, not War Lords.

Actual crime: There was a purse snatching in Pearl City. Whatever.

Debby went to Long’s Drugs to buy a $1.19 bottle of nail polish remover and they asked for her ID. Apparently, the nail polish remover contained acetone – an ingredient in Meth. Unfortunately, lab equipment is the only thing you can’t rent at the Kahala.

You know who really could have used the Toto toilet -- Captain Hook.

Great local commercial for King Dental. A guy comes in with a surfboard and says to the receptionist, “I lost my teeth surfing. Can you help me?” She cheerfully says, “Yes, we can do implants!” Actually bringing the surfboard into the office was a nice touch. The acting was still better than HAWAII FIVE-O. As was the writing.

Read in the Honlulu Star-Advertiser that Brittany Wei Lin Lee was crowned the 2014 Narcissus Queen. At first I thought it said “Narcissist Queen,” in which case Mariah Carey would have won. She once requested a chauffeur for her dog, an assistant to hold her drinks, and can only sip fine champagne through a bendy straw.

Had an epic dinner at Alan Wong’s. No wonder the Obamas go there every time in they’re in the neighborhood. Like the prez, I had the eight-course tasting menu. Incredible food and presentation. My favorite dish: the cold poached lobster in green slime, but the snapper in yellow goop was also otherworldly. When was the last time you were in a restaurant where everybody was taking pictures of their food and it wasn’t a crime scene?

Our waiter, Yuki, also waited on the first family a couple of weeks ago. I see a sequel to THE BUTLER with Oprah Winfrey playing Yuki’s Hawaiian wife.

On the other hand, went to Hoku and learned there was a dress requirement. Gentlemen had to wear long pants. At Alan Wong’s (which is a thousand times better) shorts are fine. Hoku did say they would provide pants if the gentleman didn’t have any. Pants are not bowling shoes. You don’t wear other people’s pants. Plus, you figure the sizes all had to be 46-50. I was a guest at the hotel so changing was no problem. But all night, as every guy passed our table I wondered, “Are those his pants?”

Surf was up on the North Shore. 35’ waves. Lifeguards had to issue over 900 warnings to swimmers one day. 900 idiots didn't think waves the size of skyscrapers might signal dangerous conditions for wading out and taking selfies. 

A lot of Hollywood types vacation at the Kahala. The Toto toilets have to be adjusted to blow smoke.

One morning at breakfast -- my wife is reading the New York Times, I’m reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
HER: Let’s rent a kayak.
ME: (reading headline) “Man, 39, dies after his kayak capsizes.”
We rented a pool noodle.

All week I looked around, hoping to spot someone on the beach or at the pool reading my book, MUST KILL TV. I didn’t see even one. Not to state the obvious, but there cold be only one logical explanation: everyone was reading it on their Kindles.

Dolphins usually live about 25 years. One of the Kahala dolphins is 43. Knowing that, I expected to see Nicole Kidman in the lagoon yelping for live fish.

Vog enveloped the island. That’s volcanic smog. It got so bad that on Tuesday we couldn’t see Tahiti from our veranda.

This was the week they decided to fix the potholes on Highway 1 – the main artery -- causing such massive traffic jams people thought they were in Fort Lee.  Captain Cook and his entire expedition were killed and slaughtered for less.

Shark attacks are up in Hawaii. Whatever. So are kayak rentals.

Japanese tourism is very big. At the ABC store there’s a picture of the Emperor (although it could be Jerry Stiller, hard to tell) and a sign that says “We accept yen.” Buy a tube of sunscreen, pay in yen and ask for your change back in dollars. Store clerks just love that.

Great ride to the airport. No potholes! Pleasant flight but then American Airlines took an hour before unloading bags. And they charge extra for that privilege (Doing What They Do Always). Now back home with fond memories and twenty gorgeous photos of soup. And I will say this about the Toto toilet -- it does spoil you. I can no longer go to the bathroom without a water pistol.

More fun fotos tomorrow.  If you enjoy these travelogues, I have a whole book of them.  Don't go to Barcelona or Milwaukee without it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When shows switch networks

Here’s a Friday Question that just became a Holiday Question. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everybody.

Johnny Walker asks:

On the rare occasions that shows are cancelled, but then resurrected on other networks (e.g. Taxi moving from ABC to NBC, Buffy moving from The WB to UPN, etc.) do the cast and crew get to renegotiate their contracts? Or are they still bound by the original contracts?

Usually they are, which brings up a big issue for the production company. When a show switches networks, often times the new network won’t give as great a license fee as the previous network. They know they have the studio over a barrel. So the studio, bound by contracts, might have to pony up more of their money to keep the show afloat. But the studio benefits by the additional number of episodes, especially if it is close to reaching a hundred – the magic number for syndication. So it might be worth it for the studio to pay more for the production of twenty-two episodes to complete a package of a hundred that they could sell into syndication.

On the other hand, there have been instances where another network is interested, but because of the reduced license fee, the studio decides its not fiscally feasible. I don’t know the details but HAPPY ENDINGS garnered interest in other places after ABC cancelled it but no deal was able to be reached.

What I don’t know is this: there may be some language in contracts that says if the show switches networks the production company has the option of voiding it. This could be important because the new network might only agree to pick up the show if there are some changes made.

An example would be THE TONY RANDALL SHOW that aired the first year on ABC (1976 I believe). ABC would only give an order of 13 for season two, but CBS offered 22 so they jumped. But CBS wanted a cast change, and so Devon Scott was replaced by Penny Peyser. I don’t know whether MTM (the production company) had an option on Scott or had to pay her.

If you’ve ever seen a studio contract – for anything -- it could be a standard writer’s contract for one episode – it’s long and way complicated. Good entertainment attorneys will routinely black out tons of passages and add a plethora of riders. So an actor’s contract must be incredibly complicated.

I personally am all for the trend of shows switching networks. How many good shows were cancelled too soon? How many were dumped into bad time slots where they had no chance to succeed? When another network picks up an existing show it gets the benefit of a built-in audience (albeit small otherwise it wouldn’t have been cancelled in the first place). And different networks have different expectations. A 1 share on CBS is a bomb while a 1 share on TV LAND is a hit. I guess what I’m saying is… BIG WAVE DAVE’S is still available!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

You football fans know about this thing called television, right?

Today is the NFC and AFC Championship Games. I must say I’m very disappointed this year. Not by which teams are competing – both games feature a great match-up – but by the fact that neither game will be played in a blizzard or monsoon. What the fuck? In Seattle game time temperature should be around 50. That’s summer weather up there. Sure there may be rain, but who in Seattle will even notice?

And the situation in Denver is even worse. It may hit 60 degrees. Will there at least be heavy winds? No. Light winds are predicted. Why even bother to play in Denver in January?

Let’s face it – football is best played in hellish arctic conditions. The more important the game; the worse should be the weather. If ever there was an argument FOR Global Warning it would be the NFL Playoffs.

Yep, there’s nothing more fun than watching an ice bowl or snowstorm… on television. Sitting in your nice warm living room, beer and snacks at your fingertips, a fire roaring, the bathroom only feet away, and the game in high def on a giant flatscreen. The yellow line, replays, close ups, field reporters, coverage from every angle – that’s football.

What’s that you say? GOING to a game? Actually being a part of it? Being on hand to witness possible greatness?

Are you fucking nut?

It’s on TELEVISION.  You football fans know that, right?   You can see it free. From your house. In living color. Better and closer and… drier. It’s a beautiful thing, this television. You don’t get frostbite. You’re not stuck in massive traffic jams with 50,000 other people who have been drinking heavily for five hours. You don’t get pneumonia, you don’t get trench foot, you don’t get hypothermia. The worst you can say is that you’re subjected to promos for DADS, but otherwise television is a pretty spectacular option.

So I’ll be watching today, but it won’t be as much fun. Mother Nature can be really cruel when she wants to be.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Interviewing for writing jobs

Here’s a Saturday question. It’s like a Friday question except the question itself is longer than the answer. As always, when I can't find an appropriate picture I feature Natalie Wood.

From Josh:

I'm writing to you because I've started to take some showrunner meetings/interviews for TV comedies and I find them perplexing. In the past, when you've given a young writer or writing team their first gig, what did you feel constituted a successful meeting? Do the ideas they have about the show matter? Is there any way to compensate for being totally green?

I guess I'm wondering what's expected of me in these meetings. They've read my scripts...liked them. I've met with the studio...the network. That's all fine, but I don't feel comfortable yet with the executive producers. Maybe there's an intimidation factor.

It’s much tougher for showrunners these days because generally they’re interviewing the newbie writer for a staff position. Back in the old days when dinosaurs ruled the earth (the 1980s and 90s) you could give a baby writer a freelance assignment and use that to determine whether they’re worthy of joining your staff. Now, the decision is based on a decent spec SCRUBS and interview.

Try not to be intimidated. Showrunners are just like regular people but luckier and more neurotic.

The first thing I look for is this: is this writer fucking strange? Does he creep me out? Does he have an Olsen Twins obsession? Does she dress like Lady Gaga?

Grooming is important. Remember, you’re going to spend a million hours locked in a room with this person. Has their hair been washed since New Year’s?

And then I just try to get a feel for who they are. Obviously, they’re a little nervous. Anything I can do to put them at ease helps us both. They’re less likely to have a stroke and I get a better idea of their real personality.

Just be yourself. Don’t try to dazzle by coming on like Mel Brooks on Red Bull. Be prepared. Know as much as you can about the show and the showrunner. Is he a huge Lakers fan? Maybe you talk a little hoops. If you were meeting with me you might slip into the conversation that you love Natalie Wood.

Be enthusiastic but not Richard Simmons. The showrunner will probably ask if you have any questions. Don’t ask about money. Don’t ask how late they usually work. Don’t ask what snacks they have. Ask thoughtful questions about the show, where it’s going, what their process is. And like I said, be yourself as best you can.

It’s an inexact science. You don’t know what to answer and they don’t know what to ask. Best of luck.

Oh… and show up on time.