Thursday, December 31, 2015

Checking New Years Resolutions

We all make New Year’s Resolutions. But do we ever look back and see how many we kept? Here’s a look at mine from this January 1. How’d you do on yours?

Host movies on TCM – I did that in January.

Finally watch THE WIRE – No, but I did finally watch BREAKING BAD.

Get ALMOST PERFECT on Netflix or Hulu – No, and I tried. Tracked down the person who could make that happen and was told there’s no interest. The fight continues.

Go to the gym at least twice a week. (My gym is usually packed in January and by March it’s me and two other guys.) -- Did that and continue to.

Stay off the 405 freeway when it’s crowded (so only take it between 2-4 AM) – For the most part I did that. I’ll wave to you from Beverly Glen.

Visit my friend in Walla Walla – No, but he moved to Portland. So actually I have less of an excuse.

Get more productions of A OR B? -- Done. It’ll be produced at the Village Theatre in Hatboro, Penn the first three weekends in April.

Meet Claire Danes – Unfortunately, no. Of course I wasn’t in Berlin or Jordan or wherever the hell she was this year.

Learn to do an accent in my improv class -- Nyet.

Direct more episodes that my daughter and her partner write – Did that.

See a Broadway show I wish I had written – Yeah, I saw KING AND I.  I actually wish I wrote the music.

Go somewhere in the world I've never been – China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Pala, California.

Recover from the jet lag – I still need another month.

Watch and listen to as much Vin Scully as I possibly can – That I did and will do even more this year, savoring every precious moment.

Finish writing my new play – Did that. First reading next month.

Learn what half the features on my car are – Yes, but I still don’t know how to put it into reverse.

Not piss off the North Koreans – I stayed away from the DMZ during my visit so yes.

Continue to support the WGA’s Foundation – Yep.

Give DOWNTON ABBEY one final chance – Nope.

Champion strict gun control – Yes, not that it helped. The madness continues.

Get a humor piece in the NEW YORKER – Nope, but I didn’t submit anything.

Get a cartoon in the NEW YORKER – Nope, but I didn’t submit anything. Still I blame them.

Avoid the incredibly tasty fried chicken wings at the Hamburger Hamlet (now that it has reopened) – No, I fell off the wagon.

Keep Tetris playing down to three hours a day – It’s down to four so I’m making progress.

Answer more Friday Questions (which I'll be able to do if I keep the previous resolution) – I sprinkled in some extra days and will do more of that this year. So keep those FQ’s coming in.

Clean my desk (a perennial resolution but this year for sure!) – Sort of. I found a sandwich from 2006.

And finally, solve the Natalie Wood case – Not yet but RJ, I’m on to you.

Happy New Year's.  Drive safely tonight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New York's latest outrageous rip off. For everyone who's ever been robbed in Times Square

No one takes advantage of people like New York. I was there one 4th of July and went into the city to see the fireworks show. I noticed that parking lots that normally charge $20 charged $100. That’s neighborly.

And this New Years Eve the money grubbers are at it again. Some of the crappy chain restaurants in Times Square are hiking up prices ridiculously to take advantage of the crowds. The Olive Garden – is there a more mediocre Italian restaurant than the fucking Olive Garden? – is charging $400 for dinner tomorrow night.  That's right.  And that doesn't include the Goddamn breadsticks. Yeah, the Olive Garden is “family” – the Corleone family.

Oh, and to see the ball drop from the Olive Garden, you get an obstructed view.  What do you want for only $400?

Meanwhile, the fine folks at Bubba Gump Shrimp (fine dining at amusement parks and boardwalk piers) wants $800 a person. This brings new meaning to the word chutzpah. Even Forrest Gump is not stupid enough to pay $800 for frozen shrimp drenched in ketchup.

Do you have a Ruby Tuesday’s in your town? They’re Applebee-wannabes. They’re where you go when Bennigan’s is shut down by health inspectors. I don’t think the phrase, “Hey, let’s go to Ruby Tuesday’s” has ever been uttered unless it follows, “Everything is closed, where do we go?” Ruby Tuesday’s in Times Square wants a paltry $350 tomorrow night. But wait. You’ll have to sit for this one. Ruby Tuesday’s, right? Wilted salad bars and fish sticks? You can reserve a spot at the “Couples’ VIP Table” for $1699. This is like the Menendez Brothers killing their parents and asking the court for leniency because they’re orphans.


You could go to the Counter for $450. But that doesn’t include hamburgers. The Counter IS a hamburger joint. The $450 entitles you to mini-burgers and fries. Jon Favreau is a part-owner I understand. If so, shame on you Jon.

The “Couples VIP” deal at Buca di Beppo (which is the Italian equivalent of the Hungry Heifer) wants $500 but does include all the Franco-American-quality pasta you can stand.

This is of course completely OUTRAGEOUS. The French Revolution was started for less. For those prices, Donald Trump should stop by every table and thank his supporters. I wonder how many of these customers will spend an extra $20,000 and buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s as if Bernie Madoff recorded a cover of “New York State of Mind.”

I’m just glad Dick Clark doesn’t have to see this.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


This is sort of movie review week since so many people are seeing movies this week.   Today: THE HATEFUL EIGHT.  This will be the only review of a Quentin Tarantino film that ever begins with a Neil Simon reference.

After Simon’s first few plays all were smash hits he wrote THE STAR SPANGLED GIRL. It closed in eight months. Walter Kerr, the NY Times critic wrote this about the show: "Neil Simon, your friendly neighborhood gagman, hasn't had an idea for a play this season, but he's gone ahead and written one anyway."

That’s how I felt about THE HATEFUL EIGHT. And I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino (as a filmmaker, not a social commentator). His latest effort had all the signature Tarantino touches – the florid, sometimes hilarious dialogue, over-the-top violence, Samuel L. Jackson, beauty shots, gore, non-linear sequencing, his reliable psycho players, and tense moments, but in the end the story gun was filled with blanks.  It all amounts to a big nothing. 

And it takes almost three hours to tell this shaggy (mangy) dog story. Do directors ever cut anything anymore? This isn’t LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. This is eight galdarned polecats mind-fucking with each other in a claustrophobic Western. An hour-and-a-half would be plenty. This would be a much better movie if it were THE HATEFUL FIVE. We get it!

I kept thinking while watching – the screenplay of THIS leaking out to the world is what drove Tarantino to near madness? THIS was the masterpiece he threatened to abort? I just wish whoever got a hold of it had made some trims.

As always though, the cast was fun. Sam Jackson, wearing his DJANGO make up, delivers Quentin-speak to perfection. Jennifer Jason-Leigh is another one of those actors who can play anything. And Walton Goggins was Boyd Crowder again, so no complaints there. Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Michael Masden – you know what you’re going to get with those sidewinders.

This was a much talkier movie than usual from Mr. T. To tell the truth, it might work better as a play if you could figure how to blow peoples’ heads off in a live theater.

If you’re a casual Tarantino fan this has NETFLIX written all over it. If you’re a major Tarantino fan or gonzo cinebuff I’m curious as to whether you felt he delivered the goods on this one.

For the next one, my recommendation: Concentrate more on making a good movie rather than a cool movie.

Neil Simon followed up THE STAR SPANGLED GIRL with PLAZA SUITE.

PROGRAMMING NOTE:  GREAT BIG RADIO is doing a week-long salute to the music and events of 1976.  Check 'em out here or on iTunes.  At 5:00 PST/8:00 EST I will be on with Howard Hoffman introducing an aircheck of me as Beaver Cleaver on B100 San Diego, recorded in 1976.   You'll see why I was always fired and am no longer in radio.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

STARS WARS -- my review

Okay, by now everyone who’s been dying to see the new STAR WARS has seen it (twice). No SPOILER ALERTS necessary. I won’t divulge any surprises. Hell, I’m still confused over several plot points – little things like “Where the hell are they now?” and “Who’s that person?”

But overall I really enjoyed the film. To me it felt more like a reboot. It’s the original STAR WARS but with way better dialogue and vastly improved special effects.  All that's missing is the bikini.

I must admit I’m not a STAR WARS freak. I did love the very first one, and saw it in preview so I had no expectations. I had no idea what I was about to see. And it really rocked my world. The next two were… good. And then either they all got worse or I just didn’t give a shit anymore. I recall seeing one later one in IMAX and being bored to death. I passed on the last two or four; I don’t know which. It was all just a blur of explosions, Natalie Portman, and Muppets.

So J.J. Abrams had a tough assignment. Could he satisfy the hardcore fans and re-energize an almost 40 year-franchise? The answer is a resounding YES. He did it by going back to what made those original films great. True, that often meant recreating scenes they’ve already done, but I think the audience was just relieved to see “Star Wars” again and not Jar Jar Binks.

They were also ecstatic to see the original cast. Abrams did this with his STAR TREK reboot as well. Bring in familiar Vulcans like Leonard Nimoy to help pass the torch. So too with STAR WARS. Loved seeing Harrison Ford and Chewbacca (who’s aged well, by the way). And Carrie Fisher (who’s been through more shit than Princess Leia.). Mark Hamill appears and gets second billing. (May the force of good representation be with you.)

But the real standouts were newcomers Daisy Ridley and the droid. These were breakout roles for both. I’m sure when Spielberg watched the film he said, “Damn, that droid would have been great in LINCOLN as Thaddeus Stevens.”

The other highlight was John Williams’ iconic score. And to Abrams credit, he was not afraid to lean heavily on it, reprising familiar riffs at key times. As opposed to Guy Ritchie who went out of his way to change and destroy THE MAN FROM UNCLE, Abrams embraced what was thrilling about the STAR WARS franchise. That stirring music blaring during an eye-popping galactic dogfight made the theater shake. Well done, sir.

From what I understand, STAR WARS fanatics are satisfied, which can be a taller order than saving the universe. And for us casual fans, it was a fun rollicking two-hour thrill ride. Is it the movie of the year? It had the largest opening in history and continues to set boxoffice records. More people will see it than all the other Best Picture nominees combined times ten.

So no.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

My "Sam Kinison" period

Here's another tale of my checkered radio career. Back in 1974 I was a screaming disc jockey (literally) at WDRQ, Detroit. My tenure was short-lived but memorable.

At the time I had been out of work as a disc jockey for about six months. No one wanted a high energy, “youthful”-voiced, wise-ass-bordering-on-insane platter spinner (or, to be more accurate – music cartridge inserter). The program director of KYNO in Fresno kept me dangling for months for an all-night gig and eventually gave it to someone else. Needless to say, I was depressed. I mean, when they don’t think you’re good enough to talk to empty fields at 3 AM you tend to believe you don’t have a rosy future in this profession.

I had even gotten a different job – working in the research department of NBC. But preparing test results for Bob Crane pilots didn’t seem like the best way to fill five or six decades either.

And then, out of the blue, I get a call from the new program director of WDRQ. How would I like to come to Detroit and do 6-10 in the evening? This was unbelievable. I wasn’t qualified for all-nights in market #110 but was good enough to do a primo slot in market #5 or 6? The money was probably less than I’d get in Fresno but that was besides the point. I was heading to a major market!

The program director picked me up at the airport and drove me right to the station. It was snowing. This was mid-April. He wanted me to do a break-in show in the middle of the night – get used to the equipment and format so when I premiered at 6 PM I knew what I was doing.

I said, “Fine” without stopping to think – when am I going to sleep? I didn’t want to be rude and say, “I really should check into a motel instead of drinking beer and smoking more joints with you” so I just sucked it up. And then at midnight he drove me to the station, wished me luck, and drove off.  I went on the air – half-smashed, no preparation, and having already been up for close to 24 hours. It was my best show. 

“Oh, by the way”, I told him after we were both seeing mermaids at the IHOP, “I want to use the name Beaver Cleaver on the air.” He was so wasted he didn’t even ask me why. The answer to that is I wanted a name that stood out, was easy to say, and let’s be honest, was dirty.

I got off the air at 6 AM, met the morning man – a surely bitter fellow with a great voice and nothing else. The fact that I was funny, he hated me instantly. The program director arrived, said he was thrilled with how I sounded, and took me to breakfast at the IHOP, where it turns out, those mermaids were just the cleaning crew.

So after a good late morning sleep, the Beaver Cleaver show premiered on WDRQ at 6 that night. Got a call from the PD that I sounded great.

Things were going well and would remain that way… for another eight hours. The program director called me into his office. Apparently there was a problem. The station’s “consultant” had heard me and felt I needed a slight adjustment in my act. He wanted me to scream more. By more he meant every time I opened my mouth. The evening jock should sound super high energy and the way to achieve that (according to this moron) was to have the disc jockey scream. And I had no choice. Either scream or be fired after one day.

So I did and I sounded like a complete idiot. Imagine Sam Kinison introducing Carpenters records. I generally went through a spritz bottle of Chloraseptic every show. No one will ever hear tapes of me on WDRQ, and if you have one I’m going to have to kill you.

I frantically sent out audition tapes, and a few months later was offered a job at KYA, San Francisco. The WDRQ program director thought I was crazy taking that job. If I stuck it out in Detroit for a year I could get to Boston. A year? I’d sound like Kenny Rodgers by then. Plus, what’s wrong with San Francisco?

About a month later I received a letter from the program director. He had forwarded a petition some high school circulated to try to get me back on WDRQ. I still have it of course. It’s my most cherished keepsake from my radio days.

My first time back in Detroit since those days was when I was broadcasting for the Orioles in 1991. I rented a car and thought I’d tool around the old haunts. The neighborhood where WDRQ was located in my day was an absolute war zone. Not that it was ever Park Ave. to begin with, but now the street was littered with graffiti, squalor, and the folks screaming were not introducing Motown records. I haven’t been back since. Although, I must admit, I’m a little curious. Today it’s probably gentrified and gorgeous and all the apartments have been refurbished – now with hardwood floors and the meth labs removed – and it’s the happening place to live in Detroit. Or it’s been razed to the ground.  Either way, there should be a plaque -- to WDRQ, or, as I used to call it on the air -- W-Dreck.

This is a re-post from four and a half years ago.

Friday, December 25, 2015


It’s warmer in New York this Christmas than LA.

I miss Darlene Love singing her Christmas song on LETTERMAN.

Letterman now looks like Santa Claus.

Subway is still open if you’re hungry.

Remember when the Lakers playing on Christmas was a big deal?

Please don’t dress up your pets like Santa or elves and post them on Facebook.

“Don’t shoot your eye out.”

You just don’t get the same great store windows with Amazon.

Live Nativity Scenes give me the creeps.

My bold prediction: STAR WARS tops the boxoffice this weekend.

Today is a really good day to fly.

What’s the worst gift you got today?

Ham retains water. I’m just sayin’.

You realize most of the classic Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers?

My favorite Scrooge is McDuck.

“Say the magic word, say Mission Pack
And it's on its merry way
No gift so bright, so gay, so right
Send a Mission Pack magic way”

Merry Christmas Darling

Here's my all-time favorite Christmas Song.  Sung by the Carpenters.   (I wish you were with us too, Karen.)      

Friday Questions resume after the holidays. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

By request: Charlie Brown meets MAD MEN

Got a request for a re-post.  Lots of people have requested it, actually.   So in the spirit of the season...

On Monday Andrew asked:

One of my favorite posts of yours is the one on "A Charlie Brown Christmas." First of all, I get the impression that you're not a Christian and don't expect to become one :-). So to read your insights into what made it stand out to you was a real treat.

But the best thing about the post was how everything that made that show wonderful and special - the music, the animation, the children's voices, Linus reading scripture - was opposed by the higher-ups. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and not just related to TV.

So my request: Please repost that post! It will be a delightful Christmas gift to your readers, especially those who've never read it before. 

A holiday tradition is A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and we pretty much have a Mad Man to thank for it. John Allen was a Don Draper at McCann-Erickson in the mid '60s. On behalf of Coca-Cola he was lobbying for Charlie Brown. It would be the first animated adaptation of Charles M. Schultz’s classic PEANUTS comic strip. But Allen had to really twist arms because in typical fashion, CBS hated it.

They thought the animation was awful, the story too thin and depressing, the jazz score inappropriate for kids, and of course wanted a laugh-track. I'm surprised they didn't require a laugh-track on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

And CBS was especially opposed to Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Bible. What the hell is that doing in a Christmas Special?

Oh, and they didn’t like that children were doing the voices of the…uh, children. In other words, all the things that made it distinctive; all the things that made it great. One high-ranking CBS program executive/visionary said it was a “piece of shit”.

And CBS had a lot riding on this. It was going to pre-empt THE MUNSTERS and follow GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The quality had to be top notch to join that pantheon of excellence.

But John Allen pushed and pushed and finally persuaded the reluctant program chief to air the special. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS premiered 48 years ago this month.

And got a 50 share.

It won an Emmy and a Peabody and became an instant holiday classic. I guess children doing the voices of children did not result in a viewer revolt.

CBS began running the special every year (taking credit for it of course). And it achieved the almost unheard of feat of getting higher ratings year after year. By 1969 it was scoring a 53 share.

CBS continued to air the special until 2000. ABC then took over. and has aired it ever since.  They'll show it again tomorrow night at 8:00/7:00 Central. 


And thanks to John Allen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas show that ignores Christmas

It's always a bitch to write the obligatory Christmas episodes. They're just variations on the same four themes. So for ALMOST PERFECT we did a Christmas episode that ignored the holiday. There are Christmas decorations everywhere but they have nothing really to do with the story. Here, for the first time, is that episode. Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hawaiian aisles

Maui has been voted the “Best Island in the World” by Conde Nast Travelers Magazine, thus beating out Tahiti, Elba, and Shutter.

So once again Debby and I set out for three weeks in paradise. As is now our tradition, we stayed at the E-Coli Condos in Wailea, joined at times by my son and daughter-in-law (Matt & Kim) and daughter and future son-in-law (Annie & Jon). The weather was gorgeous, the sunsets breathtaking; no “vog”, no rain, and Roseanne was an island away.

Just like Captain Cook, our first stop was to Costco’s. Prices on the islands are ridiculously high. Is it any wonder that the biggest grossing Costco in the world is in Hawaii? Costco is the only reason locals are not trying to secede from the Union.

Shark attacks aren’t enough? Spotted at a beach, a sign that read: WARNING! SHEEP DROP -- PROCEED WITH CAUTION. And now with cloning the threat is so much worse!

Matt & Kim picked up their car at the Maui airport, punched our Maui address in the Hertz NEVER LOST and was told it doesn’t calculate between islands.

I gave a dollar to Santa Claus. It turned out to be Mick Fleetwood.

It’s against the law in Maui to dance and drink at the same time. Not sure the punishment. Maybe a fine and they take away your shoes.

Spent a couple of days at the Grand Wailea Resort. Picture: Disney World without churros. A lot of Nashville songwriters were also on hand. The Grand Ole Opry Wailea.  And as these tunesmiths checked in they were serenaded by this Hawaiian ditty: “My old man is a good old man/ He washes his face in a frying pan.” Game on, Nashville!

Sunrise at the top of the Haleakala Crater is spectacular. Every day hundreds of tourists drive ninety minutes up treacherous winding roads in the dark and brave freezing temperatures to take selfies.

Overheard at Haleakala: She: “ Don’t look directly into the sun.” He: “Then what the fuck are we doing here?”

Overheard at the Grand Wailea pool: Mommy asks her four-year old “Where’s Daddy?” and the tyke says, “Daddy’s at the bar. And Daddy says he’s not coming home until five in the morning.”

Did not rappel down any waterfalls this trip. Why do stuff I do at home?

It is worth the trip to Maui just for sushi at Sansei. And I say that to residents of Japan.

Note to lounge singers at the Four Seasons: You are not Adele. At best you are Jewel.

Every day was more stunningly beautiful than the next. I could live on Maui if they had a major league baseball team. Hey, how about the Hana Rays? Yes, to get to Hana you have to drive on a 52-mile two-lane road with 617 hairpin curves, 56 bridges, and flash flooding could cause closures at any time. But the Rays would still draw way better than they do in Tampa Bay.

There are no strip clubs allowed on Maui. But topless beaches are okay. So the law essentially eliminates tipping. There is also a wine bar that once a week offers “naked stand up comedy.”

Took long walks everyday along the beach (wearing hardhats to avoid falling sheep). Saw some whales so no need to see Ron Howard’s latest movie. At least we had an excuse.

Naked stand up comedy? Seriously? In a state where Spam is consumed in large quantities?

In Los Angeles, health inspectors rate restaurants with letter grades -- A, B, or C(anters). In Maui, where there are maybe 50,000 different geckos, water bugs, and exotic insects, it’s just PASS/FAIL. Who needs to rappel or do a monologue in the nude for thrills when 90% of the local eateries serve pork and raw fish?

Once you get Upcountry you start seeing some bizarre looking folks. It’s like tropical Kentucky.

In the spirit of aloha, the Shops at Wailea now charge for parking. Store sales have plummeted over 40%. Merchants picketed their own mall.

There are maybe six radio stations on Maui. A typical one plays 57 minutes of commercials an hour and a John Mellencamp record.

One of those commercials was for a gun shop inviting you to stock up for shooting deer, pigs, and home invaders.

Reading material: an extensive biography of Frank Sinatra. On every page he’s having someone roughed up, lying to a Grand Jury, or sleeping with his dying best friend’s wife. Meanwhile, Debby was racked with guilt because we parked at a golf course and went to the beach.

It’s always fun to study the local culture. My wife and kids attended a latka-making demonstration at the Four Seasons.

How perfect for a strip mall – a store called “Panties in Paradise.”

Inter-island flights are as high as $129 one-way. Flights take ten minutes. And there are no shuttle boats between islands. Kama’ainas (Hawaiian residents) are screwed. You either fly or ride whales.

I’m missing William Shatner! He’ll be performing his one-man show on the 30th. Wouldn’t it be great if he couldn’t get a hotel room?

Best fish tacos you’ll ever eat are at Coconuts. Two island locations: Maui and Dallas.

And here’s how amazing Mama’s Fish House is: Oprah AND Helen Hunt have eaten there.

Lahaina is a quaint 19th Century whaling village. Many sailing ships would anchor at its waterfront and sailors would stroll Front Street to enjoy its many art galleries and Crazy T-Shirt emporiums. The missus and I spent a day there soaking in the heritage and buying a pound of “Bad Ass Coffee.”

Happily, no one was brained by falling sheep or flattened by raw fish, although Annie was almost run over by a postal truck. As always, a fabulous trip. And when it was over I could still get into my pants!

Flew back on American Airlines’ new Airbus A321. Since Maui’s airport has a shorter runway, for the proper weight distribution, no passengers were allowed to sit in rows 8-11. That’s comforting. So if Tori Spelling sits in row 9 the plane can’t get off the ground? But the good side of the Airbus A321 is that it sounds like a leaf blower taking off and upon landing everything rattles. These may be sleek new planes but to me they’re flying Chevy Corvairs. Hopefully their navigation system wasn’t Hertz NEVER LOST.

But allow me to end on a soothing note and cling to the few remaining drops of “Aloha” I still have left after American Airlines and LAX. Happiest of holidays, and as they say on the islands while browsing Costco: “He kanapapiki mahalo 'ole keia mea inu Merlot ia'u” – This Merlot is an ungrateful bitch.

Monday, December 21, 2015

MIKE & MOLLY -- the ugly stepchild

Fans of MIKE & MOLLY are understandably upset. Apparently CBS has cancelled the show and reduced the number of episodes ordered for its final season. Both are curious moves considering the show is not even on the air at the moment. It’s not like the ratings are abysmal.

But this is not an uncommon practice. There are some shows that networks just don't believe in, just don’t love. And they are forever treated like the ugly stepchild. The only reason they last as long as they do is because, despite the networks’ lack of support, they DO get decent ratings. Damn them for making things confusing!

MIKE & MOLLY has performed reasonably well wherever CBS has put it. And its star, Melissa McCarthy has become a legitimate movie star. You would think for that reason alone CBS would be thrilled. They’ve captured lightening in a bottle.  And yet, in fairness, it’s not like McCarthy’s rise to stardom has kicked MIKE & MOLLY to a new level of popularity. It hasn’t. Neither did THE OFFICE’S ratings suddenly skyrocket when Steve Carell got hot in films.

A big consideration is economics, especially in MIKE & MOLLY’S case. Everyone initially signs a six-year deal. The six years will be up this season. This is when having a movie star as your lead becomes not such a good thing. License fees (how much the network will pay for each episode) are usually determined in advance and then putting together your cast and production crew is like an NBA franchise building a team under the salary cap. Sometimes the costs are just too prohibitive.

And still another factor – MIKE & MOLLY is not owned by CBS. It’s a Warner Brothers show. CBS has nothing to gain longterm by MIKE & MOLLY’S success. So it’s now the ugly stepchild with a foot missing.

I’ve been through this personally having worked on BECKER for the length of its run. For whatever reason, CBS never got behind the show. I don’t know why. It was better than 90% of everything else it had on, featured a major TV star in Ted Danson, always stayed within budget, and got solid ratings in every cannon fodder shit timeslot they dumped it in. Made no difference. Being a Paramount show not a CBS Productions show didn’t help, but BECKER deserved “some” love. CBS would eventually use it as a utility player to fill in the holes whenever their more glossy series tanked. And it always performed. So the thanks it got was being picked up and held back. Sound familiar? RULES OF ENGAGEMENT got the same treatment.

BECKER was picked up for its final season with an order of thirteen and told that would be it. When those thirteen finally aired, long after we had wrapped and everyone was scattered to the wind, the series ended with ratings CBS would KILL for today.

Here’s how little they thought of the show. For our 100th episode, usually a big deal – we were pre-empted.

So MIKE & MOLLY fans, enjoy your remaining episodes. Sorry the show was cancelled. Just know it wasn’t your fault.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Words we use that now make no sense

As a writer I’m always fascinated by slang and common expressions. Dialogue sounds so much more real and colorful when you’re able to tap into the way people really talk. New words enter the popular lexicon all the time. Ten years ago was anyone “texting” much less “sexting”? Or even “tweeting”. Today we have “smart phones”, “flat screens”, “man caves”, “vetting”, “blogs”, and if I’ve missed a few then “my bad”.

Words become over used. Can a waiter or waitress take an order today without saying “Perfect!” twenty times?

“I’ll have an ice tea.” “Perfect!” “Really? ‘Cause it’s not like I’m selecting just the right wine with this entry. It’s fucking ice tea!” “Perfect! Be right up.”

There are probably a dozen other examples but…whatever.

And then there are expressions that have taken on new meanings. “Sampling” used to mean trying a variety of selections. Today in the music world it means stealing someone else's work and justifying it as an homage. You used to be able to say, “I hooked up with my sister the other day” without being accused of incest.

But my focus today is on words and expressions we use in everyday speech that have since outlived their meaning but we still use anyway. Here are a few examples.

“The tube” – a popular synonym for a television. Once upon a time there were tubes in a TV set. No longer. I guess you could call it “the chip” but I don’t see that catching on.

People order additional phone “lines”. In this cellphone world there are no “lines”, everything is wireless.

“Don’t touch that dial”. You’ll hear announcers still say that. At one time you did have a big dial on your radio or TV, which you twisted to change stations. When was the last time you saw one of those that wasn’t in the Smithsonian right next to Abe Lincoln’s log cabin?

Good photo opportunities are still referred to as “Kodak Moments”. Kodak made film for a thousand years. Today we have “Digital Nanoseconds”.

We used to correspond with certain friends in distant locales by getting out the old Bic and writing letters. Today we email, text, or IM but still refer to them as “Pen Pals”.

Recording artists are still coming out with new “records”. That’s what they were in the old days – vinyl platters. You could even argue that CD’s are just an updated technological version. But now music is released on line (again, is there really a “line”?).

So what are other examples? It’s kind of interesting isn’t it, to stop and think once in a while about just what the hell we’re saying?

This is a re-post from four years ago.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My favorite cheesy TV Christmas special

Here's a holiday excerpt from the book I wrote about growing up in the 60s (that would make a GREAT holiday gift).   Order it here. 

I still can’t fathom why anyone watched the ANDY WILLIAMS variety show on NBC if they didn’t own a color TV. It was so wholesome your teeth ached. Whatever “edge” the show had was provided by the Osmond Family. But it was in color and production numbers always featured grinning All-American yahoos in brightly colored sweaters holding brightly colored balloons. Not having a color TV and not being gay I never watched THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW… except…

During their Christmas special.

It was the one time of year Andy had his beautiful family on the show and this became a 60s American tradition. Mom and dad and the Williams kinder would sing Carols, exchange presents, and their message of love and holiday good cheer would absolutely entrance you. That’s not why I watched it, of course. I wanted to screw Andy’s wife.

Claudine Longet (Mrs. Williams) was a willowy brunette with exquisite doe eyes and luscious lips. Laura Petrie but French. She was also a successful recording artist but believe me, if she looked like Charles De Gaulle she couldn’t give away one record. But I found her incredibly sexy, even when she was singing Silent Night in front of a crucifix. She and Andy would divorce in the 70s and two years later she shot her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich to death. I still wanted to screw her, but not as much.

So as enjoyable as those holiday shows were in the mid 60s, watching them now on PBS they take on a whole new level of absurdity. Two of their kids are named Noelle and Christian. How much more seriously can you take Christmas? And yet, twelve years later, there’s mom in a different winter wonderland with a loaded revolver. She was ultimately convicted on a lesser charge and married her defense attorney.

I’ll be on parole for Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Questions

Friday Questions – a holiday tradition.

Kyle Burress starts us off:

I stumbled across this blog looking for information on some of the minor characters on 'Cheers' ie Tim, Alan, Steve, Hugh just to name a few.

I was curious as to how and why some characters such as Paul Vaughn from seasons 1-2 or others such as Hugh Maguire, Larry Harpel, Mark Arnott, or Jack Knight only appeared in a season or two but had several appearances throughout those seasons suddenly just disappeared. Was it a case of local talent just getting their shot? Then you have others like Alan Koss, Tim Cunningham, Steve Giannelli and Pete Schreiner that appear in multiple seasons and a couple throughout the entire course of the series. I know they were all minor characters but why were some featured for a majority of the series and some for only a season or two?

The barflies were usually paid as extras unless they had a line of dialogue. Extras don’t make much money. And even a line or two a few times a season is not enough bonus loot to support a family. To my knowledge these people moved on to better paying jobs or careers.

Ironically, several of them wrote spec episodes of CHEERS and invariably their character would be the star of the episode.

A few of the extras caught on and started receiving more and more lines – like Al Rosen (“Man Who Said Sinatra”), Tom Babson (Cliff was always giving him shit about going to law school), and Phil Perlman (Rhea and Heide’s dad). In later years we used Paul Willson as a recurring character, but that was different. Paul was hired as an actor, not a background player.

MW makes his FQ debut:

I hadn't seen the first year of Cheers since the first year of Cheers, but recently Netflixed through it. What was amazing beyond the fact that the characters and humor were perfect with the very first episode, is that the show hasn't aged. Aside from hair styles, the size of the bar phone and a few baseball references, it's as absolutely fresh today as it was then. The jokes and characters still land today as they did then. So many shows, even truly great comedies, show their age, but Cheers doesn't. Since you were involved with the show pretty much from the beginning, how did you work to make it timeless. Was that a concern of the creators or was that just an outcome of the way you all worked?

You can see why I used his question – so many compliments. Thank you, MW. The short answer is we made the problems universal. The issues that the characters are wrestling with are relatable and the same as today’s issues. Relationship problems, addiction problems, finding your place in the world, the need to be accepted – these are timeless.

The Charles Brothers didn’t set out to do a show that would stand the test of time, but they did want to do a show that concentrated on the characters – their emotions and humanity. It was not enough that the audience found them funny, they had to care about them. To me, that’s what makes a lasting sitcom.

From John G:

You and I are both huge fans of Dan Ingram, quite possibly the greatest top 40 radio DJ of all time(you won't find anyone saying that in LA though). I would love to hear anything and everything you have about him, especially for the benefit of those who do not know him.

Even though I’m from LA and had the privilege of hearing the Real Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan in their ‘60s heyday, I still feel Dan Ingram on WABC New York was the greatest disc jockey of the Top 40 era. For voice quality, spontaneity, timing, warmth, and humor there’s never been anyone who could touch him. Any one random show of Dan Ingram has more laugh-out-loud moments than a month's worth of anyone else's. He has one of the greatest comic minds I’ve ever seen. I think I’m pretty quick, but I’m not even in this guy’s league.

Watching him do his show was wild. For every hilarious thing he said on the air there were usually five he said off the air that he COULDN’T say on the air.

Okay, so you want a story. Dan also had an amazing voice over career. For about thirty years you heard his voice on hundreds, maybe thousands of commercials. I was in the studio with him one day during a New York visit and mentioned that I recognize his voice on lots of commercials but no one in LA knows him. This is what he said:

“When I walk out of a building I don’t want people saying, ‘Hey, there goes Dan Ingram.’ I want them saying, ‘Hey, who is that guy getting into a Rolls?”

Dan is retired now, living mostly in Florida now. For the millions of people who grew up listening to him, he’s a national treasure.

And finally, DrBOP asks a question about gambling on sports.

What were/are the guidelines for broadcasters vis-a-vis laying down the occasional bet? How about broadcasters being sources of "inside info" for fantasy, or other, gambling interests? Ever see it? Ever happen?

This is hazy, but I think as a broadcaster I had to sign some document saying I wouldn’t gamble. I never bet on sports anyway so it was always a non-issue.

I know announcers that do gamble on sports, and even with all their “inside information” they usually lose.

I did have a Rotisserie team when I was broadcasting for the Orioles. Conflicts arose when one of the players for the opposing team was on my Rotisserie team and hit a home run. My call had to be muted, but inside I was going “YES!!!!”

By the way, with all my “inside information,” my team finished second to last. George Bell of the Blue Jays killed me in the second half.

What’s your Friday Question, and happy holiday shopping this weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Afternoon, everybody!"

Most laughs, when you’re doing a multi-camera show, have to be earned.  Strangers have to laugh.  And that can be especially hard if the studio audience is not that familiar with the show. Example: A network picks up a series but you need to film episodes before it airs. So maybe you show the pilot or have the warm up guy brief the audience, but you’re truly at the mercy of who you get. Add to that, studio audiences are sometimes bussed in to fill the seats. So your show might be an edgy romantic comedy about Millennials and your audience is all over ninety.

We had a tough time the first year of CHEERS. Looking back, I believe season one was our best year, but at the time you’d never know it. Audiences were hot and cold. And of course, any running gag was completely lost on them. I remember once George Wendt doing a Norm entrance that died. He questioned whether that "entrance" routine was even worth doing. I reminded him that this audience didn’t know it was a running bit, but once the show’s on the air they’ll get it.

By season eleven they applauded the minute he entered and said, “Afternoon, everybody.” Which brings up the flip side of this issue. As hard as it was early on to evoke laughter, that’s how easy it was during the latter years. Once CHEERS became a giant hit then demand for tickets was huge.

And now audiences came primed to love it. They were just thrilled to see their favorite CHEERS characters live and in person. As a result, they laughed at everything. We’d watch the rough cut a week later and say, “What are they laughing at?” Not that there weren’t some great jokes those last few seasons, but they certainly weren’t earned.

And the Norm entrances went through the roof. I always wanted to try an experiment.  The idea was vetoed, but this is what I proposed: For one take during the last year when audiences were howling at everything, I wanted to do the following Norm entrance:


NORM: Afternoon, everybody.

ALL: Norm!

WOODY: What would you like, Mr. Peterson?

NORM: A beer.

I seriously believe that in Year Eleven “A beer” would have gotten a monster laugh. That’s what I mean by not earning it.

Like I said, it would have been an experiment and we wouldn’t have used it, but I do wonder how many lines made it through those last few seasons that could have been better? Oh well – I’m sure I paid for it on other shows.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What sitcoms do I wish I had written for?

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post because I wrote too much.

Mel Agar asks:

You've been blessed to write for some of the greatest television shows in history. Is there a show -- either from the past or a contemporary series -- that you wish you'd written for?

There are a bunch. Some are from the ‘50s so I’d be really old now if I had. Still…

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW – To this day one of the most brilliantly written sitcoms of all-time thanks to the genius of Nat Hiken. How many comedy shows hold up sixty years later? When I showed an episode last year to my USC class they howled. When Millennials think an old black-and-white show starring a middle-aged bald man is a riot you know you’re on to something. To get on that staff you had to have chops. Neil Simon wrote for THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW.

YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS  or the later similar CAESAR'S HOUR– These were live variety shows starring Sid Caesar that put together the Mt. Rushmore of writing staffs. Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon – and those were just the names you know about. Everyone on that staff was a hall-of-famer.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW – If I had to pick only one it would be this show. That’s why it was so much fun earlier this year actually writing a spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. This series was so far superior to any other sitcom at the time (the early to mid ‘60s) that it was like Babe Ruth in his prime playing in a beer league.

THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW – This would be the only other variety show I would have liked to have written. The political humor and satire of the show was far ahead of its time. Among the staff writers was Steve Martin. I actually inquired about getting a job on that show. I was 17 at the time and had never written anything nor knew the first thing about how you do it, but that didn’t stop me from applying. For reasons I still can’t fathom, they hired someone else. A cool footnote: Years later when we won one of our WGA Awards the presenter was Tommy Smothers. It’s nice getting an award from someone who rejected you,

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW – For my money the gold standard of character-driven comedy. When David Isaacs and I started out, that was our ultimate goal. We learned how to write sitcoms by studying THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. We wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (which got us our assignment with THE JEFFERSONS – the two shows are so much alike). And one of the writers of MTM really liked our spec and was trying to get us in to do a freelance assignment. But another freelancer turned in a script that apparently was so awful that the producers decided not to take chances on any other newcomers that season.

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW – From MTM (Camelot for writers), and like THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW but edgier, more subversive, and at times, funnier. The tone was set by gifted showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses. Never got to do a BOB NEWHART SHOW, but Tom & Jay moved down the hall to create and run THE TONY RANDALL SHOW. We did get a freelance assignment on that series, which led to our first staff writing gig.

ALL IN THE FAMILY – We sort of came close. We did get to pitch story ideas to the producers, but they didn’t buy any.

TAXI – From James Brooks and many of the same writers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, this was such a smart and funny show. And talk about a great writing staff: James Brooks, Stan Daniels, Ed. Weinberger, The Charles Brothers, Barry Kemp, Sam Simon, Ken Estin, David Lloyd, and freelance scripts by Earl Pomerantz. The final year of TAXI we were invited to write an episode, but it was also the first year of CHEERS and David and I had our hands full trying to get that series off the ground. We also wrote five CHEERS episodes that season so there wasn’t a lot of spare time.

So there you have it, but I sure don't feel cheated.   The shows I was fortunate enough to work on were extraordinary. I do feel incredibly blessed and felt so at the time. To have even written one episode from CHEERS, MASH, FRASIER, or THE SIMPSONS is amazing. We wrote multiple episodes of each (40 CHEERS). You can’t believe the sense of pride there is in knowing that something you wrote decades ago is still being shown and still making people laugh. And I’m not 90.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The holidays in Hollywood

Nowhere is the message and spirit of the season revered like in Hollywood.  (It even has “Holly” in its name.) To make sure everyone in the industry has sufficient time to spread the blessings of Christmas to all of humanity they take the entire month of December off. And by Christmas blessings I mean sending out award consideration screeners and by humanity I mean eligible voters.

Executives can now spend more time with their families. Usually they have to be fired… I mean, quit before they realize that is important.

But if you have a project you’re trying to sell or business you need addressed, fear not. Right after the first of the year everyone is back.

For a week.

Then it’s time for Sundance. That’s most of January. But everyone is still on the case – if you have a film at Sundance.

February features the Presidents Day weekend. And by weekend I mean week. After all, the ski season is coming to an end, only a few more chances to take the private jet up to Aspen. More time to spend with the family – unless school is in session, in which case, more time to spend with Katzenberg.

But after that there’s no rest for the weary. Business is back in full force. Until spring break. But that could be five, even six weeks.

On the other hand, everyone comes back refreshed and recharged for the big May and June push. TV upfronts, summer movie releases, NBA playoffs.

Fortunately, July finally rolls around, and it’s time to take the summer off.

Thank God the last half of September is when the Toronto Film Festival is. That’s a good two weeks.

But it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time from October until Thanksgiving, or, more accurately, the week before Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving begins the “holidays.”

Where does the year go?

Monday, December 14, 2015

For your viewing pleasure

Here is that ten minute one act play I wrote and directed recently that was part of the "Hollywood Shorts" program at the Whitefire Theatre in Studio City.   It's called WAITING FOR GO and stars Paul Pape and Liz Bliss.   Thanks to Paul for arranging to have it taped.  It's one camera so obviously the production values aren't STAR WARS.  But you'll get the idea.   Thanks to all concerned, especially Paul & Liz who were a dream cast.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Confessions of a night person

The U.S. Army once had a recruiting slogan that proclaimed, “We do more by 9:00 in the morning than most people do all day!” Excuse me, but… that’s an incentive? By 9:00 in the morning I’m hopefully still sleeping.

I must admit I’m a night person. Always have been. Practically every job I’ve ever had since high school was a night job. Of course, now that I think about it, I bet I would have sold more Amway products door to door if I didn’t start out every night at midnight.

I know a lot of writers who are morning people. They get up at dawn, go right to work, and get as much done as the Army without cleaning toilets. Notice in that Army slogan they never specify exactly what they do? The truth is, a lot of potatoes get peeled, floors get buffed, and trenches get dug before 9.

But I prefer working late at night. It’s quiet for one thing, and when I write during the day I’m always wondering – what’s going on out there that I’m missing? I never feel that way when the option is watching Carson Daly.

Morning writers contend that they can enjoy the day more knowing they’ve already done their allotted work. That makes great sense to me. Until the alarm clock sounds. Then I’m thinking, “What the fuck?! I don’t get up this early to go to the goddamn Rose Parade. I’m going to drag myself out of bed to write three scenes for this spec screenplay that no one is going to buy?”

About ten years ago, when I was hosting Dodger Talk on XTRA 1150, I filled in on the morning show for about a month. The program director then offered me the position full-time. I graciously declined. He asked why? I’d be done at 9:00 and then have the whole rest of the day to write and direct. I said, “Yes, but see, here’s the thing: by 9:00 I’M FUCKING DEAD!!!” I don’t know how morning men do it. Like I said, this was ten years ago and I’m just now catching up on the sleep I lost.

There’s also a practical reason why I like to write during the wee hours. Lots of writers feel they have to finish a scene before they can put it down for the day. So they’ll sit for as long as it takes to wrestle that bad boy to the ground.

I’m the opposite. If I’m stuck on a tough story point or a long character speech I just stop – in the middle of a sentence even. I find that it’s much easier to solve story problems when I’m relaxed. So I’ll go to sleep and let my subconscious work on it awhile. Invariably, in the morning, after just mulling it over in bed or taking a shower, the solution will present itself. Then I’ll return to the script to finish the scene.

So maybe I don’t get that much done before 9:00 but from 9:15-9:25 I kick ass!

And it's great here in Hawaii.  Because of the time zone, I can work late at night and still be getting lots done by 9:00 AM at home.

How about you? Are you a morning or night person, and why?

This is a re-post from five years ago.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Siri's revenge

Aloha from Maui.  Four years ago when I was here this happened:  Here is a re-post from 2011. 

I’ve mentioned in the past how I've pulled my share of practical jokes. (My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote all of the Bar Wars episodes of CHEERS). Well, I’m not the only one in my family.

At the moment I’m still in Maui. I’ve become friends with one of the waiters at the Grand Wailea poolside burger shack. (He refilled my ice tea once. I love the man.) I told him my son Matt was due to arrive the next day and would he help play a prank on him? Matt is an engineer for Apple computers and as you can imagine, there’s nothing he loves more than people asking for tech support (myself included). So I said to my waiter chum, “When Matt comes tomorrow tell him you’ve got a problem with your Mac laptop and that I said he’d be happy to help you.”

Sure enough – next day, we’re at lunch, the waiter ambles by, and asks Matt if he’d look at his laptop. Although steam was escaping from his ears, Matt graciously said he would. At that point we let him in on the joke.

He said he would get back at me.

A few nights later my wife and I are at dinner with two other couples. I just got the new iPhone4S and am showing off the new Siri feature. I ask her when the Superbowl is? She didn’t understand the question. So I ask her again but with more of a ‘tude this time. I said, “When is next year’s Superbowl, bitch?”

She answers: “I don’t know, Jackass!”

You can imagine the laugh this got at the table.   Getting royally insulted by my iPhone.

And as we were driving home a new concern crossed my mind. Based on the input she receives, Siri “learns” things. Does she now just assume I'm a giant  asshole? I mean, calling me a Jackass was pretty rude!”   Was I forever to be hated by my cellphone?

Well, it turns out Matt programmed Siri to call me that. You can do that I guess.

Good one, Matt!  

I’m currently reading the Steve Jobs book. In it, I've learned he loved pulling practical jokes. I’ve always been proud that my son works for Apple Computer. But now I know, he really belongs.

For the record: Siri now calls me Kenny. At least to my face. Behind my back – God knows.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Questions

Take a break from shopping online to sample some FQ’s.  They're FREE!

Mork starts us off.

Hugh Wilson has talked about the time CBS asked him to write a zany, wacky episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati"; the resulting episode, "Fish Story" (which featured, among other things, Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap getting drunk on the air), was so against everything he thought was good that he took his name off the episode and used the pseudonym Raoul Plager for his writing credit. The episode ended up being the highest-rated episode of the entire series.

Have you ever written anything that either a) was so completely against what you thought was funny but ended up working anyway; or b) worked, but you had absolutely no idea *why* it worked?

If I’m being honest, when David Isaacs and I did a quick rewrite on MANNEQUIN we didn’t anticipate the film would be so well-received. But we’re not complaining.

There are a couple of episodes of CHEERS that we wrote that at the time we thought were okay, nothing special, but people absolutely loved them. Again, thank you Comedy Gods. They were “Jumping Jerks” (where the guys skydive) and “The Big Kiss-Off” (where Sam and Woody have a bet to see who can kiss Rebecca first).  I'm thrilled you love 'em. 

More often however, the reverse is true. You write a show you think is going to kill, and then you see the final result and go “What happened?”

Anthony has a question about pilots.

I've noticed some shows in recent years (though, naturally, I'm hard-pressed to name one off the top of my head) that featured the lead character's narration in the first few minutes of the pilot, to establish the characters and premise...and then it goes away for the rest of the episode (if not series). Do you think this is a lazy way to handle exposition or is it helpful to the audience--maybe even necessary given the shortened run time of shows these days?

Yes. To me that’s lazy writing. Instead of just baldly telling the audience what you want them to know, show them. It’s difficult, but part of the exercise of a pilot is to work in exposition in an entertaining, seamless way.

Narration is especially lazy if you drop it right after the introduction. It’s one thing if narration is an ongoing part of your series (a la THE MIDDLE or ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), but if a pilot starts out with “This is the story of….” or "Meet...." I’m usually gone.

From Ray, a question about episode titles:

Especially among the more dedicated of fans, those titles are known by rote and become shorthand for discussion. Yet not all shows display them at the start of episodes. Some, which have patterns to them (Lou Grant's history of all one word titles, or the Friends "the one with..." conceit) never displayed, best as I can recall. I watched MASH as many times as five a day during the prime time run when the syndication rules allowed such repetition, but I never knew in those pre-internet days what any of them were called.

And thus the question, or series of questions. Who decides whether to display the title of an episode on a series- network, showrunner, someone else? How did you feel about it as a writer? And did the knowledge of its presence before an episode ever influence your writing to even the smallest extent?

Generally, it’s a creative decision by the showrunner. I personally don’t like showing the episode title. In some cases the title might give away a key plot point.

Also, there are times when the show changes so much during the week of production that by the time it’s filmed the original title means nothing. When we were doing that ill-fated series for Mary Tyler Moore we had an episode involving everybody getting real amped up on chocolate-covered coffee beans. (Watch out for those things!) But we did major story work the week of production and eliminated the beans altogether. And yet the title of the episode: “Beans.”

Other times the title might refer to a line of dialogue in the episode that taken out of context looks like a non sequitur. I don’t want the viewer trying to decipher the meaning of the title instead of focusing on the show itself.

Adding to the confusion, sometimes a production company will change the title later on. We wrote an episode of OPEN ALL NIGHT called “Missing One Geek.” They changed it to “Terry Runs Away.” We got nominated for a WGA Award for it, but when we saw the nominees in the paper we said, “What’s ‘Terry Runs Away’?”

And finally, from June Sullivan:

Hi Ken - are you a fan of House of Cards? I was wondering what is the deal with the coffee? Is it that the writer loves it and enjoys showcasing one of his habits? Or is a metaphor for something...but coffee drinking, serving, purchasing, and making is in almost every scene. I laughed recently when someone was asked if they wanted a cup of tea.

As for the coffee, actors like to have business. They like things in their hands, they like crossing to get stuff, they like making stuff.  There's always coffee around.

Watch CHEERS. Sam Malone is always cutting lemons. The Coach is always cleaning glasses.

Since I don’t work on HOUSE OF CARDS, I’m just speculating, but maybe they all drink coffee because they keep such long hours and need the caffeine. What they should do is an episode where they all eat chocolate-covered coffee beans.

What’s your Friday Question?