Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RIP Carl Reiner

Few people in my life have had a greater impact than Carl Reiner.   Not only am I a writer because of him; the style in which I write is because of him.   And he’s been on my mind a lot lately because the project I’ve been writing this entire pandemic is essentially an ode to Carl Reiner. 


He’s been an inspiration, a mentor, and the few times I would reach out to him for help he was always there. 


Most articles about him will list his many credits and praise his enormous talent.  The plaudits are all well deserved.  But talent like that is a gift.  Being a mensch is a choice.  Carl Reiner was a mensch.   


He was my role model for that as much as much as his accomplishments.


I’ve tried to emulate him in many ways. 


Carl was incredibly unselfish.   In YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS he was happy to let Sid Caesar take center stage.   With Mel Brooks on the classic 2000 YEAR OLD MAN albums, he was the straight man. 


And then there’s his ultimate gesture of setting ego aside – THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.   Originally Carl wrote it to star in himself.  He wrote the first 13 episodes on spec.  A pilot was even filmed.   It didn’t get on the air.  Producer Sheldon Leonard told him the project had tremendous potential except for one thing – Carl was wrong for the part.   How many actor/writers would be insulted and just junk the project? 


Not Carl Reiner. 


Not only did he agree to recast his part, but he even named the show after the actor who replaced him.   That’s humility.


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a revelation to me.  It’s why I wanted to become a comedy writer.   And yes, it would be great fun to BE a star of a hit TV series and get all that recognition and adulation, but I knew that just wasn’t my gift.   I was more than happy wanting to become Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke. 


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was also groundbreaking.   TV sitcoms at the time it premiered in the early ‘60s were mainly broad and silly.  Reiner chose a different path.  His humor tapped into universal behavior and truths.  His comedy focused on characters and real life situations.   The jokes were smart, the stories clever and original.   And the show was genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.   That’s what I wanted to write.   I loved Mel Brooks and his films are hysterical, but I never saw myself writing that.   It was Carl that I studied. 


I also adopted his work ethic.  Carl Reiner was always working on some creative project.  Books, plays, directing, producing, acting.   Readers of this blog know I’m always pushing something (please check out my podcast or buy one of the books featured on the right).   Always having something to challenge me creatively has been my salvation through several rough periods of my life, and I can thank Carl for that.


He lived 98 years.  He produced an astonishing body of work, much of which will stand the test of time.  He was sharp right up to the end.  He made the world laugh for probably 96 of those years.   He was gracious, supportive, accessible, and brilliant.   He went through life celebrating the best of the human spirit and fighting injustice.  He was pictured on Twitter just a few days ago wearing a “Black Lives Matters” T-shirt. 


Time to get back to work on my homage project, although now that I think about it, everything I’ve ever written is an homage.


Bless you, Carl Reiner.  And thank you. 

Carl Reiner tribute upcoming

Carl Reiner passed away at 98.  Tribute to follow once I dry my eyes.

Week 16 of self-quarantining

Random thoughts from captivity: 


I’m really learning which meals I can eat all the time and which I can’t.


If you started a pandemic beard and it’s still growing you must look like David Letterman by now.  And your wife has divorced you.


CHEERS leaves Netflix tonight at midnight.   It’s still on Hulu and CBS All Access. 


Hulu also now has JUST SHOOT ME.  An episode I directed is one of my favorites, called “Sewer,” from Season 2, Episode 11.   Hilarious script by Andrew Gordon & Eileen Conn.   It was a real challenge. I had an orangutan, stunts, special effects – but thought it came out great. 


Have you pretty much binge-watched all the shows you want to binge-watch? 

I understand that Costco is now selling coffins.  Who buys coffins in bulk? 


Are people setting off fireworks every night because they’re just bored or they’re idiots?


And speaking of idiots -- American Airlines is selling every seat again.  Why would you ever get on a full flight at this moment in time?   Especially since half the moron passengers won’t wear masks.  Why not just go into a COVID-19 ICU ward and lick the floor? 


Who knew?  THE MASKED SINGER was a year ahead of its time.


Maybe the only progress I’ve seen:  It’s easier to get toilet paper. 


Can you imagine what it was like during the pandemic of 1918 when there was no Zoom? 

My hair hasn't been this long since college.  I'm going for the Jeff Bridges look now.  Call me "the Dude." 


I don’t care what they say -- I’ll be surprised if they play Major League Baseball this year.   Hope I’m wrong.  Same with the NFL. 


I’m learning what I don’t miss: Going to movie theatres for one. Watching the news for another.


Drive-In theatres are fun… unless you have to use the bathroom. 


Why is it impossible to get Hebrew National Salamis? 

I gave the new Perry Mason two weeks.  I'm done. 

Will Benihana ever re-open? 

Take down any statue but Rocky & Bullwinkle.


Are you more or less productive than you were at the start of this pandemic?


JUST SHOOT ME was an underrated show. 


Doesn’t last February seem like five years ago? 


Stay safe.  Wear masks.  Vote by mail. Believe science. 



Monday, June 29, 2020

Singing in the Rain

SINGING IN THE RAIN is considered the greatest movie musical of all-time. AFI lists it as the 5th greatest movie of all-time. The scene of Gene Kelly singing in the rain is iconic. Watching the film again recently, it remains delightful with a surprising number of original songs that have gone on to join the Great American Songbook.

Here’s what I didn’t know: It wasn’t a hit.

Not when it was released in 1952. The public’s reaction was meh. So was the critics’. It only got a couple of Oscar nominations and lost both of them. Was Gene Kelly nominated? Nope. Debbie Reynolds? Nope. Stanley Donen for directing? Nope. Art Direction? Cinematography? Best Song? Nada nada nada. The Best Picture that year: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

When was the last time you watched that? Or these Best Picture nominees – IVANHOE, MOULIN ROUGE, THE QUIET MAN? The other nominee (that should have been SINGING IN THE RAIN’S main competition) was HIGH NOON.

Over time of course SINGING IN THE RAIN has been recognized for the classic it is.

But to me it’s fascinating how the exact same motion picture can elicit such different responses. Did theatergoers yawn during the “Singing In the Rain” scene in 1952? Did any of them say, “What’s wrong with you people? This is pretty dazzling?” THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is a terrible bloated unwatchable movie, by the way. It was also the boxoffice champ in 1952.  SINGING IN THE RAIN did a little better than break even. 

I just wonder what Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and the rest of the cast and crew thought at the time? What could they have done differently?

Other movies that were originally flops:  THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, BARBARELLA (although I saw it three times when it came out), BLADE RUNNER, OFFICE SPACE, IRON GIANT (see this one if you haven't), and a little movie called IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. 

And now, turning to TV -- THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was essentially canceled after the first season. It was not on the CBS schedule. It was only when ad men Grant Tinker and Lee Rich went to Cincinnati and convinced Proctor & Gamble to sponsor it did they pull a Hail Mary. Almost 60 years later we are still marveling at how great THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was. You know what the big hit sitcom was the year THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW struggled in the ratings? THE REAL McCOYS. How often do you binge on that?

The song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong was released originally in 1967. It topped out at 116 on the Billboard chart. In 1988 it received a Gold Record.

And then there’s the example I had a personal stake in: CHEERS. We were getting killed in the ratings that first year. David Isaacs, the Charles Brothers, and I would sit in the writers room and scratch our heads. This was our A material, folks. It’s not like we could stay an extra half hour a night and the show would be any better. Ten years earlier, Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds were in the same quandary over MASH, which was struggling its first season on CBS.

The point is that perception is as important as quality when it comes to recognizing art.

CHEERS was on the last place network when it premiered. Maybe SINGING IN THE RAIN played in lousy theaters. Maybe there were so many musicals at the time that it just felt like yet another one. I have no idea. I’m just speculating. There are quite a few painters and authors who passed away before their work received the recognition and praise it deserved.

I’ve seen SINGING IN THE RAIN many times. I’ve always loved it. But I always assumed it was smash from the time it was released. This time I looked up to see how many Oscars it snared only to learn it was largely ignored. So watching the movie again was a different experience. After every great number or scene I was that guy saying, “What’s wrong with you people?”

By the way, in AFI's Top 100 Movies of All-Time, only one of the Oscar nominees in 1952 made the list -- HIGH NOON at 27.   THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is nowhere to be found. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Weekend Post

There's a thing in improvisation called "space work."  Basically it's mime.  Some improvisers are great at it.  Others, like me, struggle.  Here's a hilarious video showing what would really happen when hapless improv people like me try to do space work.   This is a group out of Toronto.  I think I've been guilty of all of these except the lipstick.  Enjoy. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Questions

Wrapping up June with Friday Questions.  What’s yours?


Cris43130 gets us started. 


Shows have producers and directors. When did the term "showrunner" come into being and why is it necessary? Wasn't that always a producer's responsibility?


To answer your last question first – yes.  It’s just a matter of semantics. There's always been that one guy or one team that, uh... ran the show. 


Showrunner is just a less-than-fancy way of saying person actually in charge.  It used to be the Executive Producer was essentially the showrunner, but as staffs swelled and non-writing producers attached themselves there would be multiple Executive Producers.  Showrunner distinguishes the real creative force.  Interestingly, it’s a credit that has never been on the screen.

Guess it's not impressive enough.  I would opt for Grand Poobah myself. 


Brian Phillips has a baseball question (it's supposed to start up again -- we'll see):


Have you ever commentated on a no-hitter?


Yes. Every time. I think the superstition is bullshit. 

I’ve called two no-hitters on the air and mentioned it both times.  Like Vin Scully, I told listeners to call their friends and tell them.   

If I was a listener I would want to know.  I'd hate to listen or watch a game for half an inning, turn it off, and find out later it was the eighth inning of a no-hitter. 


My mentioning it is not going to affect the outcome.  I should have such power.


From cd1515:


Actors love to talk about lines, jokes or scenes that they ad-libbed (only the ones that worked, of course).

How does that play with writers who spent hours/days opening up a vein at the keyboard, knowing that many actors apparently think they can just cruise in and wing something that will be better?


Oh we just LOVVVVE it.


Seriously, though, it does piss us off.  I mean, it’s bad enough people think the actors make up their lines anyway, without actors unfairly taking credit for them.

Or worse, actors thinking they can do better. 


I’ve had actors pitch a bad joke they’d like to use and I would always say, 200 strangers are going to be sitting up in those bleachers.  Do you really think 200 strangers are going to laugh at that joke?  Invariably they back off. 


Happily, I’ve worked almost exclusively with actors who had great respect for us and our contribution.  And so the respect is mutual. 


And finally, from Gary:


If you and your writing partner were just starting out and desperate to break into the business, would you accept a writing assignment from a show you thought was terrible? (I'm thinking of something like GILLIGAN'S ISLAND or MY MOTHER THE CAR.)

And if so, would you try to dumb your writing down to match the tone and audience of such a show, or would you try to "write up" and create a more clever and quality episode?


First off, if we were starting out, we would KILL to get an assignment on either of those two shows.  To get paid to write a network show – we would be beyond thrilled.   Trust me, we would not just hold out for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. 


As for the actual writing, we would work hard to give them a script in the style and tone of their show.   To do anything else would be to get rewritten.  We would work our asses off to the give the showrunner the best possible version of HIS show in his style.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

EP180: Meet 8-time JEOPARDY champion, Jennifer Quail

Jennifer Quail won $228,000 in eight days on JEOPARDY and will likely be in this year’s Tournament of Champions.  Ever wanted to go on JEOPARDY?  Or know what it was like?  Jennifer graciously shares her experience this week and next.  “What are two great episodes of Hollywood & Levine?”

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

The new Perry Mason

On the TV series, Perry Mason would be grilling someone on the witness stand and have that one pivotal question; that one knock-out punch.  If he had the creators of the new HBO series PERRY MASON on the stand he would ask, “Why should anybody GIVE A SHIT?” 


Okay, I only watched the premiere, and yes the production values were lovely, and it boasted a star-studded cast headlined by Matthew Rhys, John Lithgow, and Tatiana Maslany. 


But I sooooo didn’t care.


About anybody. 


And mostly I hated “Perry Mason.”  I added the quotations because they could have called the series ROB PETRIE – that’s how much he had in common with the iconic lawyer.   In this version, Perry is a dyspeptic private eye in LA in the ‘30s.   Maybe by the end of the series he becomes a lawyer, but I doubt I’ll get that far. 


Here’s my question (if it pleases the court):  Why call this guy Perry Mason?  Why just trade on the name to do a completely different character?  Were they afraid we wouldn’t watch if the show was called BEN FENTON?   


There’s a real trap in calling it PERRY MASON.  And everyone else has fallen into it too that has tried to revive the franchise.  Raymond Burr IS Perry Mason.  Period.  I guarantee you if Sean Connery made 271 James Bond films no one would buy Roger Moore (not that everyone does anyway).   There have been other actors playing Perry Mason (Monty Markham springs to mind), but it’s just weird.  


There’s something else PERRY MASON has to compete with – CHINATOWN and LA CONFIDENTIAL.   Both covered the arena and time period brilliantly.  So far I’d rather screen either of them than this PERRY MASON.  


But those are quibbles compared to my main question:  Why should anyone GIVE A SHIT?   It’s not that they have to be heroic, but at least interesting, intriguing, involved.   I normally love Matthew Rhys, but he’s so disgruntled and so bitter that I just keep hoping Mr. Rogers will show up and fix him again. 


I think I’ll give PERRY MASON one more week to see if it rights itself, but if it doesn’t I’ll be calling a mistrial. 


What did you guys think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

My Mystery Novel Pet Peeve

First, though, a similar pet peeve I always had with CHEERS.   Anytime someone would fly into Boston and want to see one of the regulars he would always have the cab driver take him to the bar.  There he would let the cab driver go and walk into Cheers with his luggage, asking whether Frasier or Diane or whoever was there.   This traveler wouldn't check into his hotel first?  He then wouldn't t call the bar to make sure Frasier or whoever was actually there?   I argued this for eleven years and never won.

Okay, that brings me to my mystery novel pet peeve.  I like to read mystery novels.   And in practically all of them, the following happens:

The detective or private eye gets a tip.  They get a name and address.  So they go there, sometimes driving for seven hours.   And sure enough, when they arrive and knock on his door, he's home.  Suspects are always home for some reason.

Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part their person-of-interest just happens to be home.  Never do the detectives knock on the door, there's no answer, and they wait for hours.  Never is the suspect away for the weekend.

And it's a good thing too because usually the detective has someone else he has to see who's a four-hour drive away before the day is done and happily that person is home as well.

What luck!

I know it's creative license.  Unlike the CHEERS situation, you wouldn't call the person-of-interest first.  He'd bolt immediately.  But when it happens four or five times in one book I start to really get annoyed.

A number of my friends are novel writers.  I wonder if they are aware of this, if it bothers them, or if their response is "Who cares?  Get over it."

I drove seven hours to ask one of them, but he wasn't home. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Welcome to the Russian Roulette Cafe

Ready to risk your life to dine out?   Join us at the Russian Roulette Café for an evening of immediate gratification.   


There are health guidelines in place.  Tables must be six feet apart, waiters must wear cloth masks and plastic face shields, among other laws put into place to protect you and add to the festive atmosphere. 


Of course in Los Angeles, recently it was discovered that 50% of the restaurants are not complying.  So is our Russian Roulette Café one of them?   Roll the dice.  That’s part of the fun. 


If we’re not in compliance, we’re betting no one from the city will shut us down or even slap us on the wrist.   We feel this is a way safer bet than the one you’re taking. 


And if the protection laws aren’t being adhered to in the dining room where customers can see them, what do you think is happening in the kitchen?   But they must think you don’t care.   And Russian Roulette Café patrons don’t.    We count on it. 


Yes, it’s all a big gamble with a potentially fatal virus, but we at the Russian Roulette Café are betting you can’t go a couple of months without going to restaurants.   So far we’ve been right.  Business is booming.  


So what to order?   Might as well have fried chicken and Monte Cristo Sandwiches, fatty corned beef, onion rings, pancakes with lots of syrup, and mac and cheese.    Yeah, they’ll kill you, but not in two weeks.   And hey, if you’re braving the Russian Roulette Café you might as well be all in. 


So we’ll see you here.   Discount for AARP members! 


Friday, June 19, 2020

Friday Questions

Celebrating Juneteenth with Friday Questions.


Jon Weisman leads off:


Was Diane's "Norman" after everyone shouts "Norm" originally scripted and then just carried on, or did it originate as a kind of ad-lib? It's such a nice touch and so Diane, and I've always wanted to know if there was an origin story. 


It was a Shelley ad lib originally and never put into the scripts.  In her dialogue she would refer to Norm as Norman, but in the entrances she tossed that in on her own.


Craig Gustafson wants to know:


When writing a sitcom episode, how much trouble are tags? I just watched the "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode, "Obnoxious, Offensive, Egomaniac, Etc...", where they break into Alan Brady's office to retrieve a script littered with Alan Brady insults. It's one of the classic episodes (based on the writers' experiences writing obscenities into their "Joey Bishop Show" scripts) with a perfect ending.  And then they had to come back for another two minutes, which were completely anti-climactic.

Is this hard to maneuver around?


Tags are a pain in the ass.  They’re only there to work around two commercial breaks.  Usually we would try to callback something from the show and get a joke or two out of that, but I’d say 90% of sitcom tags can be lifted and you’d never miss them. 


On dramas, they sometime wrap things up.  PERRY MASON tags always had someone say, “Perry, the thing I don’t understand is…”  He would then spell out the plot for the audience.


But now most sitcoms have abandoned tags for the three-act structure.  It used to be two-acts with the act break coming in the middle.  Now the story is broken into thirds.  Again, this is not because it’s a better way of storytelling, it’s because networks want to get in their commercials without losing too much audience. Considering the shorter time allowed for program content it's actually a worse structure for good storytelling. 


From marka:


We watch shows where we see the joke coming from the first moment. We watch shows where we know how it's going to end two minutes in. We all have, I know.


But why? Is it laziness on the part of the writers? Is it ignorance on their part, do they think they're writing great stuff? Is the head writer just wanting to get to the track so if enough words are on the script then he's outta here? Do none of them care?


All of the above with the exception of the last one.  Staff writers might care deeply, but if the showrunner is a hack, or has Laker tickets (remember when you could go to basketball games?), there’s nothing they can do.  Believe me, there are a lot of very frustrated staff writers and low-level producers working for lousy showrunners. 


But I must point out that we’re talking about subpar shows.  There are wonderful, passionate caring showrunners who are turning out amazing work and inspiring their staffs. 


I was so lucky in my career to work for showrunners who set incredibly high standards and produced shows I was proud to be associated with.   They never settled and thanks to them, I learned never to settle as well.  It was a gift. 

And finally, from Kendall Rivers:


One of my favorite sitcoms happens to be Becker so it's great that you happened to have written and directed for it. Friday Question: What are your favorite episodes of Becker if you haven't already answered this question before?


My sentimental favorite is “The Usual Suspects” because I thought it came out great and I wrote and directed it.


My other favorite is also an episode I coincidentally directed.  “Linda Quits” by Glenn Gers. 

What's your Friday Question? 




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

EP179: How to give notes and how NOT to give notes

In this week's Hollywood and Levine podcast, Ken discusses the do’s and don’ts of giving notes, and how to also treat writers and actors with respect. Network and studio executives in particular, take note.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

Coming this fall... maybe

Gotta hand it to the major broadcast networks.  They sure are optimistic.  CBS and NBC in particular have set their fall schedules and are rolling the dice that scripted material will get produced in time.  NBC just announced their schedule yesterday. 


They all will probably delay the start of their fall seasons, but hope burns eternal that come October they’ll have something more than PRESS YOUR LUCK (which is exactly what they’re doing).

FOX is the smart one.  They have a lot of their fall shows already in the can. 


There are so many variables in play here.  Lots of restrictions, guidelines, and you KNOW some cast and crew members are going to come down with the virus.  Will that trigger shut downs? Postponements?   It’s anybody’s guess.


Shows will have to scale back their scope.  No crowd scenes.  No live audiences for multi-cams (although a show’s employees may sit in the audience) – probably a lot of scenes of just two people social distancing, talking to each other.


Some showrunners are all onboard.  Anything they can do to keep their shows going is fine with them.  But God bless him, Robert King – co-creater/showrunner of THE GOOD FIGHT and EVIL – is not all for it.  In his words: “You’re going to make network television even more boring?” 


My sentiments exactly. 


We’ll see what happens. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Laurel Canyon

There have been a number of Laurel Canyon documentaries – all about the music scene in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s when it was a mecca of emerging musicians and the drug capital of Southern California. 


Residents included the Mama’s & the Papa’s, the Byrds, the Doors, Frank Zappa, the Monkees, Turtles, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, Love, and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Love, Linda Rondstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, and the Eagles.  Oh… and Steve Martin. 


It was an idyllic period where everyone knew everyone else, they all would hang out together – usually at Mama Cass’ house, and I believe everyone also slept with everyone else (certainly Michelle Phillips did).  Together they all made incredible music that has stood the test of time some 50 years later.  (But it’s the sleeping with everyone that I really envy.)


Like I said, there have been several documentaries about the period.   As recent as a year ago there was ECHO INTHE CANYON.  I’m a sucker for any film about the LA music scene of that era so I’m glad I saw it, but half of it was filled with bullshit Jakob Dylan interviews, current singers doing covers of classic hits of the era, and no mention of the drugs and death that spelled the end of “Guitaralot.”   It also didn’t make much mention of Joni Mitchell, which is like talking about the British Music Revolution and forgetting the Rolling Stones. 


Happily, there’s a new Laurel Canyon documentary that is flat out sensational.  It’s filled with home movies, raw footage, fascinating stories, and interviews so extensive that even I knew one of subjects personally.  There’s no narrator – none is needed.  But they do a beautiful job of conveying what was great about the music, the people, the period, and the nearby Sunset Strip scene.  


They also don’t sugarcoat the period.  Things turn dark.  Drugs, the dangers of success, in some cases deaths (Jim Morrison, Mama Cass), reverberations from the Manson murders, and the turbulent world (a war we never should have been in, mass demonstrations, the National Guard, a crook for a president – sound familiar?) all contribute to the downfall of the era. 


All of that is the good news.  And it’s several hours long.   But here’s the bad:  It’s on Epix.  Who the hell gets Epix?  Hopefully it will go to Netflix or Hulu or any platform most people can get.  Keep an eye out for it.  When it does come along, check it out.   And when you do, you’ll notice interviews with LA dj, Jim Ladd.  He was on KLOS in the early ‘70s playing all of those albums and artists.  Actually, I was playing them.  I was his engineer. 


Monday, June 15, 2020

Comedy PTSD

I talked last week about comic judgment, which leads me to one of my most terrifying nights as a comedy writer. I still have a little PTSD so you’ll excuse me if the writing of this post seems a little stilted. I have to stop every few sentences and take a break.

It was 1982. I went to the Fox Village Theater to see this new movie, VICTOR VICTORIA. It was directed by Blake Edwards, a very nimble comedy director. Among his credits are the first few PINK PANTHER movies and THE GREAT RACE (starring Natalie Wood so I’ve seen it twenty times). VICTOR VICTORIA had a stellar cast. Julie Andrews (Mrs. Blake Edwards), James Garner, Robert Preston, even funnyman Alex Karras.

It’s a remake of a 1933 German film, and who knows more about funny than the Germans?

The theater was full, the audience was roaring, and I was having a panic attack.


Because I didn’t find the movie remotely funny.

Now normally you’d think, “So what? That’s what makes a horse race.”


It’s my JOB to know what is funny. It’s my JOB to know what makes an audience laugh. And if they’re roaring and knee slapping and I have no idea why, even with over twenty-years experience, then my career is over. I’m a musician who is suddenly tone deaf.

I looked up VICTOR VICTORIA on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics score: 97%, audience score: 86%. Vincent Canby in the New York Times said: “Victor/Victoria is so good, so exhilarating, that the only depressing thing about it is the suspicion that Mr. Edwards is going to have a terrible time trying to top it.”

You probably saw it and laughed your ass off.

Similar material and subject matter was explored in LA CAGE AUX FAUX and was released before VICTOR VICTORIA and I thought it was hilarious. And that was with subtitles! So it’s not that the subject matter is one I don’t find amusing. I loved BIRDCAGE, the American remake of LA CAGE AUX FAUX and even the musical.

I see VV pop up on TCM from time to time and wonder if I should take another look. Would another 38 years give me a different perspective? Might I finally see what everybody was laughing at. However, my fear is: what if I still don’t find it funny and have a repeat panic attack? So I’ve never seen it again.

Seriously, this movie occupied several sessions of therapy. If you’re a comedy writer and you start doubting your judgment, you’re in trouble.

So how did I shake it? Eventually I just said, they’re still paying me to do this. I must either know enough or am doing a good enough job fooling them. And I finally moved on.

But since then I can never go to horror movies.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Weekend Post

Dealing with rejection is never easy. Especially when starting out. Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks, pictured right) has the philosophy that when a deal falls through or is rejected, his automatic response is: “Next?!”

Writers need a thick skin, belief in themselves, and five times a week therapy (prom rebuffs linger large). The good news is if you’ve written a spec, all you need is one person to say yes. (I know, you could say that about the prom, too. Get over it already!)

I’ve saved all my rejection letters and wouldn’t you know, a number of the writers who initially said I sucked eventually submitted scripts to me looking for a job years later. (No, I didn’t just send back their rejection letters and flip flop the names…but I wanted to.)

Keep striving to improve, maybe find some constructive use in the rejection (if it’s offered and useful), but never let your worth be decided by someone else. Supposedly, Richard Wagner once wrote back to a critic who panned one of his works by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “I am currently sitting on the toilet. At the moment your critique is in front of me. In a moment it will be behind me.”

I’ve written spec screenplays that have sold and others that haven’t. I used to ask my agent if they gave any reason for passing. I would hear such explanations as: too broad, not broad enough; too edgy, too soft; too familiar, too out there. And all these regarding the same script. My favorite rejection of all-time was from an idiot studio executive who said this about one of my screenplays:

“The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this script.”

How do you react to that other than laugh and drop him a note congratulating him on the success of BLUMHOUSE'S FANTASY ISLAND? I no longer ask for explanations. I no longer even wait to hear the reaction on one project before launching into another. I don’t consider any of my screenplays rejected, just “not having sold yet”.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Watch a live reading of our MASH script

Saturday at 5 pm pacific/8pm eastern, the Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, one of my favorite theatres and theatre companies, is doing a live stream reading of a MASH episode my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote called "Night at Rosie's."   The reading is free but donations would sure be appreciated. 

I'll be doing a talkback at its conclusion. 

This is a unique episode of MASH.  It all takes place in Rosie's Bar -- more like a one-act play.  It's one of the only MASH episode where you never see the camp. 

The Little Fish Theatre does great work and could really use your support. 

Thanks and see you Saturday.