Monday, December 22, 2014

My thoughts on the Sony crisis

Lots of you have asked my opinion, not that it matters, but here ya go.

First of all I thought it was a great story when they did it on THE GOOD WIFE two weeks before Sony was hacked.   Yet another reason why it's the best show on television.

As for all the ramifications of the North Korean’s hacking Sony and pressuring them to cancel the release of THE INTERVIEW, like I said on Twitter -- the North Koreans had no problem with EXPENDABLES 3?

Look, Sony was between a rock and hard place. They cancel the release and people say they’re caving to terrorists and we need to protect our First Amendment rights. But were they to release the film and one person got injured at a theater people would be screaming that Sony only cared about profits and not the well-being of the public.

President Obama said they should have called him first. Really? You can just do that? Call the president when you have a problem? What’s his number? Maybe he can get ALMOST PERFECT finally released on Netflix.

I’m curious as to what our government’s appropriate response will be. Get Carrie Mathison out of Afghanistan and put her on the next plane to Korea.

There have been some in the industry who have ripped the media for reporting all the dishy email exchanges. They make very valid points – it’s an infringement on privacy, nothing illegal was exposed, etc. Bit still – come on. There are entire industries built on airing Hollywood’s dirty laundry. The public loves that shit. And always has. If Scott Rudin calls Angelina Jolie a "spoiled brat" news outlets are going to run with it.  Most of the time Hollywood feeds these media outlets themselves. They can’t claim “Any publicity is good publicity” and also say “Our affairs are nobody’s business.”

And while we’re on that subject, Amy Pascal really needs to use spellcheck.

As these events unfold day after day I can’t help but scratch my head and think – this is all over some shitty Seth Rogen comedy?

North Korea might be behind it, but they had some help. This was clearly an inside job. Somebody who knew where all the bodies were buried. Has there been a Sony employee who got docked for punching in late one day?

Am I the only one who noticed the GUARDIANS OF PEACE go by GOP?

Here in LA, even the billboards for THE INTERVIEW are hastily coming down. God forbid the North Koreans see on spy satellite that the billboard is still up on La Brea and Venice Blvd. They might take military action.

Ultimately, somebody is going to take the fall for this fiasco. It could be Amy. Work on that spell check before you send out resumes.

To me, maybe the most disturbing aspect of this story is that George Clooney drafted a petition denouncing North Korea’s action. He circulated it to all the big stars, studio execs, agents, and pretty much anyone in power in Hollywood, enlisting their support.

No one would sign it. No one.

What a gutless industry. And then they’ll go on award shows and praise themselves for their courage and risk taking. They’ll wear pretty colored ribbons in support of “causes” they care so deeply about. Meanwhile, they’re terrified some nameless nebulous “evil doer” will think unfavorably of them. It’s like the movie FORCE MAJEURE. A husband tries to save himself over his family during an avalanche. That’s Hollywood except they race to save themselves at the first sight of snowflakes.

No one signed.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the Sony hacking. How to better protect computer systems, how to respond to cyberterrorism, how to cover stories like this, how to pay more attention to spelling, and when things get tough – how to run like hell away.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

You can hear me on the radio

Just a reminder: I'll be on 100.3 THE SOUND in LA and on line at 6 PM PST and 9 PM EST, playing an eclectic selection of shit I like and telling stories (some of them true) about the songs and what they mean to me. 

Just go here and click on the "Listen Live" button.  It's a pretty cool station.  You very well may bookmark it. 

Again, not to over-hype it, but I play a Captain Beefheart song.  I KNOW you'll want to tune in for that.

Oh... and no Christmas music.

My Turn

Radio station 100.3 THE SOUND in LA has a very cool feature.  On Sunday nights at 6:00 they invite a guest DJ to come in for an hour and play whatever the hell he wants.  Tonight, it's me.

Since the station's format is Classic Rock I decided not to play my favorite marching band tunes, Gregorian chants, Osmond Brother favorites, or love songs from William Shatner.   What I am playing are cool songs from the '60s and stories about growing up in LA.  Kinda like the stuff I talk about in my book, THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (which you need to order now to be ready for Christmas).

Among the tasty selections I will be playing are songs by Love, the Rose Garden, Steppenwolf, the Beach Boys, the Doors, and OF COURSE Captain Beefheart.   Plus "Rubber Biscuits" by the Chips.

Plus, there's an added significance.  In the mid '70s I was a disc jockey on that station when it was K100 and I was Beaver Cleaver.   Since my radio stints usually ended with stories about being fired (see last Thursday), I of course have one for K100.  I walked into the station one day and the program director, Bill Watson, called me into his office and delicately couched it this way:  "Hey, babe, we're making some changes and you're one of 'em." 

So join me tonight if you can and Watson doesn't get to me first.  You just go here.  Then click the listen live button.  6 PM PST/9 PM EST... and everything else in between.  I have no idea what time that is in Bhutan.   

Saturday, December 20, 2014

All I want for Christmas...

is Jews.

And the original (one of my favorite Xmas songs):

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Questions

Ho ho ho. Last Friday Questions before Xmas.

Mike starts us off with a (holiday) CHEERS question.

When did the Charles brothers step down as showrunners? I had been under the impression it was after season six, but Warren Littlefield, in "Top of the Rock," said they dialed back their involvement toward the end of season two, and were barely involved by the start of season three. I noticed a few other mistakes in that book, so this may be one of them. But I figured if anyone knew for sure the answer, it would be you.

Warren wrote a terrific book that I recommend, but no, his recollection in this case was not accurate. The Charles Brothers didn’t dial back their involvement until season six when the super-capable team of Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell took over. (Casey, Lee, and Angell went on to create WINGS and FRASIER.) Glen & Les still received outlines and were involved in the direction of the show. They came back and reclaimed the reins the final season.  And of course, they wrote the final episode with that wonderful last scene late at night in the bar with everybody reflecting on their lives. 

Judith wants to know.

I read today in the H'wood Reporter that Jean Smart was attached to a role in the NBC series, Mr. Robinson, but "opted to move on when the series was shifted from single-to multicam."

I'm not asking you to read Jean Smart's mind, but, just in general, why would a shift from single to multicam be a reason for an actor to exit a show?

Some actors don’t like having to perform every week in front of a live audience. In Ms. Smart’s case, she had done quite a bit of multi-cam and single-cam so I suppose she just prefers single.

But the dirty secret is, multi-cam is a much easier gig for actors. Five day production schedules. For three and sometimes four of those days you’re done by 5:00. Single camera shows often require actors to work punishing twelve or sometimes fifteen-hour days. For my money, there’s no contest. But I’m not an actor (by mutual agreement of the industry).

T Harris asks:

Do you think the mood you are in influence your enjoyment of a film or TV show? Years back I saw The Royal Tenenbaums in the theatre and HATED it. A short while ago, I saw it on TV and enjoyed it. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I saw it in the theatre.   In a similar vein, I hated The Middle when it premiered and didn't watch again until recently. Now I think it's rather well made with decent acting by all.

Your mood is key. Dan O’Shannon talks a lot about that in his book, WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?   Imagine pitching a comedy pilot the day after 9-11.  David and I had that unenviable task and we actually sold it.   How good do jokes have to be to work that day? 

On the other hand...

When we were doing that series for Mary Tyler Moore we were supposed to shoot a show the night the Challenger exploded. We wondered whether we should postpone since the studio audience probably would not be in a mood to laugh. But we reasoned that by the evening they’d probably be so happy for a couple hours escape from the story that filming that night might be welcomed. (Okay, we also were told how much postponing a day would cost.) So we shot the show that night. The audience was dead. It was painful. And we had a funny show. And then it hit me. The show’s primary set was a newspaper bullpen. We had photos of news events that ringed the set. One of them was the Challenger. Ooops.

And finally, from Andrew Parker:

If you were doing BIG WAVE DAVE'S now, would you do it single cam or multi-cam?

Single-camera DEFINITELY. I think the show was hurt by not being able to show Hawaii. But back in those days every sitcom was multi-camera. We had a big fight with the network over the opening titles. CBS wanted us to do the quick ten second opening. We argued that to do a show about Hawaii and not at least see 30 seconds of Hawaii made no sense. They finally relented. Of course, they then cancelled us. But hey, we won that one.

What’s your Friday Question? Deliver it in the comments section.  You can't depend on Santa. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The year I got fired on Christmas

A holiday annual tradition.  My post on how I got fired.  It happened on this date in 1974.  Relive this cherished holiday memory. 
One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 40th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.   This is a blog tradition:  the anniversary of the Christmas I was fired.  And it ties into yesterday's post.

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish.

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advice for young writers trying to break in

This is in addition to the standard -- just keep writing – the more scripts you write; the better they will be – advice (which, by the way, is still sound.)

But beyond that..

Immerse yourself in the industry. If you want to break in to sitcoms, watch every sitcom (at least once or twice). Know who is on staff on all these shows. Know their background. Did any of these working writers go your college? That’s a connection. Utilize it. Are any of these writers from your hometown? That’s also an in. Do you know if they are rabid New York Jets fans (although I don’t see how anyone could be this season)? You get the point. Do your due diligence.

Information is so much more accessible these days due to this interwhozits thing the kids all yammer about. IMDB is invaluable, as are industry websites. You don’t have to buy Variety or the Hollywood Reporter anymore to keep up on who sold what to whom. Nowadays if someone sells a pilot pitch it’s a big story.

What are the networks buying this development season? There are some clear trends. Have you spotted them? Who are the writers the networks are buying? Why is that important? Because if you know the style of the writer you can get a sense of what the networks are looking for.

Which current shows are on the way out? Which are on the way up? I would not recommend writing a spec PARKS AND RECREATION. The show is ending its run this season. But the announcement of that was made months and months ago. You should not be surprised that it is going off the air. (If you are writing a spec PARKS AND REC, don’t junk it. Just know it will have a very short shelf life.)

Kevin Reilly is now running TBS and TNT. First off, know who Kevin Reilly is. Second, if you’re trying to break into sitcoms, TBS does a bunch of original sitcoms. What impact has Kevin Reilly had? How is he making his mark? This is a story you need to follow.

Who is Wendi Trilling? You hope to sell a pilot to a network? It behooves you to know who Wendi Trilling is.

If you’re going to spec an existing show, binge watch it. Take copious notes. How do they construct their stories? What joke forms do they use? Go to the effort of obtaining a copy of one of their scripts. Know their specific format, the general lenth. FINAL DRAFT has the templates of many current series. Take a minute to scroll. See if yours is among them.

If showrunners are speaking at the Paley Center or UCLA or WGA or Walmart, go see them. If they’re interviewed on podcasts, go listen to them. If they’re interviewed by the TV Academy or WGA for their archives program, go watch them. Attend conferences. Read how-to books on writing. Read scripts. Assemble support groups of fellow aspiring scribes. Sit in all-night diners debating THE MINDY PROJECT for four hours.

Know your history. Just as today’s ballplayers need to know who Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams were, wannabe sitcom writers need to be aware of Larry Gelbart, Nat Hiken, Jim Brooks, Alan Burns, Norman Lear, Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Phil Rosenthal, David Crane, Marta Kaufman, Bill Persky, Sam Denhoff, Danny Arnold, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Diane English, Treva Silverman, Susan Harris, Steve Gordon, Carl Reiner, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr., Fred Silverman, Brandon Tartikoff, Gene Reynolds, Linda Bloodworth, Glen & Les Charles, Sherwood Schwartz, Bud Yorkin, and many more. Tina Fey did not invent TV comedy. There were people before her.  And I don't mean Amy Poehler. 

I suppose the big question aspiring writers have to ask themselves is – is this a full-time commitment or a hobby?

If it’s a hobby, something to do to fill your spare time, that’s fine. And why knows? If you’re super-talented you might get lucky. But truthfully, that's like winning the lottery.  For the most part, success comes to those who almost treat breaking in as a full-time job. And if you’re a newbie to this, let me tell you, those are your real competition. Young writers who are passionate, driven, and know everything that’s going on around them. They eat, breathe, and sleep television.  You stand a much greater chance of success if you’re one of these people.

Yes, it’s hard work with no guarantee of reward. But I will say this – someone has to break in. We all did. Why not YOU? As always, the very best of luck. Thank me when you win an Emmy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BIRDMAN -- my review

BIRDMAN is a cinematic triumph. Unfolding in seemingly one continuous shot, director Alejandro González Iñárritu proves to be a virtuoso in choreography.

I just wish I liked the movie better.

When you are constantly paying more attention to the technique instead
of the narrative that is problematic. The picture is over two hours long and twenty minutes of it is either watching people walking down theater hallways or just watching the hallways themselves.

Themes of art and pretense and commerce are explored, but the movie falls into the trap of the themes. For a supposed absurdest comedy it takes itself very seriously. Oh, the tortured artiste. At the end of the day, for me, it felt like the world’s most ambitious college film. There is even a section with quick cuts of random images just like you see in every student thesis project. Ooooh, the symbolism.

Michael Keaton has the kind of showy role that attracts Oscars, but in this case the praise is deserved. Edward Norton plays an impossible pretentious actor -- the role he’s been perfecting his entire career on and off camera. But for my money, Emma Stone stole the picture. The girl can play attitude without you wanting to smack her.  This is not easy to do. Everyone else was terrific as well. It’s hard to go wrong with Zach Galifanakis (who’s now so slim he could do Subway commercials), and Amy Ryan. And what a pleasure to see Naomi Watts not battling tsunamis or other natural disasters.

BIRDMAN is listed as a “comedy,” which is like listing WHIPLASH as a musical. It has received tremendous critical acclaim, and most people I know who have seen it either are blown away or are underwhelmed. You decide.

It’s worth seeing for the cinematography alone. But is it a satisfying story with an emotional message that really resonates or is it just an elaborate exercise? Again, you decide.

I just hope there’s no BIRDMAN 2 with Val Kilmer.