Wednesday, December 31, 2014

May 2015 be for you what 2014 was for...


Jimmy Fallon, Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Colbert, Corey Kluber, Cory Schneider, FARGO, Daft Punk, WALKING DEAD, Jason Robert Brown, the San Francisco Giants, ALL THE WAY, Iggy Azalea, Mike Trout, Lorde, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Neil Patrick Harris, Lorenzo Cain, Cate Blanchett, Kevin Durant, Louis C.K., Aaron Paul, Sidney Crosby, Caleb Johnson, Jared Leto, FROZEN, Luke Kuechly, Gail Mancuso, Clayton Kershaw (until October), Madison Bumgarner (in October), Julianna Margulies, Jessie Mueller, The San Antonio Spurs, the Duggars, Lena Hall, Chris Pratt, Greg Popovich, Red States, Lupita Nyong’o, Sophie Okonedo, Idina Menzel, UConn Huskies, Kacey Musgraves, Jose Abreu, Ansel Elgort, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER, Goren Dragic, Sarah Silverman, Sam Smith, Giancarlo Stanton, BREAKING BAD, the Los Angeles Kings, Tina Fey (it’s always Tina Fey), Michael Carter-Willams, Mark Rylance, Meghan Trainor, Craig Wayne Boyd, Peyton Manning, MODERN FAMILY, Julia Louise Dreyfus, Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson, Jacob deGrom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jamal Crawford, Audra MacDonald, the Florida State Seminoles, Transformers, the Seattle Seahawks, Anna Gunn, Vince Gilligan, FKA twigs, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, Bryan Cranston (it’s always Bryan Cranston), James Monroe Iglehart, the Kansas City Royals, and me for having blog readers like you.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

INTO THE WOODS -- My review

This is a rave review for a movie that a lot of people didn’t like. It’s based on a musical I loved that a lot of people didn’t like. The music was composed by a genius who leaves a lot of people cold. Such is the magic and mixed reviews of INTO THE WOODS.

Here are the two biggest complaints I hear: 1) It’s too long. 2)  It's too short.  (They cut stuff out.)

Several songs from the musical were absent from the movie (notably the reprise of “Agony”) but a Broadway production can last 2 ½ hours or more. And there’s an intermission. Gone are the days that a motion picture features an intermission. (Gone with the wind) So trims had to be made. Composer Stephen Sondheim wrote an original song for the movie and even that got tossed. There goes the Oscar.

The length issue usually stems from the second act suddenly turning very dark. If you’re not on board with that creative choice you’re in for a squirmy forty minutes.

SIDEBAR: In the musical, act one ends with everyone seemingly living happily ever after. Act two spins all that on its ear. When the musical was first tried out in San Diego, people thought the end of the first act was the end of the show. Sondheim himself had to go out to the parking lot every night and tell people to come back, there was more.

Sondheim’s music is intricate and I have to say that for me, personally, there are times when I’m awestruck by his work and other times I want to yell at the stage or screen “Stop trying to be so fucking cute and clever!” And then a song like “No One Is Alone” comes along and he tears my heart out.

In the case of the movie version of INTO THE WOODS, none of the basic complaints bothered me. I knew the story going in, I knew most of the songs going in, so those weren’t concerns.

But I had my own trepidations before seeing the film. I always hate that studios insist movie stars be cast in musicals, even if they’re not as good or as right as the Broadway cast. Clint Eastwood in PAINT YOUR WAGON for godsakes! Russell Crowe in LES MIS? And I saw that Meryl Streep was playing the witch. Of course she was. Hollywood thinks Meryl Streep can just do anything. Who cares if she can sing? But you know what? She can sing. Beautifully. And she found just the right tone of humor and heartbreak. She made every moment work. Damn her. She CAN do anything.

The rest of the cast was equally sparkling. Emily Blunt – wow. Anna Kendrick – give me her over Anne Hathaway. James Corden – what the hell is he doing giving up a movie career that’s about to take off to do a late night talk show on CBS? Chris Pine – a pleasant musical comedy surprise. Tracey Ullman – another one who can do anything. The only sour note for me was Johnny Depp. What happened to that guy? He used to be a great actor. Now he’s become a cartoon. At least Christopher Walken waited until he was old to become a caricature.
The other concern I always have going into film adaptations of musicals is how weird it sounds when people on screen just break into song. On the stage there is a certain theatricality that allows you to buy it, but the harsh reality of being in the real world in movies often turns the film into COP ROCK. The badass Sharks and Jets singing show tunes and pirouetting in WEST SIDE STORY looked ridiculous.

But since INTO THE WOODS is set in a fantasy world, the singing felt organic. I bought it. And the fact that I love the songs themselves also helped I’m sure.

I find the storyline brilliant. There is so much underneath the clever narrative about parenting and relationships and abandonment. Witches can be right. Giants can be good.

Rob Marshall, who did an amazing job of adapting CHICAGO for the screen, was the perfect director for this project. And James Lapine, who wrote the libretto did the screenplay. What a concept – letting the writer who understands the material the best write the movie.

So I loved the film.  And I recommend it... to people predisposed to love it too. 

And more proof that life is real and not a fairy tale: This is a Disney movie and they had some issues with certain story points and songs. Even the great Stephen Sondheim got studio notes.

Monday, December 29, 2014

TOP FIVE -- my review

Everyone is saying that Chris Rock’s new movie TOP FIVE is his ANNIE HALL. It’s actually his ANNIE HALL meets STARDUST MEMORIES. A grown up romantic comedy with incisive observations, lots of laughs, and a lead character whose central problem is that he’s a comic who wants to be taken seriously. Not the most universal dilemma. I’m sure if someone else (who wasn’t a bankable movie actor and studio favorite) wrote this it would remain forever on the BLACK LIST pile of great unproduced screenplays.

TOP FIVE not a perfect movie. It’s a little long and at times repetitious. But on the whole it’s a huge step forward for Rock as an artist, writer, and director.

But here’s why it’s number one in my TOP FIVE comedies of the year – the laughs come from CHARACTER. They come out of ATTITUDE. They’re grounded in REALITY. What a pleasure after all the R-Rated stupid, implausible, loud, forced, immature, schticky unfunny yuckfests that Hollywood currently pawns off as comedies. How refreshing that the protagonist isn’t some slothy man-child acting like he’s 13 stuck in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. “Duuuuuude!”

Why is Hollywood so afraid to make these kinds of smart adult comedies anymore? I know they’re slavishly pandering to teenagers but do they really think that little of them that they can only laugh at Seth Rogen vomiting on himself? Do they think Millineals will flee the theater en masse if there is a scene of two adults walking down the street just talking?

Chris Rock is very funny in this movie… when he wants to be. But there are times he doesn’t. And those moments work too. In fact, some of them work better. And he’s surrounded himself with a great supporting cast. Cedric the Entertainer KILLS. Kevin Hart rocks. Jerry Seinfeld is hilarious. Tracy Morgan delivers. Adam Sandler is even funny for the first time in ten years. And DMX steals the picture.

The only weak link for me was Rosario Dawson as his love interest. Again, personal taste, but I just don’t get it.

TOP FIVE is very satiric. It skewers Hollywood film-making, reality television, and our pop culture society. But it also speaks to relationships, battling personal demons, and finding meaning in your life and work. The existential issue isn't the fraternity next door is too loud. 

Warning: the language is a little blue. Yes, the movie is sort of like ANNIE HALL if Jews said “motherfucker” every five words.

Critics are absolutely ga-ga over TOP FIVE, which is fine except they might create unrealistic expectations. No, it is not a masterpiece. But in today’s landscape, a comedy that is genuinely funny even SOME of the time is considered one.

Go see TOP FIVE.  Even the North Koreans agree it's better than THE INTERVIEW.

Tomorrow:  Another movie review.  Hey, they're all coming out at the same time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Neil Simon (and me) on TCM

Here's the info from the TCM website on the Neil Simon Film Festival that begins this Friday.  Just click here.   There will be 17 Neil Simon movies shown the month of January, hosted by your intrepid blogger/Simon fanboy.   Join me for the laughs and factoids.

Trailer moments

When you go in and pitch a comedy idea to a movie studio, they’ll usually ask you, “What are the trailer moments?” Sometimes they’ll ask this in lieu of, “What is the story?” But studio comedies are all about boxoffice. High-concept ideas, bankable stars, sequels, franchises.

Some studio people will tell you (but deny it) that sometimes the trailer is more important than the film.

Nancy Meyers makes trailers and then just pads the remaining 89 minutes with filler.

My writing partner and I were once hired to write some jokes expressly to be inserted into a trailer. It was maybe the greatest and shortest gig we ever had. We asked, if the jokes work, will you put them in the movie itself?  No.

When you watch comedy trailers, be aware – these are the funniest moments in the film. These are the big pratfalls (trailer makers LOVE pratfalls), the best zingers, and what they hope will be the most memorable moments. Or, in the case of Nancy Meyers, the only moments.

So if the trailer isn’t funny, if the jokes are forced, if the physical stunts are lame, if the best they could do was a gag about shit on Katherine Heigl’s face, then you can bet the movie will be what’s on Katherine Heigl’s face.

But what if the trailer is funny? Knowing that these are the best jokes, you may wonder if it’s still worth seeing because you know all the highlights? Here’s the amazing thing. The laughs in the trailer get the biggest laughs in the theater, even though most of the audience has been exposed to the jokes already. It's bizarre. 

However, the same does not hold true for giving away plot twists in the trailer. Spoiler alerts might not apply for jokes but they sure do for stories. And as a general rule, if you can set up the premise easily and clearly in a trailer, then you don’t need thirty minutes of screen time to do the same thing.

Trailers today have become an art… and a science. The amount of creativity and research that goes into previews is staggering. I can’t imagine J.D. Salinger ever went to his editor with a new book he intended to write and heard the editor say, “What are five good blurbs?” But that’s the current feature world. So when you pitch your comedy, make sure someone gets hit in the nuts, at least two people are humiliated, people dance to a 60s hit, the punchline to a joke is “vagina”, and you feature Betty White. Close your sale, and then go write STALAG 17.

This is a repost while I celebrate the holidays.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How did we handle drinking on CHEERS

Does anybody read the Friday Questions in the archive?  Here's a repost of some from four years ago.  The answers mostly still apply.

Lairbo is up first.

On CHEERS, I can recall few, if any, scenes of someone actually being drunk at the bar. Were there rules or guidelines about this? If so, were they from the network or the creators?

I think everyone (the Charles Brothers, Jim Burrows, NBC, Paramount) were in agreement that the drinking had to be handled responsibly. No one ever drove home drunk. There were a few cases where cabs were called for homeward bound patrons.

The conceit with Norm was that he could hold his liquor. So we never played him drunk or with impaired judgment.

I want to say we never got laughs out of drunks at the bar but there was Al. A case can be made that he was just punch drunk, not alcohol drunk, but he sure acted like a tosspot.

Sam of course, was a former alcoholic and the message was delivered many times that you don’t solve your problems by drinking. And that goes for egg nog, by the way. The benefit people got from going to the CHEERS bar was the camaraderie and support they gained from each other. Remember, the theme is “where everyone knows your name” not “where fifty dollars will get you shit-faced”.

From RockGolf:

Which IQ is easier to write for: smart or dumb? And which do networks prefer?

Both have their plusses. It’s “easier” I suppose to write dumb characters, but smart characters allow you to write with sophistication, and I personally prefer that. Anyone can write morons; it takes a certain skill to service witty, truly intelligent characters.

But I can’t stress this enough: play every character to the top of their intelligence, regardless of their IQ. I’ve said this before, but the best dimwits are the ones who are dumb for a legitimate reason. Coach was hit in the head by too many fastballs. Woody was a naïve country boy. There’s a logic to everything they said. It’s just not the correct logic.

Networks prefer any show that gets ratings. If it’s FRASIER, fine. If it’s HEE HAW, also fine.

Kevin asks:

Ken, You've talked about not liking it when the director of Volunteers broke the fourth wall. What do you think about the practice of putting an "inside" joke into a sitcom? For instance, How I Met Your Mother has done it at least twice: Barney recreating the end of Doogie Howser in one show and recently when Jorge Garcia shouted out the "Lost" numbers in an episode. Even Frasier did it once when Laurie Metcalf as Nanny G asked Fraiser how he'd feel playing the same role for 20 years. For the joke to work, the audience has to know the reference, which can be a big risk.

Inside jokes are tricky. They can be great little rewards for fans who are really paying attention. Or your close friends, or eighth grade teacher that you want to rip.  But you have to be careful that the audience doesn't feel excluded because there are too many references they don’t get.

Personally, I like inside jokes. Always have. I loved in HIS GIRL FRIDAY that Cary Grant makes mention of an Archie Leach (which was his real name). And he describes Roz Russell’s fiancée as looking like the actor Ralph Bellamy (Ralph Bellamy actually played the part of the fiancée).

I’ve slipped in my fair share of inside jokes. But the trick is to hide them so they go right by the general audience. It’s comedy camouflage. But never do an inside joke at the expense of a bigger joke that everyone would get. You’re doing a show for millions of people, not just your eight friends (unless you’re on NBC at 10:30).

And finally, from Debby G:

You're taking an improv class? Just for fun or to help your writing or because you see a job at The Groundlings in your future? Once you became an established writer, did you still take classes, read how-to books, etc.? Or did you feel you'd advanced beyond those things?

I’m taking it mostly for fun but also to keep sharpening my skills, in the same way that professional golfers still take lessons. I have no aspirations of performing in an improv group or becoming an actor, but learning how to create characters and even more importantly, commit to them helps me as a writer.

Plus, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

I’m in a class taught by Andy Goldberg. Most class members are improv veterans so it’s primarily a group of enormously talented people (and me) essentially having a jam session.

Did I mention it’s great great fun?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday Questions

Friday Questions to scan on your smart phone as you wait in line to return yesterday’s gifts:

Barry Traylor starts us off:

I have been binge watching the episodes of MASH with Harry Morgan as Col. Sherman T. Potter. I am old enough to remember him from Dragnet but I really love him as Col. Potter on MASH. What was he like to work with?

A dream. Had the ability to read a scene once and have it memorized. Could do take after take and give the same great performance.  Always on time.  Always prepared.  Could play any emotion.  Had perfect comic timing.  The consummate pro.

And he always had such great stories. Before television Harry did hundreds of movies. Mention any major Hollywood star and he would have four stories – usually hilarious. Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Elvis – he worked with them all.

Just last week I saw some old movie on TV starring Joan Crawford (she seems to be a recurring theme in the blog this week) where she played a maniacal Broadway diva (big stretch for her) and Harry had a large role playing opposite her. My first thought was, “Damn! I wish I had known about this earlier. Oooooh, the stories Harry must’ve had.”

The last time I saw Harry it was at a local restaurant. It had been years since we’d seen each other. But he remembered my name instantly and at 89 or 90 still had a vice-like handshake.

It was an honor and a joy to know him. How nice that his work will continue to be enjoyed and appreciated long after his passing.

Texas Annie wonders:

How do you create decent comedy in these days of political correctness, trigger warnings, advancing narratives and backlash?

I try to ignore all of that. As long as my comedy doesn’t intentionally try to hurt someone and is not grossly inappropriate for the audience I’m targeting, I just try to write the funniest and sharpest material I can, knowing full well that some people will always be offended. The trolls will resurface as sure as day. So I expect it.

And it doesn’t even have to be a charged issue. I could make the most innocuous joke about orange juice and someone will write in furious because their uncle once choked on a glass of orange juice and I’m an insensitive asshole.

But I keep going back to that great Larry Gelbart quote:

If you write something that doesn’t offend anybody, go back and do it over.

-30- has a radio-related question:

In your multi-station radio career, you never seemed to be the morning man or did I not read the posts closely? It would seem like the comedian should be on in the AM, not 10 at night. Please explain.

Because I had a “youthful” voice, stations always put me in the evening “teen” timeslot. But you’re right. If they were smart they would have assigned me to mornings.

EXCEPT – when I was at K100 in Los Angeles. When I did nights the morning man there was Robert W. Morgan. On my best day I couldn’t carry that man’s headphones.

Truth be told, I never relished getting up at 3:30 every morning. Your life just becomes trying to catch up on sleep. Still, the money was better and the audience was bigger in morning drive. Had I been asked, I’m sure I would have done it (except at K100). Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten fired as often. Unless I slept through my alarm too many mornings.

And finally, from Hamid:

What's your favorite show or movie that Ted Danson has done outside of Cheers and Becker? Mine is Three Men and a Baby, but I also have a soft spot for Loch Ness, a very underrated film.

BODY HEAT, a steamy movie from 1981. Ted plays a tap dancing District Attorney and is hilarious. It’s also my favorite Kathleen Turner movie, but for different reasons.

What’s your Friday Question?







Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Mommy Dearest Merry Christmas to you all

May your family have as wonderful a Christmas as Joan Crawford's.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Great Big Radio Special

Tired of Christmas music even though it's not Christmas yet?  Or... do you miss the year 1975?

Well here's the place for you.

GREAT BIG RADIO, one of the internet's BEST radio stations, is saluting the Golden Year 1975 now through the end of New Year's Eve.  You'll hear the news, commercials, radio airchecks, and all the music that made 1975 the middle of that decade. 

Relive such treasured memories as...

The Watergate assholes were convicted.

WHEEL OF FORTUNE premiered.

CAA was formed.

The Thrilla in Manilla happened.

Australian television switched to color (a little late, don'tcha think?)

UCLA won the NCAA basketball championship.

Microsoft was founded.

The Vietnam War ended.  (Remember when wars ended?)

Levine & Isaacs sold their first script.

Carlton Fisk hit his home run. 

Beaver Cleaver did weekends on B100 San Diego.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT expanded to an hour. 

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was released, immediately causing weekend insomnia.

And Lyme Disease was first discovered.  

So join Howard Hoffman as he turns back the clock to 1975 and grows an afro again.   He's kicking it off live at 3 PM Pacific, 6 PM Eastern.

Just click here.


When NOT to take down your Christmas decorations

I assume your Christmas decorations are up.  It's Christmas Eve.  And Merry Christmas Eve, by the way.   But the question is always:  when should you take them down? 

This is my friend Kevin’s house in the residential San Fernando Valley. He’s Jewish but loves to celebrate the colors and lights of the season. This tradition began (as most things do) because his girlfriend at the time really loved Christmas decorations.

There’s not another house on his block even remotely as elaborate. I bet you can see Kevin's house from space.

Most people take down their Christmas decorations after the first of the year. Certainly by Memorial Day.

But I guess if you take them down earlier you face dire consequences.

A couple of years ago Kevin made the mistake of striking his on December 26. This caused an absolute shitstorm with his neighbors. Their wrath knew no seasonal bounds. Kevin’s house was egged, he was left threatening notes, and people he didn’t even know called to scream at him.

But the coup de grace was this: His neighbor from across the street, who he never talks to and has no relationship with whatsoever, called him.

KEVIN: Hello.

TINA: Kevin, this is Tina from across the street. WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!

KEVIN: Excuse me?

TINA: Why did you take down your Christmas decorations? Are you INSANE?

KEVIN: Um, Christmas is over.

TINA: Yes, but I have a big New Year’s Eve party every year and one of the big attractions is that everybody likes to look at your decorations. And now you’ve RUINED MY PARTY!

I mean, how do you possibly respond to that other than sending invitations for their next New Year’s Eve bash to the Hells Angels?

Now to review: Out of the goodness of his heart (the girlfriend has long since moved on to Tiger Woods or whomever) Kevin puts up the decorations on his own time and at his own expense.

And this is how he’s rewarded.

Kevin, I wouldn’t entirely take down your holiday decorations this year. I would remove all the lights and the big snow globe like you normally do but I would hire a Department Store Santa to sit on your front porch with a fucking bazooka. A few blasts from Rudolph the Red Nose Rocket Launcher and by God, your neighbors will once again rekindle that holy spirit of Christmas.

But wait -- there's more.  

Last year there was a power outage in his neighborhood and all the neighbors blamed HIM.  His decorations overloaded the system.    More angry emails and calls.  Then it was discovered that (a) it was a grid problem miles away, and (b) Kevin uses his own generator.   So again, nice way to thank somebody for providing enjoyment for YOU.

May you have a wonderful Christmas Eve... unless you live on Kevin's block.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How the Sony hacking has impacted its employees

Here's another side of the whole Sony crisis -- the impact leaked data will have on its unfortunate employees.   A good friend of mine was personally involved.  Here is his account.  Let it serve as an eye-opener and warning to anyone else who also could be affected.   Not a lot of humor in today's post but it's something you should read.  Thanks again to my friend for sharing this valuable information.  

There has been a lot written about the Sony breach lately, some of it factual, some of it comical (see SNL’s cold open on Saturday). But all the news can basically fall into one of 3 categories: 1. The hack of Sony, apparently by the North Koreans. 2. Sony’s lack of regard for data security, which is damningly apparent by Sony’s own emails, which were revealed by the hacks. 3. The unsung victims of the hack, whose private information has forever been revealed. While anyone can see humor in #1, as one member of the group of unsung victims, making fun of our plight is really unnecessary.

My spouse and I have always been aware of the need to keep private information private and we practice what we preach. My spouse, however, is a former Sony employee and, at one time or another, 6 people’s social security numbers (5 + my spouse) were provided to Sony for the purpose of their life and/or health insurance benefits. My spouse was nowhere near being included on the list of highest Sony earners that was one of the earliest releases by the hackers.

When my spouse left Sony, there was no need for Sony to keep any of their beneficiary information. Sony did so. Sony could have and should have encrypted all current and former employee data and keep it off the normal network and on a more secure network. It is apparent Sony did not follow state of the art practice regarding data security. Sony has had multiple breaches, including their PlayStation network in 2010 and a breach, which may have been a dry run, of a network in Brazil earlier this year. Regardless as to whether this was a foreign government, a really smart 11th grader or the Second Coming who hacked Sony, Sony’s data security practices point to negligence.

What has this meant for us? We have changed every login and password. We have put “two-step” verification on everything we could. Still, hackers have attempted to get into two of our accounts on multiple occasions; we know this because the two-step authentication was activated. We have evidence that social security numbers have been stolen, sold and are being used.

Sony’s answer to all of this is to provide us with AllClearID, for free, for 12 months. AllClearID has told us we are safe; however, we spent hundreds of dollars on Lifelock and that has painted a different story. We believe this will play out over years, not months. For every Sony employee who had minor children as beneficiaries, those kids “virgin” social security numbers are valuable because it will be years until fraud might be detected. What is Sony doing for the real victims – the people who had no control over their data and who were just showing up and doing a job to help one of the premier entertainment companies earn profits – in the long term? We look forward to finding out answers.

So please – make fun of Kim Jong-Un all you want, but understand that some of your friends and neighbors are unwitting victims and if they are smart, they are doing everything they can to protect themselves.

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. But 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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The number one song of all-time is...

We’re fast approaching the “List” time of year. Top movies of the year. Top TV shows. Top sex tapes. And of course these are all bullshit.  The amazing thing is we get pissed when we read them but we KNOW they're absurd. 

Back in my disc jockey days in the swingin'  ‘70s, every station I worked for would put together their “all-time Top 300” or “500” to play over a long holiday weekend. Listeners were invited to send a postcard (email? What’s that?) listing their three ALL-TIME favorite three songs. Invariably, two of the three would be current hits. If we tabulated the audience’s actual entries the number one song of all-time would be “The Night Chicago Died.” Number two would be “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Worse -- if this was done in 1968 "Honey" would be the all-time greatest rock n' roll record ever.

Obviously, we couldn’t go with that and keep our FCC license so we essentially just threw out the cards and two or three of us jocks were assigned to assemble the list. We referenced Billboard Magazine's year-end sales surveys and skewed towards the bands that were popular in our market. Beach Boys songs were more plentiful in San Diego than Four Seasons' tunes, but I’m sure in New York it was just the opposite. In Detroit, Motown ruled. Elvis topped the charts in Memphis. And in Seattle, Marilee Rush & the Turnabouts kicked some serious ass.

We also juggled the music for tempo and variety. There were never two ballads in a row; never two instrumentals. We made sure the years were properly shuffled so there wouldn’t be a stretch of all ’69 records followed by a stretch of ’61’ers. Bubblegum was kept to a minimum. And I don’t care how many records it sold, “Dominique” by the Singing Nuns was not going to make the list. (Ironically, KHJ, the big rocker in Los Angeles just went to an all-Catholic format. “Dominique” would probably now top their chart.)

So without the benefit of exhaustive computation and scrupulous crosschecking to ensure complete accuracy the “Top 300 of All-Time” was assembled. Three guys and a six-pack of beer put it together.

Don’t you think the same is true when ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or E! television or PEOPLE magazine compile their all-time lists? I would assume young staffers are assigned these tasks, which is why THE MINDY PROJECT might come in as say the #4 sitcom of all-time while ALL IN THE FAMILY ranks #62. Or Dwayne Johnson is considered a bigger all-time movie star than Gary Cooper.

So as these lists begin appearing in the next couple of weeks, remember they are all bogus… except any that ranks MASH or CHEERS or BIG WAVE DAVE’S the greatest sitcom of all-time. Those are legit.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Okay, you can play Christmas music now

Now that we're less than two weeks away from Christmas instead of the day after Labor Day, I think it's finally appropriate to play Christmas songs. Here are some of my favorites and not-so-favorites. What are yours?

Personally, I get a warm feeling when I hear Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”, which was written by Mel Torme. One Christmas night I saw Mel eating alone at Delores coffee shop. It was ironic but sad.

The Phil Spector Christmas album is still my favorite. Putting aside that he killed someone, we thank Phil for a real musical gift.

And Darlene Love's , "Christmastime for the Jews" which is a recent parody of her own work on the album is maybe the funniest Christmas song ever.

I fancy the oldies. Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”, Bobby Helm’s “Jingle Bell Rock”, and the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick”.

The Boss’s Xmas ditty is pretty catchy as are the King’s.

Re: “White Christmas”, give me the Drifters over Bing. (Interesting that so many classic Christmas songs were written by Jews.)

Some obscure holiday songs I recommend: “Run Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Four Seasons, “Monster Holiday” by Bobby Boris Pickett (that one always tears me up), and “Santa Claus is Watching You” by Ray Stevens. Super obscure but worth finding is “Lost Winter Dreams” by Lisa Mychols. And for the motherlode of bad taste fun, try to find Claudine Longet singing “Winter Wonderland”. Before she shot skier Spider Sabich in cold blood she and husband, Andy Williams, were the first couple of the season. Their annual family Christmas special was a must-see. They even have a kid named Noel.
Songs I can’t stand: “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano, “Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, and “the Little Drummer Boy” by anybody. Whey do stations overplay TO DEATH the songs that are the most repetitious? I seem to recall Paul Anka singing Christmas in Japan, which was like a drill to the head. Also, anything sung by kids usually makes me cringe.

I’m only sorry Kurt Cobain left us before he could give the world his Christmas album.

For a more vocal pop sound, you can’t beat Linda Eder’s holiday album. Her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” would bring a tear to a glass eye. Listen for it the next time you’re in an elevator. Streisand is great but there’s more ornamentation than on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Johnny Mathis is a little too sugar plum fairy for my tastes, and you can always count on “Mr. Peace and Goodwill to All Men”, Sinatra. The Carpenters have their fans too. And The Manhattan Transfer's acapella album is gorgeous.

But if I had to pick my all-time favorite Christmas song, the one that most expresses my feelings about the holiday season, it would have to be “The Christmas Song” by the Chipmunks. Sometimes the right song and the right performers just combine for sheer perfection.


This is a repost.  From July.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Rob Petrie

Dick Van Dyke is 89 today.  Happy Birthday to one of my idols.

A COSBY writer weighs in

I received this great note in the comments section from Carmen Finestra, who was a writer on THE COSBY SHOW.  This is in response to my article about Bill Cosby being viewed as a mentor to his writing staff.   I personally was never in the COSBY writing room.  My opinions were based on discussions with writers who were and an article in the WGA's magazine.   But in the interest of fairness, I want to re-post this comment so it gets the same space as my original post.  

And by the way, today's post is only discussing Cosby in terms of the writing process.  All of his other newsworthy behavior is for another piece. 

Thanks very much, Carmen.   You have the floor.

I'm glad the writing conditions of THE COSBY SHOW have come up, because I was a writer/Producer on the show for five-and-a-half seasons, and I want to correct some of what you wrote, Ken.

I enjoy your blog, but feel compelled to respond today.

The writer you spoke to somehow gave the impression Cosby would blow smoke in our faces when giving notes, or just to possibly mess with us, and I can say that is NOT true. Yes, Cosby smoked cigars often, and if smoke somehow drifted in our faces (I don't ever remember one incident of that happening to me), it would have been because of a wind change and accidental.

Secondly, Cosby DID NOT make a habit of using funny voices at table readings to mock the script. If, as happens sometimes at a reading, some general silliness broke out, e.g., somebody mangled a line (and even they laughed at their mistake) someone might have fun with that. Or Bill might do a funny voice when kidding that person. But he was just as willing to be made fun of by the cast when he made a mistake. Remember, we had kids in the show, so silliness can happen sometimes.

I have to give a little history on why scripts were written on Wednesdays through Sundays on the show. In the first couple of seasons, scripts were prepared well in advance (with a couple of drafts and a table polish). The problem was Bill Cosby has such a fertile mind, and it's always working, he would often have a different take on a script once he heard it, and throw it in a different direction.... usually, I might add, in a far better direction. So, the writers would face a big rewrite, but the story was better.

The writers, by the third season, decided that instead of pitching stories a month out, they would meet closer to the actual reading to clear a story and write the script, knowing chances were better that Bill wouldn't change his mind on the story. Thus we began writing Wednesday for a Monday reading. These scripts were closer to first draft shape, and we didn't expect them to be home runs. However, the story would usually remain the same. So, we would work on that draft, with great notes from Cosby, incidentally, and whip it into shape for the Thursday taping. Obviously, this required long hours, but it was satisfying, when viewing the end product.

Bill had total creative control of the show, and one advantage was NO network interference.

One of the great pleasures creatively for me was sitting with Cosby three mornings a week discussing story and comedic ideas for the show. It was like your own 2-hour Bill Cosby comedy concert, because he could riff on something off the top of his head for 15 minutes and have you bust a gut laughing. His mind is like Jazz, constantly moving in all directions, and I think what enabled myself and the other writers on staff to succeed is that Bill understood we got it, i.e., what he was looking for.

The atmosphere on the show, as far as the crew was concerned, was very good. It was a completely integrated crew from top to bottom, and had a very nice family atmosphere. Cosby went out of his way to make sure African-American technicians, etc., were hired, and black and white crew worked well together.

If anyone's Mom showed up, Cosby treated her like the Queen of England, and lavished attention and love on her. My Mom, an Italian immigrant with little education, spoke about the day she met Cosby for the rest of her life. I never forgot it, either.

Yes,writing the Cosby Show required very long hours, but almost every writer who came out of it, got a huge boost in their career. I was able, with Cosby Writer Matt Williams, and David McFadzean, to help create HOME IMPROVEMENT, which was also a hit.

I know everyone wants to jump on Bill Cosby now, but I thought he was a good boss. He was demanding, but isn't every creator of a show who wants it to be good? Ask Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.

Again, many thanks to Carmen Finestra.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last few hours of my book sale

Get the Kindle version for only $.99.  Tomorrow it goes back to it's regular price -- a thousand dollars.  Here's where you go.  Get yours now!

Friday Questions

Bring ‘em on.

Broadway Becky gets us started:

Why don't they use more Broadway stars in these big Hollywood musical films that are coming back. Case in point: Russel Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway scored huge parts in Les Miserables but there are tons of Broadway stars that are maybe better suited to live singing roles. Now they're making Into the Woods and Meryl Streep gets the lead (big shock). Of course, Ms. Streep is a tremendous talent but in the case of a huge musical, why not throw a bone to the tireless Broadway stars who are every bit as talented? It worked for Glee. They launched film & television careers of tons of unknowns & it worked out great.

Movie studios need movie STARS to open movies. It’s as simple as that. The $50 million dollar safe bet.   Broadway performers may be better but they’re relatively unknown to the movie-buying public. Recognition and star power are way more important to Hollywood than talent.

And thus it has always been. Natalie Wood starred in WEST SIDE STORY even though someone else had to do her singing. Same with Audrey Hepburn taking Julie Andrews’ part in the screen version of MY FAIR LADY. Audrey’s songs were over-dubbed with someone else.

In the Bob Fosse movie version of SWEET CHARITY, Shirley MacLaine played the wondrous Gwen Verdon part, and poor Ms. V. was hired to coach MacLaine.

Of course, nothing compares to the film adaptation of the musical PAINT YOUR WAGON starring everyone’s favorite crooner, Clint Eastwood.

Dan Ball has a question about my post detailing how Bill Cosby worked his writers to death.

How bad would conditions on THE COSBY SHOW need to be in order for the WGA to intervene on behalf of the writing staff? Would the WGA ever intervene in a situation like that?

It’s a tricky area. First of all, the writers are generally well paid. It’s not like they’re working around the clock for nothing.

And reader, John Levenstein, who was also a producer on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT offers this excellent point:

I have discussed this with the WGA. They will never intervene because then they would have to intervene when writers overwork their own staffs, which is usually the case.

If conditions become too intolerable there is always the option of quitting. But sometimes it’s hard to do that. Being on a good, well-respected show has its advantages. Episodes you write will rerun and probably go into syndication thus yielding residuals. Just having the name of the show on your resume might put you in line for better jobs and better salaries. And since over-paying is the most common way of keeping good writers on shows run by monsters, you can parlay that into better deals for your next show. Assuming you live through this one.

There is also the possibility of awards.   Writers will eat a tremendous amount of shit for a chance to nibble on that carrot. 

Barry Traylor is one of the very few people in America who actually pays attention to credits.

I have a Friday question for you. In episode "Fade Out, Fade In" part one and two you and your writing partner are listed as Story Editors. Was that your first jobs on MASH? And just what did the job entail?
That was our first job. We were essentially staff writers. Others above us made the creative decisions. We broke stories and rewrote scripts. However, in that same season (6), the head writer left midway through and David and I took his place. So despite still maintaining the position (and salary) of story editor, we were now essentially the head writers.

I was soooo thrilled to have that job I didn't even care about the money.  But don't tell 20th. 

And finally, from Shawn K:

As 'new media' is increasing in popularity, have you ever considered doing a web series, for a good idea that you've had, but maybe didn't merit a traditional 30 minute sitcom structure?

I would not be adverse to doing a web series if I came up with the right idea. And funding. But at the moment I’m focused on playwrighting; developing my third play. I’ll probably make the same money for writing a play as writing/directing/producing a web series – namely table scraps. But at the moment, I’m having a blast working on my play.

FINAL REMINDER:  This is the last day my book, THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60S), is on sale for only $.99.  To get the Kindle version of this great gift idea, here's where you go.   But warning:  the sale ends tonight.  Thanks.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The SHARK TANK scene I'd like to see

WARNING: This post contains sexual content and may be viewed by some as offensive. And worse, there are some bad puns. If raunchy material concerns you, we’ll see you tomorrow. Have a great day. My guess is you’re going to read this post BECAUSE of the disclaimer.

Performance artist Casey Jenkins of Melbourne, Australia has been knitting a scarf from a ball of yarn inserted in her vagina. I kid you not. Here’s a video (not for the squeamish):



Yes, the art world needs this. Now you might not think there’s a practical purpose for this rather unique, er… skill, but I beg to differ. This is just the kind of product I’d like to see on SHARK TANK. So join Casey as she pitches Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, and Robert Herjavec.

INT. SHARK TANK – NIGHT

ANNOUNCER: Now entering the Shark Tank, a young woman with the birth of a new idea.

Casey Jenkins enters the room and addresses the group.

CASEY: Hi, Sharks. My name is Casey Jenkins and I’m the founder and CEO of “Fruit of the Womb” scarves and I’m asking for $250,000 for 10% of my company. Who wants cheap mass produced scarves when you can have knitted fabric that truly comes out of a human being? There are no costly machines. No sky-high electric bills. Each scarf is hand-knitted from yarn that is stored in a woman’s vagina. So which Shark is going to snatch this opportunity?

The Sharks give their customary patronizing chuckle.

KEVIN: Do you have a factory?

CASEY: No, at the moment it’s just me.

KEVIN: As an investor am I allowed to inspect the process.

CASEY: Not for 10%.

BARBARA: This is insane.

MARK: Do you have any licensing deals with sports teams?

CASEY: There’s a university in Oregon that has inquired.

LORI: How did this business come about, Casey?

CASEY: I have a cat, and often times he would jump on the table and unravel the yarn, so I needed a place to hide it.

KEVIN: Y’know, that’s usually the first place boys think to look.

BARBARA: I can’t believe this.

ROBERT: Is there anything proprietary about your vagina?

BARBARA: Seriously. What is going on here?

CASEY: We do have some design patents pending.

KEVIN: Can I inspect the drawings?

BARBARA: Kevin! Jesus!

LORI: How many of these have you sold?

CASEY: In the last six months – four.

ROBERT: Why so few?

CASEY: I sometimes forget to remove the ball of wool before taking bathroom breaks.

BARBARA: Kill me now, God. Please kill me!

KEVIN: Is there a way a person could double the production? If there was a place to say, store a second ball of wool?

BARBARA: Kevin, that is gross, disgusting, and highly uncalled for!

KEVIN: All I care about is making money.

BARBARA: Dear God!

MARK: What are sales like?

CASEY: I’ve sold three.

MARK: On line?

CASEY: No. I sold one to a man in a raincoat, and the rest is from word-of-mouth.

LORI: Have you approached the Big Box stores with this? I would think this is a big box item.

CASEY: No.

MARK: You really muffed that.

KEVIN: Could Robert and I both go in on your vagina?

BARBARA: Can we stop the tape?

LORI: What do you need the money for, Casey?

CASEY: I’d like to expand my business. Get a few more knitters. Make ski sweaters.

MARK: Casey, I usually buy technological products. And you haven’t convinced me that you can make smart phones out of your vagina so for that reason, I’m out.

CASEY: Okay. Sorry to hear that. The Mavericks suck, by the way.

ROBERT: My father was an immigrant and did all kinds of menial labor when he first got to this country. He worked 16 hours a day to support his family. Give me a second to cry. Another second for Lori to cry. (beat) Okay. The point is I buy into any company that offers employment opportunities similar to what my father did, and since he never knitted out of any orifice, I’m afraid I’m out.

CASEY: Fine. You might want to touch up the dye job on that hair.

MARK:  Lori?

LORI: Well, like most women, I’ve stored yarn in my vagina but I sometimes forget that it's there, so I’m out.

BARBARA: I’ve never done that. Why would a woman do that?

LORI: I don’t always have pockets.

KEVIN: I’ll make you an offer. I’ll get in bed with you.

BARBARA: This can’t be happening.

KEVIN: I’ll give you the $250,000 but I want 80%, a $2.00 royalty on every item in perpetuity, your house, any inheritance you may receive for the next fifty years, and your cat. Oh, and you have to renounce your Australian citizenship and admit that Nicole Kidman was miscast as Grace of Monaco.

CASEY: Can I think about it?

BARBARA: That’s it! This is over.

Barbara springs out of her chair, grabs Casey by the hair, and begins dragging her out of the room.

CASEY: Hey, what are you doing? Aaaaaaa!

KEVIN: (calling out) You can give me your answer tonight over dinner!

CUT TO COMMERCIAL (FOR MY BOOK).

Just a couple more days of the big sale on my humorous memoir, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60S).  How many other Christmas gifts can you give that cost less than a dollar and won't be insulting.   Here's where you go to order yours.  Thanks. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My thoughts on the recent Aaron Sorkin controversy

A lot of readers are asking my opinion of the recent Aaron Sorkin/Alena Smith flap. This is nice. Before I had a blog no one asked me about anything. So I’ll take a moment from plugging my book sale (the real reason for this blog) and weigh in with my thoughts.

In case you’re not familiar with the story. On last Sunday night’s episode of THE NEWSROOM there was a campus rape storyline that has angered many viewers. It’s also very timely considering the recent Cosby allegations and University of Virginia/ROLLING STONE debacle. But the episode was filmed months ago. The fact that Sorkin touched on a hotbed subject is actually coincidental. It happens. Real life events sometimes have the audacity to interfere with entertainment scheduling.

Alena Smith was a staff writer on the show and tweeted this week that she strongly disagreed with Sorkin’s position on the campus rape issue in the writers room, and when she wouldn’t stop pressing it Sorkin eventually asked her to leave.

Sorkin then issued a statement. Here is part of that response:

Alena Smith, a staff writer who joined the show for the third season, had strong objections to the Princeton story and made those objections known to me and to the room. I heard Alena's objections and there was some healthy back and forth. After a while I needed to move on (there's a clock ticking) but Alena wasn't ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn't let me do that so I excused her from the room.

The next day I wrote a new draft of the Princeton scenes--the draft you saw performed last night. Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story. But I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That's what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I'm saddened that she's broken that trust.

And now Sorkin is taking more flack.

So where do I stand?

Well, first of all, I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know how long the debate was. I don’t know how contentious the debate was. I don’t know Alena Smith. I didn’t even know Aaron Sorkin had a writers room. I did see the episode however. I am still a loyal viewer of THE NEWSROOM. It makes me feel smart if I can understand half of what is going on. So I have no idea who was right or wrong. I’m clueless as to whether Sorkin gave her sufficient time or was dismissive, whether she had a myriad of points that required time to express or the same point repeated seven times. I don’t know if he warned her that she was in jeopardy of being tossed. I don’t know if ultimately in his rewrite Sorkin did change things as per her argument or ignored her completely.

But I side with Sorkin on this point: Confidentiality in the writers’ room is a must. And it’s more than just “you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in public.” Writers need to feel safe. The best stories and moments come from real life, and in the quest for a good story a writer will often share the most intimate details of his or her life. It is a brave and courageous thing to do, to expose yourself for the sake of art. You truly cannot believe some of the shocking things writers will confess in those rooms – things they haven’t told their family, spouse, or shrink. I was once in a rewrite (and this was for a sitcom) where one of the baby writers revealed she had once been gangbanged. Holy shit! She’s telling me this and I didn’t even know her name?

When you join a writing staff it is understood that you honor confidentiality. That’s a cardinal rule. No exceptions. Heide Perlman was a staff writer on CHEERS. Her sister, Rhea, was in the cast. But we knew that nothing said in the room about Rhea or anybody would ever get back to her. And we all said NICE things.

But that’s the code and Alena broke it. Did she ultimately harm anybody? No. But it’s like Pete Rose gambling in baseball. After the Black Sox scandal in 1919 baseball determined that the one thing that could kill the game was if the public thought it was fixed. So there is a rule that players, managers, and coaches are forbidden to bet on baseball. They sign agreements to that effect. There are big signs posted in every major league clubhouse. When Pete was managing Cincinnati he broke that code. You could argue that he only bet on his team, but what about nights he didn’t bet? Wasn’t that sending the message that he didn’t think his team would win that night? Wouldn’t that be handy information to have if you’re a professional gambler?

Again, I’ve never worked for Aaron Sorkin. I might want to kill him if I did. I dunno. He might want to kill me if he were ever on my staff.  But internal struggles have to remain internal. It’s necessary for the process.

Think of it this way:  the writers' room is the ultimate Las Vegas.  What happens in the room STAYS in the room.

Some suggest that Alena Smith will have trouble getting future staff work because of this. In some cases I’m sure that’s true. Would I ever hire her? If I thought she was the best writer for the position then yes I would. Really good writers are hard to find. And the confidentiality issue?  I bet she never does that again.

Now the plug for my book:  Last few days of the sale of  THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60S).  Only $.99, an 81% saving.   Way more laughs to the penny than you'll ever find again.  Here's where you go.  But hurry!