Sunday, January 31, 2016

If I wrote the next PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie

One of those PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies was on a cable channel yesterday afternoon.  For reasons I can't explain I watched it for five minutes.  Damn the NFL for not having playoffs this weekend!

The first one had charm but after that -- I don't know what the hell was going on.  Ten years ago I wrote a review of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie out then and was completely baffled.  You can read that review here.  And now I see that they're making another PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie.  I think this is the 5th one.  Might be the 9th.  Anyway, here's what I imagine would be the scene if Disney had called me in to write it.

ME: After four movies and practically twelve hours, what pirate genre moment hasn’t been done?

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: The franchise is already getting extremely repetitious.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: And what was once fresh is now just a series of clichés.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME:  But you'll get terrible reviews.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn't matter.

ME: No one can follow the story.

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: If this next installment is another prequel, hasn’t the audience already been told everything that’s going to happen?

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: And won’t the fans of the series feel cheated without Keira?

STUDO EXEC: It doesn’t matter.

ME: Well then, hell. What does matter?

STUDIO EXEC: We make $500 million and keep the lines long at Disneyland.  Nothing you've brought up will have any effect on that. 

ME:  Well, I'm an artist.  I have integrity.  I can't do this.

STUDIO EXEC:  Here's what I'd pay you.


ME: I can have the screenplay for you in two weeks.

STUDIO EXEC:  There might be even more sequels involved.

ME:  It doesn't matter.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Help save internet radio.

Last Monday I ranted about music licensing companies charging small single-owner commercial free internet radio stations exorbitant new fees and how most of these hobby-only stations have been forced to close down.   There's a petition you can sign to try to overturn this unjust law and allow something this country used to have -- free enterprise.   Here's where you go.   Thanks.

Rare footage: Clint Eastwood getting the shit beaten out of him

Here's something you don't see every day -- someone beating the living crap out of Clint Eastwood. But James Garner, as the nattily dressed Maverick does just that. I imagine Clint said, "I don't care where you hit me, just don't touch the hair."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Questions

Wrapping up the month with Friday Questions. What be yours?

David Goehner gets us started:

Can you or one of your "M*A*S*H" contacts find out if it was Wayne Rogers who does a P.A. voice-over at the military base in the 4th season opener where BJ Hunnicutt is introduced? I've long thought that this briefly-heard announcer sounded a lot like Wayne, and there have been a few speculations about this on some Internet sites in recent years. But can someone who was actually with the show give us the authentic details on this?

You are very astute. At the Kimpo airport the PA voice was indeed Wayne’s. Uncredited. Back at the 4077 we generally used Sal Viscuso. Todd Sussman also filled that role for a few years.

From Michael:

Can you discuss the process for casting single episode guest stars?

For example, how far in advance are they usually cast? Do they usually audition? If so, is an advance copy of the script for the audition used or an old script? Is the showrunner and/or network involved in the final casting decision for the larger roles?

Usually we’ll cast those parts the week before the show goes into production, but that varies with the circumstances.

There are times we’ll have someone in mind when we’re conceiving a story and will ask our Casting Director to check on his availability. Depending on the actor, we might even shuffle some scripts around to accommodate his availability. For example: If on MASH we wanted to use Colonel Flagg in an episode we would see when Edward Winter was available.

Sometimes, while writing a script, we will give the Casting Director a heads-up on what we’ll need, especially if it’s unusual. We’ll say for the first episode in the next cycle we’re going to need a Nordic lumberjack type who can speak Spanish.  We try to give them as much lead time as possible. 

Generally however, this is how it works: We’ll get with the Casting Director and describe the guest roles we have planned for next week. Shortly thereafter they’ll get a script. The Casting Director puts out the breakdown, puts together a list of people he/she thinks might be good, deals with agents, and generally audition anywhere from ten to thirty people for each role. They will then bring in who they believe to be the best five to read for us. We’ll either pick one or ask them to keep looking.

Now that last part of the process has changed. Today, you videotape those finalists and it’s the network that makes the ultimate decisions. Like they know better.

And it doesn’t stop there. Networks now select the actors who have one-line parts. If there’s a waiter who only says, “Ready to order?” the network doesn’t trust the showrunner to choose a decent actor. Only THEY can rule on that crucial decision. And they wonder why A-list talent has fled to Netflix.

Ricky wonders:

If you and David could go back to '95 and do ALMOST PERFECT again, is there anything you guys would do differently, knowing what you know now?

Yeah, take it to ABC or NBC instead of CBS. We were originally going to take it to ABC but they wanted to postpone our meeting for a month. So we took it to CBS and sold it in the room. The day after the pilot aired the president of ABC called saying he loved it and asked why we didn’t bring it to him. I thanked him and told him to check his datebook. I think if we were on ABC they would have been more behind the show. But that’s conjecture at best.

Otherwise, creatively -- no. I wouldn’t change a thing.

blinky asks:

Why do you think actors want to be directors not writers? Other than Alan Alda who did it all. Like Jerry Paris, Ron Howard and from Animal House James Widdoes and Stephen Furst. Is it like the arrow of time? It only goes one direction?

Actors are far more familiar with the process of directing than writing. They feel comfortable talking to other actors. I’m sure they’ve had many bad experiences with inept directors. Some probably see the handwriting on the wall vis a vis their acting future and figure this is a nice transition. And others just have a vision and yearn to be in the drivers’ seat.

But in fairness, there have been a lot of actors who pursue writing. Tracy Letts jumps to mind. Matt Damon & Ben Affleck won Oscars for writing GOOD WILL HUNTING (although William Goldman rewrote the crap out of it). Then there’s James Franco, Danny Strong, Jon Favreau, Emma Thompson, Sly Stallone, and Dan Futterman. On the comedy side, how about Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Elaine May, Steve Martin, Steve Carell, Jason Siegel, Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller, and Carrie Fisher?  And this is a partial list at best. 

And finally, from Bryan:

Okay, you're breaking a story and it's not clicking. Something about it just isn't working. How do you decide if what you've got is still salvageable or if you're better off just tossing it and starting fresh? Do you ever shelve ideas that aren't working and pull them out again later after you've figured out what the problem is?

Especially early in the process when we’re breaking stories, if we’re really struggling with it for a half hour or so we’ll often just move on. And yes, we do save the notions and sometimes we can retrieve them later. With some distance a solution may appear.

But often a story beat will lead to some other notion. It’s like driving a car through a maze. You hit a dead-end, you turn and go off in another direction. At the outset you need to allow yourself the freedom to consider any and all possibilities. A CHEERS story might start out Sam needing to go to the dentist and end up Norm buying a new car.

But if six or seven veteran professional writers can’t crack a story problem, the universe is telling them something.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

From today's email inbox...

Marilu Henner and I are email buddies. I’ve filled in for her on several occasions on her national radio show. I don’t remember which dates, but I’m sure she does.

I received this email from her and have certain questions as to its legitimacy:

Good Morning,

I need your help..My family and i made a trip to out of the country due to an emergency unfortunately for us, we were robbed and i was hurt on our way back to the hotel. I need your help financially to sort out some bills here and get back home. I will refund you the money once i get back home.

Let me know if i can count on you.

Thanks so much!


I was just about to send lots of money but then noticed that she wrote “Let me know if i can count on you.” Marilu always capitalizes her “I’s.” So suddenly the whole ruse became crystal clear. Marilu needs money and came up with this ridiculous scheme. Sometimes it takes a while, but nothing ever gets by me.

Huh? What? Her email was hacked? This is a common scam?  Hmmmm? Come to think of it, I did give $500 to Ted Danson for the same thing and he never thanked me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If I wrote the CHEERS Jenny Craig commercial

Have you seen it? There's a new Jenny Craig ad recreating a scene from CHEERS. Kirstie looks fantastic, by the way. As does the replica of the bar. As a longtime CHEERS writer, a number of you have asked how I would have written the commercial. So I took a stab at it. My guess is they wouldn't use my version for fifty different reasons, but here it is -- following the commercial itself.



REBECCA: Look who’s back!

NORM: Diane, you’ve gained weight.

CLIFF: No, that’s Rebecca.

NORM: Oh. I can’t see that far anymore.

REBECCA: Fifty pounds down thanks to Jenny Craig.

CLIFF: Last time I saw a beauty like you, I was…

NORM: Stalking Olivia Munn.

CLIFF: Delivering her mail at 4 a.m.

REBECCA: My personal consultant Laura is just like you guys.

NORM: You have a diet consultant who looks like us?

REBECCA: Oh, and I love the yummy foods. I don’t have to count, track, or worry. And no empty calories.

NORM: I hate empty calories too. (holds out empty mug) That's why I go to Jenny Keg.


REBECCA: A moment can change your whole life at Jenny Craig’s.

ANNOUNCER: Try us free for a month plus the cost of food. And get fifty dollars in food savings.

CLIFF: Y’know, it’s a little known fact that Jenny Craig was a hermaphrodite.

NORM: Shut up, Cliff.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A great writer you probably don't know

There are some TV comedy writers who are very well known. You’ve seen their names so many times on the screen that they begin to make an impression. Or they’ve been interviewed, have a big Twitter following, or worse -- shamelessly write a blog.

But then there are others, who have also had long illustrious careers, yet remain essentially anonymous.

Like this guy.


As an uncredited punch-up guy, he has contributed great jokes to many pilots (including ours). And for good measure, he created and ran two series, both of which received great reviews and cult followings.

How could you miss him, right?

Meet Richard Rosenstock. I bet starting today you’ll see his name every time you turn on the TV.

His two series are two of my all-time favorites. THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES for ABC (David Isaacs and I wrote an episode and even acted in it), and FLYING BLIND for Fox (the series that discovered Tea Leoni). Both shows were funny, smart, and decidedly Jewish (Excuse me – they had that “New York attitude”).

The public may not know him but fellow writers do. He’s Richie to all of us.

But he prefers to fly under the radar. He has no Facebook or Twitter page. There’s not a single Google image of him. Hopefully he won’t be kill me for this post, but there are some fantastic writers out there you should know and one of them is Richie Rosenstock.

Sitcom staff writing is a very collaborative effort. Often the name you see on the screen as the “writer” is not necessarily representative of who really wrote the script. Lots of other writers have their thumbprints on it. Folks like Richie are invaluable. It’s like a baseball team having a great closer.

So thanks for the laughs. And story fixes. Having Richie in the room for a rewrite means you go home at 11:00 instead of 2:00. For that alone he deserves the WGA Laurel Award.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The little guys get screwed again

As of January 1st, all internet radio stations must pay exorbitant license fees to music publishers. Most of these stations are one-person operations done as a labor of love. Few, if any, make money. In fact, most lose money. They pay for the equipment, upkeep, formatting software, music libraries, website, any publicity, and a service fee to the provider of the audio streams.

Most of these stations have niche programming. Obscure jazz, oldies, standards – genres that terrestrial radio have abandoned because their appeal isn’t mass market enough and/or the audience for these genres are too old and thus worthless.

At a time when three or four horribly run, close-to-bankrupt conglomerates own 90% of terrestrial radio and has turned it into a cesspool of commercials, automated voice tracks, syndicated programs, and infomercials – the only real variety were these internet radio stations. So guess who lobbied Congress to force these tiny operators to pay a fortune to play Shirelles records for their audience of maybe sixty people.

And this is the result: A vast majority of small internet stations have gone off the air or are going off the air. Live 365, that hosted many such operations went out of business overnight. One of my favorites, had to shut down (although they're working on a way to hopefully return). 

Yes, you could make the argument that the artists deserve to be compensated for their music being played. And I’m a big union man. But two things to consider: If stations are throwing in the towel then these artists receive nothing. Do the math: 1000 stations paying $1000 or 75 stations paying $6000? Artist will lose money in this deal. iHeart radio will benefit.  A modest increase would have been acceptable, but these people are gonifs. 

Number two: For many of these artists, their songs are fading into the mist of time. These internet stations are the only place you can still hear a lot of this music. Silence them and artists’ contributions to popular culture disappear. Poof. They’re not remembered. They’re not celebrated. They’re not even a footnote.  It's like they never existed. 

Over the last few weeks radio stations everywhere have paid tribute to David Bowie. We marvel at the innovation and brilliance of his work. We’d like to think that in fifty or sixty years people will still be appreciating David Bowie. With commerce the way it is today David Bowie could well be sadly forgotten.  Don't we owe our artists more than just an extra $.50 royalty? 

So again, who benefits? Not the artists, certainly not the public, not free enterprise. The winners are the greedy music publishing firms, and the radio folks who have raped and destroyed their own industry.

I hope some small stations stick it out. Very soon now you’ll be able to access internet radio in your car as easily as you get FM and satellite. You’ll be able to set push buttons for your favorite internet stations. And when that day comes, there will be a much more level playing field. And terrestrial stations that corrupt companies like Cumulus paid millions for will be as valuable or less valuable than some station being run out of some kid’s bedroom. The next Howard Stern is going to be some geek in a basement. And when that happens, and it will, you are FUCKED terrestrial radio.

That day can’t come fast enough.

It happened to television; it will happen to radio.

Oh, and when a bedroom station has more listeners than KISS-FM (every city has a KISS-FM) then yes, they should pay the same royalties as KISS-FM.  But not when KISS-FM has tens of thousands of listeners and the bedroom station has fifty.  

Thank you to all the small internet radio stations that provided us variety, memories, and passion. I mourn your passing. Everyone talks about “The Day Music Died.” The phrase should be: “The Day Music Was Killed.”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tweets from Gettysburg

Thanks to Twitter, angry bitter disgruntled people now have a place to take pot shots at everybody from the safety of their mother’s basement.  The hate is starting to trump even the narcissism. There will probably be 40,000 tweets ripping me because of this post. 
By the way, moderating comments has worked out better than I expected.  I can moderate over my phone.  So one click from anywhere and trolls are rejected without me even reading their stupid nonsense.  I see the name, CLICK, gone.  It's a beautiful thing.  But I digress...

Twitter can be a great forum. For comedy writers it’s a chance to toss off your one-liners and have them heard (or at least read). Some of my best stuff has been wasted on waiters and strangers in line. Now my best stuff can be wasted on strangers on line. (I enthusiastically invite you to follow me and be one of them.)

But Twitter can also be a troll’s paradise. I’ve noticed that all of the national sportscasters calling these NFL playoffs have been absolutely pummeled by members of this social network. Death by a thousand tweets. The announcers are stupid, they’re biased, they’re too old, their ties are an affront to society. Yikes! The truth is they’re not biased, they’re under a lot of pressure, and producers often pick out their ties for them.

So it got me to thinkin’. What if Twitter existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? I imagine this is the kind of stuff we'd see.

@lunkhead – I’m at Gettysburg Address w/ 67 others.

@dissgrntled – Shit! Linken is tall!

@shorty – I hate tall people!

@bobballoobobballoo – At least we can see him.

@shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@mauron -- You are fucking hilarious dude! RT @shorty – Who WANTS to see him?

@loserboy4 – Is that a beard or a beaver on his chin?

@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – HA! RT@zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

@lunkhead – Talk louder pussy chin! I can’t HEAR YOU!!!

@shorty – Who WANTS to hear you?

@zippy – 4score + 7years. What the fuck is that?

@bobballooobobballoo – Math???? In a MF’ing speech?

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – LINCON YOU SUCK!

@dissgrntled – Why does he hate the south? Fuck you, Abe!

@zippy – How much is 4score +7years?

@mauron – 150

@bobballoobobballoo – 16.

@lunkhead – His voice makes me sick.

@zippy – Choke on your beard, dickwad!

@loserboy4 – What does konsecrate mean? He uses all this $10 words.

@dyspeptic – I want to punch him in the face.

@dropoutat9 – Can we get a president who doesn’t hate the north?

@lunkhead – Or can shave.

@zippy – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA RT @lunkhead – Or can shave.

@bobballooobobballoo – Where’s his wife? I hear she’s hot.

@dissgrntled – She’s a whore.

@mauron – This guy is so LAME. He just said the ground is hollow. Really? Then how come we’re not all falling in?

@loserboy4 – That’s weird. I thought the same thing you did. Great minds…

@lunkhead – With that beard he looks like Ape Lincoln.

@shorty – The missing Link-n.

@dyspeptic – LMAO! You dudes should entertain the troops.

@bobballooobobballoo – Hi, I’m Ape Lincoln and I’ve come here today to say blahblahblahblahblahblahblah.

@zippy – Yeah. Nobody cares dude!!

@dissgrntled – By the people, 4 the people, of the people – WTF? did you run out of words for people? You suck! No, you really suck!

@loserboy4 – I want to punch him in the face.

@mauron – That’s it? That’s the whole speech? That was like 5 minutes.

@shorty – What a gyp.

@dyspeptic – Yeah. We want more!

@lunkhead – I hate you!!!!!!!!

@dropoutat9 – You’re a tool!!

@loserboy4 – And a douche!!!

@dissgrntled – And an A-hole!!

@dyspeptic – LOL Just got that. RT @zippy – Abe’s making a pubic appearance.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Best video I've seen in YEARS

Truly amazing editing! This is a montage of dance clips from old movies set to Bruno Mars. Whoever did this is a genius.

"Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day."

I can’t speak for the accuracy of these Goldwynisms, but Jesus, if only half of them are true at least that’s a majority!


Samuel Goldwyn (1882–1974) was an Academy Award and Golden
Globe Award-winning producer, also a well-known Hollywood
motion picture producer and founding contributor of several motion
picture studios. His inferior English language skills led to many of
his malapropisms, paradoxes, and other speech errors called
Goldwynisms. Having many writers in his employ, Goldwyn may
not have come up with all of these on his own:

“Keep a stiff upper chin.”

“In two words: im-possible.”

“Gentlemen, include me out.”

“They stayed away in droves.

“There is a statue of limitation.”

“Tell them to stand closer apart.”

“Gentlemen, listen to me slowly.”

“That’s our strongest weak point.”

“A hospital is no place to be sick.”

“Modern dancing is old fashioned.”

“The harder I work the luckier I get.”

“I read part of it all the way through.”

“Flashbacks are a thing of the past.”

“You fail to overlook the crucial point.”

“I paid too much for it, but it’s worth it.”

“I have been laid up with intentional flu.”

“God makes stars. I just produce them.”

“Our comedies are not to be laughed at.”

“He treats me like the dirt under my feet.”

“You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.”

“A bachelor’s life is no life for a single man.”

“If I look confused it’s because I’m thinking.”

“That’s the kind of ad I like, facts, facts, facts.”

“What we need now is some new, fresh clichés.”

“This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up.”

“What nerve. Not even a modicum of originality.”

“You’ve got to take the bull between your teeth.”

“I had a great idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.”

“It’s absolutely impossible, but it has possibilities.”

“Never make forecasts, especially about the future.”

“A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.”

“For your information, just answer me one question!”

“For your information, I would like to ask a question.”

“Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day.”

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

“Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg.”

“Plenty of room for a tiny brain and a huge ego, though.”

“Don’t worry about the war. It’s all over but the shooting.”

“Can she sing? She’s practically a Florence Nightingale.”

“If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.”

“The trouble with this business is the dearth of bad pictures.”

“Don’t pay any attention to the critics — don’t even ignore them.”

“Put it out of your mind. In no time, it will be a forgotten memory.”

“I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty.”

“I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them at least five years.”

“Color television! Bah, I won’t believe it until I see it in black and white.”

“We have that Indian scene. We can get the Indians from the reservoir.”

“Let’s bring it up to date with some snappy nineteenth century dialogue.”

“I don’t think anyone should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.”

“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.”

“Anyone who would go to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined!”

“Why did you name him Sam? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sam!”

“Give me a couple of years, and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.”

“If I were in this business only for the business, I wouldn’t be in this business.”

“Go see that turkey for yourself, and see for yourself why you shouldn’t see it.”

“Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.”

“When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy.”

“That would doubtless be a dank and dark and a desolate and dreary place to dwell.”

“From success you get a lot of things, but not that great inside thing that love brings you.”

“I hate a man who always says yes to me. When I say no I like a man who also says no.”

“That’s the way with these directors, they’re always biting the hand that lays the golden egg.”

“I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.”

“I don’t care if it doesn’t make a nickel. I just want every man, woman, and child in America to see it.”

“Why should people go out and pay to see bad movies when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing.”

“True, I’ve been a long time making up my mind, but now I’m giving you a definite answer. I won’t say yes, and I won’t say no — but I’m giving you a definite maybe.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Questions

Now a whole bunch of Friday Questions.  What's yours? 

Rhoda Lexington gets us started.

On MASH, it was known that Hawkeye was an only child from Maine, and that Colonel Potter was from Missouri, yet early in their development, Hawkeye had a sister and was from Vermont, and Potter told everyone that he was going to be in Nebraska after retiring. Why do writing staffs change details like this mid-series? Thanks.

Because there wasn’t a show bible to keep track of details like that. So it leads to continuity problems. And sometimes new writers come aboard not knowing those details. For example, I don’t remember Potter telling everyone he was going to Nebraska. I’m sure he did but if I saw that episode it flew right by me.

I do think, it’s easier today to keep track of continuity. So much information is available on line, it’s easier to look things up, and there are fan bases that create their own bibles and keep us honest.

We had an excuse. We did television back in the Pleistocene Era.

By the way Rhoda, your question led me to create the STAR WARS inconsistencies post from earlier this month.  

From Jeff Nelson:

A friend was telling me about reading an old interview with a television writer. One of those guys who started out writing for radio sitcoms in the late 1940s, then made the jump to television in the early 1950s and wrote TV sitcom scripts for years. The guy doing the interview asked him if he kept copies of the scripts he'd written. The writer laughed and said something like, "What for? What would I do, sit around reading them and chuckling and saying to myself, 'Oh yeah, I remember the night we came up with that scene. Boy, that was a funny one'?" Which leads me to ask you if you keep copies of the scripts you've written?

I do. Not for me to read again but possibly for grandchildren or writing students. It’s also a nice keepsake of a lifetime body of work.

Will museums want my “collected works?” Will libraries? The Smithsonian? The Nerdist Comic Book Store? I doubt it. But these scripts, especially the first drafts are certainly part of television history.

I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than reading Larry Gelbart first drafts. Or Marshall & Belson scripts. Or Persky & Denoff first drafts. So in the unlikely event there’s some misguided person who wants to read early Levine & Isaacs, the material exists.

Douglas Trapasso responded to a post I did about the days when there were only three major broadcast networks. In the piece I said:

"The Fall TV season debut was a major event. You waited all summer, salivating over the promos for the new fare. Then there was the Mid-Season, right after the first of the year. You studied those promos to know exactly what time slots these new shows would occupy."

Doug goes on to ask:

Since you've have been writing for so long, did you have a pretty accurate sixth sense while watching these legendary promos? Could you tell which shows would go thirteen episodes and out and which ones had the legs for seven or eight seasons?

If I’m being honest, no. When I was a kid EVERYTHING looked awesome. And now when I watch current promos I think everything looks like shit.

The promos now are all steeped in desperation. It’s understandable. There are so many more shows on so many more platforms so they have to really grab your attention, but the result most often is a super-hyped frenetic in-your-face shout out. How could you possibly glean from one of those whether a show has any substance, originality, or nuance? Every drama looks like a wild thrill ride and every comedy looks like Jerry Lewis gone amok.

I don’t think on-air promos are as vital today as they were pre-internet/social media. Word-of-mouth can now go viral and platforms like NETFLIX that have no promos can still attract large audiences to material that is worthy.

Showrunners are always pestering their networks for more promos. I always made a big push to get my promos on NFL games. That’s when people who don’t ordinarily watch that network are tuned in.

And finally, from Sid Montrose:

Have you ever solved a specific writing problem with dream ‘input’? And more improbably, have you ever realized the entire concept for a script (more or less fully formed) from a dream? If so, can you share what that script was? Or upon waking reflection, are your dreams pretty much gibberish?

Most of my dreams and daydreams even are gibberish. But one time I dreamed an entire story – plot twists, everything. That became my comic novel, MUST KILL TV (available here). I woke up, furiously jotted down the steps, and went back to sleep. I was shocked in the morning that it not only made sense but was actually good.

I’m a big believer in letting your subconscious work on story problems. If I’m stuck on a script at night I’ll just put it down, go to sleep, and in the morning I usually have the answer. Well, let me amend that. I usually have an answer. Unfortunately, most of the time that answer is me sleeping with an SI swimsuit model.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

As if TV pilots weren't hard enough...

Here’s another FQ that became a whole blogpost.   I'm trying to get to as many of your questions as I can.  I may even have some bonus days of FQ's in the weeks to come.  You never know with me. 


It was reported recently that CBS has asked the writers of several of their pilots to convert them from single-camera to multi-camera or a hybrid (a la HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER – multi-cam but with no studio audience.).

Jeff read that and asked:

This article from Deadline says that CBS has bought several new single-camera comedy projects, but asked for some of them to be reworked into a multi-camera format (or a hybrid of both styles). How hard is this to do? It seems like, after spending god knows how long creating a new project, changing something fundamental like this would be very frustrating and difficult. And since the project has been bought, can the creators push back, or refuse?

Well, it depends on the project obviously, but it’s generally very hard to convert one from the other.

Single-camera shows (shot like a movie) and multi-camera shows (four cameras and a studio audience) have very different tones. Multi-camera depends on bigger jokes (they require actual laughs). Single-camera shows are more realistic. They can be very funny (THE MIDDLE, MODERN FAMILY, 30 ROCK) but often times they’re not. They’re more… amusing in a wry way. But they don’t have to adhere as much to familiar rhythms as do multi-cams.

Having spent extensive time in both genres (MASH for single-cam, CHEERS and FRASIER for multi) I see value in both and believe you can create exceptional shows in either format.

So for me, it really boils down to the premise itself. Which format best allows you to tell your story and realize your vision?

Obviously, if you do a show set in a mobile army surgical hospital in Korea it’s probably best to do it single-camera (like a movie). Good luck getting a chopper pad on a soundstage for a studio audience.

But if your show centers on a family or a workplace office situation, a multi-camera format might better serve your needs. If most of the action takes place indoors in a house or office and is constructed more like a stage play, do it with an audience. The other advantage of multi-cam shows is that the live audience response can energize a cast and boost their performance.

So you sell your show, write a great single-camera pilot, and the network asks you to convert it to multi-cam.   Can you?  Well, remember, it has been done. Successfully.

THE ODD COUPLE and HAPPY DAYS are two series that began as single-camera and ended up multi-cam. But most of the action of the ODD COUPLE took place in one apartment. And it was inspired by a play, so those joke rhythms were in the show’s DNA. And most of the scenes in HAPPY DAYS took place either in the Cunningham house or the diner. So the conversion was easy. If HAPPY DAYS was more about cruising the streets and drag races (like AMERICAN GRAFFITI), they’d be forced to re-think the entire concept of the show if they had to become multi-camera.

Writer/producers are in a bind. If they don’t feel their show should be converted then they’re basically asked to jam a square peg into a round hole. They’re fixing something that isn’t broke.

But if they refuse, or even fight too vigorously, the network can kill the project altogether.

I don’t know any of the pilots CBS is asking to convert; I haven’t read any of them. So I have no way of knowing whether some or all or none would benefit from the change.

But the message it sends is that CBS still favors multi-camera comedies. And if I had an idea for a multi-camera show, which network do you think I’d run to first? And that’s a factor. When writers are devising these pilots, they usually get hooked up with non-writing producers. The producers, writers, studio, and everyone’s representatives strategize. Which network would be most receptive to this particular idea/tone/style? My guess is had these writers sold these pilots to one of the other networks they would not have been told to convert. They went to CBS. Maybe they had a deal there, or didn’t sell their single-camera idea elsewhere, or perhaps when they saw that they had picked up a single-camera comedy (LIFE IN PIECES) they figured CBS was finally open to that format. Oops.

In fairness, CBS is not the only network to do this. It happens all the time.

Look, writers focus on the creative end of pilots and networks focus on their programming needs. What shows would be compatible with other shows? What type of show would best fill this hole in the schedule? What show will likely attract Millennials?

And sometimes those needs change – mid-course.

Writers who’ve been in the business for any period of time (ten minutes) understand this. It’s the world we live in. But there are probably many inspired pilots that got crushed because networks decided they wanted to go in a different direction. And made those decisions on a whim. 

The only time this practice worked out for me personally was one year we sold a single-camera family show to CBS. They ultimately passed (because it was the only single-camera comedy they bought and felt it was not compatible with anything else on their schedule). So we took it to ABC. They wanted to buy it but make it a multi-camera show. We said to do that would require a complete overhaul. Same characters but whole new story and tone. They said fine and paid us for an entire new script. So we had to convert it, but we got paid twice. (ABC ultimately passed because they had too many family multi-cams including one they were committed to make. But they told us, if it was any consolation, that ours was better.)

Like I said, you learn to live with it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Keepin' it real

Here’s an FQ that became a whole post. It’s from Jeff ☺

I have a question in regards to characters in sitcoms. How important do you feel it is to make your characters "realistic"? For example, let's say your character is a pilot. Fairly boring profession. But what if you made them legally blind. It would certainly open up the door for comedic plot points, but at the same time would be completely unrealistic that a airline would have hired said person in the first place.

I’m a huge believer that characters have to be real. They can be weird and eccentric and quirky and larger-than-life, but they must be grounded in reality. If not, then they’re just a cartoon and you run the risk that the audience won’t give a shit. Viewers want to be invested in the characters they follow every week. The more they can hook into them emotionally, the more loyal to your show they’ll become. A character being “funny” just isn’t enough.

So how do you make an outrageous character “real?” By justifying his position in the world.

Take the example you gave: A legally blind airline pilot. You’re right. It’s funny but it would never happen. But on the series we did for Mary Tyler Moore we had a character who was legally blind. But we made him a copy editor for a newspaper and his job was protected by the union. The series was set in Chicago, which was (and is) a big union town. You could buy that this guy over time began to lose his sight but union seniority kept him employed. Yes, he had trouble doing his job but no one’s life was in danger.

And it was taken from a real character. When I was a disc jockey on KYA, San Francisco in the ‘70s, I was first working the all-night shift. Back then (because of strong unions) I could only turn my mic on and off. All of the records and commercials and jingles had to be played by a union engineer. My engineer was named Pinky. He must’ve been 116 and he was legally blind. He wore giant Coke bottle glasses that were sheer magnifying lens and would hold the music cartridges right up to his face to read them. The station couldn’t fire him so he was banished to the graveyard shift. But he still had his job. (His hearing wasn't all that great either.)

One of the best series to walk that line between crazy characters and reality was TAXI (late ‘70s/early ‘80s). One of the great “dumb” characters of all-time was Reverend Jim (played by Christopher Lloyd). But he was explained away as a brilliant Harvard educated man who took too many drugs in the ‘60s. And then there was Latka (played by Andy Kaufman). He was a mechanic who came to America from another country. Taxi garages are legitimately filled with them. But what producer Jim Brooks & company did however was make his country fictional. As a result they were free to make up bizarre customs and traditions. And some of the ones they dreamed up were true flights of fancy. But they still felt “real” in context.

On CHEERS we explained the Coach’s dumbness by saying as a former baseball player he took too many fastballs to the head.

So how do you find these rich characters from real life to put in your pilot or series?

One way is research.

I rarely see research stressed in writing classes and it should be. Get to really know the world you’re writing about. Spend the time. Interview people, read books on the subject, just be a fly on the wall and observe for several days or weeks. Characters you never thought of will appear.

Again, I go back to TAXI. The producers spent some time interviewing New York cabbies and watching what goes on at a typical garage. They were interviewing the dispatcher when they saw a cabbie bribe him for a good cab. Boom! That was Louie DePalma.

Research served us very well on MASH. We spent many hours interviewing doctors, nurses, corpsman, and soldiers who had served in Korea. And some of our most outlandish stories (like everybody dying their hair and uniforms red) came from real life.

Research can be tedious, but it’s worth the effort. And it’s not always tedious. For eleven years whenever I went into a bar I wrote off my tab as research for CHEERS. And stickler-for-detail that I am, I spent a lot of time in bars. Hey, it was for “for my art.”

Bottom line: your show needs to be grounded in reality. The characters can be bizarre as long as they’re believable in that world. SILICON VALLEY is a perfect example. Filled with quirky characters but I believe every single one of them.

And when we live in a world where Donald Trump is actually running for President of the United States and has blithering idiots who would vote for him, you have a lot of leeway in justifying completely absurd over-the-top characters.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Making of a Murderer: my summation

Like a lot of people, I got hooked on MAKING A MURDERER now showing on Netflix. You can tell who’s watched the ten-hour docuseries. They’re the ones sleep deprived. That’s just one of the downsides of binging. The other is you can’t discuss the content because of spoiler alerts. We all knew at the same time who shot J.R. I’m sure there are a lot of you who are only up to the part where convicted killer and rapist Steve Avery is hanging out with the governor.

In case you are not familiar with the story, Steve Avery was framed for a rape and served eighteen years in jail. He gets out, sues the idiot police department, and then winds up charged with a murder where all the clues are discovered by the same police officers he’s suing. A little dicey, no? Along the way, one shocking event after another unfolds.

The series is kind of like a cross between TRAINING DAY, THE BIG CARNIVAL, and DUMB AND DUMBER.

If anything, you watch this and feel 1000% better about your own problems. Yikes.

I think the big appeal of this series and why it’s caught the zeitgeist in such a big way is that you really CARE about poor Steve Avery and his downtrodden family. It’s a lesson writers always need to remember – whether it’s a documentary, drama, or crazy sitcom – first and foremost the audience needs to CARE. That’s what hooks a viewer, not CGI effects or vagina jokes.

Considering it’s Wisconsin I was surprised there wasn’t tailgating in front of the courthouse during the trial.

I see where Steve’s two defense attorneys (who were terrific) have become quasi-celebrities. Even sex symbols. How soon until they ‘re co-hosting the Golden Globes or HOLLYWOOD GAME NIGHT?

The filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos had extraordinary access. Great footage and phone conversations. They had so much footage you almost felt annoyed they didn’t record the murder. The ONE friggin’ night they take off…

During the trials, unlike on TV legal shows, attorneys don’t object every eight seconds. Witnesses get grilled and the opposing lawyers stoically just take notes. My guess is they’re writing: “We’re fucked.”

If a witness answers a question in the affirmative, instead of saying “yes” they always say “correct.” Even morons with IQ’s under 70 who testify that they don’t know the difference between yards and feet answer “That’s correct.”

Local TV newscasters and reporters come off like the coiffed vultures they are.

Zach Galifianakis will play Steve Avery in the movie.

HBO and PBS passed on the series.

Which of the nine Steve Avery "looks" did you like the best?  This is my favorite -- the Boston Red Sox player look. 

Or this -- the Atlanta Braves player look.

Wouldn’t it be great if it turned out Robert Durst was the real killer?

And finally, don’t be accused of ANYTHING in Wisconsin.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Major inconsistentcies in STAR WARS

It’s understandable. When you have a complicated legend like STAR WARS there have to be inconsistencies and continuity issues. The ongoing story is very complicated and spans universes. Most of these inconsistencies go unnoticed. The majority of STAR WARS moviegoers are there for the special effects and taking cheap shots at Carrie Fisher.

But there are a few STAR WARS aficionados (like me) who study every detail no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. For example: it doesn’t take six light years to go from Endor to Bespin. It takes thirty light months. Stuff like that takes me right out of the picture.

And that’s just for starters. Here now are some of the continuity errors I’ve discovered. A few are glaring. I’m sure there are others. You’re welcome to add them.

Much is made about the “Dark Side,” but in truth you can still make out shapes.

In STAR WARS Episode II we learn Geonosis is where battle droids are manufactured. But if you look closely, on each one it says: “Made in Korea.”

99 is supposedly a defective Clone trooper who helped the Domino Squad in the Clone War when in fact 99 was the secret agent Barbara Feldon played in GET SMART. That one was OBVIOUS.

Admiral Gial Akbar was a Navy Admiral so his commanding a rebel fleet against the Death Star was impossible since there are no oceans in outer space. They’re going to drop the anchor to where?

Darth Vader? Darth Andeddu? Darth Sidious? Darth Bane? Darth Caedus? Darth Cognus? Just pick one and stay with it.

The only difference between the Old Republic and the New Republic was that the New Republic had Trader Joes.

When Nom Anor enters a bar, do the patrons yell “Nom!” or “Anor!?” Again, pick one.

Senator Bana Breemu, representative of the Humbarine sector in the Galactic Senate – votes yes for farm subsidies in STAR WARS IV and no in STAR WARS VII.

Tatiana Maslany was not involved in a single Clone War.

Chewbacca had a son, Lumpawarrump, but it was never explained why a character who could only grunt and growl would name his son something even people who can speak can’t pronounce.

Mustafar is a volcano planet yet there is still housing. Good luck getting insurance.

If you have a fast pass for STAR TOURS you still have to wait five minutes.

Donatas Motiejunas, is not the commander of the Death Star. He’s a forward for the Houston Rockets. Meanwhile, D’Qar received a ten-day contract from the Sacramento Kings.

And finally, with names like Triclops and Lumpawarrump, there’s a character named Ken?

Hopefully, the filmmakers will take a little more care next time. Although I hear the next chapter begins immediately after this last one and the first scene takes place at Ryan O’Neal’s Malibu beach house.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Some thoughts on re-writing

Got one of those Friday Questions that is worthy of an entire post. It’s from SeanK.

You’ve mentioned a couple of times doing an un-credited re-write for Jewel of the Nile. I’m curious about that, mainly as it pertains to the ability to add it to your resume. Assuming only known writers would be asked to do a re-write, I suspect there’s enough Kevin Bacon-esque connections that it would be easily verified should it come up. But, well, does it come up? Why was it un-credited (your call or theirs)?

Larry Gelbart once stood up at a WGA membership rally just before a strike and said, “At some point everyone in this room will rewrite everyone else in this room.”

He was right.

Rewriting is as much a part of Hollywood as rumors and hookers. It is such a common practice in the feature world that the rare exception is the screenplay that makes it to the screen not having been rewritten by six other writers.

Screen credit is determined by a Credits Manual sanctioned by the Writers Guild. An arbitration is ordered any time a new writer is put on a project, whether the new writer requests it or not. In general this Credits Manual is there to protect the original writer. In the old days directors would routinely futz with scripts and slap their names on them. No more unless they deserve it.

Those arbitrations can get very hairy. The 1994 FLINTSTONES movie had no less than sixty writers involved at one time or another. (I know what you're thinking -- sixty writers for that?!)

Many A-List writers make a handsome living doing uncredited rewrites and polishes. What they sacrifice in credit they make up for in compensation. Some of these scribes command $100,000 a week to provide their genius. (I’ll pause a moment while you pick yourself up off the floor.)

When a studio brings a new writer on a project they are contractually obligated to let the other writers know. Of course they don’t but they’re supposed to.

There are no gag orders on rewriters. The Hollywood trade publications often print who is now rewriting what. There are websites that list project status reports complete with the latest writers assigned to scripts.

So I’m not breaking any confidentiality agreement by revealing that my partner and I did a rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE. A paper trail does exist. Plus, I have our draft (in English and French. Our script had to be translated into French for the Moroccan government to approve before allowing us to shoot in their country.). So if you want proof of our involvement you’re welcome to check with 20th Century Fox, the WGA, or call the King of Morocco.

For a couple of years we did a lot of rewrites. Both MANNEQUINS and several movies that ultimately never got made. We rewrote some big names. One in particular is a prominent comedy writer I truly admire and even though the script needed work and he wasn’t available I still felt weird about it (but not weird enough to turn down the assignment).

And just as Larry Gelbart said, a number of big names rewrote us. Often there’s animosity between the original writer and the new guy brought on to fuck up your brilliant screenplay. But not always. David Isaacs and I had an original script rewritten by Cameron Crowe and we became friends with him. (It also helped that we thought he improved our script considerably.)

In television it’s the showrunner and staff that rewrite practically every script. There’s the old adage – “Writing is Rewriting.” What it should really be is – “Writing is Rewriting Someone Else”.

At least no one else rewrites this blog. Although, if that prominent comedy writer did it would be a whole lot funnier, damn him.

This is a re-post from four years ago.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why I love Paul McCartney

How Annie became Annie

A reader discovered that my daughter Annie's real name is Diana and wondered how and why she made the change. Annie herself has graciously agreed to answer.

There has been an inquiry about my going by Annie rather than Diana. Most of you probably had no idea that my name was Diana unless you've either a) known me since birth b) are a friend of mine or c) have read my father's book (so that's what like two of you?). There was no "Kafka-esque metamorphosis". It was more of a Bruce Wayne/Batman secret identity thing although now that its been revealed I guess my crime-fighting days are over. So you are all to blame when Two-Face starts wreaking havoc again.

Actually my parents always called me "Annie." Other delightful nicknames include Dow Chemical, Porntip and Youngster Fishman. So its not too surprising that I chose to go by Annie instead. Though you're all welcome to call me "Porntip."
This is a repost from five years ago.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Questions

Here are this week’s FQ, hot off the presses (which is another one of those expressions we still use but is now obsolete):

Justin Russo starts us off:

Ken, as a writer of comedy, is there any classic film actor/actress that you wish you could have written for and worked with (aside from Natalie Wood, of course - that's too easy)?

Okay, I’m going to list some names. These are based strictly on comedy chops, not looks. Otherwise Grace Kelly (pictured above) would top the list. Note: You may not know some of these names, but they’re worth looking up if you’re a student of comedy.

Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Margaret Dumont, Kate Hepburn, Audrey Meadows, Spencer Tracy, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Curly Howard, John Belushi, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Hans Conried, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, Lou Costello, and I'm sure for every person I listed there are ten I forgot.

From Kayla:

Who decides how extras should or shouldn't react, the director? I understand that most of the time they're just background fill and aren't supposed to be paying attention to the actors, but I've seen scenes where the actors should be paying attention, but they're not. For example, two actors in a restaurant are having a loud argument, the kind of thing that in real life would be drawing a lot of attention, but in the scene the extras remain oblivious to the yelling that's going on a few feet away from them. Things like that take away from the reality of a scene.

You’re right, Kayla.  Background action is very important, and to save money, studios traditionally don’t bring in the extras until the last minute. The 2nd Assistant Director handles all the background action. It’s really a job of choreography and organization.

Not only do the extras have to move and cross, but they must do so at exactly the same point in the scene so multiple takes can match. A good 2nd is a godsend. He/she must also get them to react at times. And things that seem like no-brainers must be carefully explained. Like the restaurant scene you referenced.   Whenever I direct and there’s a background reaction required I rehearse the extras myself.

And if left to their own devices to cross, invariably an extra will cross in front of actor just when he’s delivering a joke. It’s uncanny – like waiters showing up just as you get to the punch line of a long story.

On the other hand, extras are poorly paid and treated like cattle.  My heart always goes out to them.  And I always ask the 2nd AD to place them strategically so that most of them can be on camera.   At least for their time and effort they can get on TV, even for two seconds.  

Johnny Walker asks:

In season 9 of CHEERS there's a series of episodes with cold openings actually set in Boston. How did these come about? Was everyone flown over for them, or was there some event happening and you took the opportunity to shoot something while everyone was there?

To commemorate the 200th episode the cast and writing staff went back to Boston. There was a big parade and dinner.  It was like following around the Beatles.  And since we had the entire cast, we took the opportunity to film a bunch of teasers at the Bull & Finch (which might have been officially retitled CHEERS by then).

We also all went back for the series finale, but it would seem stupid to film any more scenes by then.

Kensi Blonde wonders:

Is there a joke you regret?

Once on CHEERS we did a joke that took a shot at Jan Murray, who was a longtime comedian and TV game show host. We were actually fans of Jan Murray. I don’t remember the context but it was a Cliff line and even at the time we thought we were just on the border here. But it got a big laugh from the staff, worked well all week in rehearsal, and got a big laugh from the audience.

Still, I felt kind of sheepish about it.

The night it aired I cringed when that joke came on.

The next day the writers’ assistant buzzed me that “Jan Murray was on the phone.”

Uh oh.

I walked to the phone like I was heading to my execution. I figured I would get an earful and I deserved every word. Instead, he thanked me, thought the joke was funny, totally got the intent, and was pleasantly surprised to hear his name on CHEERS. I was relieved and very grateful. But that was the last time we ever did a joke like that.

As a coda: In later years when I became a director, Jan’s son Howard was my camera coordinator on several shows. He’s a great guy and we’ve become good friends. But if Jan hadn’t been so gracious I think I’d still be apologizing profusely to Howard every time I saw him.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Explaining today's Oscar snubs

The Academy Award nominations are out. Lots of expected nods, but also a few snubs. Here is my uneducated, based-on-nothing guess as to why certain films and artists were not invited to the big dance.

Steven Spielberg -- directing – BRIDGE OF SPIES was not that great. Yes, it was gorgeously shot, but when you could lift the entire first hour of a movie, that's not great storytelling. It did get a Best Picture nomination but that’s not good enough for Steven.

Quentin Tarantino – Two reasons: Disappointing film. And two, they’re tired of the act. Quentin has been sent to Oscar ghetto.

David O. Russell – See “Quentin Tarantino.”

STAR WARS – Honestly? No screeners. And not prestigious enough for voters, although the whole idea of expanding the number of Best Picture nominees was to include films people actually went to see. STAR WARS is a mega hit and its inclusion would boost TV ratings way up, but there’s only room for one space movie so it’s a no-go.

Ridley Scott – NO explanation for that snub. I suppose the Academy figured, “Aw he’s young. He’ll be making lots more pictures.”

Will Smith – What was with that accent? 

Steve Carell – Not a serious enough actor yet for the Academy. He needs to get mauled by a bear.

Aaron Sorkin – I think he should not only be nominated but win. Yet, there was not a lot of love for this film. Perhaps the Academy felt he’s been doing too much self-promotion, I dunno. He made a good film, he busted his ass to sell it, but voters just weren’t feeling it. Instead, CAROL – a moody snoozefest where nothing happens – gets in. Dare I say the Golden Globes got it right?

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON – Uh... diversity is not the Academy’s strong suit.

JANE FONDA – Voters were worried she’d use her acceptance speech to tell us why we need to get out of Viet Nam.

More snubs but I have to be somewhere.

In any event, congratulations to the nominees. Most of you are more than deserving. I will be reviewing the Oscars again this year. And now back to today’s original post.

What shows do you no longer watch?

Here in the colonies, DOWNTON ABBEY is back for its final season. Across the pond it has already aired. I used to be a huge DOWNTON ABBEY fan. Absolutely adored the first year. Year two was not as good. The World War I stuff was interesting but only to a point. Year three contained some turns I really hated (notably the death of several characters --- in one case ridiculously so). And the storytelling bothered me. The family loses all its money but miraculously a character discovers he has a long-long relative who dies and leaves him a fortune. Come on!!!  For writers, this is a cardinal sin – characters need to work through their problems not conveniently get bailed out.

I began watching season four but after two episodes I was done. So I won’t be watching this final year. I don’t care what happens to Lady Mary or Anna or Mr. Carson or whether the estate is sold to Ringo Starr or whatever.

This is not the first series I once loved and eventually abandoned. Season one of TRUE DETECTIVE was fantastic. Twelve minutes of season two was all I could stand. ORPHAN BLACK went from my favorite show to utterly insane in two-and-a-half years. And I know they have their fans (and if you’re one of them, God bless you) but goodbye to RAY DONOVAN and THE AFFAIR. I loved THE AMERICANS when it first came on, but it became Boris & Natasha in suburbia. Friends have said that it’s gotten better but with serialized shows it’s hard to jump back in. I’ll live without THE AMERICANS.

Sometimes a show goes off the rails storytelling-wise and other times a sameness just creeps in that after awhile gets to be too much. MODERN FAMILY and BIG BANG THEORY are two very well-crafted shows, but they’ve lost that freshness their early seasons contained. At least for me.

Meanwhile, some series like JUSTIFIED, THE SOPRANOS, BREAKING BAD, HOUSE OF CARDS, THE GOOD WIFE, and MAD MEN (although I had to slog through the last few seasons – figure it out already, Don) still held (or hold) my interest.

But I pose the question to you – what shows are you now no longer watching? And why’d you hop off that train? I’m sure for every show someone lists there will be three who say that’s their favorite. And that’s the fun of today.  So lemme hear from you (and I continue to moderate the comments to civility will reign), which show are to you what DOWNTON ABBEY is to me? Thanks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

You CAN go home again

First let me say my heart goes out to the people of St. Louis. You have a great sports town. It’s heartbreaking when a team you love leaves you. Especially when it happens twice. I hope you get another team to take its place. That said…

YAY! The LOS ANGELES Rams are coming home!

Finally, after 21 years I can give a shit about the NFL again. The LOS ANGELES Rams were my boyhood team.  And once they left -- meh. 

I tried still rooting for them and I was thrilled that they won a Super Bowl (something they never did in Los Angeles). But that’s like still wishing your ex-girlfriend well after she married someone else when you know you'd rather run them both over with your car. My son is a big Patriots fan so I sort of rooted for them. But that’s a little like watching STAR WARS and rooting for the storm troopers. My buddy Dan Hoard is the radio voice of the Bengals so I kind of followed them. But after that last playoff game with Pittsburgh it’s like deciding whether to root for the Crips or the Bloods. Another announcing buddy is Josh Lewin of the Chargers but to say they’re an “LA team” is like saying Lady Gaga is an award-winning actress. I’m a part owner of the Green Bay Packers. Well… me about 10,000 other people who paid a couple hundred bucks for the share. And after my time in Seattle, I still wish the Seahawks well and make sure I catch every one of their games when they’re in the Super Bowl.

So in short, I kinda sorta root for every team in the NFL other than the Dallas Cowboys. But by rooting for all, I really root for none.

And now finally, I have MY team back.

They were the team I grew up with. And most of the time they were bad. But I didn’t care. I’d go with my father to the Coliseum, sit on those hard benches, pray I wouldn’t have to use one of those disgusting bathrooms or get a splinter, and see my heroes -- Jon Arnett, Les Richter, Ollie Matson, Roman Gabriel, and other unforgettable players I can’t recall at the moment.

And just as cool was seeing the opposition -- Johnny Unitas, Y.A. Tittle (Or, as Ed Sullivan once called him on national TV, “Ya Tittle.”), Jim Brown, Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgenson, etc.

Eventually, in the ‘60s the Rams got good. They had the Fearsome Foursome – Rosie Grier (a mean son of a bitch who knitted), Lamar Lundy, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen along with Fred Dryer (like all former players when they retire, Merlin and Fred starred in TV dramas) and other equally fearsome fellows. It seemed like every year they’d win their division, go into Minnesota or Washington where it was 10 degrees and get blown out. And I’d be bummed (not like Viking fans after last Sunday but still). Over the last 21 years I can honestly say I have not broken a single lamp. And that’s just wrong for a real sports fan.

The Rams were also blessed with great announcers. First, Bob Kelley, then Dick Enberg, Dave Niehaus, and Bob Starr. In 1969 when I was an intern at KMPC radio (home of the Rams) I got to be the gofer for Rams home games. I would keep track of scores around the league, and then in the fourth quarter Dick would tell me who he wanted for his postgame guest, and I would trundle down to the field and grab him after the game. So I got to stand on the Rams bench for maybe the last minute and a half of games. (That was fun. After the gun sounded I was almost trampled weekly as the team thundered into the locker room. That was not fun.)

Having the Rams come back is like having a little of my youth return. Just the fact that I’m excited again about pro football is an emotion I haven’t had since, well… since I did have my youth. So many memories. Like the time Don Drysdale was the analyst with Dick Enberg (yes, THAT Don Drysdale) and quarterback Pat Haden got crushed. He lay on the ground motionless for several minutes as Enberg described the scene. Finally Don chimed in, “Dick, I gotta believe it’s nothing worse than a serious head injury.”

God, it’ll be good to have my Los Angeles Rams back.  Now, if only we can talk Dick Enberg out of retirement... Or Fred Dryer...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Open letter the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

We have a saying in the writers room – “Never sacrifice a character for a joke.” If you have one of your main characters say something incredibly dumb or homophobic or borderline racist – even though you know it will get a huge laugh – you are forever establishing that character as stupid, intolerant, etc. It’s not worth it. Good writers protect their characters.

My issue with you, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is that you are sacrificing your biggest asset for the sake of a rating point.

Award shows are supposed to be elegant. They’re supposed to be glamorous. Or at least present the pretense of glamour. Attending your award ceremony is supposed to be a big deal. The message that glamour and sophistication sends is that your award show bears a certain degree of importance. And credibility. And respect.    Now we all know that that is bullshit and people really tune in to see celebrities wear horrible dresses and stumble over the teleprompter.   But at least the format needs to appear significant. 

Ideally, for the home audience there’s a level of suspense. They care who wins. And when they see that not only do the nominees not care, but the host – who YOU select – tells the audience the awards are worthless you are tarnishing your already damaged brand.

You let your host shit all over you. And that’s just for starters.

You destroy the legitimacy of your organization by letting people buy your awards.  You still haven't lived down Pia Zadora.  And the thanks you get is they humiliate you in public. You give Denzel Washington a lifetime achievement award and he admits during his horrible acceptance speech that he essentially bought the first Golden Globe he ever won. You’re not mortified by that?   Or the mere fact that he had no speech and must've known for weeks or months that you were giving him this honor?   He didn't think enough of you to prepare something? 

A major pop singer is hired on a television show as a publicity stunt and you give her an award for acting? This doesn’t strike you as pandering for ratings? Last year Will Ferrell did a TV special where he played all nine positions in spring training games. You don’t see Major League Baseball naming him the Most Valuable Player of the Year.

Winners are telling you to fuck off during their acceptance speeches when the “wrap it up” music begins.

It doesn’t stick in your craw that you’re throwing this lavish party for an industry that has little regard for you? If anything, they’re using you. They’re using you to help generate buzz for the Oscars (the only movie award that does still mean anything to Hollywood), help promote their TV shows, get national exposure, and enjoy a lot of champagne and swag on your dime. And for that disrespect you’re HONORING them.

Do you think for one minute the Motion Picture Academy will invite Mel Gibson to be a presenter this year?

I love seeing self-important Hollywood assholes skewered as much as the next guy. And if this were a Friar’s Club Roast I’d beg Ricky Gervais to be the host. But it’s not. It’s your organization’s shining moment.

Now you could point to the small uptick in ratings and say you're doing the right thing and people think this is all a big joke anyway so who cares how you look?   If anything, you're good sports.   You're the nerd in high school who does the cute girl's homework while she sleeps with someone else, but hey, you get to sit next to her in Geometry. 

Or you could make efforts to re-claim a semblance of respectability by re-thinking your approach. Do you consider your awards important? Okay... not important, no one actually thinks that, but let's say "worth something?"   Harder to get than a People's Choice Award. 

There is a line that can be drawn. You can needle without being offensive. You can poke holes in pretense while still maintaining dignity. Tina Fey & Amy Poehler proved that three years running. You can cut off some winner who tells you to go fuck yourself when he wants to continue a long pointless speech. It’s YOUR show. (That will put an end to that practice and trust me, your home audience will be saying “thank you!”).  Don't give THE MARTIAN the award for Best Comedy over TRAINWRECK and SPY -- two ACTUAL COMEDIES.   And don't nominate people for their sheer publicity value. Or let your host set a beer on the podium.

Actors will still make whopper faux pas.  Some will still dress like Carmen Miranda.   Every acceptance speech will have the following words:  "Journey" "Artist" and "You can go to bed now."  All that entertainment value will be there.   We'll be talking about the fuck ups the next morning.  That's all there.  But if all of that is framed in the semblance of dignity, I think the show will carry more weight.  Or at least some weight.   Your ratings are not going to go down if people don't think your organization and awards are a big goof.    And who knows?  You might even get some legitimate respect in the industry.   You're right.  I'm pushing it.  But they might take ten minutes to prepare a speech when you honor them for lifetime achievement.