Saturday, April 30, 2016

Louis CK could have been a silent movie star

This is from the very cool folks at AV Club, edited by Dominick Nero. He doctored some footage from Louis CK's LOUIE series and showed how well it could work as a silent movie. Check it out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Questions

This would have been my mom’s birthday. I miss her everyday. It’s also Friday Question day.

Charles H. Bryan gets us started.

Is there ever concern in a multi'cam about actors' footwear so as not to make noise on the floor of the set? Clomp Clomp Clomp or click click click would be hard to remove from the mix. (I was watching BIG BANG THEORY and noticed Leonard wearing tennis shoes on the hardwood kitchen floor. That's appropriate footwear for that character, but it can't be so for everyone.)

I must say it’s a question that’s never come up. I do know we did a funny episode of CHEERS where Cliff had squeaky shoes, but I can’t recall ever watching a rough cut of an episode and being distracted by the clacking of shoes. Maybe actors wear rubber souls whenever they can, I dunno.

Here's the squeaky shoes scene:

Unkystan has a question about my play, A OR B?:

Any chance for an off-Broadway run in New York?

I would love that. Just need someone to make me an offer. I’m thinking of changing the title from A OR B? to A OR HAMILTON?  Whattaya think?

From Rashad:

I found a two-act play that I had written approximately 13 years ago, when I was a grad student and still believing I would become a professional writer someday. Should I reread the f**ker in order to refresh my memory...or should I just put it away in another drawer and forget all about it (again)? Thanks in advance!

This is not easy to answer since I haven’t read the play and I’m not clairvoyant. But sure, look it over. What the hell? If it’s terrible you can throw in the drawer, chalk it up to your inexperience and age at the time, but who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised. Or you might see a new way to go and be inspired to rewrite it. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like a CAA agent is going to see it lying around and file legal papers to have you banned from show business. (They tried that with me once but it didn't stick.) 

Timothy wraps it up with a CHEERS pilot question.

In reading reviews and the history of "Give Me a Ring Sometime", it seems that there was another patron character that was intended to be in the cast, an older cantankerous woman in a wheelchair. Several places online it is noted that she was played by Elaine Stritch. The interesting part of this is I recall watching a scene with Diane and Coach where there was a woman in purple sitting in a wheelchair that seemed to be paying a great deal of attention to what was being said, and I thought to myself "Well, there's an extra that isn't really doing her job", and funny enough it was this character. Can you confirm that it was Elaine Stritch (it sure doesn't LOOK like her), and why she was editied and written out?

First off, that was not Elaine Stritch. We tried to use Ms. Stritch in an episode seven or eight years and let’s just say it was not a good match.

In the original pilot there was a character named Miss Littlefield who was a cantankerous older woman. Upon seeing a rough cut the producers decided to take her out of the show, which they did with some deft editing. But as you mentioned, she is still visible in the background in a couple of shots, but she has no lines.

Her character also then had to be rewritten out of the next few scripts, as the plan was to make her a regular bar patron.
Happy Birthday, Mom... wherever you are.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Should Sam & Diane have gone off together in the end?

There’s been a lot of great debate lately in my blog about the Sam & Diane ending of the final episode of CHEERS. Check the comments section from last Friday’s post. Even the great Steven Moffat (SHERLOCK, DR. WHO, COUPLING) weighed in with a CHEERS-related opinion.

Quick aside: Steven’s sitcom, COUPLING, is my all-time favorite British sitcom. And you know how much I love FAWLTY TOWERS and BLACK ADDER.

But getting back to Sam & Diane, some readers felt cheated that they ultimately didn’t end up together. Sam & Diane clearly had a huge attraction for each other, and obviously loved each other. Satisfying endings of romantic comedies almost demand that the couple ride off into the sunset together.

Others felt that wasn’t realistic, and that for whatever love and lust Sam & Diane had for each other they still were not a good match.

The final episode was conceived and written by Glen & Les Charles. I remember discussions in the room about how to resolve the Sam & Diane relationship and if memory serves, there was never any intention of getting them together at the end.

And I must say, I agreed with that decision then and still do. (Sorry Diane D.)

Sam & Diane were so different. Their relationship (for comic and dramatic purposes) was fraught with conflict. Most of our time was spent devising new, funny, and fresh complications for them. Projecting forward, I believe they would driven each other insane had they gone off hand-in-hand – each with the best intentions, but ending with restraining orders.

A major research company conducted a survey just before the airing of the final episode. Only 21% felt Sam should marry Diane. (19% said he should marry Rebecca, which is just idiotic.) And 48% said Sam should stay single.  At the time of this survey no one on staff had read it or even heard about it.  Not that that would have made any difference. 

I loved how bittersweet the ending was. Has there ever been someone in your life you long for but deep down in your heart-of-hearts you know they’re wrong for you?

And in this case Sam really had to choose between Diane and moving to Los Angeles or his friends, his bar, and Boston. I believe his true love was the bar and as such it is a happy ending.

But the truth is, in whatever direction the Charles Brothers chose there was going to be a large segment of fans who would be unhappy. The safe move was to just not have Diane return at all. But that really would have been cheating. I applaud Glen & Les for taking a stand (and writing a beautiful script).  

And even though breaking up was heartbreaking for Sam & Diane, I’d like to think that over time they’d each be happier with someone else. But it would piss each other off that they were.

What do you think? Let the debate continue!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In no particular order...

I love BETTER CALL SAUL.  I hope their next spinoff is  INSTEAD OF HIM, CALL KIM?

Kelly Ripa had a right to be pissed. She should have been told Michael Strahan was leaving her show more than five minutes before the news went public. But this is becoming the norm these days. There is no such thing as courtesy or respect anymore. Suits routinely avoid awkward situations. If they reject something, half the time they don’t even get back to the submitter. And if they do respond, instead of a phone call it’s now maybe a terse email. Taking other peoples’ feelings into account is a complete non-issue for many of them. So props to Kelly Ripa for calling them out. Whether you like her act or not, she makes a shit-ton of money for these suits. It’s not just a matter of courtesy, they OWED her a heads-up on the Strahan situation.

Now who do I see about applying for her co-host role?

Good time to be a baseball fan in Chicago regardless of your team. When was the last time that happened? I think Buchanan was president.

I mentioned this on Twitter (you’re welcome to follow me): All these radio stations playing Prince songs -- how many of them played Prince before he died?

Was not a big fan of Louis CK’s HORACE AND PETE. It was like “what if CHEERS wasn’t funny?” But I did love Alan Alda in it. He played the most bigoted foul-mouthed character on television (or whatever platform that was). All the things we wish we could have written for him as Hawkeye he got to do.

Forget Trevor Noah. Give me Samantha Bee.

Vin Scully, on Monday’s Dodger broadcast, suggested you use the word “INCORRECT” for your computer passwords. That way if you forget it a box will pop up saying: “Your password is INCORRECT.” What are we going to do when he retires?

Huffpost Wednesday Headline: How Women Deal With Periods in Space

Since the Golden State Warriors had the best regular season record in NBA history I think they should get a bye on every playoff series until the Finals. Every other team should battle it out for the right to play them.  And then the Warriors should start with a 2-0 game lead. 

Speaking of basketball, it’s called a “hoop” Ted Cruz, not a “ring.” You’d know that if you watched a game and not spent all your free time at a Brooklyn matzo factory.

New York can no longer lord it over Los Angeles. We now have a Shake Shack. The lines are way too long (it's just a friggin' hamburger), but just knowing we have one is enough. HA!

How’d you like to be a Tony nominee this year up against HAMILTON? Good luck. The only suspense will be whether the many acceptance speeches will be in rhyme.

HuffPost Wednesday headline: Amy Schumer Recounts That Time Jennifer Lawrence Peed In A Bidet

Is Pat Boone the only artist not doing a cover of “Purple Rain?”

Who should Donald Trump’s running mate be? Hulk Hogan? Ted Nugent? Scot Baio? Gary Busey? Mike Tyson (yeah, he’ll get the women’s vote)? Or Dennis Rodman? Suddenly Sarah Palin starts lookin’ pretty good, huh?

Tomorrow I tackle the controversial issue you’ve been debating hot n’ heavy in the comments section – whether Sam & Diane should have ended up together?  Fireworks ensue.  See you then. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is Jennifer Aniston the most beautiful woman of 2016?

I’m sure whenever a group of people sit down for a lovely dinner these days the conversation naturally gets around to Jennifer Aniston being named PEOPLE Magazine’s most beautiful woman of 2016. And that’s usually followed by “Huh?”

Nothing against Jennifer Aniston, and attractive she is – adorable even – but THE most beautiful woman of 2016?

Of course there’s the larger question – why even have such a competition?

But PEOPLE does and people care. Or at least buy the magazine. Or at the very least discuss it over dessert. (Note: if Jennifer Aniston is the FIRST topic at your group dinner that’s a cry for help.)

The conversation naturally drifts to “If not Jennifer then who?” For the next ten minutes candidates are suggested and there’s rarely any consensus. Jessica Alba? Guys- yes, girls-no. Keira Knightley got some votes. J-Lo?  Meh.  I mentioned Katy Perry and was roundly shot down. Margot Robbie got some love. So did Scarlett Johansson. A couple of Olivia’s received honorable mention – Wilde & Munn. There was also some thought that Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek were the same person. At our table, Charlize Theron got the ultimate nod.

Now yes, this is all very objectifying, but the alternative is politics. Plus, within nano-seconds, the topic extends to who’s the sexiest guy? This leads to a ten minute very heated debate over Bradley Cooper. In my group, Ryan Gosling collected the most super delegates. I, meanwhile, received zero votes.

I’m sure these conversations have been going on since the beginning of time. ("Mona Lisa?  Really?  She's built like a tank.")  Certainly since the start of movie fan magazines. I think the only difference now is that we’re more enlightened and feel a pang a guilt. But not to where we drop the subject and go on to something else.

Congratulations Charlize & Ryan.

Monday, April 25, 2016

My best radio practical joke

People seem to like my radio stories so here's another one. 

Back in the days when one company didn’t own ten stations in the same market there was such a thing as “competition”. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were usually two rock stations going head-to-head in every town. This could lead to radio wars. Stations would try to sabotage each others contests and promotions. It was all in good fun.

Best of all was if you could somehow get on the air on the competing station and embarrass them live.

You didn’t have to be employees of the competing station to participate. You could be a diabolical listener just out for a few laughs.

I have been known to be one such diabolical listener (little wonder I became co-writer of all the CHEERS practical joke Bar Wars episodes).  

The irony is that I have since become good friends with the disc jockey I punked – Charlie Van Dyke.  We even went out to lunch recently (along with KHJ Boss Jock Mark Elliott).  Charlie's in the middle.

But in 1973 I had some issues. Not with him.  Charlie's a great guy. He's the voice-of-God on at least one TV station in every market.  "NOW!  It's time for Eyewitness News at 11!"  He's that guy.  Him I love, but I had problems with the station at the time.

Charlie was the morning man on KHJ, Los Angeles. Once a great radio station, the guiding forces had recently been replaced by a martinet program director, Paul Drew, who sapped all the imagination and creativity out of the station.

They were running an on-air contest called Columbo, based on the popular TV character of the time. Charlie announced it was time to play the game and he would take the tenth call. I phoned in and what do you know, I was caller number ten. Using a pseudonym, I played the game. Here’s the result, recorded right off the air.

What I said, for those who couldn't hear clearly was: "Paul Drew for killing KHJ."

And now... Charlie's side of the story.

I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing his remembrance of the incident.  Here's what he more-than-graciously had to say:

Ken, I remember it well! The format script said I was supposed to say, "Would you repeat that, please!" The small pause you heard before I spoke again was me looking down the contest script for the next line! Think about it, the odds of being the correct caller in a market the size of LA are incredible! You pulled off a one of a kind prank! Classic!

Thanks, Charlie. Oh, I miss those days.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The most fun I ever had in radio

A sort of follow-up to my post earlier this week on radio people getting together.  Here’s another look back at my disc jockey career – when radio was great and I was passable. One thing that the industry was back then was FUN. Not so today certainly. And it’s a shame – both for the talent and the listeners.

Everything was live and local. You were encouraged to show some personality. Most radio markets had two competing stations playing the exact some music. So the only way to really distinguish yourself was in the presentation. Who had the crazier DJ’s? Who had the wildest contests? Who staged the best concerts? Who had the sluttiest girls call the request line? (Oh wait, that was just for the jocks, not the listeners)

You don’t have that competition today when the same company owns both competing stations (and seven others in the market) and to save money, one guy voice-tracks shows for all of them, they air some syndicated service out of Saugus, California, and the slutty girls are just emailing rock bands.

But the 70s were sweet. The pay was crap, there was zero job security, you had to play “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” six times a night, you usually needed a penicillin shot, and half your annual salary was lost to apartment security deposits because you skipped town so often – but we made up for it in fun.

And if I had to select the single MOST fun experience it would be the launch of KFMB-FM (B100) in March 1975.

Bobby Rich was hired to create an exciting FM Top 40 station for San Diego. SD was a tough market. There already was a juggernaut AM station – KCBQ, and FM rock had already failed once before with KSEA (a station I was on and helped kill).

But Bobby was a showman. He understood that you hire really talented people, give them all the support elements they need to succeed, and then just let them do their thing. The result was a cooking radio station that sounded like pure adrenaline mixed with laughing gas.

And to set the tone right off the bat, Bobby devised the B100 Hours to kick off the format. Here’s Bobby himself, explaining the concept:

Getting the station started I was looking for ways to promote the "100" with slogans, contests and other image branding. So having a 100 hour "Boogie-a-thon" with no commercials and giving away "B-100 Dollar Bills" every 100 minutes just worked.

The real magic came when we started bringing in guest dj's from all over the country for the party. It was a reunion of something that hadn't even happened yet. All of our talent was encouraged to invite jock buddies (like you did with Billy Pearl) who would want to "play radio" with our gang of wacko and wild Boogiemasters.

Oh, doing the math it turns out that is FOUR DAYS and FOUR HOURS. So that required much complicated back timing. To say nothing of the jocks being required to start each hour with the countup "and this is hour 78 of 100 hours of Better Boogie", etc.

Tapes of that insane weekend went viral in the radio industry. I still encounter people who say they have airchecks of me and Billy Pearl (at the time a jock for KHJ Los Angeles) on the air together, doing a limerick competition while we kept re-starting the record over and over.

You never knew who was going to be on the air at any hour, and often disc jockeys were paired off. I got to do an hour with the legendary Chuck Browning – maybe the most caustic human being that ever lived. Great jocks from all over the country would come in, sit down, and just blast. One or two were even sober.

The line-up was crazy. I was there all weekend. I’d work 8-9 PM, then come back and do 4-5 AM, 11-noon, 7-8 PM, etc. No one got any sleep.

I recall doing a morning show with Rich Brother Robbin, and at the time there was a syndicated program going around that basically was a fantasy Woodstock. All these live performances from various albums were woven together as if this amazing rock festival actually took place. We did a mock version. Doing my Ed Sullivan impression, we hosted the Concert for Rock n’ Roll Heaven and played all these dead artists. What we lacked in taste we made up for in audacity.

The launch was a huge success. The entire town was talking about it. And within months B100 dethroned longtime stalwart, KCBQ.

Would something like that work today? I bet it would. Just don’t ask me to work that 4-5 AM shift though, please.

This is a re-post from five years ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My favorite Disneyland story

Here's another excerpt from my book, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s).   It's loaded with photos and videos, and here's the best part -- If you want to buy the book, you can!   Seriously!  It's for sale!  Just go here

But for now it's 1964.  We take a family trip to the Magic Kingdom.  

My other grandmother, Nana Pearl, surprised me later that summer by saying, “Fuck!” You don’t expect to hear your dear sweet old world, refined grandmother scream, “FUCK!!!” And at Disneyland no less.

The family made a sojourn to the Magic Kingdom and took Nana Pearl with us. At the time she was probably in her mid-60s. No one knew the ages of their Jewish grandparents back then. They all came over from Europe or Russia and no one arrived with accurate documentation. If Cher had entered the country via Ellis Island she’d claim to be 36 today.

But Nana Pearl was a kick. Always full of life. Your basic strudel-baking furniture-cleaning grandmother but game for anything…except…

Thrill rides.

So at Disneyland she was not interested in any roller coasters. We found ourselves at the Matterhorn bobsleds and of course Corey and I wanted to go. My father suggested Nana Pearl join us. He told her it was just a nice lazy boat ride. Dad has a mischievous streak in him. Either that or he was getting back at her for grounding him one weekend in 1939. Anyway, Nana Pearl agrees to go.

I’m in the back of the bobsled and Nana Pearl is in my lap. The sled slowly ascends up the center of the mountain. About halfway up she figures it out. That is when, for the first time ever, my grandmother dropped the F-bomb.

The bobsled begins hurtling down the mountain and all the while she is yelling, “I’m going to KILL him! If I ever get off of this damn thing I’m going to fucking KILL Clifford!” I didn’t help matters by laughing hysterically.

I think she chased him through three Lands.

My favorite Disneyland ride at the time wasn’t a ride at all. It was the Monsanto House of the Future. You just walked through this ultra modern house made entirely of plastic. A plastic house might sound ridiculous but when they finally closed the exhibit in 1967 and tried to demolish it, the wrecking ball just bounced right off of it. The one day demolition took two weeks.

Among the House of the Future’s visionary features – an oven that cooked food within seconds not hours, a TV that hung like a framed picture on the wall, telephones that allowed you to see the other party, and the most unbelievable wonder of all – a toothbrush that was electric! You would just push a button and the bristles rotated all by themselves! I’m sorry, this was beyond science fiction.

Like all kids, and probably adults too in 1964, we thought that by the year 2000 we’d all be living like the Jetsons. We’d all be flying around in space ships that folded into briefcases and even brushing our teeth without having to move our hands up and down.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Questions

Happy Passover to those who observe Passover, or at least are invited to a Passover dinner. This is one of the Jewish holidays where you do eat. Meanwhile, here are this week’s Friday Questions for followers of all religions.

ELS starts us off:

Ken, you noted that Supergirl's ratings aren't so good... but that's on CBS. How would they compare if the show were on the CW? I keep thinking that CBS might bail on "Supergirl" and the CW would take it to complete their "DC superheroes - every night!" (or some such.) I know some shows have jumped networks... any idea if this is viable? (Yes, I definitely like "Supergirl" - I'm the one - and would like to see it remain on the air.)

Last year when CBS was putting together its schedule there was a lot of talk about putting SUPERGIRL on the CW – for the reasons you mentioned. My understanding was that the production budget would be too high to justify for a CW show. There was also the element of SUPERGIRL’S theme (empowering women) that CBS really responded to.

Look, SUPERGIRL got a huge sampling. The fact that ratings have continued to slip clearly suggests fans are not liking the storylines and direction of the show. My guess is that should SUPERGIRL get picked up for a second season there will be a major overhaul in the writing staff and creative direction of the show. I wouldn’t be surprised if Warner Brothers (the studio that produces the show) has to make a big presentation to CBS explaining just how they would fix it before the network gives them a pick-up.

I too hope it comes back, but not in its present form.

The TV Guy has a CHEERS question.

I've always wondered why Shelley Long didn't return to CHEERS until the 1993 finale, 6 years after her departure? Was she invited? Seems like it would've been organic enough for her to pop in during the 6th, 7th, or 8th season. Why the long absence?

A couple of reasons. First: the show wanted to move on. That becomes harder to do when a beloved character from the past pops in from time to time to remind you how much you miss her. Also, everyone felt Diane’s return should be a BIG deal and what bigger deal than the series finale? I think it was the right decision. I also thank Shelley for agreeing to come back. She was not contractually obligated to do so.

I have to say personally, that although I loved the Rebecca years, and Kirstie was a hoot, to me the Diane years were special. Having Shelley back for the final hurrah just made that last episode feel right.  What do you guys all think?

From VP81955:

Could you discuss what a writing staff goes through this time of year, when series that have been renewed plan the next season's story arc (as "Mom" now is planning to do for season 4, though that show almost certainly was to have been brought back). I would think most series have long-range plans, both for the season arc and for individual episodes that aren't tied to an arc but can be shown at nearly any time during the season. And for a show that's renewed by the skin of its teeth, with writers making contingency plans, I'm sure the staff doesn't have its collective mind focused on future seasons.

Knowing you’re already picked up for next year is a real luxury. Some shows handle it differently. A few will begin planning the overall arc and a few stories for the upcoming season. They may even assign script assignments to the staff during the hiatus. That way when they return the show has five or six scripts already.

The most organized show I ever saw was EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Phil Rosenthal was a master showrunner. When ELR would wrap for the year, Phil had half of next season’s scripts ready to go. He was always a half a season ahead.  I’m in awe.

In most cases, showrunners and staffs are so fried by the end of the season they just set it aside and go off on hiatus. They’ll worry about next year when they return. I’ve even seen shows that end with a cliffhanger and the showrunner has no idea how he’s going to resolve it. He’ll figure something out after the break.

For most of the long-running shows I’ve been on, we tabled any discussion of the following year until we reconvened after the hiatus. We were much likely to come up with good ideas when we were refreshed than plotting out a new season on fumes.

blogward asks:

A friend of mine is working on a production for BBC radio of 50 year-old+ scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson of Steptoe (US Sanford) and Son, and Hancock's Half Hour using, obviously, actors unassociated with these iconic characters. How do you think would you feel (assuming the money was right) about a similar thing happening with yours and David's classic scripts? Are there certain actors you might prefer - or not?

I think it would be interesting. It was great recently seeing different actors play the parts in my play, A OR B? Why not allow new actors to see what they can bring to various roles? It also makes it easier to go along with this if the money is right.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Staffing season

We’re getting into staffing season – that musical chairs exercise where showrunners begin cobbling writing staffs together in the event that their shows will get picked up next month. It’s a nerve-wracking process for all concerned, but my heart especially goes out to young writers trying to land a spot.

It’s such a crapshoot. You could get on a network show that is cancelled after three episodes or be on a cable show that goes for three years. Or vice versa.

Happily, I was on the other side for most of my career. I was the showrunner hiring the staff. And that’s not a piece of cake either because there are so many factors involved that you won’t know until you’re in the foxhole. You really have to take a flyer on these people.

So what do I look for? Well, first of all it depends on my needs and my budget. Ideally you look for writers who can give you good drafts and also are helpful in the room with jokes and story fixes. But the truth is there aren’t that many. Yes, there are a thousand writers out there but only a select few who can deliver the goods. So if I hear of one, or a team, I snatch them up immediately.

For the most part you’re offered writers who excel in one of area but are weak in another (e.g. good drafts but quiet in the room). So you have to decide your need. Do you have good room people already and need script help? Or are you covered with scripts but lack strong joke support?

What is the sensibility of your show?  If it's about the dating life of Millennials you should probably have some Millennials.  If it's about a family you should have a few staff members who have families.   I'd be an idiot to write a show about diverse characters without a lot of diversity in the room. 

Personally, I always like to have several women on the staff -- regardless of the subject matter.  I like their perspective and they keep me honest when writing women characters.     

And again, all of this is within the parameters of my budget.

Another HUGE factor is their personality. How well do they play with others? How much of a team player are they? Do they bathe?

A showrunner once described staffing by saying, “Who would you want to be trapped in a VW with driving across the country?”

You spend way more time in the room with your writing staff than your family. You better all get along. And it’s not easy. Writers tend to be neurotic. They tend to be competitive. They tend to have big egos. And they tend to be insecure. Add to this constant deadline pressure and you have a recipe for TWELVE ANGRY MEN on a daily basis for ten months. So you do your best to find people who might (if you’re lucky) get along.

The truth is, when you have a good room it’s a fantastic place to be. Imagine spending twelve hours a day with bright interesting people who make you laugh constantly. There are worse ways of making a living and having top-flight actors perform your words for an audience of millions (or at least several thousands).

But there are sour apples who can take down a room. And in time they are weeded out. I think over the years I’ve worked with all of them. (And I say that fully aware that there are showrunners who are absolute nightmares too – in some cases far worse than any staff writer with an annoying idiosyncrasy.)

Here are a few staff writer quirks that piss me off. And buyers beware. Showrunners should do their due diligence – talk to previous employers and read current first drafts (before the staff got ahold of them).

There’s always the writer that is constantly on their iPhone texting. Their eyes are never on the monitor displaying the script you’re working on.  I'm not above saying put the fucking phone away.

Similarly, there’s the writer who gets fifty phone calls a day and is out of the room more than he's in.

There’s the grammar police. He or she has nothing to offer so they try to make themselves useful by picking at the grammar. “That should be a semi-colon.” Who gives a shit? That’s for proofing. For now I’m concentrating on the lines, not punctuation.

You have the person who wants to go back four pages. I usually want to kill this person. If you had a problem on page 16 and didn’t say anything and we’re now on page 30 we are not going back. I worked with an excellent writer who got fired off a first-class show because of that bad habit.

And then there’s the person who sulks. Writing rule number one: Pitch something ONCE. If the showrunner says no, drop it. Do not pitch it again five minutes later. And do not SULK. I worked with a hilarious writer, one of the best room guys I’ve ever seen, but after a couple of years he was usually not asked back. It just wasn’t worth the sulking.

More than anything else, you need your staffers to project a positive outlook (even if they don’t believe it – which none of them do). There are enough negatives – temperamental actors, idiotic notes, network politics, production restrictions, working weekends, the Red Vines are all gone – that you have to fight to urge to give into that. Because if you do you’re buried.

So that’s the landscape. No one from either side knows what they’re getting into. And from that somehow great television is made. Again, best of luck to all concerned. May you wind up in the ideal situation for you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Little Big Shots

Whenever I go to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language (which is practically every foreign country), I love to turn on the TV in the hotel and find some bizarre local game or reality show. They always have a neon rainbow-colored set with a super manic host, insane bobblehead contestants, and a studio audience absolutely orgasmic – laughing, howling, cheering, whistling – going bonkers over every little thing that is said and done on stage. What are they guffawing at? Why are they applauding like crazy people?  I walk out of the hotel and everyone on the street seems calm and normal but on TV they’re all Jerry Lewis.

Yes, I watch as a goof. It’s Pee Wee’s Playhouse with a studio audience of Mountain Dew addicts. But for all my dear foreign readers, please allow me to return the favor. For sheer frenetic idiocy, I invite you to come to the United States, check into a Holiday Inn, and watch LITTLE BIG SHOTS.

This is a new show on NBC that airs on Sunday nights and is quickly becoming a breakout hit. I weep for America.

Child prodigies come out, are interviewed by Steve Harvey, and then perform their “talent.” All the while the studio audience is convulsing in laughter over every interview question and answer, and cheering every second during the performances. Most studio audiences in TV studios have applause signs. This one must have a “Come unglued and have a complete mental breakdown” sign. Again, what are they laughing at? Why are they applauding? At least the international shows speak foreign languages. But here it’s in English and I’m still completely befuddled.

Talking to kids is not a new concept. Art Linkletter hosted KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS for years. Bill Cosby, when he wasn’t committing felonies, did the same thing. Both hosts were terrific at it. Steve Harvey is so impressed with himself that interacting with the kids is an intrusion. All he’s interested in is getting laughs – for himself. Linkletter and Cosby understood that they were straight men for the kids. When Harvey isn’t delivering a lame one-liner he’s mugging shamelessly, stealing every Richard Pryor expression he can remember. LITTLE BIG EGO.

And the adorable cherubs are so precocious you want to hurl. These are truly every smug, stuck-up, teacher’s darling kid you ever loathed in elementary school. Yes, I know I’m a jaded old curmudgeon and the show’s a big hit so I’m clearly out-of-step, and who cares what I think anyway? I expect I’ll get some flack in the comments section. But Jesus! A little girl who yodels? A six-year-old who dances? A nine-year old torch singer? Am I the only one who finds the success of this utterly absurd? Remember when Arsenio hosted STAR SEARCH? It’s the same thing!!! No, it was better. No one watched that show. That’s what they get for not showcasing yodeling.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The six-year-old dancer was on because a YouTube video of her hoofing with her pregnant tattooed mother went viral and 36,000,000 people watched it. But that’s America. On any one night you can watch LITTLE BIG SHOTS and then THE GOOD WIFE. I don’t have to tell you which got the higher ratings.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

RIP Doris Roberts

So sorry to hear that Doris Roberts has passed. What a great lady! I was surprised to learn that she was 90. I saw her just a few months ago and she looked the same as she did on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Hell, she looked the same as she did on REMINGTON STEELE. Or the 35 other TV series she co-starred in.

I got to work with her when I directed EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. And I know her son, Michael. We hired him to be our Post Production Supervisor on BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

If I had to play word association with “Doris Roberts,” my response would be “Joe DiMaggio.” Why? Because Joltin’ Joe was not just one of the greatest players ever; he made it seem effortless.

And that was Doris. She had impeccable comic timing and was given challenging material to do week after week, and yet she made it seem so easy, so natural, so – effortless.

But the truth is, her performance required hard work. To play a character who at times could be the antagonist and yet still be lovable is a major acting feat.

The key was that she played Marie Barone (and every character) “real.” Never an exaggeration, never a “sketch” – you loved Marie because you identified with her. That was your mother. Or your mother-in-law. Or you (although you’d never admit it).

And not only did she avoid playing Marie too broad; she also avoided playing her too soft. Many actors fear being viewed as unlikable so they balk at having to play unsympathetic in any way. Doris went for the truth of the character in all situations, regardless.   And you loved her even more for that.

She just inherently knew the correct level and pitch. As I was directing her I would think, “She’s forgotten more about acting than I’ll ever know.” That said she was lovely on the set. The pro’s pro. Always prepared, always knew her lines, always available to rehearse, always generous with the other actors, be they regular cast members or guest players.

Doris Roberts’ IMDb page lists her as an actress in 158 projects. Many of them were series that she starred or co-starred in. She did 210 episodes of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, 72 episodes of REMINGTON STEELE, 5 episodes of BARNEY MILLER, 36 episodes of ANGIE, 4 episodes of SOAP, not to mention tons of movies and guest appearances on comedies and dramas alike. She won 5 Emmys (4 for RAYMOND).

On television Doris Roberts will live another 90 years. I wish there was a way to retire her number. She was one of the all-time greats.

Monday, April 18, 2016

When radio people get together

Went to a “celebration of life” (which sounds so much better than a “memorial service”) on Saturday for legendary radio program director, Ron Jacobs.  (Below is the video tribute to Ron.)  My friend Kevin Gershan did a great job organizing this event and it was attended by many.

I notice now that when radio people from the Golden Age (i.e. 20th Century) get together you can always expect the following:
Everyone drops their voice an octave (even the women).

Everyone still talks about drugs but now they’re for cholesterol.

Everyone compares which stations they were fired from and how many times they were fired.  (If it's less than six you weren't really in radio.)

Everyone has kids (that they know about).

Everyone wanted to work at KHJ.

Everyone has worked at KRTH.

Everyone has great stories.  Maybe a third of them are true.  

Everyone hated Paul Drew (another radio program director).

Everyone did the all-night shift at one time or another and still has the bags under their eyes.

Half the gathering had slept with the same girl. The other half slept with a different girl.

Everyone secretly considers himself the “fifth Beatle.”

No one still goes by their real name.

Discussions always include how much hair we used to have.

Everyone agrees that the Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Dan Ingram, Jackson Armstrong, and Larry Lujack were the best of the best.

Everyone still talks-up records in their car and can still hit the post. (It’s my greatest talent.)

Everyone misses the “competition” that went on back when two companies didn’t own every radio station in America. War was heaven.

Everyone refuses to believe the ‘60s are over (despite the existence of mirrors).

They’re the only gatherings in the world where people bemoan the lack of jingles.

Every conversation begins with: “Whatever happened to…?” or “Do you know a good cardiologist?”

Songs from the ‘80s are considered way too current to be classified as “oldies.”

And finally, everyone agrees that their heyday in radio was the most fun time of their lives.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Trapped at Warner Brothers

It's pilot season again.   The deadline is looming.  In only a few weeks the networks will put together their fall schedules.  Since writer/creators don't have the luxury of hiring a writing staff for one pilot they usually enlist colleagues to help out and come in for a night or two to rewrite.   At one time we were handsomely paid for this service.  Studios clamped down on that real fast.  Now we get iPad minis.   But I'm happy to do it to assist a friend.  I've done it on many a pilot.  Here are some quick observations.

It’s sure a lot more fun when the show is in good shape. This one was.

There’s nothing like being in a room with side-splittingly funny people. Until you reach midnight.

Food you would never touch you eat in rewrites. We had take out Chinese food at 6. So at 9 you can imagine how cold and congealed and generally just “leftover” it was. And yet, we all seemed to grab plates and nibbled on this remaining gunk as the night wore on.

Everyone now checks their iPhone every fifteen seconds.

The room is either too hot or too cold. It seems to go in half-hour increments.

You work with people you know and people you meet for the first time. It’s great fun to work with writers you’ve only heard about. Like discovering a terrific new comedian. And the best part is, new horror stories, different dish. It’s the blood we comedy vampires feast on.

They close a lot of the exit gates at Warner Brothers after midnight. You should have seen us. A convoy of cars driving all over the lot, in and out of streets, looking for the way out. Every time we turned left, there was the damn town square from LOIS & CLARK. I kept expecting to see some lost sad writer from MAVERICK whose been trying to find the open gate since 1957. Finally, we just followed some guy in a golf cart. We figured, if he’s here this late he must know where he’s going. And sure enough! After twenty minutes we finally escaped. I hope the MAVERICK guy gets out.

If you're a creator/writer with a pilot this season, best of luck, and I hope you're not reading this from the office since it's Sunday. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Another crazy " Writers Assistant" story

Now they're called "Writers Assistants".  Back in the ‘90s they were still called secretaries. We’ve had several that proved to be total loons. Sweet people but seriously bonkers.

One of the bat-shit craziest was Sally. This is when we had a development deal at Paramount. We had our own production company and the mandate was to sell pilots and get shows on the air.

Sally lived in a modest apartment in Brentwood, a half-hour drive to Paramount. One morning her pet parakeet got out of its cage, flew out the window, and perched in a nearby tree.

When this happens, what do you do? Call the fire department? Yes, that’s what you or I or anyone sane might do. But not Sally.

She called the Paramount Special Effects department and ordered that two stuntmen to come out to her apartment to retrieve the bird.

I got awoken by a call from the Special Effects department. They wanted my okay for this. How much would be charged against our production deal? $20,000. “Fuck no!” I said and told them to cancel the assignment.

Sally called me moments later, frantic because Paramount gave her the bad news. What was she going to do? This was essentially our conversation:

ME: Did you call the fire department?

HER: Why would I call the fie department?

ME: To get your bird down.

HER: There’s no fire.

ME: They also rescue animals. You’ve never heard of fireman raising ladders up against trees and saving cats?

HER: This is a bird.

ME: So what?

HER: Do they have nets?

ME: How would I know?

HER: Well, how will they capture him?

ME: They’ll send up the Dalmatian. He’ll put it in his mouth. I don’t know.

HER: Maybe I can pay some kids to climb the tree.

ME: Just call the fucking fire department!

HER:  Can I tell them I'm a producer.

ME:  No!

HER:  But I want them to come here first.

ME:  You think they go out on calls based on your status in Hollywood?

HER:  Well, maybe they're actors.

ME:  So if they think you're a producer they'll recite a monologue from King Lear as they shimmy up the ladder?

HER:   Well how else can I get them to come here first?

ME:  Tell him the bird is the Maltese Falcon. 

After that the conversation got weird.  She eventually phoned the LAFD.   The bird was rescued. It took all morning. And we got no work done. Hey,  I’m just glad she didn’t call for the corporate jet to fly her the ten miles from Brentwood to Paramount in Hollywood.

Sally was one of our better secretaries by the way.  So that gives you some idea.

Re-posted from several years ago.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Questions

This is your last chance to see A OR B? at the Hatboro Village Theatre. Tonight and tomorrow. Be there or be square.

When you ask a Friday Question I copy and paste it into a file and try to answer as many as I can. But a few I never get around to. And over time those have started piling up so today I’m going to dig deep and pull out some FQ’s that were asked some time ago. Sorry for the delay.

Ernie asked this in 1974:

What qualities does your writing partner, David Isaacs, bring to your collaborative work that you have trouble doing or can't do; likewise, what do you bring to the partnership that David Isaacs doesn't do or doesn't do as well (i.e. what are some of your strengths and weaknesses both in your writing and in your business partnership)?

More than anything else it was our speed. Especially early on in our writing career, I would tend to go too fast and David would sometimes be too deliberate. He slowed me down and I sped him up until we reached a good working groove, which happy to say, we’re still in.

But in terms of story and joke ability, I think we were pretty even. Having a trusted partner just helped us both grow as writers much faster than we would have each working alone.

Sid asked this question in 1957:

There have been a few shows, such as Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, Smothers Brothers, etc. that were famous for their all-star cast of writers. But in all those instances, the writers were not famous when they were on the show. Rather, they became famous after the fact. To the best of your knowledge, has there ever been a program or project where someone attempted to assemble an all-star crew of comedy writers? (The analogy would be “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” with its all-star cast of performers.)

I can’t speak for the current crop, but back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s All-Star line-ups of comedy writers were routinely assembled to help out on pilots. We would pitch in on rewrite nights of each other’s projects.

There were times when it was hard to believe I was there because I’d be in a room with Jim Brooks, the Charles Brothers, Sam Simon, Jerry Belson, David Lloyd, Harvey Miller, and Treva Silverman and think, “Holy shit, this is the ’27 Yankees.”

Oh, and did having that amazing collection of talent always result in the pilot being picked up? Uh, that would be no.

Johnny Walker wondered this in 1985:

In the best Bar Wars episode (you know the one), I remember "Monster Mash" playing when Gary pranked the bar. It's a memory that's stayed with me since I was a kid -- it just seemed like the perfect song, and was SO funny. But unlike every other song used in Cheers (which is the same as it was when first broadcast), "Monster Mash" has been changed to cheaper sounding alternative for home video (even Netflix). Any idea why? It's maddening when I watch that episode. (Also, if the music wasn't played on set -- allowing them to switch it out, what did the audience react to?)

I’m guessing it was just too expensive to get the rights.  That song was on an independent label owned, I believe, by Gary Paxton, and the artist, Bobby Pickett, passed away several years ago.  I don't know how complicated it was to secure permission.   It's too bad, because that song was perfect.

Mark wondered this in 1947:

If you name drop an actor in a script do you contact them and ask if it's ok? The line "Ted Danson and I went out that night and got smashed" might tick off Ted Danson, right?

You’re allowed to mention celebrities since they are public figures. If you do so in a derogatory light you do run the risk of a defamation suit (although those are rare).

But let’s take Alan Alda for example. He has maybe the best marriage of any celebrity I know. He is a very faithful husband. If one of the girls on 2 BROKE GIRLS said she was having an affair with Alan Alda I could see where lawyers might be called. But if one of the characters just took a shot at Alan Alda's hair I don’t think litigation would result.

If in writing scripts we have any question as to whether a reference is acceptable we could always consult the studio legal department. We rarely did that because their knee jerk reaction was always “No!”

Mel Agar goes back to 1937 to ask:

Have you ever written a show off only to "rediscover" it later and find it has found its stride? What shows do you feel have managed to do that recently?


And finally, we go back to 1911 when Oliver asked:

What do you think about comedies being ordered straight-to-series, skipping the pilot process?

I wish it had happened to me.   Actually, it did happen to me.  THE MARY SHOW. 

Giving a series order is always a little risky and usually the network hedges its bet with either an A-list creator or coveted A-list talent. But it can backfire. THE MARY SHOW lasted 13.  And who remembers the MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW?

Cable networks and streaming services are more willing to take that gamble, but they often dole out fewer episodes per order. Ten or sometimes six. I think the order for Michael J. Fox was 22. That was a big financial hit for NBC to take.

What’s your Friday Question? I promise to get to it by 2057.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Misc. Takes

Some random thoughts for a Thursday...

Tuesday nights are not the same now that the O.J. verdict is in. Sarah Paulson has become my favorite working actress. Whether it’s a one-headed or two-headed character, she can play ‘em all.

Sorry to hear of David Gest’s passing, but is this the creepiest wedding photo you’ve ever seen?
The Stephen Colbert show already has a new showrunner. That can’t be good.

Congrats to the Golden State Warriors, the best regular-season team in NBA history.  73-9.   Of course now they have to play another 82 playoff games.  

Conan O’Brien has been doing his shows from South Korea, obviously trying to capitalize on that MASH zeitgeist.  

For the first week of the baseball season when it’s still snowing in the east, why don’t they schedule all the games in cities that have good weather or domes?

NEW GIRL was renewed. No, seriously.

Book recommendation: “Welcome to Dumbfuckistan: The Dumbed-Down, Disinformed, Dysfunctional, Disunited States of America” by Ian Gurvitz. Ian is a hilarious writer – sort of a cross between Andy Borowitz and Howard Beale. Among Ian’s many TV credits is BECKER. He wrote the best, angriest Becker rants of the series. You can get the book here.

So SUPERGIRL’S ratings went way up when The Flash guested then plunged right back down the following week. Look for a crossover show with Super Grover during May sweeps.

Who’s having a big viewing party for this Sunday night’s TV LAND ICON AWARDS?

The Russian poem that David Isaacs and I wrote for a CHEERS episode made it to a gate arrival sign. I guess Virgin Air in SFO likes to spice up their gate announcements. This was seen recently:
My heart goes out to Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins fans.

ORPHAN BLACK returns tonight and is supposed to be good again. For the first few episodes they essentially do a prequel. Navajo Code Talkers couldn’t figure out the plot from last season.

The new CEO of AMC Theaters is experimenting with allowing texting at certain theaters.  That'll be the last time I ever go to one of those theaters.   Meanwhile, the most habitual moviegoers are not teens.  They're the over-50 crowd.   Maybe theater owners should maybe possibly want to cater to THEM. 

What a way to go out!  Kobe Bryant scored 60 points last night in his final game in the NBA.  Thanks for a great career, Kobe.   It's a sad moment for Lakers fans although they're all secretly saying, "Finally!"

EW Trend Watch: Capsule Episodes. Entire episodes devoted to one character of a series. Uh, this is nothing new. Ever see the “Hawkeye” episode of MASH or the “Maude Bares Her Soul” episode of MAUDE? TV did not begin in 2010.

I’m about to go into a deep depression. Only one more episode of BETTER CALL SAUL left for the season. What will I do with my Monday nights and aluminum cape?

Any chance I could get Sumner Redstone to adopt me?  Or Kobe?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Smartasses are smarter

Here’s good news! If you find my snarky award show reviews amusing you are more creative and psychologically well-adjusted than everyone else.

This according to ACADEMICS.

A new ACADEMIC study found that those who make sarcastic remarks and those that enjoy sarcastic remarks have higher IQ’s. And hey, this was a joint study of the Columbia Business School and the Harvard Business School. So we’re not talking the Sarasota Clown College here.

Sarcasm is based on irony, word play and multiple meanings. You have to be bright to come up with sarcastic comments (except for those slacker idiots on TMZ). But it’s not just the snark-meister. The listener must decipher what was meant as opposed to what was actually said. And that takes smarts too.

So are you one of those super intelligent people? Here’s a test:

Did you notice that I capitalized ACADEMIC twice? Did that seem snarky to you? Does this entire post seem tongue-in-cheek? Than congratulations, you’re a brainiac.

Like all skills, they remain sharp with proper use. So I would like to thank the Academy… all Academies. And Red Carpet shows, Seth Mcfarlane, HAWAII 5-0, THE VIEW, 2 BROKE GIRLS, Sarah Palin, Applebee’s, Ricky Gervais, AMERICAN IDOL, Lena Dunham, PETER PAN LIVE, iHeart Radio, Fox News, Whole Foods, Las Vegas, Chelsea Handler, and Texas for keeping me sharp.

I like this article way better than the other one I posted that said writers were nuts and shitty lovers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When you have a show out of town

Back from Philadelphia where my play, A OR B? is currently running at the neighboring Hatboro Village Theatre.  A OR B? was originally presented at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles, but this was my first time seeing it with a different production in a different time zone.

So naturally I came down with a horrendous cold three days before the trip. I took massive doses of Vitamin C, C, Zinc, Airborne, and Oxcydilliccylieallan in preparation. The cold raged on but my astigmatism improved. For the flight I took a Zyrtec-D, which normally turns me into a human raisin. Not in a pressurized cabin it seems. From coast-to-coast my head felt like the final hour of DAS BOOT.

Mrs. L. and I arrived Thursday night and hopped a gypsy cab driven by Ali G.   I always enjoy visiting Philadelphia.  It's the home of Benjamin Franklin, Chubby Checker, and the Wing Bowl.

Stayed downtown at the Loew’s. Very nice hotel. Our room was on the 32nd foot with a spectacular view of the Amamark building. For many years no building in Philadelphia was allowed to be taller than William Penn’s hat. There is a statue of the P-Man atop City Hall. Our founding fathers didn’t want any of those glass monstrosity skyscrapers. But somebody must’ve paid off somebody else so now there’s a skyline. (City Hall is now the 16th tallest building in the city.)

Note: There’s also a statue of Sylvester Stallone, but even if he was wearing a hat it would mean that no building could be higher than 5’ 1”.

Friday was the Villanova parade. Over 60,000 converged on downtown to celebrate this year’s NCAA Men’s Collegiate Basketball Champs. More importantly, they are the only real winning team in Philadelphia. I saw a few people donned in Flyers, Eagles, and Phillies gear, but you’d have a better chance seeing someone in Bhutan wearing a ‘76ers jersey than you would in Philadelphia.

The Barnes Collection is the current thing to see. Dr. Barnes was a chemist who made a fortune inventing an anti-gonorrhea drug and used the money to amass a huge and impressive art collection along with vintage household items like locks and cookie cutters. They were all arranged very specifically in his house. When he died in 1951 he specified in his will that nothing in his house was ever to be touched in perpetuity. But like William Penn’s hat, that changed and the collection is now downtown. However, everything is set up exactly to-the-letter the way it was in his house. Who knew he had a gift shop in his house?

The weather was cold and cloudy on Friday. Swung by the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. This is a giant indoor market and food court featuring cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, Amish and soul food. Vendors included little Dutch girls and angry gangstas. I hear DiNic’s pulled pork sandwiches are great but never found them. It was a little like Calcutta in there. Long lines were everywhere, but one stretched almost to Scranton. It was for Beiler’s Donuts. You’d think the jelly donuts were filled with iPhones. I held off since I had a plane to catch in two days, and locals contend that Federal Donuts are even better.

Took the SEPTA train out to Hatboro. We weren’t even settled in our seats when two imposing cops entered and dragged some stoner out of the car. Along the route we stopped at Temple University, where Bill Cosby got his Bachelor’s Degree even though he never finished his course load. It was bestowed on him because of “life experience.”  We can only hope the courts bestow on him a "life sentence." 

We of course bought senior tickets and the conductor actually checked our ID's. Wow. That's like Cher still being carded at a liquor store. 

Hatboro was the very definition of charm – meaning more antique stores than CVS’s. The Hatboro Village Theatre has been producing shows for 65 years (back when Cher really was being carded).  The theatre has been refurbished and is gorgeous. Plush comfortable seats, great sight lines,  and free coffee. (I’m told the free coffee was offered for all shows; not just mine to keep people awake.)

The performances of A OR B? were SENSATIONAL. The cast of Jen Newby & Ernie Albanesius crushed it, and top-to-bottom, from Gina Lutz’s direction, to the lighting, wardrobe, sound, person who brewed the coffee—everything, it was a first-class production. Lots and lots of laughs. It was odd for me to see a different version of my play, but I couldn’t be happier with the results. A OR B? runs one more weekend so if you’re in the area (i.e. anywhere on the east coast or Canada), swing by.

Saturday morning it snowed. In April. No wonder Dick Clark and Chase Utley moved out of this town. Being from California I do not have “winter garb.” Not being used to cold weather (and being a princess) I wore six layers, a ski sweater, and jacket. People are walking around in windbreakers. I looked like Ralphie in THE CHRISTMAS STORY.  Plus, I still had my cold. By then I was taking Extra Strength Flintstones Sudafed.

We took the train to Gwynedd Valley on Saturday to see some dear friends before the show. (Gwynedd needs two D’s?) Philadelphia has some great street names including Shackamaxon Street, Passyunk Avenue, Axe Factory Road, Tackawanna Street, Skidoo Street, Dunks Ferry Road, Moyamensing Avenue, Narcissus Road, and my personal favorite – Mario Lanza Boulevard.

On Saturday night after A OR B? I did a Q&A.  I knew I wasn't in Los Angeles.  Not one person asked how they could get an agent or if I could read their spec DR. KEN. 

It’s always sunny in Philadelphia… on the day we leave. My thanks to Carol Leister and everyone at the Hatboro Village Theatre. I’m that much closer to Broadway! I figure, all I need is a venue on 42nd St., snow in June, and bronchitis and I’m in!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hollywood's latest scam revealed

Here’s one of those feel-good Hollywood stories you rarely hear. Scott David was fired as casting director of CRIMINAL MINDS.

Now, I don’t know Scott David. I have no idea whether he’s a good casting director – I assume he is; he’s done it for a long time. He may also be a lovely guy. I don’t know.

But he was disreputable and taking advantage of the people who can least afford it – young actors.

How’s this for a scam? You’re a casting director for a major network television show. You’re paid handsomely for your services. Your job is to find talent. That means you need to go to local plays, see what’s happening on YouTube, travel to New York occasionally to check out that talent pool, watch as many movies and other shows as you can, check out demo reels, and basically scour the landscape for actors.

Instead (or he may claim “in addition to”), Mr. David organizes showcases, where actors can sign-up and perform a monologue or whatever. And here’s the rub: He charges them.

Now to me, that’s double-dipping. Finding and auditioning talent is what CRIMINAL MINDS is paying for. To then ask the actors who can ill afford it, to pony up a healthy fee just to be considered is unconscionable.

And illegal. In 2009, The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act was passed in Los Angeles, meant to halt this disgraceful practice. (Yet, the LA County City Attorney’s office has yet to prosecute one of these cases. Why the delay?  Are they still catching up after the OJ trial?)

Meanwhile, Mr. David saw nothing wrong with the practice. He claimed it was just good “marketing” for the actors. He even allowed himself to be interviewed in the Hollywood Reporter on the subject. Add chutzpah to the mix.

Mr. David is not alone. There are a number of casting directors who charge for “workshops.” A recent investigation by the Hollywood Reporter is trying to fully expose this issue.

Make no mistake; I have tremendous respect for casting directors. A good one is a Godsend. They have to stay up on who’s out there even though it changes ever day. They have to discover talent, keep track of thousands of actors, match the right actor with the part, often negotiate with agents and managers, deal with finicky showrunners and studios and networks, and offer choices in the most subjective field in show business. Plus, their ultimate success is out of their hands. They may find the perfect actor, the network and showrunner are thrilled, and if the actor tanks it on the screen it’s their fault.

But some casting directors are brilliant at it. They have a sixth sense. They can pick out diamonds in the rough. They’re tireless. When it appears you’ve seen every possible candidate they somehow find two more. They're part talent scout/psychologist/mother.  And since casting is the most important decision a showrunner will ever have to make (everything else can be rewritten, reshot, re-edited), the right casting director is critical. I don’t want to lose out on an amazing special actor just because he wasn’t willing to shell out a hundred bucks to participate in the casting director’s showcase.

It’s extortion. It doesn’t serve the actor or the showrunner. The only one it serves is the greedy casting director.

When the Hollywood Reporter article came out with Mr. David defending this practice he was released by CRIMINAL MINDS. Kudos to the producers of CRIMINAL MINDS.

There are wonderful actors who are sacrificing everything to make it in this town.  They don't owe you; you owe THEM. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My pick for the next Vin Scully

Unfortunately for us Dodger fans the White Sox were the smart ones who snatched him up.   Congratulations, Chicago, you're in for a treat.   In an era where major league teams are hiring young generic announcers who all sound the same and are completely interchangeable, along comes a young talent who is special.  Jason Benetti.    He could well be the next Vin Scully. 

Great voice, calls a terrific game, blends well with his partner, and has an actual personality.   Imagine -- a baseball announcer who is entertaining, has a sense of humor, knows pop culture, appreciates the history of the game, and projects an enthusiasm and love for baseball that's genuine and infectious.    My only question is how did other teams let him get away?   That's like the old joke about the CBS sitcom MY SISTER SAM starring Pam Dawber.  The joke goes that the CBS executives watched an episode of MORK & MINDY and said, "Get us the girl!" 

Jason was hired by the White Sox to do the TV games that Hawk Harrelson will miss.  Harrelson will soon retire and Jason will be the man.   For years and years to come.   He's also a rising star at ESPN and can be seen and heard calling football and basketball nationally.

And there's more to the story.  He was born with Cerebral Palsy and suffered through a horrible childhood.  But as an adult it hasn't stopped him one bit and in a very real sense he's an inspiration to those having to overcome physical challenges.    Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, Jason also has a law degree.  He's 32.   Vin Scully never got a law degree. 

Jason is such a great story that NBC Nightly News did a feature on him just this week.  You can find it here.

I first discovered Jason five or six years ago.   He was calling games for the minor league Syracuse Chiefs.  I keep tabs on Chiefs' announcers since I was one myself many lifetimes ago.   In ten minutes it was clear this guy was a cut above.  We became friends and I've taken great delight following his career ever since.

Jason grew up in Chicago a White Sox fan and even wrote a paper in elementary school saying he wanted to be the White Sox announcer.   Talk about a dream come true.. for Jason and White Sox fans.   So congratulations to the Pale Hose.  However they finish this year they've already signed the Rookie-of-the-Year.  Pull up a chair -- you're going to like this guy.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Another thing about CHEERS you didn't know


You hear that at the top of every show. But most people don’t know that after six or seven episodes that almost changed. That disclaimer almost became:


As has been chronicled almost to death, CHEERS got off to a slow start (if you believe “dead last” is considered slow). And it was an expensive show to produce. All those lemons that Teddy cut each week alone! But one of the big ticket items was that the show was filmed rather than videotaped (like ALL IN THE FAMILY or the more highly regarded SILVER SPOONS). Tape is cheaper than film, it requires one operator per camera not three, is edited primarily during the show not after, easier to light, post production is less complicated, and the turnaround time is less.

Paramount and NBC were losing tons of money on CHEERS and it was on the brink of cancellation. So the studio felt if it could be produced cheaper NBC might have more incentive to pick CHEERS up for a back nine.

They went to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows and asked if they’d consider flipping from film to tape. They agreed to at least make a test scene.

A first rate tape crew was enlisted to light the set. Video cameras were wheeled in, and Jimmy directed a scene. It featured everyone from the cast, and there was a lot of movement so we could view every angle of the set. It went through post-production, was color-corrected, and made broadcast-ready.

The Charles Brothers, Jimmy, my partner and I, and our line producer Tim Berry sat down and watched the test.


It was horrifying. All the warmth and depth of the set was completely obliterated. The rich colors became day-glo. And this dark, rich bar setting suddenly looked like a police station.

It was like those photos of Britney Spears without make up.

To Charles-Burrows-Charles’ credit the experiment ended right there. I don’t know if a copy of that test still exists. My guess is Glen Charles backed over the tape with his car in much the same way Tony Soprano had Phil Leotardo whacked in the SOPRANOS finale.

Ironically, if they had agreed to switch to the tape format I think it would have caused the show’s cancellation, not prevented it.

Ah, the little decisions producers have to make every day.

This is a re-post from four years ago.