Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Dick Van Dyke Show in color

Tomorrow night CBS will show two colorized episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  Both are spectacular episodes, written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff.   VanityFair.com posted a great article about the show, and even quoted me.  If you any interest in the show, it's well worth a read.   You can find it here.   I'll be curious as to your thoughts on the colorized episodes when you see them tomorrow night.   8:00 PM on CBS.  

Friday, December 09, 2016

Friday Questions

Take a break from Christmas shopping to check out this week's Friday Questions.

Boomska316 starts us off:

Has there ever been a show, successful or not, about what goes on in a writer's room? Or about the making of a sitcom? It seems like an idea that would've been tried or at least thought of before.

There was the short-lived JACKIE THOMAS SHOW in late 1992 that ended in early 1993. Tom Arnold starred as an obnoxious TV star and the show centered on his writing staff.

At the time, Arnold was married to Roseanne and a lot of the stories were supposedly taken from real life occurrences from her writing staff. But knowing how Roseanne really treated her staff, I imagine the stories were more fiction than non.

By the way, some great people were on that show including Michael Boatman, Maryedith Burrell, and now-director Paul Feig.

Update:  And I guess it doesn't go without saying, but THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. 

From cadavra:

Do you think the reason the broadcast networks are almost completely overlooked by the Emmys and other awards is because the talent is trying to get some sort of revenge for the nets' micromanaging shows to the point that any life and originality have been sandblasted away?

By talent I’m assuming you mean actors and writer/producers?

I wouldn’t say revenge is the motivating factor. Creative people just gravitate to where they are most appreciated. For years networks still had a stranglehold because they offered a much larger potential audience. But even that isn’t the case any longer.

Actors tend to prefer non-network situations because they’re not obligated to crank out as many episodes.  It's less of a commitment.  You might make 13 episodes over an eighteen month period for Netflix whereas you’d have to produce 22 episodes over a seven month stretch for a hit network show.

But the real reason movie stars are now doing television?  They're getting stupid money for doing these series. That’s a way bigger incentive than revenge.

Liggie asks:

Is the Los Angeles economy *that* dependent on the entertainment industry? I've heard LA described as a "company town", but I know a number of financial services giabts are based there, as well as some major manufacturing and aerospace firms. I can't imagine the area going belly-up if the studios picked up stakes and moved to another state.

Oh no? See what happens to the local economy anytime there’s an industry strike. When there’s a major work stoppage, like when SAG went out, it had a major ripple effect on stores, markets, tourism, restaurants; even coffee houses.

Of course entertainment is not the only industry in Southern California, but it’s a pivotal one.

And finally, from David P:

So, a baseball related Friday question: If you had a ballot, who would you vote for in the HoF this year?

Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero.

I’d never vote for Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, or Barry Bonds.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hooray! Bill King is in the Hall of Fame

So thrilled that Bill King was just selected to enter the broadcasting wing of the baseball Hall of Fame. It is a well-deserved honor. Only wish it wasn’t posthumous. He died in 2005 after being a mainstay in the Northern California sports scene. He broadcast for the A’s and Giants, also was the Voice of the Raiders and the Warriors.

King was maybe the most articulate play-by-play man in the business. His use of vocabulary and descriptive terms were extraordinary. And it seemed effortless. He always had just the right word, just the right adjective right there at his fingertips.  At some point he must've swallowed a dictionary.

He also could call an exciting play in a way that was positively electrifying. I know he received this honor for baseball, but for money Bill King was the best radio football announcer of all-time. That’s right. ALL-TIME. His Raider calls were thrilling. Here’s just one example:



Bill King was truly an original. He sported a beard and with deep-set eyes and looked like the devil. But a sweeter, kinder, more generous man you’d never find. I’m honored to say he was one of my mentors. When I was learning to broadcast baseball he critiqued several of my tapes. I learned a lot from him. And I’m sure I’m just one of many.

He was also very eccentric. He lived on a houseboat in Sausalito. He only drove beat up used cars. When one would conk out he’d just buy another. He was a history buff and an opera buff. When he did television sports he wore a suit jacket, tie, and (out of camera range) shorts and flip-flops.

Bay Area sports fans have long cherished Bill King. So glad that the baseball world has finally recognized his contribution as well.

Ken Korach, who was Bill’s partner and is now the Voice of the A’s, wrote a terrific and loving book about Bill. I recommend it for anyone interested in reading about a larger-than-life personality and a time in professional sports when personalities, not generic-sounding interchangeable robots, were valued. Congratulations to Bill King. Only wish he were around to give the acceptance speech.  I'm sure it would be so eloquent you wouldn't think it was a sportscaster.  

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Remember Pearl Harbor

For many it’s getting harder to do. 1941 was a long time ago. Even before MY time, if you can believe it.

And it doesn’t help that Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor movie was such a trainwreck it’s not like anyone has any reason to see it.

Do they even still teach it in high school?   

For me, Pearl Harbor Day is especially poignant because I’m currently in Hawaii. It’s not just a memory to the Hawaiian people who are still around – it changed their world.

Clearly this was one of the darkest days in our country’s history. On the other hand, it rallied the country and led the way to some of our most shining hours.

I take some comfort in that since I feel our nation is being tested yet again. My hope is that, as in times of darkness before, we will prevail and even triumph.

But for today, I want to just remember Pearl Harbor, the brave men who fought for our freedom and brave women who contributed so much at home. You’ve been called the Greatest Generation. My sincere wish is that we can live up to your example.

Mahalo.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Going to the theater with Jackie Kennedy

With the Jackie Kennedy movie out this Oscar (I mean “holiday”) season, I am reminded of the time she and I went to the theater together.

Okay, pick yourself off the floor.

We didn’t go together in the sense of “arrive” together, but we did sit together.

You’re still not buying it, but it’s true.

Backstory: Larry Gelbart had a play on Broadway called SLY FOX. (Needless to say it was hilarious.) My wife and I were in New York and Larry arranged for us to have his house seats.

We sit down, third row center, settle in and I glance to my left. Holy shit! It’s Jackie.  In the seat right next to me. 

During intermission I decide to get up and go to the lobby. As I pass by her I rub up against her knees (which were bony by the way).  Okay, that was a dorky thing to do, but that was my brush with greatness.

The next day I called Larry and thanked him for the tickets. I mentioned that Jackie O. sat right next to me. He got very excited. “Did she laugh? What did she laugh at?” I said, “Yes, and hey, you never asked whether my wife and I liked the show.” He apologized, asked us, then wondered if I could remember any specific lines Jackie laughed at.

I’d like to say that’s my favorite Jackie/theater story, but it’s not. Supposedly she was at a theater and bumped into Stephen Sondheim. She asked what he was working on. He had to really hedge. How do you tell Jackie Kennedy you’re working on a musical called ASSASSINS?

From what I hear, the movie JACKIE is supposed to be great and Natalie Portman is amazing in it. I’m sure I’ll see it (although probably not in Maui). I’m curious as to whether they got the bony knees thing right.

Monday, December 05, 2016

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN(WRECK) -- my review

I was reading the current copy of WRITTEN BY (the WGA’s monthly magazine) and something caught my attention. It was an article about Erin Cressida Wilson, the screenwriter of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

One of the film’s producers was discussing the evolution of the book becoming a movie. There was studio interest even before the novel was released. Now I suspect this was the author of the article speaking, not a quote from the producer.  But in talking about Dreamworks snatching up the project this was the explanation:

Like everyone else in Hollywood at the time, the studio was seeking the next GONE GIRL, another female-driven mystery told by an unreliable narrator.

Wow. Talk about reducing art to formula.

And that, friends and neighbors, is how Hollywood thinks. Reducing someone's narrative to a silly logline. Another female-driven mystery told by an unreliable narrator.

Really? THAT’S what you got out of it?

Let’s see a movie tonight. What are you in the mood for, honey?” 
 “I dunno. Something with an unreliable female narrator.” 
 “You’re in luck!”

And as they say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.”

The end result, in the case of THE GIRL ON A TRAIN, was a movie you’ve already seen thirty times. It wants to be BASIC INSTINCT, it wants to be BODY HEAT, it sure wants to be GONE GIRL.  It's none of them. 

I hadn’t read the book but halfway through the movie I completely figured out the mystery. What I didn’t figure was how utterly absurd the climax would be.

Emily Blunt, a wonderful actress, basically plays one-note the entire film. The rest of the cast was... in the movie. The story was disjointed, bouncing around in time, but that was a choice to stay true to the book. Every ten minutes I was questioning another logic point. It was one of those movies where characters did things because the writer needed them to, not because they organically decided to. The pace was slow and the erotic scenes felt programmed.

Hollywood needs to make movies based on original ideas and great stories regardless of whether it’s male or female driven, and whether the narrator is unreliable or not.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Notes on giving notes

Getting notes is rarely fun. But as all TV and screenwriters know, it’s part of the gig. And more often than not, the notes are coming from authority figures who have no creative instincts or are just clueless in general. Again, not all executives fit into this category. Some are terrific and their input results in a much better script. But for the most part, you’re getting notes from people out of their league. And it’s not that they’re not bright or wonderful people; they’re just not qualified for this task. It’s as if I had to give notes on choreography. “Do we like her when she kicks in that direction?” “I feel there’s too much hopping.” Seriously, what the fuck do I know?

That’s not much different from getting script notes from former business affairs veeps, former lawyers, or 2010 graduates from Smith.

The best notes are the ones seeking clarification. “I didn’t understand this?” “Why is she mad?” If you’re having trouble tracking the story then I haven’t done my job. I will always address those notes.

The second best notes are the ones that are SPECIFIC. If a concern is pinpointed, I can respond to it. Either I can do the note or not, but at least I know what the note is.

There was a longtime executive at a major broadcast network who was notorious for giving the most obtuse notes imaginable. These are two actual notes that I have received from him.

1. (He holds his hand in the air) “Your script is here.” (He raises the level of his hand) “I’d like it to be here.”   Huh????
2. “You’ve given me the meat the vegetables. But it needs more candy.”


How the hell do you write that? You spend half your rewrite just trying to decipher what to do? Have we raised it to this level? Or merely this level? Have we put in too much candy? Have we spoiled the meal? What is candy?

A Supreme Court Justice, I believe, coined the worst note ever. Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 ruled that Obscenity is not covered under the First Amendment. When asked the obvious question, “So what exactly is Obscenity?” he replied:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,

I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT.

Talk about shooting at a moving target. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received this note. And it’s totally useless. I’m not a mind reader, and even if I were, what good would it do me if you don’t have a thought in your head?

Obviously, you can’t always articulate what your problem is or exactly what you’re looking for. And it’s my job as a writer to provide fresh ideas, surprise you once in awhile. But give me some clues. Give me some parameters. Point to some examples. What was a previous instance and what satisfied you that time? What, do you know for sure, you don’t want?

The answer to I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT is...

THEN YOU’LL SEE IT WHEN I KNOW IT.

Give specific notes!!!  Thank you on behalf of the entire writing community.

This is a re-post from five years ago.