Sunday, December 31, 2006

Best & Worst of 2006 Continued

WORST HAIRCUT – Clay Aiken

BEST TV DRAMA
– (tie) 24 and LOST (I know many disagree but I'm still hooked and where else are you going to see Evangeline Lily trapped in a cage?)

WORST TV DRAMA – THE VIEW

BEST CATFIGHT – Paris Hilton & Shanna Moakier

BEST NEWLY MARRIED COUPLE – Pamela Anderson & Kid Rock.

WORST COMMERCIAL – HeadOn headache remedy

BEST EDWARD R. MURROW IMPERSONATOR – Keith Olberman

BEST NEWCOMER – Jennifer Hudson

WORST BOOK – JUNIOR by Macaulay Culkin. In the intro he so accurately states: “I am not a writer.”

BEST NEW MYSTERY WRITER – Jesse Kellerman

BEST PLAY – HISTORY BOYS

WORST MOVIE FROM A PLAY – HISTORY BOYS

BEST REPORTER'S QUESTION TO A CELEBRITY – Meatloaf, promoting his new CD in June, was asked if he had ever rolled around in his own feces. That's how you win the Pulitzer!

WORST ANOREXIC – Nicole Richie

BEST GYLLENHAAL -- Maggie

BEST COMEBACK – Senator Joe Lieberman

WORST COMEBACK – Rocky Balboa

BEST YOUTUBE VIDEO -- Brokeback to the Future

WORST DEFENSE OF A COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYER – Long time Penn State coach, Joe Paterno defended an opponent player accused of sexual assault by saying, “He may not have known what he was getting into… a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?

BEST TRAILER – SPIDERMAN 3

BEST SURVIVING MEMBER OF THE WHO – Roger Daltry

BEST DVD – SIX FEET UNDER

WORST DVD – MAMA’S FAMILY

BEST BOBBLEHEAD DOLL – Canada litigator, Sheila Block of Torys LLP.

BEST FIRST HALF OF A MOVIE – THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

WORST ASSHOLE – Mel Gibson

BEST ANTI-SEMITE – Mel Gibson

BEST MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL MARKETING PROMOTION -- The Altoona Curve held “Frivolous Lawsuit Night”.

BEST STAND-UP COMEDIAN -- Lewis Black

WORST STAND-UP COMEDIAN – Michael Richards

WORST SHOT – Dick Cheney

BEST RADIO STATION – XM’s 60’s on 6.

WORST RADIO STATION – New York’s Jack-FM

WORST CASTING IDEA – An Indian film director is trying to persuade Paris Hilton to play the role of young Mother Teresa.

BEST NATIONAL SPORTSCASTER – Jon Miller

WORST NATIONAL SPORTSCASTER – Brent Musburger

WORST SURVIVOR WINNER -- Richard Hatch. Now serving four years in prison for not reporting his million dollar winnings. Guess he didn't realize that the show was televised. 90 more days for being stupid.

BEST PERSONAL APPEARANCE -- Cocaine hoarding/false robbery reporting Boy George sentenced to five days of street sweeping in New York City. If you can make it there...

BEST ACTOR IN A MOVIE – Peter O’Toole

BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE – Helen Mirren

BEST OF BILL PAXTON’S WIVES ON “BIG LOVE” – Chloe Sevigny

BEST ACTOR IN A THANKLESS ROLE – Chip Zien as first guy killed in UNITED 93. Spent the rest of the movie on the floor.

BEST HONOR – Me being named TIME MAGAZINE’S “Man of the Year”. I mean, to be singled out like that…wow.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Best & Worst of 2006

Everyone else has their year end bests and worsts, and since I’m Time Magazine’s Man of the Year I thought someone might be interested in mine. So here they are (with a little help and input from my daughter, Annie).

WORST MAGAZINE COVER – Britney Spears pregnant and naked. Demi Moore she’s not. Dinty Moore she’s not.

BEST MOVIE FROM A MUSICAL – DREAMGIRLS

BEST MUSICAL FROM A MOVIE – EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

BEST MOVIE FROM A TV SHOW – BORAT

BEST TV SHOW FROM A MOVIE – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

BEST DIVORCE – Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown

BEST MYSTERY DISEASE ON “HOUSE” -- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

BEST ROSE PARADE CO-HOST WHO WON'T BE HOSTING BECAUSE SHE HAD THE AUDACITY TO GROW OLDER WHILE HER OLDER-STILL MALE COUNTERPART WHO HAS LESS TALENT KEPT HIS JOB -- Stephanie Edwards

BEST ACTOR IN A TV DRAMA – Hugh Laurie

BEST ACTOR WHO NEVER WINS ANYTHING – Forest Whitaker

BEST RESTAURANT – Roy’s in Oahu

WORST QUOTE (or maybe THE BEST?) -- From the distinguished Senator, Trent Lott: “Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.”

BEST KID ACTOR WHO HOPEFULLY WON’T GROW UP AND BECOME OBNOXIOUS – Abigail Breslin

BEST CELEBRITY ACCIDENT – Keith Richards falling out of a tree.

WORST CELEBRITY ACCIDENT – Steve Irwin stung to death by a stingray

BEST BOOK ON THE INDUSTRY -- "Hello, the Agent Lied" by Ian Gurvitz

WORST BOOK ON THE INDUSTRY -- The Teri Hatcher alibi-ography

BEST TV COMEDY – THE OFFICE

WORST TV COMEDY – Anything on Fox that's not a cartoon.

WORST TIMING – Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn accidentally punched a hole in his Picasso painting one day after finalizing a deal to sell it for $139 million.

WORST INVESTMENT – The Boston Red Sox paying $70 million for J.D. Drew. If only Steve Wynn had punched HIM.

BEST SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT MODEL – Michelle Alves

WORST SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT MODEL – whichever one is married

BEST IWO JIMA MOVIE – LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

WORST MOVIE THEATER IN LOS ANGELES -- The NuWilshire

BEST JAMES BOND SINCE SEAN CONNERY – Daniel Craig

WORST FUNDRAISING STUNT – SAVED BY THE BELL star, Dustin Diamond, tried to make up his $250,000 debt by marketing his own homemade sex tape. Maybe if it was Elizabeth Berkley.

BEST TRUMAN CAPOTE MOVIE SINCE “CAPOTE” – INFAMOUS

BEST SEAT IN THE ROSE BOWL -- Your couch in front of the TV.

BEST REMAKE – CASINO ROYALE

WORST REMAKE -- POSEIDON

BEST SEQUEL – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3

WORST SEQUEL – CLERKS 2

BEST MODEL ON “DEAL OR NO DEAL” – Third row, second from the left.

WORST HOWARD STERN IMPERSONATORS -- Opie & Anthony

BEST RADIO MORNING SHOW -- Kevin & Bean, KROQ, Los Angeles

WORST PARENT – Britney Spears

WORST BROADWAY MUSICAL – THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’ Bob Dylan’s hits in a circus motif. Title should have been “Springtime for Zimmerman”.

BEST BROADWAY MUSICAL – SPRING AWAKENING

BEST BLOG READER -- You

The rest tomorrow...

Friday, December 29, 2006

How to pitch pilots

There was a recent article in the LA TIMES about a new UCLA course aimed at teaching future “showrunners” how to pitch pilots to networks. Students are paired up, and then have to pitch invited industry representatives. They learn the length a pitch should be, how to hit the high points, what to stress (spoiler alert: Passion), what to avoid, even how to dress (think upscale BBQ), but guys, come on, isn’t this course just a little premature? By five years?

This is like giving actors who have not yet gotten their first job a course in how to handle press junkets when their next big movie comes out. You’re placing the cart so far in front of the horse that the horse can’t even see the cart.

Don’t concentrate on learning to pitch. Concentrate on learning to write. No network will hear your pitch if they’re not comfortable you can execute your idea.

In the article one of the students, a former attorney now an intern at Touchstone who produces a comedy show in Beverly Hills (whatever that means) wants to create a hit sitcom. Considering the amount of television she consumes, she says, “There’s no job in the world for which I am better qualified.” Huh????? What???? Considering the number of baseball games I watch, there is no one more qualified to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers than me.

Take WRITING classes. Then take advanced WRITING classes. If you’re lucky enough to meet real showrunners, ask them about their process, not how did they pitch their shows. The truth is, when you’ve graduated to the level where networks will agree to hear your new series idea, your agent can teach you how to pitch. Or the studio exec with whom you will doubtless be partnered. And your mom can teach you how to dress for a BBQ.

If you want proof of my theory, watch any Dodger game. Until you see me on the mound, suck it up and finish that spec NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE.

Tomorrow my Bests and Worsts of 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dancin' Homer

I get a lot of requests for reprints of Levine/Isaacs scripts. So here is a portion of one of our SIMPSONS, “Dancin’ Homer”, dated 6/05/90. Notice that we had to be very detailed in our descriptions so the artists would have some sense of what we envisioned.

**********

EXT. STADIUM – EVENING

We open on a large stadium marquee that reads:

“SPRINGFIELD WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM, “ ‘TONIGHT BASEBALL, SPRINGFIELD ISOTOPES VS. SHELBYVILLE SHELBYVILLIANS, “ “NUCLEAR POWER PLANT FAMILY NIGHT, “ “SUNDAY AFTERNOON – COHEN BAR MITZVAH.”

A bus driven by OTTO comes roaring by the screen as it enters the stadium parking lot and screeches to a stop. We hear a blaring police car go by.

OTTO
Oooh, well, I think we lost ‘em. (LOOKING AROUND) Hey, and we’re at the ball park. All right! Two birds with one stone. Okay, everybody out!

There’s a loud CHEER from the bus.

INT. BUS – CONTINUOUS

It is crammed with excited NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMPLOYEES AND THEIR FAMILIES, all with hats, pennants, thermoses, flasks, gloves, etc. THE SIMPSONS are jammed into two rows. Everyone starts to disembark.

ON THE SIMPSONS

As they cross with other fans to the front gate. BART has a mitt, LISA a transistor radio; MAGGIE wears a little baseball cap and uniform jumper. They pass souvenir stands and PROGRAM VENDORS. All the EMPLOYEES who work at the ball park are rundown and toothless.

HOMER
You know, boy, some of the players you see tonight may make it to the big leagues, one day.

BART
What? Aren’t we going to see any washed-up major leaguers?

HOMER
Sure, we get a nice mix here.

LISA
I can’t think of a better place to spend a balmy summer’s night than the old ball yard. There’s just the green grass of the outfield, the crushed brick of the infield, and the white chalk lines that divide the man from the little boy.

HOMER
(CHUCKLES) Lisa, honey, you’re forgetting the beer. It comes in seventy-two ounce tubs here.

MARGE
I hope you’ll space out the tubs this year, Homer.

HOMER
(DEFENSIVE) What are you getting at?

MARGE
Well, last year you got a little rambunctious and mooned the poor umpire.

HOMER
Marge, (HOLDING UP THE TICKET) this ticket doesn’t just give me a seat, it also gives me the right – no, the duty, to make a complete ass of myself.

ENTRANCE TO STADIUM

MR. BURNS and SMITHERS, who holds 3x5 index “prompt” cards, are perched at the gate, greeting the employees and their families, including THE GAMMILLS from “No Disgrace Like Home”.

BURNS
Ah, the Gammills. Good to see you.

GAMMILL
You’re an inspiration to all of us in waste management, sir.

BURNS
(CHUCKLES) Well, take your mind off contaminates for one night and have a hot dog. (LAUGHS)

Gammill and his brood kow tow and move on.

BURNS
(TO SMITHERS) Put a little smile on his card, Smithers.

SMITHERS
Already there, sir.

Burns spots the Simpsons as they approach. Smithers grabs a card and whispers in Burns’ ear.

SMITHERS
The Simpsons, sir.

BURNS
Ah, well, if it isn’t the Simps.

HOMER
Uh… Simp-sons, sir.

BURNS
(CONSULTING CARD) Hmm, oh , yes… Homer and Marge Simpson. Oh, and these must be Bart, Lisa, and “Expecting”.

SMITHER
(SOTTO) The card needs to be updated, sir.

Burns grumbles.

HOMER
Oh, that’s okay. The baby’s name isn’t important. Let’s go, Marge.

BURNS
Very well. (CHUCKLES) Take your mind off contaminates for one night and have a hot dog. (LAUGHS)

The Simpsons enter the park.

EXT. PARK – CONTINUOUS

It’s a typical wooden bandbox minor league ball park, seating maybe five thousand. Ringing the outfield wall are the usual billboards filled with local advertisements: “Springfield Savings – Safe from 1890-1986, 1988-“; “His Royal Majesty Clothing for the Obese or Gangly Gentleman”; “Moe’s Tavern – Hit this sign and win a free well drink”.

The only concession to the modern era is the JumboVision board in left field, which dwarfs the rest of the stadium. The PLAYERS are on the field, leisurely taking batting and infield practice as the stadium organist plays “ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND”.

BART
Oh, wow – there’s Flash Bailor! I gotta get his authograph! He used to be a star.

FLASH BAILOR

He is playing catch. He’s 45, arrogant, and terribly out of shape. He looks like a giant pear. Bart leans over the railing, holding out a ball and a pen.

BART
Hey, Flash! Will ya sign my ball?

FLASH
No.

Bart rejoins the family.

BART
(MUMBLING) Lousy, washed-up, broken-down… old tub of guts… who does he think he is anyway?

HOMER
What’s the matter, boy?

BART
He wouldn’t sign my ball.

MARGE
Well, he’s a fine role model. Bart, give me that ball!

Bart flips her the ball and, with great resolve, she marches down the aisle to the field.

PLAYER #1
Hey, Flash, check out the mature quail heading this way.

FLASH
Hey there, little lady. What can Flash do for ya?

EXT. PARK – STANDS – A LITTLE LATER

Marge rejoins the family, holding the ball.

MARGE
Here you go, Bart.

She hands the ball to Bart.

BART
(READING) “Springfield Kozy Kort Motel, Room 26… How ‘bout it? – Flash.”

HOMER
Wow! Flash Bailor came on to my wife! (IMPRESSED) You’ve still got the magic, Marge.

MARGE
(SMALL GIGGLE)

EXT. BALL PARK – MOMENTS LATER

The plant employees are positioned way down the right field line in the bleachers. There’s a filled section of them… and just a mere sprinkling of other fans throughout the park. There are two empty seats next to the Simpsons. Lisa is holding up Maggie.

HOMER
(TO LISA) What are you doing?

LISA
Trying to get Maggie on the JumboVision.

SERIES OF QUICK CUTS – GRANDSTAND

We see that HUNDREDS OF BABIES are being held up.

BART
(POINTING) Hey, Dad, look!

Homer glances up.

HOMER
Whoa!

ON JUMBOVISION BOARD

Homer fills the screen. He stands up and waves with both hands.

HOMER
Hey, everybody! How you doing? Look at me! I’m Homer Simpson! Heh… heh.

Bart leans into frame and raises two fingers behind Homer’s head. The JumboVision camera starts to pull in on Homer’s open fly.

MARGE
(QUIETLY) Homer… Homer.. X.Y.Z.

HOMER
Examine my zipper? Why? (HOMER LOOKS DOWN) Whoops!

Homer, still on the screen, turns away, zips up his fly and receives a nice OVATION from the crowd.

P.A. ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
(HEAVILY ECHOED) Ladies and gentlemen, throwing out tonight’s first ball, the man whose name is synonymous with our nations’ safest and cleanest energy source, Mr. Montgomery Burns!

Burns and Smithers drive up to the mound in a golf cart that looks like a big baseball. Burns waves to the crowd. There is a slight SMATTERING OF APPLAUSE. As the golf cart brakes, divots of turf fly.

SMITHERS
Ah, they love you, sir.

BURNS
Heh, heh. As well they might. You know, Smithers, when I was a young buck, my patented fadeaway pitch was compared by many to the “trouble ball” of the great Satchel Paige. Spit on this for me, Smither.

Burns hands Smithers the ball.

SMITHERS
One hocker coming up, sir.

Burns rocks into his wind-up.

ON THE SIMPSONS

Who are heckling Burns from their very safe distance.

HOMER
Hey, Burns! Hey, “Rag Arm”!

BART
You throw like my sister, man!

LISA
Yeah, you throw like me!

They LAUGH conspiratorially.

BACK TO BURNS

He wheels and deals. He loses his balance and the ball goes maybe six feet before trickling to a stop.

SMITHERS
I think I could actually hear the air being torn, sir.

BURNS
Oh, shut up.

Homer and Bart are roaring with LAUGHTER. They can barely contain themselves.

BART
What a lame-o!

P.A. ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
Ladies and Gentlemen:, to honor America, will you please rise for our National Anthem…

Homer quickly composes himself.

P.A. ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
…sung tonight by Springfield’s rhythm n’ blues sensation, “Bleeding Bums” Murphy.

BLEEDING GUMS MURPHY steps up to the microphone at home plate. We see the scoreboard clock behind him reads 7:30. Bleeding Gums launches into a wildly improvisational version of the National Anthem.

BLEEDING GUMS
(SINGS) “O-oo-hhhhhhhhh… Oh Saaaaayyyyyy can you…” -- I’m askin’ – “Can you s-e-e-e? … by the d-a-a-a-a-a-wn’s”

DISSOVLE TO:

EXT. BALL PARK - NIGHT

Bleeding Gums is still singing. The clock on the scoreboard now reads 7:46.

BLEEDING GUMS
(SINGS) “…and the rocket’s red glareeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …the bombs burstin’ … shoot it out… poppin’way up in the air… rrrrrrrrrrr.”

At this, there is mild SCATTERED APPLAUSE from the crowd.

BLEEDING GUMS
(SINGS) “And.. the home.. of the-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e … brave-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!”

We see the Simpsons amid the crowd. Exhausted the flop into their chairs.

INT. PRESS BOX - CONTINUOUS

DAN HOARD, wearing a loud multi-colored jacket, is at the mike.

DAN HOARD
Hi-de-hi, Springfield! Dan Hoard, mikeside. Tonight – our Isotopes take on the pesky Shelbyville Shelbyvillians. The ‘Topes are looking to snap that darn twenty-six game losing streak, longest in professional baseball. How ‘bout that? -- Our sleepy town is in the record book!

************
Trivia note: I played the voice of “Dan Hoard”. Dan Hoard was my broadcast partner in Syracuse when I was a minor league announcer. He's now the voice of University of Cincinnati football and basketball.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I love L.A... this week

The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year.

First of all, the town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

Talent and literary agencies remain closed until after the Sundance Festival in late January. They stay open for three days and then it's time to get a jump on Presidents Weekend so they're closed again until the Oscarcast.

For industry guild folks who have not fled to the slopes to break bread and legs with our Governor, there is the perk of free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. It’s also their way of giving back to the community. However, the nanosecond the nominations are announced this lovely gesture ends instantly.

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.

The Rose Bowl traditionally pits the champion of the Pac 10 with the champion of the Big 10. It’s always a big deal, “the Granddaddy of Bowl Games”. This year, with USC and Michigan disappointed that they’re not playing in the national championship game, it’s a consolation prize and no big whoop for either school. So the anticipation and excitement equals that of the WNBA finals.

Every year fans from the Big 10 representative flood into Southern Californa. They’re easy to spot. They’re always the nicest people you’ve ever met and they’re always wearing school shirts and hats. I’m beginning to think they come to LA for a week with only that one outfit.

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.

The New Year's Eve tradition is to watch Dick Clark and experience the year change in tape delay. Unless you have satellite. Then you can watch the East Coast feed in which case you're in 2007 for three hours while the rest of us are still in 2006.

The Rose Parade is Monday morning. On Thursday some idiots will start staking out spots along the parade route. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA gets a 50 share, everyone else gets a 2. Why these other stations still bother is beyond me. KTLA coverage begins at like 3:00 a.m. Five hours of watching people paste flowers on floats and the idiots from Thursday freezing. KTLA will begin replaying the parade immediately upon its conclusion. Then they replay it again. And again. Sometime around January 15th they return to regular programming.

Bob Eubanks has been hosting the parade since the floats were powered by horses. For many of those years his co-host was Stephanie Edwards, a popular local personality who was mostly known for being the carny for Lucky Markets. Last year she was exiled to sideline duty where she filed cryptic reports in the driving rain. She was replaced in the booth by local KTLA morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira. This caused quite a stir. Most people felt that Michaela was horrible and resented her in that Deborah Norville way for squeezing out our beloved Stephanie. (Fans would show their support for Steph by shopping at Lucky but Lucky no longer exists.) So what is management doing this year? Bob and Michaela are back. And as of this posting I’m not even sure Stephanie will be involved. The outcry will come in the form of ratings. KTLA will probably only get a 47 share. Don’t mess with the citizens of Los Angeles!

Then on New Year’s evening all the locals will go out to dinner, have to wait 45 minutes for a table since the Michigan rooters got there first, and things will return to normal.

So for my fellow Angelinos – enjoy it while you can!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas leftovers


Hope Santa was good to you. Please take your lights down by February.

No one reads a newspaper on Christmas. So it only made sense that the article in the LA TIMES Calendar section that quotes me ran December 25th. It’s about comedy writers not finding STUDIO 60 funny. Others were quoted too. It wasn’t just me. Only thing I would take issue with in the article is that I don't "hate" STUDIO 60. I was disappointed. I hoped it would be better...and still do. Here’s the article.

Went to see Jackie Mason in concert recently. As we were pulling into the parking lot, my daughter, Annie said, “I bet the handicapped spots were taken immediately.”

A film exec, Franklin Leonard, has compiled THE BLACK LIST – a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year based on recommendations from other studio execs, readers, and agents. Obviously some great work is not hitting the screen while DECK THE HALLS gets made. All of these writers are represented, mostly by the big agencies. And that got me to thinking – how many equal or better screenplays are out there by people who don’t even have an agent? ROCKY BALBOA is not the best Hollywood can produce!

Who do you root for in the “big” feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell? And poor anguished Barbara Walters caught in the middle. If there was ever a cry that as a country we need to “get a life” it’s that the cause of this fracas was a half hour Miss USA press conference that CNN felt the need to air live and in its entirety. Jesus, even replaying the recent NBA brawl for the nine millionth time would’ve been more news worthy.

The William Shatner game show was cancelled. So wait, maybe there is hope for the nation.

For baseball fans – December is officially “players injure themselves in ridiculous home accidents” month.

When will the DVD complete first season of SMITH be out? The sad thing is it will probably be released before the 34 episodes of ALMOST PERFECT.

Am I the only one who cringes at IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? It makes my teeth hurt.

What a treat hearing Dick Enberg on Westwood One calling Thursday Football on the radio. For my money he’s the best NFL TV announcer ever. And his radio call is even better.

I’ve lost track. Have there been five Iwo Jima movies this year or just four?

Not to be a name dropper, but I happen to know the father of the Rose Queen.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Vegas

As you prepare for Christmas and all the holiday traditions, take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the season. And nowhere is that more present than in Vegas -- Bethlehem with slots. Here's my holiday travelogue from a few Decembers ago. Gather up the whole family and enjoy.


Deb and I just got back from a brief weekend in Las Vegas, or, as I like to call it, "Three Card Monty for the Red States". Many big attractions there this holiday weekend. The annual rodeo, the Anti-Aging conference, the Jose Luis Castillo/Joel Casamayer title bout. But we were there to see Linda Eder. Ms. Eder is a spectacular singer -- Barbra Streisand but at affordable prices and you never have to suffer through "Evergreen". We've become friends with her manager, Dave, who graciously invited us to join him for her concert. Since we likely would have gone to Vegas for Christmas anyway, we gladly accepted.

Stayed at the Mandalay Bay. Dave is also a VP of something for the House of Blues (who knows more about the blues than the Jews?) and arranged for us to get a room on the "House of Blues" floor. It had the two things Debby and I require in a hotel room -- a fabulous view and voodoo decor.

I'm not joking about the annual Anti-Aging conference. But am I the only one who finds it odd to hold an Anti-Aging conference in the one place where people stay up all hours drinking, gorging, smoking, and enduring the enormous stress of losing their money? I guess it's held there out of respect for Joan Rivers. My feeling is if the President of the Anti-Aging organization isn't 117 then it's a sham.

Had dinner Friday night at Rumjungle in the hotel. Very classy. Girls dance in cages above your head. To me that is classy. To Vegas it's positively elegant.

Interesting crowd at the hotel because of all the special events. A lot of shitkickers (I assume for either the rodeo or "Mama Mia") and the prizefight attracted several hundred Ruben Studdards decked out in jewelry and Oakland Raider sweatsuits. Rode in an elevator with one -- a mean looking dude in black sunglasses. He said, "you here for the fuckin' fight, man?" I sheepishly had to say "No, the Linda Eder concert". I'm lucky I'm still alive.

This week a boxing title match, next week an ice spectacular featuring American Idol loser Diana DeGarmo.

The headliner at the hotel was Larry the Cable Guy. If Shecky Green were dead he'd be rolling in his grave.

And as I said, a full Broadway production of "Mama Mia", not to mention a separate "Mama Mia" STORE. Someone had a great line about Abba. It's like being hit in the head with Ikea furniture. You appreciate the craftmanship but it hurts.

I won $20 in blackjack. Debby lost $.55 in the slots. I doubt if we'll be comped the next trip.

I think there were Christmas lights and decorations up all over town. Who could tell?

The waitresses were all attractive with massive chests. If there was a flood on the casino floor they would float to the surface.

The most beautiful girl I saw there was a parking valet attendant bundled in a heavy coat. If she got a boob job I'm sure she could get an inside job. Maybe Santa will be good to her.

Next day we hit the beach. Yes, Mandalay Bay has it's own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But Debby and I took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

From there we hotel hopped. Had to stop in at the Excalibur -- a casino in Sleeping Beauty's castle. This is home to the black socks, shorts, and wife beater shirt crowd. You know you're in trouble when they have a special parking lot just for motorhomes. Handing a pair of dice to one of these idiots is like handing a gun to a monkey.

Then on to the Bellagio, where Debby and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!" The paintings were glorious and it was just nice to be in the only room in Las Vegas where everybody voted for Kerry. I can only imagine the paintings Monet himself would have made had he been to Las Vegas. "The Imperial Palace as seen from the Luxor".

The highlight of the trip was the Linda Eder concert. It's the third time I've seen her. I realize that if I see her one more time I'm officially gay. But I don't care. That will happen in March when she performs in Northridge. The only problem was that her concert hall was impossible to find. It's somewhere on the UNLV campus -- the Jerry Tarkanian Music Hall, or something like that -- and even cab drivers have no idea where this is. Dave and I set out for the sound check. The venue is five minutes from our hotel but we wound up somewhere near the Mustang Ranch. The only map on how to get there was on the ticket envelope you pick up at the box office. But we ultimately found it and the concert was wonderful. Celine Dion can't carry her Chloraseptic.

Headed home early this morning. McLaren airport is the worst in the country re security checks. You actually DO have to allow two hours. It's bad enough you have to remove your shoes, but the spurs must come off too and that takes some time.

And now we're home, shopping for voodoo wallpaper.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Forgotten flicks Part II

Here are more of my favorite “lost movies”. Thanks for yours. Some great titles. Keep ‘em comin’. It’s amazing how many little gems are rarely or never seen anymore. Even Netflix doesn’t carry some of these members of the movie graveyard.

TOPKAPI – A superb caper movie from the 60’s. Ingenious and funny. Peter Ustinov at his best (for those who remember Peter Ustinov).

SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS – Okay, I’ve got a thing for 60’s college movies. I haven’t seen it in 25 years but I remember (a) liking it, and (b) falling in love with Karen Allen long before Indiana Jones did.

FIRST LOVE – another dorky college dorm flick. But this one features Susan Dey, Laurie Partridge herself, exploring her sexuality. Graphically!!! Must be seen uncut on cable when alone to be fully appreciated.

TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA – Hollywood’s two great Williams – Friedken and Peterson come together for a taut suspenseful ride through LA. Deserved more praise than it received – the movie, not the city.

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED – Peter Sellers in a tale about a tiny European country that declares war on the US hoping to lose and be rebuilt by the victors. Someone in Iraq must’ve seen this movie.

WHERE'S PAPA? -- A number of readers mentioned this one. Robert Klane is one of my favorite sick writers. My favorite moment -- a brilliant comment on racism -- A black man and Rob Liebman in a gorilla suit are trying to hail a cab. The cab picks up the gorilla. The BORAT of its day.

THE WANDERERS – Adaptation of terrific Richard Price novel. Life on the streets of New York. Street corner singing and gang warfare.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE, TWO, THREE – An insane premise that works. Bad guys hijack a subway. The trouble comes when they try to take it to Cuba.

DEATH RACE 2000 – A Roger Corman classic. A futuristic national road race where the drivers get extra points by killing people. Sylvester Stallone gives a good performance but is overshadowed by the Real Don Steele.

EATING RAOUL – Corman alum Paul Bartell’s cannibal comedy. Not a date movie for people with eating disorders.

W.C. FIELDS & ME -- Rod Steiger as W.C. Fields -- the intense scary near psychotic W.C. Fields.

THE ONE AND ONLY -- Henry Winkler as a wrestler in the early days of television. Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed ARTHUR, penned this first. No one wrote funnier dialogue than Steve. And he wasn't saddled with Liza Minelli in this one.

AFTER THE FOX -- Peter Sellers as a master thief who poses as a film director to dupe an entire Italian village into helping him pull off a major heist. Victor Mature as Charlton Heston. Mixed reviews for this one but it made me laugh.

and last but maybe best....

THE KILLING -- One of Kubrick's first films. A race track robbery is shown from different angles utilizing repeated action. Complex, compelling, contained. Kubrick was so brilliant before he started believing he was brilliant.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Forgotten flicks Part I

I was in a video store last week and saw they were showing GETTING STRAIGHT. It’s an old Elliott Gould 60’s “college unrest/oh no, the hippies are coming” movie you never see on TV anymore. And that got me thinking, what are some of the other movies I remember fondly that seemed to have just disappeared into the mist? Probably many of them wouldn’t hold up, (I might even cringe at a few) but I’d still love to revisit them. And they can’t be worse than POLICE ACADEMY VI which always does seem to be showing.

So here are a few of my Forgotten Favorites. More tomorrow. You’re welcome to check in with yours.

SUMMER OF ’42 – One of the first real coming of age movies. Sweet, funny, and a young luscious Jennifer O’Neil. If you think war is hell, it's nothing compared to puberty.

BETWEEN THE LINES – A rich ensemble piece about a Free Press type newspaper sold to a big bad corporation (aren't they all?). Jeff Goldblum’s masterpiece. With sterling performances by John Heard, Lindsey Crouse, and the always incomparable Michael J. Pollard.

HEARTBREAK KID – Charles Grodin falls in love with Cybil Shepherd on his honeymoon. Elaine May directed an uncharacteristically subtle script by Neil Simon. Jewish men find this movie hilarious. Jewish women hate Jewish men for liking it.

DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE -- A hot, sexy Carrie Snodgrass and a hilarious turn by Richard Benjamin as the ultimate prig husband. You not only root for Carrie to cheat on him, you want her do it in front of him.

THOUSAND CLOWNS – A somewhat creaky adaptation of my favorite play, but the performances by Jason Robards, Barry Gordon, and Gene Saks and the screenplay by original playwright, Herb Gardner make this black & white movie worth seeking out.

HEAD OVER HEELS (a.k.a. CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER) – John Heard pining after Mary Beth Hurt in this sweet, quirky, 70’s tale. A favorite among stalkers everywhere.

THE 27th DAY – Okay, this was a cheesy Sci-Fi movie from 1957 starring Gene Barry that scared the shit out of me. Directed by William Asher who went on to helm other horror classics like HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI.

RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7 -- The movie THE BIG CHILL ripped off and turned into a slick Hollywood hit. John Sayles debut film about a weekend reunion. Real and funny, but doesn’t have the feel-good Motown soundtrack.

SOLDIER IN THE RAIN – A young Steve McQueen as a peace time soldier with Jackie Gleason as his sergeant and mentor. From a William Goldman novel. How sweet it is.

MOVIE MOVIE – Larry Gelbart’s hilarious spoof of different movie genres. If you love witty dialogue that just doesn’t stop (he created TV’s MASH remember) this one’s for you.

DINER – Barry Levinson’s first and best movie. It’s so good I even forgive him for TOYS.

NIGHT SHIFT – Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler turn a city morgue into a brothel. Checkov would have written this if he had thought of it.

FOREIGN AFFAIR – A little known but beautifully crafted black comedy by Billy Wilder set in Berlin right after the war. Skip THE GOOD GERMAN and see this instead.

The rest of my list tomorrow...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why I love Jenna Fischer


Aside from the obvious reasons.

I never see her “acting”. She is the most natural of all the gifted cast members on THE OFFICE. And you can’t imagine how hard it is to play natural when there’s a camera trained on you. Look how awkward and self conscious those people who rob 7/11’s get when they realize there’s a surveillance camera. It’s just human nature.

And you don’t need a camera to feel uncomfortable. Just sense that someone is watching you. For added heebie-jeebies, imagine that someone can also come over and give you notes.

Stage actors find this particularly difficult. It’s hard to be natural when you have to project to the back row. And many talented stage actors can’t make the adjustment. Can you picture Nathan Lane guesting on THE OFFICE? His idea of “natural” is only eating the scenery and furniture and props but leaving the backdrop untouched.

But Jenna is a master. And for my money she has the hardest job. Try making “bored” funny or even interesting. Yet somehow she does. And in many ways I think she anchors the series. The others can push a little bit to be quirky and funny because they know Jenna is there, a rock, planted right in the middle, grounding the show.

When it comes time to award the Emmy for “best actress in a comedy”, how about breaking with tradition? For the first ever, how about giving it to the one actress who doesn’t MUG? Let the winner be… Jenna Fischer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Traci Lords Family Show

Several years ago my partner and I had a pilot deal with a studio. At the time we were told that the networks were looking for “out of the box” ideas and one popular trend was to take real life personalities and create fictional shows around them. (I guess this approach worked sooo well for Bette Midler’s BETTE.) But the more outrageous the personality the better. We said to the studio executives, yeah, but can any of these people act? Guess the network geniuses (now no longer in those jobs, by the way) didn’t think of that. But we said we were willing to at least explore this area.

A few days later they called and said, “Would we be interested in developing a show around Traci Lords?” We thought, really, she wants to do a sitcom? Isn’t that a big come down from porn? But we were told she was serious so we said, sure, we’ll take a meeting. Why not? How often do we get to meet porn stars without paying?

We cooked up a series idea that would show Traci trying to make it as a legit actress having to deal with the added baggage of her questionable past. We would see her home life, work struggles, “colorful” former co-workers – your typical sitcom world. We would call the series THE TRACI LORDS FAMILY SHOW.

So off we went to meet her, knowing full well no network in their right mind would EVER put on a Traci Lords show. Try selling that to the red states affiliates.

We met her at her manager’s office and to answer the obvious first question – she still looked pretty great. Not smoking but she made the transition into legal age very nicely. However, one thing was painfully apparent after two minutes – she was seriously unfunny. And yet, that didn’t stop her from LECTURING us on comedy. As we sat there dumbfounded listening to her drone on and on about what’s funny and what’s not I thought to myself, this is truly the nadir of my career.

I will say, to our credit, that we were quiet, respectful, and at no time did either of us stop her and say, “Excuse me, dear, do we tell YOU how to give a golden shower?”

Alas, we didn’t do the project. I hear she found some other writers. I guess the show didn’t sell.

Oh well. I’m sure she’s now on to procedural drama, explaining forensics to the CSI gang.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Open All Night

I’m amazed and delighted that some of you actually remember OPEN ALL NIGHT. David Letterman did make a cameo in one episode. So did Joe Montagne, Elvira, David Paymer, and me and my writing partner, David Isaacs (playing two swinging lawyers trying to pick up female mud wrestlers at a mace class).

For the other 99.9% that don’t recall the show, it starred George Dzundza and Susan Tyrell as owners of a 24 hour convenience store. Sam Whipple played Susan’s weird nerd son, and the always hilarious Bubba Smith played a co-worker. It ran for 13 weeks on ABC in the fall of ’81.

We wrote two of the episodes. Here’s part of a scene from one. The weird son, Terry (Sam Whipple), runs away and becomes a desk clerk at the Bates Motel. Step-father, Gordon (George Dzundza) goes to get him back. Once you read it you'll see why we were astounded that we got a WGA award nomination for this script.

INT. BATES MOTEL – NIGHT

RIGHT OUT OF “PSYCHO”. IT’S AN OLD HOTEL LOBBY ADORNED WITH DUST AND MACABRE-LOOKING STUFFED BIRDS. AN OLD LADY, HER BACK TO THE CAMERA, SITS IN A ROCKING CHAIR AS GORDON ENTERS AND LOOKS AROUND.

(We pick up the scene with GORDON TALKING TO TERRY AT THE FRONT DESK.)

GORDON
Look, Terry, it took me three hours to find this place. Now I apologize. So go get your stuff and let’s get out of here.

TERRY
I’m not going anywhere. I’m happy where I am. I fit in. I like it here. It’s quiet. I’ve got friends (RE STUFFED BIRDS) … and nobody hassles me.

GORDON
You gonna stay here for the rest of your life?

TERRY
Probably not. The place is sinking into the swamp.

GORDON
I never thought I’d say this… but it’s important to me that you come home.

TERRY SCOFFS AS A YOUNG WOMAN, MARION, CARRYING A SUITCASE AND A NEWSPAPER ENTERS. SHE ACTS VERY NERVOUS AS IF BEING FOLLOWED. MARION BEARS A STRIKING RESEMBLANCE TO A YOUNG JANET LEIGH.

TERRY
Excuse me… I have a customer. Welcome to the Bates Motel.

MARION
Do you have a room? I need a room.

TERRY
We’ve got rooms. Twelve cabins. Twelve vacancies. Do you have a reservation?

MARION
No, I just need it for the night. I’ve got a long drive back to Phoenix.

TERRY
You can have Cabin One. It’s the closest if you need anything.

MARION
I won’t need anything.

TERRY HANDS HER A LARGE ORNATE KEY.

MARION
Oh… does the room have a shower?
GORDON
No!!!

TERRY
Sure it does, Gor-don.

MARION
(TO GORDON) What’s the matter with you?

SHE EXITS.

TERRY
I wonder if I changed the linen in that room?

TERRY MOVES A PAINTING ASIDE REVEALING A PEEPHOLE INTO CABIN ONE. HE PEERS THROUGH IT.

TERRY
Yep. All set.

HE SLIDES THE PICTURE BACK. GORDON WANTS TO GET OUT. HE GRABS TERRY BY THE ARM.

GORDON
Terry, no more arguing. Get your stuff.

TERRY
Are you gonna hit me?

GORDON
Hit you? Have I ever hit you before?

TERRY
We’ve never been this close before.

GORDON
Terry, come on home. I’ll make it up to you.

TERRY
Oh, really? Oh, really? You’ll stop ignoring me? You won’t chop me down behind my back? You’ll take a weekend off just to be with me? I think not. I’ve had it with fathers. And step-fathers and uncles. None of you have ever wanted me. You all think I’m weird. Maybe I am weird. A lot of people are weird. A lot of people. Isaac Newton was weird. So was Wolfgang Mozart… and Fred Silverman, and the list goes on and on. Carly Simon, Garry Marshall, Charles Kuralt…

GORDON
All right, all right. I get the point.

TERRY
Thomas “Tip” O’Neill…

GORDON
Okay. (BEAT, THEN) Terry, I don’t know what I’m trying to say… I guess I’m trying to tell you…

OLD LADY
Could you tell him in the men’s room? I’m trying to read.

TERRY
Pardon me. I’ve gotta go set the coyote traps.

TERRY STARTS FOR THE DOOR.

GORDON
Wait a minute… What if I was to promise to try harder? To… start from scratch, give you a break or two. I don’t know if we’d ever wind up “buddies” but you deserve more than I’ve given you.

TERRY
Would you take me on a two-week father-son cruise to the Bahamas?

GORDON
No.

TERRY
How about a day in the mountains?

GORDON
What day and what mountain?

TERRY
Here we go again.

GORDON
Okay, okay, a day in the mountains.

TERRY
You’d really do it? Just you and me?

GORDON
Why not? You’re the only kid I got.

TERRY THINKS THAT OVER, THEN:

TERRY
I love you, Gordon.

GORDON
Yeah.. uh… that’s fine. Let’s.. uh… get goin’, huh?

TERRY
I’ve got to go up to the house and return Mr. Bathes’ clothes.

GORDON
You mean that spooky place on the hill? It’s dark except for some old woman sitting in an upstairs window.

TERRY
That’s Mr. Bates. I’ll be back in a minute… “Dad”.

TERRY EXITS. THERE’S A SCREAM.

GORDON
I heard a scream. Was that a scream?

OLD LADY
Yes. But you get used to them.

GORDON RUSHES TO THE PEEPHOLE AND SLIDES THE PAINTING ASIDE.

GORDON
Oh, my God. Are you all right in there?

MARION (O.S.)
Yeah. Except there’s no hot water. (THEN) Do you mind?

GORDON NODS, SLIDES THE PAINTING BACK AND WE:

FREEZE AND FADE OUT.

Monday, December 18, 2006

PBS pledge breaks


Will PBS ever show the James Taylor concert when they’re not doing a pledge break? Or anything decent for that matter? It seems that PBS is either groveling for money or showing a FRONTLINE where we learn that DDT is bad.

But when it’s piper paying time, expect to see the old black & white heavily medicated Judy Garland variety special, the surviving geriatric kings of Doo-Wop, a documentary on the Mama’s & Papa’s (shown on an endless loop in New York because Mama Michelle Phillips once participated in their pledge break), and a black & white Roy Orbison concert that looks like one of Dick Clark’s old home movies.

It’s pretty clear who they’re aiming at – the disposable income rich baby boom generation.

I have some questions.

Who are these pitch people that the local stations get to do these pledge breaks? In L.A. they’re not even recognizable on a Stephanie Edwards level. It’s too bad Dr. Gene Scott is no longer with us. He could’ve gotten on there, filled their quota in two hours and still brought in enough extra to fund his new chapel ice skating rink.

At what point are they going to realize WE’VE HEARD THE SPIEL? For thirty years now. And some of it no longer applies. They say PBS is commercial free. Uh… not really. In addition to the pledge breaks (which usually drone on for at least ten minutes), the underwriters manage to sneak in commercials during their shows. PBS also claims they’re the only educational channel on the dial. Not so anymore. Now we have the Hitler Channel…I mean, HISTORY CHANNEL, DISCOVERY CHANNEL, BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL, ANIMAL PLANET, FOOD CHANNEL, local access, and numerous other informative alternatives.

I’m still a proponent of Public Broadcasting and would love to see it succeed. But a new campaign is necessary. So here’s what I propose: PBS should realize their audience is baby boomers, and go right for them. Instead of stressing education and lack of commercials, what about saying this?

Look around, baby boomers. All of the commercial networks HATE YOU. They don’t give a shit if you’re watching. In fact, they’d rather you DIDN’T watch because you’re pulling up their precious average age. Do you think you will EVER see Roy Orbison on ABC? Fuck no. (I think you can still say fuck on PBS) They’ll rerun EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT first. The only mama & papa you’ll see on ABC are Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith. Face it, War Babies, you’re obsolete, irrelevant, just taking up space. We’re the only network you have left. So give generously, boomers, or face 500 channels all covering Lindsay Lohan’s rehab attempt. Is that what you want?? The choice is yours but hurry. These Doo-wop groups are dropping like flies.”

Short of Dr. Scott I think that would work. And they wouldn’t have to give out tote bags either.

Maybe then, just once, I could enjoy the James Taylor concert without clutching my wallet.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas with Cheeta

They say Vermont is a winter wonderland during Christmastime. But they've never been to Palm Springs. I was, two years ago:

The Levines decided on a mere abbreviated trip this holiday season. A long weekend in Palm Springs. Turns out it was just like Hawaii. All those beautiful sandy beaches…but a much farther walk to the ocean.

We drove down on Christmas Eve. It was my first time on the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway. Oddly, it was not tree lined.

Passed the new Morongo casino. Matt found it amusing that a casino would have “moron” in its name.

I don’t get the desert. It’s all “Gary Gilmore” country to me. The two big things to do in Palm Springs are play golf or have Sinatra get you laid. So now there’s only one thing.

Easy to tell the locals -- the men wear red polyester pants with white belts and the women dye their hair the color of Huckleberry Hound.

We stayed at a small resort called 7 Springs. We made the reservations on the ORBITZ website. No wonder we got such a good deal. The hotel knew nothing of our reservations. Even with a confirmation number. That number it seems, simply confirms that they have successfully cashed your deposit. Fortunately the hotel had accommodations that would be available in three hours. I asked why so late? The Christmas Party. Housekeeping is shut down until gift exchange. The 7 Springs is a far cry from the 4 Seasons.

And we learned (only upon arrival) that they take pets. And not just little pets either. BIG angry pets. Pets that are not used to being cooped up in hotel rooms. Pets that don’t like the idea of my wife using the pool. Who needs the playful dolphins at the Kahala when you can have surly pit pulls at the 7 Springs?

Matt suggested all guests be issued a tranquilizer gun at check-in.

And as luck would have it we were the only guests that did not bring a pet. You know you’re in trouble when one of the room amenities is a pooper scooper.

Since we had three hours to kill while housekeeping played “Silent Santa” we took a stroll down the main drag, Palm Canyon Blvd. This is the Waikiki of Palm Springs. T-shirt shops, tank shirt shops, wife beater shirt shops. Like Hollywood Blvd they have their “walk of fame” with stars in the sidewalk honoring various Palm Springs celebrities. Stars included Liberace (of course), Sandler & Young, Elke Sommer, Rich Little, Kate Ballard, Victoria Principal, Nancy Sinatra (the only female star who didn’t sleep with Sinatra), “Iron Eyes” Cody, cowboy rope trickster Montie Montana (who once performed at my elementary school), and Cheeta “the Chimp” (no foolin’) listed as star of stage, film, TV. Appropriately, his star was right next to Chevy Chase’s. For those who don’t remember, Cheeta was Tarzan’s sidekick in many films and had a brief affair with Maureen O’Sullivan. One star they featured that does not have a corresponding one on Hollywood Blvd is “Borko B. Djordjevic, M.D.—Plastic Surgeon/Humanitarian”. Annie quipped: “Boy, people must’ve been really ugly to have made him a humanitarian.”

Like Sinatra, Bob Hope, and President Eisenhower Cheeta had a compound out here. Actually he’s still there. At 71, Cheeta is the oldest living chimp in captivity. I bet he looks great in red pants with a white belt and still pines for Maureen O’Sullivan.

There are fifteen Thai restaurants on Palm Canyon Dr. Why??? Considering the mean age of the local population is 106 I can’t imagine there’s that much demand.

On the other hand, the local “Follies” show does make sense. It’s a big review of music from the 30’s and 40’s performed by people who are 57-87. Matt was a little creeped out by their poster that labeled the show “sexy”. Appearing with the Follies until New Years Eve is Buddy Greco. If Bobby Darin had lived I’m sure that would’ve been his gig. We’ll know next year if Kevin Spacey is the headliner. We didn’t go only because it was dark for the Christmas weekend.

In Hawaii a big problem is always trying to find a restaurant open on Christmas Eve. No such worries in Palm Springs. I guess because they get JEWS here, but we had no problem getting into the LG Steakhouse on Palm Canyon, conveniently located near the “Crazy Shirt” emporium. On Christmas night we hit the “Great Wall” Chinese restaurant and saw the same Jews we saw the night before at the LG Steakhouse and earlier that day at Sherman’s Deli.

Surprisingly, Sherman’s is quite good. It has to be, judging by the autographed celebrity pictures proudly displayed. Kay Ballard, Keely Smith, and Sandler & Young. I guess Cheeta was less enamored with his meal.

We put our “Do Not Bark” sign out and went to sleep. The beds were quite comfy. It was a relief that 7 Springs did not refer to the mattress.

Going through the local paper I noticed there were more ads for dermatologists than “after Christmas sales”.

I’m sure if we were at a larger resort we could’ve seen Santa ride in on a moped.

Or gotten maid service. No maid service at the 7 Springs on Christmas. And their complimentary “continental” breakfast consisted of packaged vending machine pastries and kibble.

There is a Trump 29 casino nearby. Who knew Donald Trump was an Indian?

Jacuzzi capacity at the 7 Springs: 8 people, 6 pets.

I wonder if Sinatra ever got Cheeta laid.

The Art Museum featured selections from the William Holden collection. Probably whiskey bottles from around the world.

The first two days were clear and cold (but a “dry” cold).

On Sunday Debby and Annie invaded the outlets at Cabazon (a stunt they wouldn’t even subject contestants to on “Fear Factor”). Matt and I checked out the Spa Casino. It made me long for the now defunct Debbie Reynolds hotel and casino in Laughlin, Nevada. (I always imagined Debbie getting an urgent page, “Come quick, Ms. Reynolds, the toilet in 604 is overflowing”.) A Palm Springs casino means 90% slot machines, maybe fifteen gaming tables, no craps, no sportsbook, video roulette, and aisles wide enough for walkers. But no pets!

In a pathetic attempt to recreate Hawaii we went to dinner at Roy’s in Rancho Mirage. Rancho Mirage is much classier than Palm Springs. As you drive there on Highway 111 the car dealerships get more upscale.

All foibles aside, it was great for the family to get together as one even for a few days. (Damn these kids for having their own lives!) Next year Hawaii or the Debbie Reynolds hotel in Laughlin, it really doesn’t matter.

Ken Levine
Stage/Film/TV/Humanitarian

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Our proudest nomination


The Writers Guild Award TV nominations have been announced… with the usual major fanfare. Check your local paper, page twelve, in small print.

Congratulations to all. Each and every nomination is well deserved.

Here is the list of this year’s nominees.

One year my partner and I were nominated for an episode of OPEN ALL NIGHT. You’re probably saying, “OPEN ALL NIGHT? What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of it.” Well, don’t feel bad. Neither did our other nominees.

OPEN ALL NIGHT was a short lived 1981 ABC series about a ma & pa 24 hour convenience store. It was created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, two exceptional writers who had guided THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and later went on to create BUFFALO BILL. We wrote two episodes that season and since it was a strike year (aren’t they all?), those were the only two episodes we had. So as a lark we submitted one.

Months went by. Finally our agent called one morning to congratulate us. The nominations were out and our OPEN ALL NIGHT made the cut. We played along, thanking her, never for a minute thinking this wasn’t just a joke. The next morning I picked up the paper to see who really was nominated, and son of a bitch, there were our names. I think there were a couple of TAXIS, BARNEY MILLERS, MASH…and our OPEN ALL NIGHT.

By the time of the ceremony our show had been long cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to pay for our own tickets. They sat us with the HILL STREET BLUES bunch who kept asking, “what was that show again?” A quick poll around the table – no one had even heard of it.

When it came time for our category and our names were announced among the list of nominees it actually got a laugh. What a proud moment.

Believe it or not, we lost.

At least this year’s nominees have cleared that major hurdle. They’re all on shows people have heard of. Even the ones on TNT. Anyone can win. Everyone should win. Best of luck to you all! At least the dinner will be free.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Levine blog gift suggestions

Here are a couple of fabulous Christmas gift ideas.

Tired of having to buy those $.49 rolls of toilet paper? Now for only $800 you can get a new state-of-the-art computerized toilet seat. With the push of a button on your handy remote, your caboose will get washed and dried while you remain seated in luxury on your heated toilet seat.

I’m not kidding.

It’s perfect for really lazy people or Captain Hook.

Developed in Japan (where else?), presenting the SWASH 800. And here’s my favorite feature: re the spray that shoots up to clean you, there’s a single “For Him” button that says “back” and “For Her” there are two buttons, one for “back” and the other for “front”. The dryer feature works for all.

Soon there will be a model for writers with a button labeled “agent”. Push that and smoke will come up your ass.

And for all you LOST IN SPACE fans, you can now purchase your own full size robot. The third season version (which we ALL know was the best!).

Here are some of the features it comes with:

Acrylic bubble based on the existing original.
- Laser cut steel brain with polished stainless steel top cover and crown.
- CNC machined light rod ends brain cup and neck bracket.
- Accurate acrylic collar & vents, hand formed based on the original jigs used.
- Torso based on the original stone molds.
- Welded steel torso hooks.
- Laser cut aluminum bezel with engraved acrylic chest buttons.
- Machined & clear anodized aluminum microphone with stainless steel screen.
- Actual Dialight sockets and Lens (not reproductions!)
- Hundreds of individual parts fabricated from Fiberglass, acrylic, aluminum, steel, etc.
- All metal tread sections, knee plates and hinges.
- Real rubber tread belts, knee bellows, leg bellows, arms & neck bellows.
- 32 machined aluminum wheels with v-groove.

And wait! There's MORE! Dick Tufeld, the original voice of the robot has recorded 500 tracks.

Again, this is not a joke. This item is really for sale. Here's the link.

And for how much you ask? A pittance! A mere $24,500. That’s right. Just $24,500. Why, it’s like they’re GIVING THEM AWAY.

The only thing is, check the small print. No single guy who purchases one of these authentic LOST IN SPACE full sized robots will ever get laid again.

“Danger, Norbert Schleppleman!”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Boyle

So sorry to hear of Peter Boyle’s passing. Depending on the project, truly one of the funniest or scariest actors on the planet.

I had the pleasure of working with him when I directed EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. He was a pussycat but you were always on your toes. He would forever look at you like he knew something you didn’t. That could be very unnerving because at times he did, and other times he was doing that just to fuck with you.

Peter was a little challenging initially, trying to size me up. I’d come to expect that my first day directing a new cast. “Who is this skeesix and why does he think he can direct?”

(Quick aside: I was originally intimidated by big name feature actors. The day before I was to direct Malcolm McDowell I said to a friend, “This guy starred in CLOCKWORK ORANGE and now I’M telling him where to move?” to which he said, “Yeah, but he was also in CALIGULA.” )

The first scene I blocked with Peter took place in the backyard of Ray’s house (although still on the stage). There was to be a hamster funeral in the rain. The effects people had rigged the set for rain. The actors took their places and the First AD asked if I wanted to turn on the rain. I said no. We started working through the scene and at one point I gave Peter some minor direction. He didn’t do it. I asked him again. He still didn’t do it. I called out to the First AD, “Okay, turn on the rain just where Peter is standing! Nowhere else!” He laughed, did my suggestion, and we were great the rest of the time. I loved working with him...and learning from him.

His list of film credits is enormous and impressive. He’s probably best known for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN but my favorite, and one he was particularly proud of, was a little known movie called JOE. Netflix it if you can. Peter plays a foul-mouthed hippie-hating reactionary in the 60’s. It’s a chilling portrayal, far scarier than the similarly themed EASY RIDER.

The last few years I saw him he didn’t appear to be in great health. But you’d never know it by his performance or hard work in rehearsal.

When you list the great ones in television comedy: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, Dick Van Dyke, Sid Caesar, Bob Newhart, and a few others. Right at the top of that list put Peter Boyle.

I can’t believe he’s gone. Holy crap!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The gifts you can't return


WITH AN UPDATE FIRST:

Craig's list flagged Annie's brother ad so I'm posting it here for fun.


Hello,
I'm quite upset with my current older brother. He isn't making any time for me, and is forcing me to spend three weeks with our crazy parents all by myself. Therefore, I'm looking for a new brother. He should have a sense of humor, and must be able to fix things. My new brother needs to be overprotective and skeptical of anybody I date. It would help if you came complete with your own shotgun. Must be ok with being adopted--I don't want to have to pay for therapy later. Also, since I seem to have a large number of gay friends, it wouldn't hurt if you were homosexual. Let me know if you think you have what it takes to be my big brother.

Okay, now to today's post:

One clear sign that it’s Christmas in LA is that you see more TV show jackets. For years that has been the Christmas gift of choice for staffs of television series. Which if fine if you work on THE SIMPSONS, not so fine if you work on FAT ACTRESS.

You feel a little bit like a schmuck anyway, wearing a show jacket, like you’re bragging, hoping to impress “the chicks”. Trust me, a LIVING WITH FRAN fleece is not an aphrodisiac.

Other gifts are traditionally baseball caps (when show runners don’t want to pop for jackets for the crew), T-shirts (same deal), and if you ever get a show mug you know you’re about to be cancelled.

One year on CHEERS we received lovely dart boards. At the time everyone had young children. I don’t think anyone even took them out of the box. (I’m sure there’s still one or two floating around ebay). On MASH one year the cast gave us all engraved watches. It was a beautiful gift, one I still have. The next season the new writer on the staff was counting the days until the big gift. It turned out to be a custom 33 rpm album of all the scenes in which the cast sang on the show. He was livid. “You guys get watches and I get a fucking album of Loretta Swit singing?!” (I don’t even think ebay has that one).

A few years ago an actor on a show I was producing gave me a large heavy rock with the word “remember” carved into it. I put it on the front porch and am still looking for a companion rock that says “Pearl Harbor” or “the Alamo” or “to wipe your feet”. I’d tell you who the actor was but can’t seem to recall.

Most studios gave out big gift baskets, silver key chains, bottles of nice wine, Walkmen, DVD collections, etc. For many years I worked at a studio where the holiday gifts were always disaster first aid kits, huge honkin’ flashlights, Thomas’ road maps, and earthquake preparedness guides. Everything spelled doom, especially the present that came two years ago…the mug. I’m no longer at that studio.

Oh well, I still have my memories. And my IT’S ALL RELATIVE fleece, BIG WAVE DAVE’S cap, ALMOST PERFECT sweatshirt, LATELINE jacket, KIRSTIN fleece, CONRAD BLOOM bowling shirt, ASK HARRIETT t-shirt, and GEORGE & LEO beltbuckle…which I would all gladly trade for one FAMILY GUY handkerchief.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More on FRASIER you didn't knowhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

Since FRASIER seems to be the topic de jour, here’s some additional inside dope. But first, a couple of brief announcements.

1) I will be guesting on KABC radio in Los Angeles Tuesday night at 11:00. 790 on the LA AM dial or
streaming on their website. Will be discussing this blog and God knows what. And if it works out I may be interviewed someday at 10 p.m. That's the shameless plug. And then...

2) My daughter, Annie is home from college for the holidays and is annoyed that her brother won't be able to come down from San Jose. So she took out an ad in Craig's List for a new brother. Let's all wish her luck.

Okay, now back to today's post...

A reader wondered whether John Mahoney’s appearing on CHEERS had any effect on his getting cast in FRASIER.

Yes it did.

And there’s a very weird story behind it all.

That CHEERS episode was filmed the year before FRASIER was developed. John played a hack jingle writer in “Do Not Forsake Me O’ My Postman” written by David Isaacs and me. But he was not the original actor hired for that role. I will not reveal his name because he was a dear man, a good friend, no longer with us, and I don’t want him to be remembered for this. All week this actor was a little nervous, even though he had done a lot of live theatre, and was even a regular on a popular multi-camera sitcom in the 70’s. But he had been out of the business for awhile, I suppose felt rusty, and was a little intimidated to be on CHEERS. But the truth was he was fine. Got every laugh, was liked by cast and crew.

Flash forward to show day. Dress rehearsal at 3:00, filming at 7:00. The dress rehearsal went well. Everyone was happy. This actor then got in his car, drove off the lot, AND NEVER RETURNED.

Your first thought (after being absolutely stunned) is to be royally pissed but think about it – how utterly terrified must that poor man have been to do something like that knowing full well he would never get another TV acting gig again? Your heart had to go out to him. The pain he must’ve been in.

But of course this left us with a HUGE problem. The audience was already filing in. The decision was made to just not film the scenes his character was in, recast, and shoot them the following week.

John Mahoney was hired as the replacement. Casey, Lee, and Angell saw him on that episode and thought he would be perfect for Frasier’s dad.

Now who knows? Maybe John would have gotten the part anyway. Maybe someone in casting would have brought up his name. But in all likelihood there would have been casting sessions. A hundred actors might have tried out for the role. Then call-backs, different producers, studio and network execs all weighing in with different opinions. Maybe screen tests. Politics. Lobbying. Perhaps someone else even getting the role.

How important is luck? How rare that the planets just happen to line up perfectly?

The fate of FRASIER and John Mahoney’s entire career might’ve changed if only one man, one year before, took one Lexapro.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmastime in New York

Back from New York, a very expensive city to visit if you’re an American, one giant Costco if you’re from England. The British Pound is currently worth two U.S. dollars so everyone from the U.K. is coming over to New York to do their Christmas shopping. It’s not unusual to see the Queen at Macy’s saying, “Excuse me, miss, does this bra come in black?”

New York has welcomed its stiff-upper-lipped guests by raising hotel rates to ridiculous levels. $200 rooms are now $650. American tourists are advised to book motels in Philadelphia and just bus in.

And still we found a deal at the Murray Hill Suites. Forget that major construction was going on all night right across the street, the TV was a Dumont, and it was the one hotel in all of New York with absolutely no internet access, at least it was in the city, right around the corner from a BBQ place where a guy in a giant chicken suit stood out in the street at all hours trying to lure customers. “Hey, your majesty, chicken and ribs combo with side of beans and slaw only $6.99!”

The hotel asked for a $50 hold on our credit card so if we trashed the room they could replace all the furniture.

Flew in from Burbank on plucky Jet Blue. Felt really secure flying knowing that Gummi Bears are banned on commercial flights and whipped cream is allowed only in minute quantities but It’s okay to bring four books of flammable matches. (This is true based on an American Airlines flight from Washington to Dallas this week.) Meanwhile, I had to remove my wallet. Yeah, like I’m going to hide explosives in my WGA card.

In a pathetic attempt to finally get my name mentioned on “Page Six” I called THE POST the minute I hit town to tell them I was on the same flight as Keith Carradine and Evan Handler. Unfortunately, there was too much Kid Rock and Conchita Leeflang news so I was thwarted yet again.

It’s Christmas time in the city. The giant tree is up in Rockefeller Center, the Salvation Army Santa on 5th and 48th is Asian, and people stand in long lines to see the big department store window displays while other people just walk by, gaze at the same thing, and laugh at the idiots in line.

But if you’ve never been to New York during Christmastime, treat yourself. It really is magical.

A dinner reservation in Manhattan means you only have to stand in a tiny bar area packed with people for a half hour instead of two. I love how many Upper Eastsiders won’t take the subway because it’s so crowded yet cheerfully will join 110 people wedged into a space the size of a phone booth for a chance to eat astronaut portions of overpriced food.

That was the scene at the Union Square CafĂ© Thursday night. It was too noisy for the hostess to call out names (“Ruler of the British Empire, party of three!”) so she just came and pried you out with a crowbar when your table was ready. To identify each party she made little descriptions alongside their names. “blond with blue scarf,”, “grey suit”, and for me – “Schmuck with mittens”.

While I was in the restaurant there was a shooting nearby. Last time I was in New York a deranged husband tried to off his wife by blowing up the family townhouse two blocks away. And the trip before, I missed a subway stabbing by a half hour. So what if I’m paying twice as much as any bloke named Nigel? I’M ALIVE!!!

A theatre organization in Manhattan has offered to hold a reading of my play. I met with them (thus writing off my trip) and much to my surprise they were serious! It’ll be on February 12th, a Monday night when theaters are dark so maybe I can enlist some cast members from Tom Stoppard’s THE COAST OF UTOPIA or SMUCKERS STARS ON ICE.

Every time a limo door opened I kept hoping to see Britney Spears spill out onto the street. We’ve all viewed her classy full frontal photos on the internet, but I wanted to see that C-section scar in person.

The late night disc jockey on New York’s hip hop station was shot thus increasing his street cred. Supposedly he was wearing a $20,000 gold and diamond necklace in Harlem. The defense will argue it wasn’t a homicide but a suicide attempt.

A musical of SHREK is coming to Broadway. Casting suggestions: Vin Diesel or Rosie O’Donnell.

There’s still a tarp over the building Corey Lidle’s plane tragically crashed into. Gummi Bears are too dangerous but it’s okay to fly private planes over the East River.

Friday the temperature plunged to 20 degrees. Everyone was walking around like it was no big deal. I was hailing cabs to cross a street. But these unbearable conditions (okay, chilly) gave me a fabulous idea. For you lovely ladies who have to attend elegant dressy occasions during harsh winter nights and want to look your best without getting frostbite – I’ve created the “down gown”. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, and if you’re a size one, it’s sleek. Check them out in the formalwear section of your nearest REI.

For twenty years the great Dan Ingram ruled the afternoon airwaves on 77WABC. Today that time slot is manned by Sean Hannity. It’s as if Peter Lugar’s steakhouse now served head cheese.

Fran Liebowitz still gets her name in the Society pages. Once a HILARIOUS writer, now jester to the elite, Fran’s greatest accomplishment over the last twenty five years is having slept in every guest bedroom in the Hamptons. Write another book, Fran. Don’t shut us out just because we can’t invite you to clambakes.

Gypsy cabs are such a rip-off even the Brits don’t take them.

It was very poignant being in New York on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. John, in my life, I love you more.

New trend: Elevator Surfing. Kids ride on the roof of an elevator as it travels through the shaft. It’s almost as dangerous as eating at Taco Bell.

Good news theatergoers! Tony Danza goes into THE PRODUCERS beginning December 19th. No, not in Fargo, N.D. On Broadway.

Finally, after four glorious days, it was off to the always-under-construction JFK airport and our Jet Blue bird back to Burbank (where I really lucked out. There was a THAT GIRL marathon on TV Land). Meanwhile, at the British Airways terminal there was an international incident when “you-know-who” tried to board a flight with a full can of whipped cream. “Hey, I don’t care who the fuck you are, lady, I’ve got to go through your bags.”