Tuesday, March 31, 2015

More than you'd ever want to know

The Television Academy in association with the Writers Guild Foundation conduct a series of archive interviews with notable people in the TV industry.   My writing partner, David Isaacs, and I are honored to be included.  Last September we were both interviewed, and yesterday those interviews went on line.  There are three main parts -- solo interviews with each of us and one with the both of us.

Here's mine.  I hesitate to feature this because now I'll have nothing to write about myself.   But you're probably thinking "thank God."

And here are a couple of segments from the joint interview.  This is how we got our first assignment on MASH.

In this one we talk about our writing process.

And finally, since the last thing you want to do is spend an entire day watching us -- writing THE SIMPSONS.

Thanks again to the TV Academy and WGA Foundation.  Like I said, we're truly honored to be included with real television legends.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Making an idiot of myself on the radio... yet again

Back from the B100 radio reunion, held somewhere in Afghanistan I think.  It was at the Pala Resort and Casino -- a spectacular complex situated in the middle of nowhere.  B100 was a Top 40 station that took San Diego by storm in 1975 and stayed on top for close to 15 years.  I don't know what the format is today -- probably All Polka Music or All Obama Bashing.

As part of the festivities, which included a dinner, nostalgia, much drinking, a pool party (although no one was stupid enough to wear a bathing suit), and appearance from Shotgun Tom Kelly -- the local radio station graciously allowed us recreate B100 as it was.

Back in March of '75 the station signed on with "the B100 hours" -- a hundred insane hours of no commercials and the jocks all rotating shift.  Tapes of some of those broadcasts have been circulating among radio people for years.  I'm both proud and humiliated to be a part of it.

Anyway, in addition to replaying some of those tapes and the music from that era, I was invited to do a live show for an hour.  It's the first time I've done a disc jockey show in ten years and only the third DJ show I've done since 1982.  So don't expect anything great.  But what the hell?  You can't think any less of me than you already do.  Here it is (minus the songs so it's not an hour, it's like five minutes).

The weekend was great fun. As one of the jocks, Danny Wilde said, "The reason there's no more fun in radio is because we used it all up."   He's right.   Danny became a surgeon, by the way.  And I thought I did well.

What struck me most about the experience was how fond I am of all these people, even though I rarely see them anymore.  Yes, there's the bond we share in making fools of ourselves on the radio, but beyond that -- they're great folks and hold a special place in my heart.

So thanks to John Fox, Paul Palmer, Gary Kelley, Mark Gleason, and all my friends at B100 for organizing this soiree.   And a special thanks to Bobby Rich.   Not only was he the mastermind of the station, he was the best program director I ever worked for.  Not to mention the only program director who never fired me.  And you just heard my act.  He had cause every week.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Maybe the most insane game show ever

This comes from the early 50s, the embryonic days of television, and a network (Dumont) that long since has disappeared. OKAY MOTHER starring Dennis James. He later went on to host a gazillion national game shows. But here he's on speed with a Red Bull chaser.  Thanks to friend of the blog, Mike McCann for finding this hilarious and appalling chestnut.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My life from A-Z

One of those dumb personal quizzes circulating the net. I'm admitting things here even my shrink doesn't know. Of course, he doesn't care.

• A-Available/Single? Not according to my wife
• B-Best Friend? My partner. I'd be a lot poorer emotionally and financially without him.
• C-Cake or Pie? I'll have to go with Elvis and say cake.
• D-Drink Of Choice? Makers & ginger ale but only after 7 a.m.
• E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My Pocket Fisherman.
• F-Favorite Color? Green. They asked me this for the Dewar's ad, too.
• G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Whichever one is not banned from commercial flights.
• H-Hometown? Los Angeles
• I-Indulgence? Irene Jacob movies even though I can't understand them.• J-January Or February? February. Pitchers and catchers report.
• K-Kids & Their Names? Matt, Annie, and maybe some in Bakersfield.
• L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Laughter.
• M-Marriage Date? July 8. Same date that crime boss Soapy Smith was shot to death in 1898.
• N-Number Of Siblings? 1
• O-Oranges Or Apples? Apple, if we're talking pies or computers. Orange if we're talking women's prisons.
• P-Phobias/Fears? Mimes.
• Q-Favorite Quote? Enough is as good as a feast to an idiot.
• R-Reason to Smile? Linda Eder singing
• S-Season? Bob Gaudio
• T-Tag Three or Four People? I don't know four people.
• U-Unknown Fact About Me? I touched Jackie Kennedy's knee.
• V-Vegetable you don't like? Pat Robertson
• W-Worst Habit? Sweating the small stuff
• X-X-rays You've Had? Teeth, chest, and what kind of stupid question is that?
• Y-Your Favorite Food? Lobster...but must not still be alive.
• Z-Zodiac Sign? Aquarius man.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Questions

Hello from the Pala Resort, somewhere in the middle of nowhere – site of tonight’s big B100 radio reunion. If you think high school reunions are scary, imagine former disc jockeys from the drug and alcohol era.  I'll be on the radio today from 5-6 PDT.  "Beaver Cleaver" returns.  Anyhoo, here are some Friday Questions:

Bradley is first:

Do you think sitcoms benefit more from the consistency of having a single director or the variety of using multiple directors? When I watch many episodes of, say, Will & Grace or The Big Bang Theory back to back, I start to see very predictable patterns in shot selection and staging. I imagine this is easier (and more efficient) for the actors and gives the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect. Yet when I watch a show that uses many directors, I see episodes from time to time that are shot quite differently from the others. Frasier is a good example of this. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this.

Well, first of all, it depends on the director. If you can get James Burrows or Andy Ackerman or Pam Fryman to direct every episode of your series DO IT. I’m assuming your question relates to sitcoms, and multi-camera in particular. (For single-camera shows directors need a few days of prep time so one director can’t do an entire season.) But for sitcoms…

Showrunners generally prefer to have one director they can rely on. And the cast prefers the consistency.

New directors always require a period of adjustment. It’s like a parade of substitute teachers.

On my first day of one show one of the stars took me aside and said, "So who the fuck are you?" 

Most important for a cast is to trust their director and that can take time.

So unless you have one of the A-Listers like Burrows you need to see which director clicks with the cast and showrunner and that may take four or five candidates to determine. And even once you've found that person, sometimes casts will fall out of love with certain directors.  Time to round up the usual suspects.

Back in the halcyon days when there was a glut of sitcoms, many directors preferred not being chained to one series. They enjoyed the variety of bouncing from show to show. But once the landscape shrunk they grabbed the opportunity to stay with one show. Musical Director Chairs.  So you see more consistency these days.

And yes, at times directors can get complacent and lazy.   But so can the actors.  It's one of the downsides of a long running hit series -- a problem that's really good to have. 

Johnny Walker is up next.

I just noted that "Goodbye Radar" was actually a Season 8 episode, technically after you, David and Gary had left. I assume this is because they were a "holdover" from Season 7. But can you explain: What IS a holdover? Why do they happen? I see that the same thing happened on The Simpsons quite frequently, too. I always imagine TV production as being several scripts behind, not several shows ahead. Could you explain more?

Gary Burghoff was supposed to leave at the end of season seven and David Isaacs and I were going to write the script.

However, CBS convinced Gary to stay on for the first few episodes of season eight and then do his farewell as a two-parter during November sweeps. So David and I agreed to come back and write the twofer, which we did.

With THE SIMPSONS, I can only guess that the long lead time needed for the animation to be completed can cause delays and some episodes slop into the next season.

From Ethan:

Why did you leave Frasier?

My wife and I are watching all of the episodes on Netflix and it jumped out at me that David Isaacs is credited as "creative consultant" without you in seasons 7 and 8 (possibly more?), unlike seasons 1 and 2.

You mean I was actually missed? 

I was freelance directing during that period. Those are the years I directed FRASIER, JUST SHOOT ME, DHARMA & GREG, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and a bunch of shows that have long since been forgotten.  So I'll pop up on Netflix elsewhere.

Mark P. has a question about my recent trip.

Had you been to Korea before? What do they think of MASH?

No. First time. Most of the locals there are unfamiliar with the show. It’s not aired in Korea. I asked a couple of people and they had no idea what I was talking about.  And yes, they spoke English.

And finally, from Carson:

Why do you think the broadcast networks gave up on made-for-TV movies? It can't be that they were too expensive or unprofitable. Hallmark and Lifetime appear to have struck a gold mine with them.

I suppose they feel for their brand the audience would prefer existing shows and characters they know.   Movies of the Week are a wildcard. Since they feature new premises each week the audience can’t really build.  Networks need that traction.  They can't afford to start each week back at square one.

HALLMARK, LIFETIME, and a few other cable networks have used MOW’s to forge their brands. And the films are getting better. They used to all be Meredith Baxter Birney with the disease of the week.

Got a question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Short attention span blogging

Random stray thoughts.. in no particular order...

Which “Real Housewife” do you wish Robert Durst was married to?

When a ballplayer who has played for several teams goes into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown the big question is always which team’s hat will he wear? For comedy writers the question is which show jacket will he be buried in?

I still love JUSTIFIED but glad they’re wrapping it up. I think one more year and Boyd Crowder will be buying Acme explosives and setting a trap for Raylan Givens by offering “free food for U.S. Marshals.”

NBC scraped its Monica Potter pilot after a bad table reading and runthrough. They claim it “doesn’t live up to potential.” Don’t kid yourself. A network doesn’t pull the plug on a pilot two days into production unless it’s a fucking trainwreck. The pilot was produced by Ellen DeGeneres’ company. Guess it wasn’t as funny as MASH.

There have to be no less than six pilots where empty nest couples learn their kids or parents or grandkids or any combination of same move back in. Wasn’t that idea tired fifteen years ago? And networks wonder why audiences don't embrace their new comedies.

Always great to hear Verne Lunquist call March Madness. Old School is the Best School.

I don't see anyone beating Kentucky including the Lakers.  

The X-FILES is coming back to Fox. Could this mean the return of Alf?

Kathy Griffin has quit FASHION POLICE. Could this mean the return of Alf?

Will Ferrell is expected to make the Houston Astros’ 25 man roster.

HuffPost Headline: Vin Diesel Thinks 'Furious 7' Should Win Best Picture

On his premiere episode Monday night, James Corden and Tom Hanks re-enacted every one of his movies – except VOLUNTEERS.

Lots of ethnic casting this pilot season. Is it because the networks feel they have a moral obligation to promote diversity? Of course not. EMPIRE and BLACK-ISH are hits.

Frank Underwood’s approval rating is higher than Obama’s.

There’s a terrific movie about the studio musicians who backed all the hits in the ‘60s called THE WRECKING CREW. It’s playing in selected cities and available on iTunes. All those great rock songs were really done by 45-year-old former jazz and big band musicians. Check it out.

This year’s Oscarcast was the lowest rated since 2009. So the Board of Governors are in a panic. One solution discussed: going back to only five Best Picture nominees. Yeah, that’s the problem. I think they’re missing the real reason for viewership decline – the podium is a little low.

At what point does the media finally admit that nobody watches GIRLS? Its season four finale drew only 326,000 viewers in the key 18-49 demo. Seriously, for a nationally televised program in the United States that’s embarrassing. It’s not just Lena Dunham who has no clothes.

DANCING WITH THE MARGINAL CELEBRITIES rebounded in week two after its worst season debut. Could this mean the return of Alf?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Save L.A.'s theater scene

A TV writer friend of mine used to be an actor. I once asked why he switched. He said, “Writing I can do myself anytime. But as an actor, to practice my craft I have to be hired.” I hadn’t thought of that, but he’s right. It was never an issue for me because I can’t act my way out of a hard rain.

And then actors have the added hurdle of competition. There are always hundreds of other actors vying for the same few parts. It’s a blessing I’m a terrible actor.

Equity is a union that represents actors in the theater. As a member of the WGA and DGA you know I’m very pro union. Especially in the movie and TV business where major conglomerates are now in control and care only about making huge profits. Unions provide at least a modicum of protection for the little insignificant people who actually make the product.

Likewise, when there are big Broadway productions and theatergoers are paying hundreds of dollars for tickets, the actors deserve their fair share. Leaving it to the goodness of benevolent producers would ensure that these actors would starve. Equity provides a valuable service.

Here in Los Angeles we have two tiers of theaters. Large theaters like the Taper Forum and Pantages, and small theaters of 99 seats or less. There are not that many large theaters in LA. And of those, many feature roadshow productions of big Broadway hits. WICKED was here recently. I’m surprised THE SOUND OF MUSIC isn’t playing. The point is there are not a lot of parts for actors.

A second-tier is the 99-seat theater. These are small neighborhood theaters in the valley, or West Hollywood, or Atwater Village that often are next door to furniture stores or massage parlors. David Isaacs and I once had series of One Acts that were performed at a theater above a pizza parlor in a part of the city that gang members wouldn’t enter.

No one really makes money in these theaters. You’re lucky if you break even. People put a tremendous amount of time and effort into shows that will be seen by a precious few or fewer. Even if you sell out every seat for twenty performances at $20 a ticket you’ll probably still lose money.  We're not talking Time-Warner.

So why do we do it? Because we love the theater. Because we can practice our craft. Because of the camaraderie. For actors, it’s a showcase. And many intimate shows have gone on to bigger venues or even Broadway keeping the original casts. For playwrights, it’s a chance to present your vision without network or studio interference. Trust me, if you’re a writer and you want to make money – you write spec screenplays or TV pilots. You don’t write a play for God sakes!

Up until now there has been an Equity Waiver that has allowed these 99-seat theaters to mount plays without having to pay actors more than car fare. On the other hand, it means more chances to “be hired.” And again, it’s not like everyone is getting rich but them. Viacom does not own 99-seat theaters in NoHo. 

Also, the actors have a choice. If they don’t want to take low or no paying jobs that's their prerogative. This isn’t jury duty.

Now Equity wants to eliminate the waiver. There is a referendum that would force these small theaters to pay minimum wage for every hour of rehearsal and performance. You could make the argument that that’s reasonable. And I think we all could agree that no one, actors especially, should be taken advantage of.

But producers claim that those concessions would add so much to the cost of productions that they would not be worth doing. They’re losing money as it is.

So the end result might be this: 99-seat productions go away. Theaters close. And then who benefits? Equity actors are getting minimum wage of nothing. Potential roles will no longer exist. If you’re an Equity actor you better get cast in PIPPIN or you’re out of luck.

To me this is shortsighted. There is the real danger that if this referendum passes it will kill the small theater scene in Los Angeles. Or producers will only seek non-Equity actors. And you might want to be a non-Equity actor in that case because suddenly your competition for parts might go down from 100 to 10.

Actors themselves don't want this.  On Monday a large group of them picketed their own union.  

I’m a playwright so I have a horse in this race. I’d love to have 99-seat theaters as options for mounting one of my plays.   But that's not my only option.

My greater concern is for the actors themselves. Casting directors go to these Equity Waiver Theaters. These productions provide the opportunity to do the thing you love. The theater scene is shrinking already. Even Equity theaters primarily want plays with only two to four actors now. Twenty years ago plays would routinely have eight to ten parts.

Equity actors will get a chance to vote, although I’m told the Board ultimately will decide. So essentially they could ignore the wishes of its membership. The scuttlebutt is that’s what they plan to do. They want to adopt this referendum. Ballots should be received by members today. The only way to get the Board’s attention is to resoundingly vote NO.
I hope this referendum is defeated. And by the way, should the status quo remain and a play of mine gets produced at a local Equity Waiver venue, I’m happy to make just as much (or little) as the actors. After all, it’s the thee-ah-tuh… unless the referendum passes, and then it’s the 7-Eleven.