12.11.2006

Our 30-year program of maleducation continues to bear fruit.

Anthony Lane's year-end review.

My saddest moment in a movie theatre came a month ago, when I screened “All About Eve” to a bunch of acquaintances, one of whom came up to me at the end. “What happened?” she asked.
“Well,” I replied, “Anne Baxter got the award, and Bette Davis sat there all steamed up, and George—”
“No,” she said, tapping her foot, “what happened to movies like that? Movies with four great parts for women and lines you want to quote? Where did they go?”
No idea, but they sure as hell aren’t coming back.
At one point they had migrated to TV. But no longer.

12.10.2006

Your cheeseburger destroyed New Orleans.

I'm half-serious. Livestock generate more greenhouse gases than transport(ation, as we Americans would say).

How about hog lagoons? Are hog lagoons okay?

12.08.2006

Our 30-year campaign of maleducation continues to bear fruit!

Spencer Ackerman on Left Behind:

If ever you should think that millions of people couldn't all be wrong about a piece of fiction for so many years, let this awful thing stand as irrefutable counterexample. Leave aside for one second the hideous plot. The series' two authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, mangle the language in a way I haven't seen since high school. At one point they employ the image of a juggernaut sailing across the waters. You tell me what that's supposed to mean.

12.06.2006

Huh?

How can Christopher Hitchens live in the same city as Judith Martin and claim that women aren't funny?

Present at the Creation

Over at Ken Levine's blog Peter Casey is talking about how he and his partners created Frasier. Of particular interest is how they don't have to bring casting candidates to the network. Network mucking about in casting is probably as big a cause as any for the decline of the sitcom. (There are multiple causes, of course, but I'm writing about this one now, and so during the duration of this post it's the biggest.

Worst electorate ever

Here's another worst-president-ever post. I enjoy the sentiment only somewhat. Because, check it, we re-elected him. Bush's first term was a bait-and-switch, but nothing has happened in the second term that wasn't evidently underway in the first term (with the possible exception of zealous Social Security dismantling). We asked for this. This term is what we signed up for. Don't go crying to me that you voted for Kerry, either; plainly it wasn't enough. To quote Parcells, you are what your record says you are.

The war on terror: Victory is ours

Spencer Ackerman takes apart Stanley Kurtz's assertion that: Islamists might actually gain and retain control of a substantial portion of the globe–or perhaps even defeat the West. What bullshit! As hard to define as "the West" is -- is Russia "the West"? Japan? -- nevertheless we're undefeated, partly because we're so hard to define.

To be "Western," to me, is to be assimilative, so it is much more likely that the "Islamists" (which I put in quotes because I'm not sophisticated enough to define it) make an accomodation to our way of life than we do to theirs.

The post-profit future

Increasingly I find myself agreeing with the sentiments expressed here, by Yglesias:

Peer-production of digital media probably will produce a fair quantity of awesome popular stuff lurking amidst the vast pool of dreck. And well-designed services will let the awesome stuff rise to the top and the dreck fade to the background, rendering those services awesome and popular. But -- and here's the rub -- having something awesome and popular just may not prove to be especially lucrative. In the past, a popular television show or a popular album or a popular film or a popular distribution channel guaranteed you vast sums of money. In the future, that just may not be the case. The very most popular things will generate some income, enough to live off of and continue financing new projects, but not the sort of gigantic windfalls associated with 20th century media hits. And lots of other things -- including reasonably popular ones -- will only generate trivial levels of income. And they'll continue to be made. Made by people who think its fun, or who derive some benefit from their work other than direct monetary income.
I have several thoughts (outside of "but I bought my house under the old rules!" which is only germane to me and my presumed future seller).

1. This is already happening in network TV as quotes are being cut left and right. BUT I think what will evolve is more of a winner-take-all type of pay structure: creators of shows will hit big, but everyone on staff will work for peanuts. The kind of upper-middle-management, haute-bourgeois lifestyle of the career staffer is what's going to disappear. (Aren't doctors going through the same process?)

2. Network shows, and TV shows in general, will only find an audience if they give the audience something they can't get anywhere else. TV Dramas already do this very well -- you can't duplicate The Sopranos or Heroes in your garage, because you can't aggregate the talent or money needed to bring off the effects (including emotional effects). It's harder for TV comedies. In fact, while writing my pilot I've realized that my competition now is every funny thing ever made. Why should anyone watch my show when they could watch South Park, or Faulty Towers on DVD, or failed demolitions on YouTube, or read Deadspin?

3. The interesting emotional effect of this is to strike fear into the heart of the writer, executive, etc., at precisely the moment when fear will only make the problem worse.

4. Also, I bought my house under the old rules. Dammit.

12.05.2006

Cleaning out my net news wire, I really should be writing edition

• Throw WFMU some money. I'm a fan, in particular, of Mr. Fine Wine, whom I listen to in podcast.

• New frontiers in torture.

Yglesias v. Ditka!

• I tend to think of the Westside as beginning on La Cienega. I'm a non-native, though. I once knew a guy who wouldn't date women from 310; too much hassle. I tend to agree. Also LA-related: No Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector? (I listened to it recently while trimming the tree and, if you don't regularly listen to Phil Spector-ish stuff, the effect is pronounced.) I call tinselly bullshit!

On my pilot

I'm writing my pilot right now, and this is the good phase, the time when it's mine and not theirs (though I like my producing partners). This is the time where all the various compromises, negotiations, and heartbreaks are off in the distance, theoretical; they're known, but not yet felt. Right now all you feel is pleasure -- and why wouldn't you, when you hear your excellent writing being done full justice by the great actors who live in your head. It's a lovely time.

A few weeks away, probably, lie bitterness and failure, but they can't take this time away from me, and I count myself lucky that I am supposed to get paid for it (a whole different cycle of future compromise-negotation-heartbreak).

And it's only been a couple of months. It's the screenwriters who really have to suffer. That stuff takes years.

12.01.2006

It begins

Posting reduces from trickle to irritating, random drips because a zillion Xmas cards must be addressed over the near term. If I'm posting, then you know I am being a bad friend-you-hear-from-once-a-year.

To be festive, here's a link for MacLamps.

Age and comedy

I have very little to add to James Wolcott-slash-Ken-Levine post. Except that I was chilled by Wolcott's ending:

What I come back to is the delicate matter of how the inevitable thickening of age leaves so many comic actors looking too old for what they're doing, and how much we can or should overlook it, and make allowances. I'm a big fan of Chistopher Guest, interviewed him for Vanity Fair (drawing quotes from him was like harvesting fog with a butterfly net), yet I've put off seeing For Your Consideration because even in the trailer the cast looks too old for their antics, too encumbered with wigs, glasses, padded wardrobes, and gewgaw jewels--as if they were the stuffed-turkey cast of a Broadway farce. I have too much affection for most of the cast (esp Catherine O'Hara) to watch them labor to so little avail. It's like trying to read S. J. Perelman in his late mandarin phase, his comic spark a faint ember under all those layers of rigamarole.
As an aging writer myself it makes me wonder, Is this me? Have I lost my fastball? And I have no idea whether I have; my shit is still as unstinky and refulgent as it ever was -- to me. But I am more conscious of my bag of tricks as a bag of tricks. That's good because I don't make dumb mistakes. It's bad because at times I think it robs me of enthusiasm, which is the thing I'm most scared of. I don't want to be some hack droning on about how we did it on "Hazel" and worrying about lunch; I want to be excited to go to work.

Fortunately there are still funny (warning: also dirty) posts like this one that make me feel like my appetite for comedy is not yet sated.

UPDATE: How come no one's tried a pilot that a multicultural version of "Hazel"? They tried to re-do "Mister Ed," after all (with Ol' Dirty Bastard's voice as Mr. Ed? I never saw the pilot).

What working in TV is like

Here's an article in the WSJ ($, probably) about "The O.C." Now I know that every business has interfering bosses, but when it happens in TV you fuck up in public:

Ms. Berman's successor, Peter Liguori, got deeply involved, too -- but not in a way that Mr. Schwartz appreciated. Arguing that Fox needed something fresh to promote about the show, Mr. Liguori asked Mr. Schwartz to add a new character and cast a brand-name celebrity in the part. The problem: Mr. Schwartz had outlined seven full episodes and had to figure out how to insert the character without destroying the story lines. "We didn't really have an option," Mr. Schwartz says.

Actress Jeri Ryan ended up joining the show as a con artist -- which many fans thought was a clunky and unbelievable plot twist. Ms. Ryan has since moved on to the CBS drama "Shark." Asked if he regrets ordering the stunt casting, Mr. Liguori responds: "I think Jeri Ryan is doing great work on 'Shark.' "


Stunt casting sucks, but networks are convinced it works. I'm not so sure, unless it's a really Big Star, which doesn't describe Jeri Ryan, although I'm sure she's a lovely person.

Also of note is this WSJ article about clean comics, which I haven't read. I always like Brian Regan, though, who's quoted in the last paragraph (which I did read):
Meanwhile, Mr. Regan explains his conversion to clean routines by telling of an epiphany he had some years ago, while standing in the back of a comedy club. The guy on stage "wasn't doing well, and so he dropped the F-bomb," Mr. Regan recalls. Two men in the audience found that profane outburst so funny that they stood up and slapped hands.
I saw this happen myself once in NY with, if memory serves, Marc Maron. The audience had little appetite for his tart political humor that night, and I thought I saw a look of (self?) disgust cross his face as he shifted to his blowjob material -- which killed, of course.

It couldn't happen to a crappier restaurant

Cheesecake Factory stock gets creamed, apparently.

One of the great mysteries of LA is going to the Grove and seeing people waiting 45 minutes to get into the Cheesecake Factory. The Cheesecake Factory. I realize that others may not share my revulsion at the differently-shaped pieces of extrusion they refer to as "food," but to wait 45 minutes for it? Just walk to Farmers' Market and get some Gumbo Pot. Sheezus.

I wonder what all the LSU people in for the Rose Bowl will make of the Gumbo Pot. I'm very excited to see them wandering around the Grove.

Department of "heh".

From Brian Schmidt:

One of the nice things about radio is that you can turn it on in the middle of a news interview and listen to what the interviewee says without the bias of knowing who he or she is. The other day I listened to some Washington politician talk straightforwardly and intelligently about her aims next year, and was very impressed. At the end I found out it was Missouri's new Senator, Claire McCaskill. Same thing happened the first time I heard Barack Obama. And a year or so ago, I listened to someone talk about a gas tax and some other things I basically agree with, and felt that even though I agreed with him, he was so condescending that I wanted to reach through the radio and slap him. That turned out to be Tom Friedman.