Thursday, November 29, 2007


Between the strike and impending holiday season I've found myself in a few malls lately. I've spent a lot of my life in malls. I don't hate malls. In fact, I secretly like them. It's something to do when you've got kids. Millions of diversions, shit to buy, and the food court. But now, suddenly, it's that most won-der-ful time of the year when they start piping in those goddamn Christmas songs. There's something about those songs. As soon as they start playing, I just want to shoot someone. The more Burl Ives, or Dino or Bing I hear, the fouler my mood gets. And it happens every year. And I never really know why. So I figure it's me. I'm just a dick. Scrooge McDick.

But I don't hate Christmas. I like Christmas. Even though I'm Jewish, I never really bonded with Hanukah, multiple presents aside. Not that I'm a big manger fan. Or subscribe to any of the popular mythology. Unless it's the Life of Brian version. But still, I enjoy the season. It's all just secular Christmas to me. Lights, parties, family and presents. Except for the Egg Nog. That looks and smells like puke.

But yet every year at that moment when I first hear those sleighbells ringing and jing-jing-a-linging their tunes, I want to scream. And it happened again today. From Bloomingdales to Macy's, from the Gap to Brookstone, and now even outside, in-between the stores, there it was. Piped in from the speaker in the sky. Omnipresent. And inescapable. And it was making me furious. But I couldn't' figure out why. And then it struck me. It's the forced happiness schedule. It's someone deciding that it's happy time for everyone, whether I'm ready or not. But maybe I'm not ready. Maybe I'm still pushing and working and dealing with the ten thousand things that invade and define every week. From house crap to kid crises, from sprinkler leaks to work stoppages. Then, all of a sudden, the mall decides it's time to forget all that and I'm supposed to just shut down and “go happy” or feel like a shitheel for still being stressed.

So there I was. Stuck. Wanting to shop more while being bombarded by those noxious, unctuous songs. And just as I was about to give up and bolt for my car, I hit on the cure -- Goodfellas. Specifically that Christmas sequence where DeNiro's character starts killing everyone who might rat him out in the Lufthansa heist. Bodies are tumbling down inside garbage trucks, or found hanging in meat trucks, or discovered by kids slumped over in a Cadillac. All to the accompaniment of some happy Christmas music. And for some twisted reason, that put a smile on my face. That great juxtaposition of murder and mush. Cause that's the way I feel this time of year. I'm still grinding the shit out. Still trying to dispose of all the loose ends and the mayhem and the garbage. With this gooey background music forced on me like some mood-altering ear Soma. That's when I realized it was ok to still feel stressed out and tense, despite the sleighbells and roasting chestnuts. And that took the pressure off. I told myself I'll shut down when I'm ready. Which is usually when I can hear John Lennon's anthem to Christmas peace if you want it and quietly hum along, while doing a remix in my head to dial out Yoko. That's my Christmas. On my schedule.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A priest and an animal of some kind go into a bar. The bartender says something to the effect that an animal in a bar is a somewhat unusual occurrence, and then the animal says something funny.

A guy goes into a whorehouse and asks what he can get for 20 bucks. The madam refers to some sexual practice, takes his $20 and sends him into a back room where something happens that is not sexual but takes the guy by surprise, as it dawns on him that what the madam said had a double meaning, implying that he was cheap.

A street bum asks a passing businessman for some help. The businessman gives him advice instead of money. The bum makes a derogatory, profanity-laced comment.

A large-breasted woman goes into a bar and orders a drink with an unusual name. The bartender makes a pithy remark, involving some wordplay based on the similarity between the name of the drink and her large breasts.

Jesus is on the cross, looks down at one of his disciples and says “I’m very high up.”

Three people of various ethnic backgrounds are on a plane when the engines go dead. They very quickly realize there are only two parachutes. Each makes a case why they should have one of the parachutes. One grabs a chute and jumps to safety. The second makes a remark about the third guy’s ethnicity, takes a chute and jumps. The third one dies.

Two old guys sit on a bench in Central Park, when a very attractive young woman walks by, causing them to reminisce about their younger days when they might have had an appropriate anatomical reaction.

An old man and an old woman who have been married 50 years have sex on their anniversary and when he asks why they haven’t done this more often, she makes a remark suggesting that she has, but with one of his relatives.

And my favorite: Two Jews walk into a bar.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Even if you try to keep a low profile these days, the strike permeates your life. You can’t swing a dead cat on Ventura Boulevard or a spent Botox needle in Beverly Hills without hitting someone who’s been effected. From people on the business side who think the writers are insane and greedy, to agents who regret that it’s come to this, to producers who’ve been booted out of their studio deals, and writers, working and not, who range from philosophical to pissed. It’s already an open vein.

Then I got a guild email suggesting I inform on anyone I know who’s writing during the strike. Anonymously. And online @ www.ratbastard/scab/ It had an eerie HUAC ring to it. Are you now or have you ever been paid for writing under the table? C’mon. Time will tell whether this will be a noble effort or a fool’s errand but if you’re going to ask people to stop working and stop pursuing work at least have the decency to trust them.

And then there’s the nearly endless stream of analysis from every POV. One I found most interesting was the notion that, thanks to the strike, the networks will be released from the burden of having to make all these expensive pilots. First of all, there’s no law stating networks need to develop comedies and dramas. They could jettison both formats tomorrow from their development slate and only do reality. But they don’t because, despite the failure rate, it’s financially beneficial to continue to roll the dice with scripted shows. Especially now that networks have ownership of those shows. Because scripted programming syndicates. Comedies better than dramas. I’ve yet to turn on late-night TV and watch an episode from the second season of Survivor or American Idol. But Seinfeld is still there. These shows have been worth aftermarket billions. I don’t think they’ll suddenly be devalued due to a new delivery system. People like stories. People like to laugh. Internet streaming is not going to change that. And they will find a way to charge for it. (It would be nice if the two parties could agree on a formula today to cover that eventuality instead of bleeding the town dry, but the business has never been predicated on “nice.”)

That’s why it’s not surprising to read the article in today’s Variety -- NETWORKS GO TO BACK-UP PLAN -- STRIKE TRIGGERS DEPLOYMENT OF PILOTS detailing the pilots that have already been shot or the pre-ordered scripts that are “ready to go.” Some interesting shows, along with the usual cops, doctors and aliens. But it’s not all reality, all the time. And I assume the networks have a strategic plan behind the stockpiling of material. But I would ask them the same annoying question writers get asked in every single pilot pitch meeting: “What’s episode two?” And, as a follow-up: “Who’s writing it”…And “Who’s re-writing it?” Maybe the plan is to clean house of costly overall deals while keeping the wheels greased so the Fall schedules can still be announced in May, with writers going back in June. Assuming this doesn’t last that long. And that the actors don’t go out. And the town doesn’t go to shit.

And as for the lame signs and slogans. I found a picture of myself and some friends marching outside Fox in 1988. We were holding the same exact WGA ON STRIKE signs with the lightning bolt. Bad graphics then. Bad graphics now. There’s only one sign the writers should carry -- a blank one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


In 1988, after years of spec work in New York, I finally sold a script and got to LA with an overall deal at a studio. I'd only been in the Guild about a year when they called for a strike. At the time I thought "fuck, I don't want to leave. I like this work." I had no sense of Guild history and frankly didn't give a shit. I'd finally gotten a break.

Then I went back to NY and attended a WGA East meeting at the Hilton. I didn't want the damn strike and was prepared to open my mouth and say so. Then Budd Shulberg got up and spoke about previous strikes, and all the sacrifices. He wrote On The Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd. I'd optioned a silly broad comedy spec. Thankfully, I was smart enough to take a quick lesson in Guild history and keep my mouth shut.

When I got back to LA the Guild said walk, so I walked. Did the picket line at Fox. Not the most attractive picket line, either. For that you want SAG. Solidarity was one thing. Who didn't hire whom and who hated whose script was another. Lots of suspicious eyeballing as we marched up and down Pico. During the 5 1/2 months, I burned through all my savings. Thirty thousand dollars. More money than I'd seen in my life. After getting Force Majeured out of the remainder of my studio deal, I luckily got a TV job two weeks later and it's been pretty steady ever since. More or less. But the whole time, I have been grateful for the minimums, the residuals, the health plan and the pension. Things I know we would never have if they had to come via studio good will.

Still, as that strike plodded on, I remember thinking, despite all the posturing, the accusations of greed and intransigence, that each side probably had its secret bottom line right from the start. Their real fallback positions. And I think they do now. So before everyone who makes their living off movies and TV -- in the business or alongside it -- starts to bleed, why not get there now?

I've been around writers for 20 years. We're not greedy people. We have agents for that who try to capitalize on whatever opportunities we get. Although some of us are incorporated, we're not vertically integrated. We don't have board members. We're not publicly traded. We don't have stock prices that fluctuate or stockholders who get frustrated. Although we come together at times like this, we spend most of our professional lives in competition with one another for jobs, assignments, and opportunities. One writer's "go" pilot is another one's pass. That tends to make us very nervous and ultimately, very pragmatic people.

Yet, if it comes to a strike, we'll strike. And we'll be united, somewhere between brothers and sisters in arms, and the coalition of the selfish. But I would ask everyone at the studios if it is really necessary? In 1988 cable was an unproven commodity. I think it's now on its feet. And it seems the whole DVD thing is catching on. Frankly, if the movie and TV business were so unprofitable, you wouldn't be in it. You know what it would take to settle this now. Proportionally, it can't be that much more, based on what you earn. It would be a crime for the entire city to suffer for another 22 weeks, only to have the two sides reach an agreement they could have reached 22 weeks earlier. Consider all the lost homes. The bankruptcies. The failed businesses. All that misery.

Maybe you think writers exist somewhere on the food chain between a regrettable necessity and a necessary evil. But we are not the enemy. We're your partners. We're your neighbors. Our kids go to the same schools. I know reasonableness and compassion are hardly a corporate strategy but, really, is the few extra bucks on the bottom line worth all the pain? There is, and always has been, enough for everybody.

Now, the directors -- those are some greedy bastards.