Thursday, December 12, 2019

"Looking Behind The Curtain - Part... I No Longer Recall What"

Having an assiduous housekeeper, while I had lunch, she threw my supporting evidence away.  

I was going to count the number of words I changed from my most recent post’s first  draft and deduct that from the number of words in the final version of the post, giving you an idea of exactly how much I change from what I originally put down. 

Since those wastebasketed drafts were tossed out, let me give you a “ballpark” idea on this matter.

I change a whole lot.

(Note:  During subsequent drafts, I continue to rewrite, each revision including progressively fewer changes, until I am unable to see how to make the thing better, and then I stop.  Although sometimes, I come back, later that day when a break inspires me to further improvements, sometimes days later, and sometimes after the post has already been published.  I know that sounds strange, but I have this need to make my work better. 

Even after it matters.

But let me return to the point.

“Because you promised to write shorter.”

That’s right.

Okay, here’s an embarrassing confession.

When I compose my first draft I actually believe “This is it.”  This is “perfection.”

Lemme tell you something.

I have to date written more than 3000 posts.  

The first draft has not once been “perfection.”

In fact, it’s not unusual – as Tom Jones would say –  for me to rewrite more than half of what I originally put down. 

Let us consider that a moment.

More than half of what I originally written was thrown out.  Leaving me wondering,

What exactly was I thinking!?!

“That what you put down was ‘perfection.’”

When it was not even close!

“Yup.  Do you feel silly?”


Sending me on to write more drafts.

A Short But Interesting Side Trip:  That seems to be my style.  My mistake, however, was when I was collaborating with others, I thought it was everyone’s style.  It wasn’t.  They’d pitch a rewrite night joke and it came out, word for word, just right.  I’d try to improve it – because that’s what successfully works for me – and be told, “Leave it alone.”  That’s what I did not understand.  For them, the first try’s the best.  For me, it is sometimes the fifth.

There is a key purpose to a truly horrible first draft.

Bringing us to the venerable show biz direction:

“Just give me something to hate.”

An odd request.  Although without it, you’re nowhere.

Ponder this onerous tableau. 

You have a script or simply a blog post to write.  You sit facing a blank screen, or a page full of whiteness.  You stare into that “empty”, knowing something’s expected to go on there, and realizing the person responsible for doing that is you.

Whoa.  I kind of froze up just mentioning that.  And for good reason.

There is nothing on the page, and your assigned task is to put something there?  Well I’ll tell ya.

It is not going to happen unless you loosen the reins.


By substantially “lowering the bar.”

From “Write something perfect.”

Which nobody can do. 


“Just give me something to hate.”

Which can be accomplished by anyone.

I mean, how hard is it to write something that’ll stink up the place? 

Not hard at all.  Believe me.  I’ve done it.

The first draft is the springboard.  You move onward from there till you’re done,  throwing the evidence of failure away.

Nobody saw Shakespeare’s first drafts.

Most likely it was,

“To be or not to be.  What should I do?”

The Bard allowed himself something to hate, moving from that pedestrian
putrescence till the right line eventually showed up.  (Although frankly, I
think he could have done better.  You ask a question, and then say, “That is the
question”?  I would kind of expect better.)


Having completed “Step One”, it is now time to dig in.

Although at this moment, I think my first draft is actually quite good.
Follow-up Comment:  It wasn’t.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"The FLC"

This one’s been stuck in my craw for twenty years.  Maybe it is time it comes out.

For me, casting shows is horribly painful.  Your “Final Selection” – making you arguably responsible for the consequent suffering – tells everyone rejected, “Not you.“

Actors have ways of assimilating such abuse, the traditional rationale being, “I guess the went another way.”  They did.  The way far away from you.

Okay, so here’s the story.

While consulting on a show the producers graciously include me in the casting process, a vital component to the success of a project.  (See:  Christopher Walken as Mr. Rogers.)   

Having read the material, the casting director brings in an array of “Choices”, who we see in succession, hoping one of them will miraculously “click.”  If they don’t, we keep going. 
After a succession of candidates, an actor comes in, who seems to be too old for the part.  It is hard to explain why she was there.  Maybe the casting director believes her superior acting skills merits her “long-shot” inclusion.  Maybe it’s a creative “leap” in the direction of “going the other way.”   Maybe it is some kind of a “favor.”

Or maybe it’s a mistake.  (Which she must have suspected, surrounded by a gathering of younger auditioners.)

There is the inevitable chit-chat before getting to work.  An actress’s name comes up in some context.  To which the auditioner sardonically replies,

“Boy, she’s in the “F**kin’ Lucky Club.”

None of us is familiar with that reference.  So she explains.

A member of the “F**kin’ Lucky Club” is an actor with no visible ability who finds  success in the business regardless, and become stars.

Apparently, actors with recognized “chops” but struggling careers gave the grating syndrome a name:

Those fortunate “No-Talents” are the unworthy members of the “Bleepin’ Lucky Club.”

The auditioner performs the material.  She’s okay but not great.  “Thanks for coming.”  And she’s gone.

Almost immediately it’s like,

“What was that about!”

The consensus answer is “bitterness.”

Understandable after years of “Not you”, but still.

Somehow I take this misplaced eruption – totally appropriate at a table of lunching out-of-work actors – personally, a poke at people like us who have deprived her of the career she meritoriously deserves.  My reflexive response is “acerbic attack.”

Pretending she is still in the room, I “mock advise” the angry auditioner,

“Could you come back twenty years ago?”  

I know.  It was terrible.  But, in fact, it gets worse.

Fueled by vituperative pique, I said it too loud. 

And a little too soon.

After twenty years, I wonder if, while in the Waiting Area, she had somehow overheard what I had said.

I have carried that inexcusability around for some time.  How I wish I could take it back.

When those less worthy were welcomed, she was outside, watching the “F**kin’ Lucky Club” rejoice.

Surely that was punishment enough.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Comedian Victor Borge had a joke about his luckless inventor brother who came up with the soft drink “Six-Up.”

It can happen in writing. 

Lemme go “the other way” first. 

You can look it up.

100 Greatest Movie Quotes

And there you have it.  Lines that have lasted throughout the ages.


Sometimes you “miss”, producing the dialogal equivalent of “Six Up.”


Because nobody’s perfect.  (Which I just proved by typing “Nogody’s perfect.”)

Because you had a bad writing day.  (Or a bad day that affected your writing.)

Because you thought you “had it”, but you didn’t.

The network or studio told you, “Do this!”

Or you just ran out of time.

For whatever reason, somehow, you missed glorious perfection by “this much” – or in some cases more – leaving the world not with resonating quotations but instead less classic alternatives.

Such as,

“Show me the contract!  (Jerry Maguire)

“Go ahead.  Make my week.”  (Sudden Impact)

“Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a hoot.  (Gone With the Wind)  (Legion of Decency “suggestion.”)

Then there was,

“Bond.  James Bond… is what they call me.”  (Some James Bond movie, or maybe a book.  I don’t know, okay?  Now, back to the missteps.)

“Hey, Adrian!”  (Rocky)

“I’ll be back again.”  (The Terminator.)

“We will make him an offer he’ll be dying to refuse.  You get it?”  (The Godfather)

“We’ll always have Europe.”  (Casablanca)

“Fasten your seatbelts.  We are headed for turbulent terrain.  (All About Eve) 

“You can’t process the truth!”  (A Few Good Men)

“If you build it, they’ll play baseball on it.”  (Field of Dreams)

“Fasten your seatbelts.  We are headed for some turbulent terrain.”  (All About Eve) (Not bad till you hear the actual one.)

“Oh Toto.  There’s no place like Kansas.”  (The Wizard of Oz)

“I have always relied on the generosity of strangers.”  (A Streetcar Named Desire)  (So close.)

“Houston?  Get ready for a really loud crash.”  (Apollo 13)

“Is that a pencil in your pocket or are you sexually excited?”  (She Done Him Wrong)

I told you they weren’t easy. 

Got any “near misses” of your own?

Monday, December 9, 2019

"The Luckiest Man In The World"

I was reminded of something, reading a book. 

I guess reading’s not so bad. 

I am rarely reminded of anything, watching TV.  Except,

“You could be reading a book.”

A murder mystery by Anthony Horowitz was recommended to me.  Anthony Horowitz created, among other British TV mysteries, Foyle’s War, which had been one of our favorites, so I thought I would give it a try. 

(Blogger’s Tip:  Stick with Donna Leon)

The “conceit” of The Word is Murder is that screenwriter Anthony Horowitz is co-opted to write a book concerning a (fabricated) “real-life murder.”  Which he proceeds to do.  (Following a murder investigation, and writing a book.)

Comparing the “real life” crime scene with “one I had myself manufactured” got him to thinking on page 46,

“Being the writer on a set is a strange experience.  It’s hard to describe the sense of excitement, walking into something that owes its existence entirely to what happened inside my head.”                          
Which then got me to thinking,

“Well said.”

As I can tell you, dear readers, I have had that experience, and it’s true.

Best of the West.

The first TV show I had ever created. 

I remember the moment.

I head down to the set for a runthrough, walk onto the soundstage,

And there it is.

The saloon.  The General Store.  The sod cabin. 

Somebody else built them. 

But first, I had created them in my head.

I imagined the completion of Disneyland, feeling, in my small way, like Walt.

I’d wander from place to place, thinking, “This is me.  This is me.  This is me.” 

Then I heard someone, reading my mind. 

It was my boss Ed. (“Allow me the affection”) Weinberger, who said very loudly of me,

“There goes the luckiest man in the world.”

Then went on to explain why.

“He got to make exactly the show he wanted to make.”

He was right.  (And, it appeared, envious.)

Seven years into my career, an ABC executive who’d invited my to breakfast asked me, “What show do you most passionately like to create?” I immediately blurted, “A comedy western.”

And there it was. 

A breakfast blurt, come magically to life.

Ed. Weinberger had enormous success in television.  But he made shows that seemed likely to sell.

While I made my dream.

“The luckiest man in the world”?

I don’t know about that.

But when I walked through that set,

I felt like it.