Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"When Cable News Actually Broadcasts Some News"

Normally it’s just “filler” until the election. 

Let me tell you about an event so deliciously special it remains carefully secured in the Safety Deposit Box of my mind.

Sometimes, I wonder if the cable news community secretly reveres this incendiary confession, or if they are horrified by it, or both, sneaking out a “bootleg” copy of the tape for “subversive viewing”, or at Christmas parties, and then stashing it away, fearing its general promulgation would send the entire cable news operation crashing down around their heads.

It probably wouldn’t.  But why take chances?  You get free clothes and meet attractive commentators.  Too “catty”?  Probably, yeah.)

Okay, here’s the story.  Tell everyone you know.  This deserves widespread distribution.  Unavailable at this venue.

It concerns the late John McLaughlin, host of the longtime, cable political slugfest The McLaughlin Group.  McLaughlin was probably in his late seventies when he said this, giving credence to the saying I am inventing on the spot:

In Senility Veritas.

(Or maybe it was powerful medication?)

(Or maybe he was simply finally “coming clean.”)

Here’s the situation.

Liberals and conservatives are ferociously attacking each other, as was traditional on The McLaughlin Group, screaming, spitting and vituperating, the “debate” ascending to a cacophonic crescendo.  Moderator McLaughlin breaks in to restore order.  Drawing on decades of experience, in his trademark stentorian delivery, John McLaughlin capsulizes the conversation thusly:

“The question is not (concerning the issue under discussion) ‘Is it good for the “Left” or is it good for the “Right”?’  The question is….

“Is it good for our show?

The panelists immediately turn white, for the first time, uncharacteristically speechless.

That’s one example.

More recently, a couple of weeks ago, the intervening period between this and the story I have just related being… maybe fifteen years?… I am guessing here, because I was not aware there would be such an enormous gap before cable news said anything newsworthy again and I neglected to keep track.

Alex Wagner, had a regular hosting gig on MSNBC but now doesn’t – possibly due to a propensity for candid remarks, although the following  “boat rocking” assertion could have equally been “sour grapes” because they canned her; these things can legitimately go in either direction.  (Nah, it was probably just bad ratings.)

It’s some backwater Sunday afternoon cable news program.  Nobody’s watching because there’s football.

The subject at hand is candidate Donald Trump’s latest “shooting himself in foot” – the man has shot himself in the foot so many times, he is now relegated to shooting himself in the calf.  (I’m not sure about that one.)   

This happened a couple of weeks ago, making it four weeks before the election.  The Access Hollywood “They let me do it because I’m a star” video has just emerged and the guest expert political operative on the show – a Republican – has just declared, as a result of this damaging revelation:

“The election is over.”

To which invited commentator Alex Wagner responds,

“Then what are we doing here?”

The show’s host almost swallowed his microphone.  (Unused to hearing the truth on his TV show.)

That’s the second example.  In fifteen years.

It is not news that cable news is a business.

It is news when they acknowledge it on the air.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"the Good Husbamd"

Saturday October 22nd, 2016.

My hometown team had already been eliminated, the Toronto Blue Jays sent on immediate vacation by the Cleveland Indians, the Indians advancing to the World Series.  There had been the worrisome possibility that my hometown team would end up meeting Dr. M’s hometown team the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.  So we dodged the connubial bullet on that one.

But there was still the Los Angeles Dodgers, my adopted home team whom – “which”, “that, I have no idea – I had followed since my L.A. arrival in 1974 and whose whipsawing up’s and down’s I had endured throughout this entire Division-winning season.

Vying for the right to meet the Indians in the “Fall (bordering on winter) Classic”, the Dodgers were squaring off in a “Best-of-Seven” series against the Cubs.

I did not anticipate a problem.  Dr. M does not normally follow baseball (or any other sport.)  We did go to a Cubs game in Spring Training in Arizona last March, from which her strongest recollection of the experience was the authentic Portillo’s “Italian Beef” sandwich she enjoyed, shipped in directly from Chicago.  She rooted a little, but mostly not to be bored.  And not think about another “Italian Beef” sandwich.

The Dodgers-Cubs playoffs arrive.  I look beside me and there she is – uncharacteristically, to say the least – watching the games with me.  And reminder, “tick-tick-tick”…

We are not rooting for the same team.    

Now you have to be sensitive with Cubs fans.  They had not won the World Series since 1908, or even participated in the World Series since 1945.  (Longtime Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse once philosophically opined, “Any team can have a bad century.”)

They came close a couple of times, but something inevitably transpired, enabling the Cubs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Is that right?  What I am saying is, they always lost.

This experience can take its toll on people. 

Consider Dr. M’s inability to remain in the room during “Game 4”, a game the Cubs were at the time leading 10 to 2.  Battered by history, she fervently believed the roof was about to imminently cave in.  

They’re leading 10 to 2, for heaven’s sake.  And she is unable to stay in the room!

The League Championship Series proceeds, the Cubs enjoying a three-games- to-two series lead.  Implication to the uninitiated:  The Cubs need to win one more game to advance to the World Series.  For them to advance, the Dodgers have to win both “Game Six” and “Game Seven.” 

The subject of baseball comes up as we lunch with friends before “Game 6”, and I hear Dr. M sagely – and pessimistically – observe:

“We probably won’t win ‘Game 6.’  Kershaw is pitching for the Dodgers.”

My head whips around to confirm who said that.  It appears some baseball “insider” has taken over my wife’s body.

“Look who knows ‘Kershaw’!” I exclaim in shock, confusion, admiration and surprise, not necessarily in that order. 

At which point a woman from a nearby table chimes in,

“That’s because he’s cute.”

It’s true – Kershaw is cute.  But I believe Dr. M’s trepidations about Kershaw taking the mound for “Game 6” relate to his exceptional ability as a pitcher, which Dr. M suddenly knows enough about to be seriously concerned.  My astonishment could not have been more genuine.

When had the woman I love become part of the “baseball cognoscenti”?

Saturday night.

We are home, anticipating “Game 6”, enjoying baseball-appropriate cuisine of hotdogs and (now a stadium staple) garlic fries.  I have also slipped across the street to the nearby convenience store, supplementing our resonant repast with a large bag of (in the shell) salted peanuts. 

The game begins.  I am determined to be a good husband.  Though I am inwardly churning for the Dodgers, I adopt – for her sake – an external demeanor of “Que Sera Sera.”  Cubs win?  That’s fine.  It isn’t, but that’s the kind of marital partner I am.

Cubs jump ahead, 2-0 in the first inning.  Dr. M, cellphone in hand, “texts” continually back and forth with her younger brother, living in Chicago.  Every time the Cubs do something good, I hear the telltale “woop” of mutually congratulatory communications.

The Cubs score two? – a “woop” from her brother, a return “woop” from Dr. M.  They score again in the second – a “woop” and a “woop.”  An additional run in the fourth – “Woop” – Woop.”  Another run in the fifth – “Woop” and then “Woop.”

I am quietly going crazy.  Not just because we are down 5 to 0 in the determining game of the series but because of those infuriating “woops”, cell-e-phonically rubbing it in.

“You’re losing” – “Woop.”

“You’re losing more” – “Woop” – “Woop.”

I say nothing about the “woops”, though they are killing me worse than the game.  It’s just a “text noise.”  But timed to when the Dodgers are in trouble, it feels very much like they’re gloating.

The game ends.  The Cubs are victorious. 

“Woop” – “Woop” – “Woop” – “Woop” – “Woop” – “Woop” – “Woop!”

Disheartened by the defeat, I have nobody to “woop”… even if I knew how.  No one to commiserate with, while brother and sister “Woop woop woop” all over the place!  Okay, their team hasn’t appeared in the World Series for seventy-one years.  But what about us?  We haven’t been in the World Series since 1988. 

That’s a long time! 

Eminently gracious to the end, I tell her, “Text your brother, ‘Go Cubbies!’”  Do I mean it?  What’s the difference? 

I’m a good husband, dammit!

And that’s what we do!

Monday, October 24, 2016

"How (I Think) It Works (With 'I Think' In Brackets Because I Am Never Entirely Certain)"

This is a preamble that I sense will expand into a “thing”.  Not a big thing, by which I mean not a long thing but still big, wherein “big” means “significant” rather than extended.   Though I should move this along before it ends up being both.

I shall start with the “What I Learned As A Television Writer” version, providing credibility to what would otherwise be a dismissible “Who cares what you have to say?” personal opinion.  (AKA – virtually everything I have written to date.)

Over the years trying to sell half-hour comedy series ideas to the networks, I came to realize and then had stitched on a “Sampler” and mounted prominently in my office – I actually didn’t but I should have – I have learned, then forgotten, then inevitably – and always painfully – relearned this unassailable lesson:

“What they (the network) has trouble with at the beginning is what they have trouble with at the end.”

What do I mean by that.

The network likes you.  You have a respectable reputation, earning you the opportunity to come in and pitch series ideas, maybe not to the network president, but to at least somebody in the building.  And they also validate your parking, so if you “strike out” with your pitch, you do not have to shell out (albeit a deductible) twelve bucks for the experience.

You come in and persuasively pitch your idea to the network.  It is perceived to have merit, and bolstered by your demonstrable track record, they say, “Okay”, meaning they order (authorizing payment) for a pilot script. 

Inevitably however, they have reservations.  Which fly obliviously over your head because they have already said, “Yes.”  (You would actually prefer to head off to work with a ringing “Vote of Enthusiasm.”  Unfortunately, their idea of encouraging cheerleading is a “Vote of Serious Concern.”)

Example of a network “reservation”:   

“We appreciated your pitch.  But there is a question whether your idea has ‘General Audience Appeal’.”  (At a time, with only three networks, “General Audience Appeal” was entire ballgame.  Niche Audience Appeal” was an unequivocal “Goodbye”… and hold on for Netflix.)

A couple of months later, you deliver your the finished pilot script.  Shortly thereafter, you get a call from the network:

“We had a meeting and decided not to move forward on the project.”

What happened? 

Sometimes, you ask, sometimes you don’t.  (Because who cares?  They are said, “No.”)  If you do ask, concerning the above-mentioned example, you hear this:

“We loved the writing.  But in the end, we believe your idea lacks “General Audience Appeal.”

Ring a bell?

Which – believe me – does not make it any easier. 

But there you have it.

What they said with at the beginning was what they said at the end. 

They may have enjoyed the writing, but they adamantly “stuck to their guns”, losing the writer time, precious hope and the illusion that a quality effort can alleviate all concerns. 

It can’t.

(A paralleling example on my way to what brought the subject to mind in the first place:


Am I wrong about this?

What was problematic at the beginning is problematic at the end.

“He had these stubby, little fingers.”

“She used to go up ‘on the end of every sentence’?”

You didn’t know it, but it was sadly over before it began.)

What specifically am I talking about today?

The Dodgers.

Who just lost to the Cubs who now advance to the World Series and the Dodgers won’t.

One hundred and sixty-two regular-season games, plus two series of playoffs.  And then they’re eliminated.  To understand their – to me, predictable – demise, you look to the “Day One” – and never ameliorated – deficiency of the team:

Not enough starting pitching.

A good team.  Hit a lot of home runs.  Played commendably in the field.  But anyone willing to face reality could see from the first day of Spring Training…

Not enough starting pitching. 

(And how could anyone have thought otherwise?  I’m no baseball genius.  The truth was staring you right in the face.  When they brought in a “Reliever” in the second inning.)

Nine months after the season began…

What was the deficiency at the beginning was the deficiency at the end. 

Look at that – it was a preamble that expanded into a thing.

Oh well. 

At least it didn’t come as a surprise.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"The Loftiest Accolade"

Somebody recently called me a genius.

Let’s let that sit there for a second. 


I like the sound of that.  And although in some contexts such an accolade might – stop it with the “might” – would be screamingly unwarranted, I most humbly acknowledge…

Not this time.

For in this case, as in no other I can think of or actually exists…

I am a genius.

I’m a genius.  I just am.

When somebody recently called me a genius, I appreciatively said, “Thank you.”  But “inside” there was another reaction:

“I know.”

What makes me a genius?

I concocted a theorem.  A dictum.  An axiom.  A truism.

One of those four.

Not only did I concoct a theorem, or one of the other three, which, by itself, would not qualify me as a genius…

It actually works.  (A surprising amount of the time.)  (Which does.)

Okay, no more stalling or pussyfooting around.  Here’s what it is:

You lost something and you can’t find it anywhere.  What I have discovered is:

“When something is not where you think it is, look for it where you think it isn’t.”

It’s as simple – and as genius – as that. 

On its face, it appears obvious.  You can’t find something where you imagine it might be, look in the other place:

Where you can’t imagine it might be. 


Because, after searching where you think it might be and not finding it…

That’s the only place that’s left.

What astonishes me is, if it’s so obvious, how come no one I am aware of, besides myself, ever does this?

They never look where they think the thing they lost isn’t.

Instead, they search multiple times where they think the thing should be and, on every occasion, they don’t find it.  Why do they keep doing that?  I have no idea.  The thing wasn’t there the first five times they looked there.  Why would it be there the sixth?  Or the sixtieth?

Okay, so a good friend of ours lost her sunglasses.  I don’t know about where you live, but in California, sunglasses are, as Joe Biden said about Obama passing health care, a big fucking deal.  People here would no more go outside without their sunglasses than they would go anywhere without a bottle of water, fearing certain dehydration and shriveling up like a raisin en route to their destinations.  The assumption appears to be:  No sunglasses; you go blind!

Plus, sunglasses are expensive.  (Although once I lost a pair of $8 sunglasses and I was equally distressed.  It’s not the price; it’s the sunglasses.  You lose your sunglasses in California and you somehow suddenly lose your mind.)

We had been invited to dinner.  Although always hospitable, our gracious hostess was, that night, uncharacteristically distracted.  You’d talk to her, and while pretending to listen, she was instead – and you could see it in her eyes – retracing her steps, reconstructing the scenario, searching for the moment when her indispensible sunglasses were no longer in her possession.

She remembered the places she had visited, calling them all, hoping somebody had found them.  But to no avail.  No one had seen her sunglasses.

After dinner, although it was dark – this is how desperate she was – she planned to – and subsequently did – literally “retrace her steps”, walking back to the local “convenience store”, in the “last ditch” belief that her errant sunglasses had inadvertently slipped to the pavement and she would discover them on the ground, waiting for her.

That’s when I mentioned my theorem, or whatever.

“When something is not where you think it is, look for it where you think it isn’t.”

Her reaction was polite.  But I could tell she was skeptical.  Not hostilely skeptical, as in,

“Why don’t I look for them in China?  I’m almost certain they’re not there!

But benignly skeptical, as in,

“‘Look where I think they aren’t.  I’d have no idea where to start.”

An understandable reaction.  My proposal seemed not only nonsensical but functionally impractical.  “Looking where you think it isn’t” That’s an awful lot of places to look.  On the other hand, how much sense does it make to look for something where you were unable to find it before?  As in, “The tenth time is charm.”

Anyway, I suggested what had worked for me, and we said goodbye.

The next day, I get a call:

“You’re a genius!’

What happened?

She had looked for her sunglasses where she believed they weren’t – in her laundry basket…

… and there they were!

Postscript:  You might think that was an accident.  What can I tell you? 

Except this.

Last night, I had dinner with my friend Paul at a Chinese restaurant, where I took home the leftovers.  We then proceeded to a bookstore, where I purchased a “Book-On-CD” – Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake” – after which we “Ubered” home to our respective domiciles.

This morning, I was unable to find my “Book-On-CD.”  I immediately took stock.  Had I left it behind at the bookstore?  Had I forgotten it in the “Uber” car?  Had it slipped out on my way into the house? 

I had drunk alcohol.  Anything was possible.

Before retracing my steps, I recalled my own dictum, taking a chance on a long shot unlikelihood. 

And it worked.

I found my “Book-On-CD” (with my Chinese food leftovers)…

… in the refrigerator.


What can I tell you? 

It fits.