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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Quieting Free Speech"

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protesting what he – and others –  perceive as unaddressed racial inequity in this country is refusing to stand during the national anthem before football games. 

Kaepernick’s behavior is permitted by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, protecting free speech – defining certain “actions”, for example burning the American flag, as included elements of free speech.

What does it mean that certain behavior is “protected”? 

It means you cannot be arrested for engaging in it. 

That’s it.

Beyond that, it is “Katie, bar the door!”

Ask Natalie Maines, lead singer of “The Dixie Chicks” who proclaimed onstage that she was ashamed that (then) president George W. Bush was from Texas and her career suffered irreversible battering.  

Ask Eugene V. Debs, an early unionist (Oy!) and eventual Socialist (double Oy!), jailed for protesting America’s entry into World War I.  (Although he’s dead, and you’ll have to wait until later if death works that way and people are hanging around somewhere so you can talk to him.  Assuming Mr. Debs is still interested.  I mean, “I’m dead.  Do we really have to go into that?”  While you’re at it – because you are not all that busy when you’re dead… I imagine – ask the convicted felons of the “Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1798, which forbade, under punishment of imprisonment, well… free speech, a mere ten years after they passed a constitutional amendment saying it was protected.  (Maybe they had simply “moved on.”  “‘Free Speech.’  That is so 1780’s.”)

The Early Americans were statistically shorter than us.  I did not realize they had shorter memories as well. 

Allow me, before I begin writing in my own words again, to quote Mark Twain, tackling the “downside” of free speech, published – by deliberate design – posthumously:

“In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind the fact that I am speaking from the grave.  I am literally speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book issues from the press… I speak from the grave rather than from my living tongue, for a good reason:  I can speak thence freely…. It had seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead, and unaware, and indifferent.”

Twain’s Cautionary Warning:  In the matter of free speech while you are alive?  As they say in California,


So there’s that documented impediment – you speak freely and things change for you and your loved ones in a distinctly negative direction. 

Americans are by nature and temperament a reasonable people, not oblivious to core intentions fitting uncomfortably together.  “You are free to say whatever you want.”  And “We are free to make you pay for it for the rest of your life.”  A smart chipmunk can see the practical difficulty in that.    

Though apparently not the sitting members of the House Un-American Activities Committee of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. 

To name just one group of constitutional amnesiacs.

There is, however, a more subtle strategy for shutting people up, one leaving no embarrassing “giveaway signs” of blatant hypocrisy or the traditional tar and feathers.

The alternate strategy which I call, because I can’t think of what else to call it:

“The Closer Downer.”

You invalidate the utterer of unpopular – or at least unwelcome – pronouncements with labels indicating a deficiency not in their pronouncements – because that takes wisdom and work, and besides, people are free to say whatever they want to – but because of their political, cultural or temperamental affiliations, disqualifying their opinions because, based on the labeling, “What else were they going to say?”

(Note:  I am not talking about pejorative characterizations – like “idiot” or “nincompoop” – but ones that are discernably trickier to dispute.) 

Consider this (admittedly incomplete) list of characterizations capable of stopping a contrarian conversationalist’s momentum dead in its tracks.  (“Contrarians” in both directions, positive and negative.  Oh, and in the “muddled middle”, of course, as well.)

Somebody makes an assertion you diametrically disagree with.

You immediately call them:



Irretrievably brain-washed

Overly simplistic

An irredeemable optimist

A dispiriting pessimist

An insufferable “numbers cruncher.”

An equivocating fence sitter.



A killjoy  (Or, more colorfully, “Captain Bring-Down”)


Out of touch with reality

A “bleeding heart” liberal

An uncaring conservative


Painfully out of touch

A dreamer

To name just eighteen of them.

How do you successfully counter these critiques?

“No, I’m not!”

They’d just append another word to the opprobrium:


You may fight back, proudly and persuasively, but for all intents and purposes, the conversation is over.  If you’re smart, you heave a surrendering sigh and you look for your coat.

The “free speech ”exterminator.

Highly effective.

And there is nobody to blame.

Except the speaker themselves.

For foolishly opening their mouths in the first place.

Before they were dead.