Friday, November 28, 2008

"The Formula For Success"

The formula for success.

What about it?

What do you think it is?

I don't know.

How about "thinking big"?

Okay. Let’s look at “thinking big.”

Lorne Michaels is a tremendous success. As long as I’ve known him, which goes back to the sixties, Lorne Michaels was always “thinking big.” (I’m grateful for that. I have no capacity for “thinking big” myself. Announcing to people that I have plans, with no certainty of their ever coming to fruition, seems embarrassing to me, not to mention a dangerous tempting to the Fates. Fortunately, Lorne Michaels was a natural at ”thinking big”, and by including me in his plans, his “thinking big” lifted my career as well. The lesson here? If you can’t “think big” yourself, hang around with somebody who can.)

Logic Time: Lorne Michaels “thinks big.” Lorne Michaels is a tremendous success.
“Thinking big” makes you a tremendous success.

The formula for success? “Thinking Big.”


Ehhhhhh…..(meaning, not so fast.)

There’s another guy who, for as a long as I’ve known him, has also had the capacity for “thinking big.” Big plans. Ambitious projects. Although his career has been steady, you could hardly claim, judging by his success level, that “thinking big” made him, in any way, big, because it didn’t.


“Thinking big” does not guarantee you’ll be big.

(“Thinking small”, however, unless you hang around with someone who “thinks big”– seems to guarantee that you won’t.)

The formula for success?

We’ll have to keep looking. *

* There may not actually be one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"A Special Treat"

Today, I deliver my blog into the capable hands of my daughter, Anna.


Last month my dad asked me to be a guest blogger on Halloween. Halloween is by far my favorite holiday and boy, do I have some good stories to tell. Sadly my October 31st this year was hijacked by the Target Christmas campaign, when I decided to take a two-week assignment as the assistant wardrobe stylist.

So maybe next year, he will give me a second chance to tell you my stories of failed homemade costumes, the neighbors whose decorations made kids come from other neighborhoods just to see their creations, and which types of candy I prefer (and its not Tootsie Rolls).

So here I am on my dad’s blog, on Thanksgiving week, guest blogging about my second favorite holiday. Why do I love Thanksgiving? First reason is stuffing. The best food there is. And this holiday guarantees that I will be eating it.

Second reason, pie. Unlike the first reason, I like pie because I get to make it, and I am good at it. Ever since I can remember, I was helping my mom bake the pies on Thanksgiving. When mom was the reigning pie baker of the kitchen, we would make pumpkin pie and apple pie. We’d make the crust from scratch and those who have made piecrust know that it requires a certain touch.

When I took over the task of making the pies on my own, I discovered I had this touch. I used the tricks I learned from my then hero, Martha Stewart, to master the art of moving the crust from the table into the pie pan without the crust cracking. The thing about crust is it seems easy. Its just flour, a pinch of sugar, butter, and water (some may dispute this and say there is an egg involved, but not in my pies).

The reality of making piecrust is that one wrong move, and it all falls apart. Too much flour, its too dry; too much water, and it turns into paste; the butter has to be chilled or else it won’t sick together, you overwork it and its ruined.

As the pie baker, I also got to choose which types I made. I replaced the apple pie with chocolate pecan, sorry dad. And the rest was history. Every year I make my Pomerantz award winning pies. That’s a title I gave myself, there has never been a contest involved.

Third reason I look forward to Thanksgiving is the company. There are only four “regulars” at our Thanksgiving table: My mom, dad, sister, and me. The rest of the chairs are filled with a revolving door of guests who have either come there to try my award winning pies they have heard so much about, or they’ve got no other place to go. As I said before, the title was self-proclaimed, so the latter reason stands to be the truest.

We have tried to establish traditions at our Thanksgiving table but none of them have ever stuck, except for the big papier-mache turkey in the middle of the table. (I used to ride it when I was little.)

The past few years, the Tellers have been our Thanksgiving companions. Morgan-Jo Teller is my best friend from Sarah Lawrence College. Her posse consists of her dad, 2 brothers, and her older brother’s girlfriend who happens to work as a clown at parties.

Their tradition is that they preorder the collectable Jones’ Cola Thanksgiving Edition, and bring them as an offering to our Thanksgiving feast. You might not be familiar with Jones’ Cola, but this special collection of beverages contains flavors like “Mashed Potato Ale” and “Turkey.” I have never before or after seen my dad make the face that he did after sampling the “Gravy Soda.”

Unfortunately the Teller’s have moved back to New York and we are left alone at our table again.

Or so we thought...

Cousin Michael called and asked if he, his wife and their 2 kids could come out from New York and spend Thanksgiving with us. Yes! Not only is Michael one of my favorite cousins, but this means more people to admire my pie-baking skills. Also my 97-year-old grandmother recently moved here from Chicago, so she will be joining us as well. This incited my uncle Shelly and his wife Pamela, to fly in from Chicago and also be in attendance.

Then, my boyfriend Colby decided he wouldn’t be heading back to Ohio for this holiday season. So we invited his family here. Adding his mom Deanna, dad Jim, sister Aliceson, her husband Chris, Colby’s brother Chad, and his fiancĂ© Jessica to our extendable table. My sister’s friend, Kelly, although Canadian and not a patriotic participant in this American holiday, will be there too. And so will my friends Conor and Kate, not to mention my roommate, Darren.

22 people! Our table’s not that big! So we’re renting two more. Brave “Dr. M” will be doing all the cooking, and my sister will be making a supplementary apple pie. Maybe my dad will tell you how it goes in his next post, but no promises.

Thanks everyone for reading and thanks dad for letting me be the first ever guest blogger! Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you will see me next Oct 31st with some spooky stories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"A Family Torn Asunder"

Cousin Michael and his spectacular family are visiting us for Thanksgiving. Michael, one of Dr. M’s Chicago cousins, was, from earliest days, one of my daughter, Anna’s, favorite relatives. Anna liked all her cousins, but for some reason, Michael held a special place in her heart.

There were fond memories of their horsing around in the back seat on car trips to our cabin in Michiana (sixty-five miles from Chicago), with Anna and Michael playfully reenacting the classic “Bart-Lisa” car trip scene from the Simpsons, popularly known as, “Ow! Quit it!” Cousin Michael grew up and became an attorney.

So here we go…

As part of the application process, Anna, wrote her college entrance essay on how much she admired Martha Stewart. Anna had always been a huge fan of Martha’s show, fascinated at the “Queen of Household Know-How’s” talents for cooking and crafts, and, I suspect, intrigued by a woman who was actually at home – although she wasn’t really at home, she was in a studio made up to look like her home. Regardless – the kid has a fantasy, you leave it alone.

Martha Stewart was the closest thing my daughter had to a hero – an accomplished woman who could make crepe paper flowers and decorate a wedding cake in thirteen minutes.

When Martha had her trouble with the law, Anna’s loyalty was put severely to the test. And not just the obvious test – the test of, “How do you feel when a person you admire is accused of a crime?” – that would have been easy, she’d have sided with Martha.

Anna’s challenge, however, was intensified by an ironic twist of fate only life itself could provide. It turned out that, who would be prosecuting Martha Stewart for her questionable insider trading activities?

Cousin Michael.


At the time, Cousin Michael worked in the U.S.Attorney’s office in New York City. It had fallen to him to prove Martha guilty, and put her in the slammer.

At first, Anna’s reaction to this uncomfortable turn of events seemed casual, almost flip. When asked what the appropriate bail would be for Martha Stewart, she immediately replied:

“Ten thousand brownies.”

As the trial date approached, there was an exchange of muted phone calls. Donning his “Attorney Hat”, Cousin Michael explained how it was unacceptable for people to lie to Federal agents. To which Anna plaintively whined,

“But it’s Martha.”

It was a terrible dilemma. Our family was caught in the crosshairs of history. However the world perceived the trial, for Anna it was:

"Martha Stewart versus Cousin Michael."

As a father, I stood helplessly on the sidelines, inwardly wailing, “Why is this happening!” Because of some stock crime that had nothing to do with us, my family had been torn asunder.

I imagined this was akin to what it was like during the Civil War, when one brother fought for the North, and the other for the South, though, in this case, Anna was fighting on both sides. And nobody was getting killed, and no slaves were being freed. But on a fundamental level, where analogies are cut a little slack, it was very much the same.

Anna’s reaction to the final verdict? She said she was proud of her cousin but sad for Martha. But I sensed in her a disquieting feeling of loss. Anna’s “perfect person” has been exposed as being flawed.

A matchless porcelain teacup had revealed a crack, a crack that despite the seven different varieties of “Super Glue” she has stored in her impeccably arranged “Crafter Cupboard”, even Martha Stewart could not mend.

READER ALERT: Tomorrow: My first ever guest blogger. Check it out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Real Truth"

I had this callus on the bottom of my foot, so I went to this foot doctor. Right away, I notice two things: The foot doctor’s waiting room is freezing. Also, every time I’ve had an appointment, I’ve always been the only patient there. He’s a good foot doctor, but I’m not sure he’s doing well. Either that, or his other patients died of pneumonia from the waiting room.


My foot problem reminded me of this play I studied when, after graduating from college, I attended the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA. I don’t remember the title of the play, or who wrote it – it wasn’t Brecht – but the class I was taking focused on German Expressionism, so it might be in that area. Maybe you can help me with this.

Don’t guess yet. I haven’t told you what the play is about.

The reason I love this play is because of its theme: “Things aren’t always what they seem.” That stuff’s interesting to me. I’m curious about the whole idea of what we know and how we know it. The message of the play is that the real explanation for something may be completely different from the explanation we’ve come to believe.

The play’s story is about Socrates. Its “payoff” has a greater impact if you’re familiar with Socrates’ philosophical M.O, but hopefully, you’ll enjoy the ride regardless.

Okay, so here’s the story:

Socrates, an Athenian, is a soldier, fighting in a war against Athens’ archenemy, Sparta. In this particular battle, Sparta is badly kicking Athens’ butt. The signal is given:

“Athenians – retreat!”

The Athenian army begins to fall back, Socrates along with the rest. Suddenly, Socrates steps on a giant thorn. He’s in agony. He falls to the ground on the spot, as the Athenian army continues to retreat.

The Spartans are advancing. Socrates is just sitting there. He can’t get up, ‘cause there’s a giant thorn stuck in his foot. It would kill him to walk on it.

The Spartan army reaches his position. Facing certain death, the seated Socrates starts hacking at the enemy with his sword, flailing away for all he’s worth.

The Athenians, now safely in retreat, look back onto the battlefield…and there’s Socrates. Fighting like a lunatic from a seated position. And he’s doing pretty well. Facing imminent annihilation, Socrates has become a wild man fighting machine, taking out Spartans left and right.

The Athenian army goes, “Look at that!”

And then goes…

“We can’t let Socrates sit there and take on the entire Spartan army by himself. Let’s go!”

The Athenians charge back onto the field, and with Socrates as their inspiration, they turn the tide of the battle, rout the Spartan army, and send them back where they came from, which, I imagine, was Sparta. Unexpectedly victorious, the Athenians lift Socrates off the ground and carry him away on their shoulders.


The Next Day.

Speeches and celebration. Athens has vanquished its enemy, it’s time to recognize its heroes. The biggest hero of them all?


The Boss Man Athenian speechifies:

“Socrates – hail, and way to go. For meritorious service to our beloved city-state of Athens, we wish to bestow upon you an honor. Please come onstage and receive your well-deserved medal for courage.”
Socrates is sitting in the first row, the giant thorn still embedded in his foot. Since the battle ended, he’s done no walking. People keep carrying him around on their shoulders.

He now faces a dilemma. To expose his condition would reveal his battlefield heroics to have been less a matter of bravery than of necessity, which is not as good. Some might feel he’d accepted the praise and recognition heaped upon him under false pretenses, and they might not be happy about it.

He couldn’t move and he couldn’t let on why. With this in mind, Socrates, remaining seated, addressed the assemblage.

“Fellow Athenians. I am honored to have been awarded this medal for courage, and am happy to come onstage to receive it. But before I do, allow me to ask you one question:

“What is courage?”

Thus began the technique known as the “Socratic Method”, devised less as a method of philosophic inquiry than to avoid walking on a foot that had a giant thorn stuck in it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Uncle Grumpy - On Race"

Here we go, boys and girls. It’s Uncle Grumpy – on race. Please, always remember. It’s Uncle Grumpy talking. Not me.

Uncle Grumpy. Not me.


My grandmother was left-handed. She told me how, when she was a kid, the teachers would strap her left hand to her side, and force her to write with her right hand.

Why did they do that? Because the culture of that time believed that left-handed people were biologically inferior. Worse than inferior. They were bad. Do you know what the Latin word for “left” is?


Left-handed people were considered to be sinister. Why? It was never explained.

Wherever you looked, the interests of left-handed people were ruthlessly ignored. The world belonged to the right-handed, and everything was tailored to their needs. Scissors. Can openers. Notebooks. (The coiled wire rubbed on the lefty’s arm.)

Negative messages insinuated themselves into the language. You’ve heard of a “left-handed” compliment? That is not a good compliment. “Southpaw?” I don’t know its derivation, but just the sound of it – “southpaw” – it doesn’t make you wish you’d been born one. In the reactionary culture of baseball, left-handed pitchers were viewed as unstable, bordering on crazy.

Left-handed children were stamped as a lower category of humanity, suffering treatment consistent with their status. Throughout in the culture, the message was crystal clear:

Right-handed. Good.

Left-handed. Bad.

At some point, maybe science had something to do with it, maybe folks just came to their senses, there was a liberating change. The “handedness” issue became irrelevant. It was as if a light had been turned on. “That stuff is all wrong!” People thought back on the demonization of the left-handed and it was like,

“What were we thinking?”

Finally they had realized the obvious: “Handedness” was something you were born with. Valuing one hand as being superior to the other hand was ridiculous.

After centuries of misbehavior resulting from a mistaken belief, the concept of “handedness” came to be seen as what it had always been:

A meaningless distinction.

I thought you were talking about race, Uncle Grumpy.

Uncle Grumpy?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"'English', Please"

Warning: Communication may be not as easy as it appears.

I had a girlfriend once. Terrific in multiple ways, but with a seriously limited understanding of baseball. I got an early tip-off to her constricted orientation to the game. She told me she had played softball a time or two, and I asked her,

“What position do you like to play?”

and she said,


A smile-inducing answer. But, strictly speaking, “batter” is not a position.

So I’m reading the “Sports Section” one morning, a report on the Dodger game of the night before. I announce to her excitedly – I know she had no interest and little understanding, but what can I do, she was the only other person in the room – that the ballgame had ended dramatically with a “Suicide Squeeze.”

And of course she asks me,

“What’s a ‘Suicide Squeeze’?”

I explain to her the intricacies of one of the most exciting plays in baseball, and, being of an inquisitive nature, and also polite enough to listen to the answer to a question she had asked, she takes it in.

Her curiosity is now piqued. When I finish the “Sports Section”, she picks it up, turns to the article I had just been reading, and she begins reading it herself.

She does not get far.

It turns out, that to a person, highly intelligent but a total stranger to baseball terminology, the report on the Dodger game is virtually undecipherable. She might as well have been reading Swahili.

Now let me be clear here. We are not talking about the esoterica of baseball regulations – the “Infield Fly Rule”, and the balk (I barely understand the balk). Nor are we in the area of baseballical poetics – “Chin music” and “the ‘Keystone’ sack.”

It’s a typical, everyday report. A pedestrian “covering of the game.” Children who follow baseball could easily breeze through this article.

Now remember, this is someone who has no knowledge of baseball terminology and has never followed the game.

The woman can barely understand a word, stopping repeatedly to ask for clarification.

“What’s a ‘fielder’s choice’?”

“What’s a ‘screaming liner to the gap’?”

“What’s a ‘message pitch’?”

“What’s a ‘seeing-eye double’?”

“What’s ‘The pitcher was cautioned for going to his mouth.’ What’s wrong with going to your mouth?”

On it went. And on, and on, and on.

“Why would the batter ‘choke up’?”

“What’s ‘a looper to left’?”

‘The infield played in.’ They’re the infield. Don’t they always play in?”

““What’s ‘stepped in the bucket’?”

“What’s ‘taking one for the team...'?”

My hands flew up in mock self-defense. It was raining down confusing clichés.

And ending with a flourish.

Reading from the article…

“‘The closer emerged from the bullpen, administering some high heat to shut the door and put out the fire.’

“The only words I understood in that were ‘the’, ‘from’, ‘some’, ‘and’ and ‘to.’”

I think about this a lot. An article about baseball (or a blog post about show business), generated for public consumption, written in the language we all grew up speaking, can unintentionally be composed in such a way that a regular person, with no mental deficiencies whatsoever, or even somebody really smart, can emerge after reading it with absolutely no idea of what you were talking about.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Questions from the 'Major Dad' Postings"

Today, I’m responding to questions about the Major Dad postings. What a day. After two hundred and something postings, I am finally interactive.
“Racicot” comments…

I know what you’re referring to here with “first time”, Earl – but I wonder when you go to pages, do you keep the “first joke” you write? Or do you work on each joke to find the best laugh?

We’re talking about two different things here. What I was referring to in my posting was a desire to capture the first moments in a situation or a relationship, the prototypes for the rest of the series. CBS suggested I save my Major Dad “first” story and use it later as a “flashback” episode. I objected to that for two reasons. One, it would deprive me of my most compelling story which I needed to get the pilot sold, and two, as far as mining the “funny” was concerned, “later” would be too late.

Now, to Racicot’s actual question. Sometimes, a joke comes out perfectly formed, like a beautiful, flawless pearl. I don’t know how it happens. It’s kind of magic. You know you’ve come up with one of those, because you’re amazed, and you’re laughing really hard, and so, if you pitched it in a rewrite room, is everyone else.

Sometimes, however, jokes are pitched where the concept is right, but the wording needs adjustment. Sometimes, this is subjective. The person who pitched the joke may think it’s right the way it is. Ken Levine ( refers to tampering with a joke that doesn’t need tampering with as “stabbing the frog.” Sometimes, you have to leave the frog alone. But sometimes, you can make the frog funnier. It’s a matter of judgment.

In terms of finding a funnier different joke, you’re always looking for a funnier joke. If you discover one, during the rewrite process, in your sleep, I often found one when I was going to the bathroom, in it goes. There is nothing sacred about a “first joke” unless it’s the best joke.

Or the “show runner” made it up.
“Gary Mugford” asks…

Was Shanna Reed aware of her controversial status? (Note: The network president didn’t want her for the part.)

I don’t think she was aware of it, but I can’t say for sure. No studio executive or writer on the show would have reason to mention it. You try to insulate actors from reality as much as possible. They’re extremely sensitive. More sensitive even than writers. I never knew that was possible.

(By the way, when a network executive opposes a choice you make and your choice turns out to be correct, you know what they always say afterwards? “I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong.” I often wonder if they mean it.)
“PP” offers what he calls “only technical questions”…

Sitcoms were shot on tape, right? “Major Dad” was a three-camera show…any idea what the shooting ratio was?

Major Dad was shot on film. Not only do I not know what the “shooting ratio” was, I am not really clear on what a “shooting ratio” is. I am not technical. I am hanging onto this blog by my fingernails.

How did you handle having to do multiple takes of jokes?

Sometimes, the audience were troupers, and they laughed just as hard through the subsequent takes. (As a warm-up man, I always encouraged them to do that, as an “acting exercise.”) Sometimes, if a scene had to be re-shot, we would clip out the laugh from the original “take” and glue it to the “take” we decided to use. Also, sometimes, this is where the “laugh track” came in, to supplement a deteriorating laugh, caused not by of unfunniness, but by repetition. On rare occasions, we would change the joke for the subsequent “take”. If we nailed it, the laugh would be huge.

You shot every episode in one day? How long was the day? How long was the audience there for? How much time rehearsing without the audience present?

We shot every episode in an evening, usually starting around seven. The filming ran about three to four hours. The audience stayed through the duration of the filming (unless they came on a bus, and it had to leave, like, at nine – which we hated.) We rehearsed for five days, the last two with cameras. How’s that, “PP”?
“JGCii” has concerns about “finding the right person for a role that isn’t particularly flattering”…

I’m thinking of Gunny. She’s talented, she’s good at what she does, but she’s plain…Does she come into casting, knowing how she looks?

Yes. Actors have mirrors. In this particular situation, the actress was solicited specifically for the role, because of her talent and her look, though at some point – call it a persona – the two elements become one.

Every actor who comes through the door is fully aware of why they’re there. That’s what casting is – finding the most suitable actor for the job. If the role involves what might be considered “unflattering attributes”, so be it. But you don’t have to be mean about it. You know, “Could we get the next plain girl in here, please?” You don’t do that.
“Grace” asks two things…

Earl, I never missed one episode of “Major Dad”…I especially enjoyed the first season. After they moved and the General and Gunny were added, I didn’t like the show as much. So can you tell me who’s idea that was???

Well, Grace, thank you. After running Major Dad for the first season, I departed from the show. Defining our relationship, Gerald McRaney once said, “You’re the coach, and I’m the quarterback.” Well, during one episode late in the first season, the “quarterback” decided to call his own play. Instead of performing what was in the script, McRaney rewrote and insisted on performing something entirely different during the filming. This was unacceptable to me, and I decided to sever my relationship with the show. I co-wrote the first script of the second season, where the new characters were introduced. After that, I collected my royalties, and moved on to other things.

In her second question, Grace refers to a character whose name she couldn’t recall – it was “Holowachuk” – and his distracting habit of “reading from the cue cards.” Nobody on Major Dad ever read from cue cards. They memorized everything. What you were noticing I guess, Grace, was Matt Mulhern’s – the actor who played “Holowachuk” – acting technique, which apparently involved delivering lines you’ve memorized as if you were reading them off of cue cards. What acting school teaches that!
Finally, a question from me to me…

Hey, Early Bird, how come you had two posts last Thursday and none last Friday?

I made a mistake.

I told you I wasn’t technical.
Keep those questions coming, will ya? I’ve enjoyed doing this, and would not at all mind doing it again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Story of a Writer - Part Twenty E"

It was real. Which, in a way, was a shame, ‘cause if it hadn’t been real, it would have made a really nice vision. And I’ve never had a vision.

I’m walking down one of those “streets”, a paved corridor between soundstages on the Universal lot, heading for the stage where the Major Dad pilot would be filmed, starting in about an hour. And who do I spot, sitting on the steps of an enormous dressing room/trailer, engrossed in a biography of Sammy Davis Jr.?

Bill Cosby.

“Doctuh!” I call out with gleeful enthusiasm, employing the nickname I traditionally used in respect for his Ph.D in education.

He looks up.

“Errrrrl,” he replies, his standard growling acknowledgement.

We had not set eyes on each other since I left The Cosby Show five years before. I was excited to see him, don’t ask me why, my Cosby experience had been nightmarish. Maybe it was the timing. I had left his show early and unhappily, and here I was, fully recovered, and helming a new show of my own.

I took this surprise reunion as an omen. I walked away feeling buoyant about the pilot we were about to make. I came “that close” to inviting Cosby to drop by and do the warm-up.

As I headed for the soundstage, I thought back on our week of production. The process had run extremely smoothly, thanks primarily to our director, Will Mackenzie. Will Mackenzie – talented, funny, understood the “tone” I was shooting for, a gentleman. He’s about a hundred now, but if you need a gifted director who makes everything easier, you can’t possibly do better than Will Mackenzie.

The one dark cloud during “Production Week” occurred on a Thursday evening, the night before the Major Dad pilot would be filmed. It was not fun.

The Thursday “dress rehearsal” had gone off without a hitch. We felt confident about our efforts. Now it was time for network “notes.” For those unfamiliar with the process, network “notes” is the time when network executives tell you what you’re doing wrong.

Here’s something somebody told me I said once about how TV networks behave: “The first thing they say is the last thing they say.” What did I mean by that? I meant this.

During the “casting approval” process, the president of CBS, Kim (a man) had strongly objected to the casting of Shanna Reed as our leading lady. Universal insisted. We got Shanna Reed.

It is now the night before the filming. What is Kim’s primary “note”, besides that the show doesn’t “ring true” to the spirit of the Marine Corps?

“I can’t tell you what to do,” he began, before telling us what to do, “but if I were you, I would close down production and look for another leading lady.”

The first thing they say is the last thing they say.

There was a moment when I’d had enough of this foolishness and I walked away, segregating myself on the couch on the Major Dad set. A Universal executive was dispatched to fetch me back. What I said to Kim on my return was this:

“It’s Thursday.”


We’re done.

Kim was noticeably upset, which is not good, because, well, the person who decides whether or not our show gets on the air?

It’s Kim.

When I reached the soundstage, many thoughts, positive and otherwise, swirled around my brain. I pulled open the heavy, metal door and I stepped inside.

And off we went.

Here’s what you need to know about audience laughter. It’s nice to get. But laughs, particularly in pilots, mean more than “We thought that was funny.” Laughs, and the type of laugh it is – natural, spontaneous, the “we get what you’re going for” kind of laughter – they’re indicators. Of what? Of whether or not your pilot has the elements to make it as a series.

I’ll show you what I mean.

One of my favorite kinds of comedy is what I call “It” comedy. The laugh ensues from the explosive truth of the situation you present. No exaggeration. No clever phrasing. No structural comedic twist. “It.” The thing that it is.


After interviewing the McRaney character, “McGillis”, “Polly” the liberal, female reporter writes a scathing article criticizing the Marine Corps. “Major Smiley”, the Corps’ P.R. representative, barges in on McGillis, incensed. Supporting his outrage, Smiley reads an incendiary quote from Polly’s article, defining the Marine Corps’ mission as,

“…combat-trained veterans taking eighteen year-old kids and teaching them how to kill.”

to which McGillis replies,

“Isn’t that what we do?”

“It” comedy. That’s exactly what they do.

The line got an enormous laugh.

What did that laugh indicate? It indicated that “It” comedy can get enormous laughs, thus vindicating my favored style of comedy writing. I knew I’d be injecting plenty of “It” comedy during the series, and, by their delighted response, the audience had told me, “You inject it. We’ll laugh at it.” The indication was positive.

Our biggest laugh in the pilot? A joke with no words.

McGillis arrives at Polly’s house to discuss her article. He is unexpectedly invited to dinner. As Polly and her two older girls exit to the kitchen to finish preparing the meal, McGillis, dressed head to toe in a camouflage outfit, stands waiting, the other person in the room, Polly’s six year-old daughter.

What does the girl do? She stand there and she stares at him. An oddity in her living room. As she continues to stare, McGillis becomes more and more uncomfortable. She stares a really long time. McGillis is feeling the heat.

As the stare and McGillis’s discomfort grew longer, the audience’s laughter continued to build, laugh upon laugh, like the rolling of thundering ocean waves. It just wouldn’t stop. We had to cut the laugh down for the finished episode. It was too long for television.

What did this monster laugh indicate? That the comic component of the McGillis-little girl relationship was working. Laughs generated by McGillis’s clashes with the other children offered similar encouragement.

The climactic scene: McGillis has asked Polly to marry him. Polly’s response is to laugh in his face. Twice. Big laughs from the audience, meaning this relationship is working too. Plus, they’re “buying” the storyline.

Polly is dumbfounded by this unexpected turn of events.

“What happened to ‘good clear Marine logic’?” she inquires, parroting an earlier McGillis pronouncement.

“Overruled by finely-honed Marine instinct. It’s like combat. Sometimes, in a firefight, the moment crystallizes, and you know exactly what to do. (INDICATING POLLY) See the hill. Take the hill.”

A thunderclap of laughter, followed by spontaneous applause.

The indicator here? The “Marine-out-of-water” premise of the series is a winner.

The “show night” filming was a resounding success. Our creative choices had been proven correct. It was nice to know that we knew what we were doing.

This moment is too delicious to leave out:

During a break in the filming, the audience was asked if they had any questions. One question came from Kim, the president of CBS . It had to do with the Marines’ wardrobe on the show, focusing on something called a “gig line.”

“Shouldn’t the ‘gig line’ be blah-blah-blah…” he asked, with the insinuation the show was stupid and that everyone involved in it were idiots?

From somewhere in the Marine contingent that made up a third of the audience, two words came booming out from the darkness:

“That’s ‘Navy!’

Thank you, Marine Corps.

We filmed the Major Dad pilot on May the fifth, then did “post production” around the clock so we could make our “delivery date” deadline on May the ninth. It was really late in the process. Ours would be that the last pilot the network would receive.

On May the fifteenth, CBS announced its fall schedule. Major Dad would be broadcast Mondays, at eight-thirty.

It would remain on the air for four years.

I’ll write about working on the Major Dad series at some future date. Major Dad-related questions? Now is the time. I’ll be answering them tomorrow. If there aren’t enough of them, I will ask a few of my own.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Story of a Writer - Part Twenty D"



I’ve mentioned elsewhere how uncomfortable the casting process is for me. To me, the casting process feels like a endless series of blind dates. Strangers come in who really want you to like them, and way more often than not, you don’t. Not “don’t like them” personally, you don’t like their acting, or at least their acting in the role they’re auditioning for. And the most excruciating part is, you have to pretend they were okay.

I know they know I’m lying. I can read their faces reading my face. And their face is telling me my face is full of sh…well…lying. I’m not good at lying. That’s why I try hard not to lie. It’s not because I’m a good person. It’s because I’m a terrible liar.

During auditions, I noticed this reflexive response I had. As an actor whose performance had been unimpressive headed for the door, I’d call out, “Good luck.” It just blurted out. It was disgusting. I was saying, “Good luck”, but what I was really saying, and what I’m sure the auditioner was hearing was, “Good luck somewhere else.”

Besides the excruciating awkwardness issue, there was also the matter of the message each failed audition transmitted to the insecurity-riddled writer, sitting there in the room, hearing no laughs, or, worse, forced chuckles, where he’d anticipated big “ha-ha.”

The message?

“It’s not the actors….

It’s the words.”

It’s a worrisome message. A nightmarish “What if…?” What if the words that you put so much time and effort into, words you thought were smart and funny and sharp and touching…


What does a Jew from Canada know about Marines? People trained to inflict grievous harm on the bodies of their enemies and go “Ooh-rah!” when they’re finished? What do I know about that?

Your mind suddenly flies into “Question Overload.” Have I messed up? Do I not have it anymore? Is it too late to go back to law school?

And yet…wait a minute. I knew what I was doing. I’d done some comedy writing before, and with considerable success. I felt confident that I’d “gotten” the Marine mentality, at least on some level. I understood their basic qualities: honor, courage, loyalty, respect…

That was familiar to me. It rang a bell.

Honor, courage, loyalty, respect. What did that remind me of?


I was home.

In time, as invariably happens, the tide eventually turned. Actors “in sync” with the writing brought joy to my heart when they walked in and knocked the material out of the park. It’s good when that happens. For openers, you don’t have to tell them, “Good luck.” It also means the material’s doing the job. But most importantly, it means we can stop looking for the actor.

We had multiple actor options for each of the kids’ roles, and the “Camp Hollister” office staff, which included a lieutenant character I named Holowachuk, after a name I remembered from high school. (Running for student council president, his campaign slogan read: “Don’t be a duck. Vote Holowachuk.” That kind of thing stays with you.)

(The reason you needed multiple actor options was because the network had the final say about casting. Even though you had, sometimes by far, a favorite candidate, you were expected to offer them alternate choices. Don’t get me started.)

The most important role, aside from the major, who was already cast, was the part of “Polly”, the reporter-slash-wife-to-be. We needed a woman with qualities exceptional enough to propel our bachelor Marine’s perception of her from “intriguing but irritating” to “Will you marry me?” That takes quite a woman.

As usual, we saw many “not right for the parts”, but there were a number of solid contenders. The clear standout, however, was an actress named Shanna Reed, a raven-haired beauty with a winning simplicity to her acting. Our second choice was an actress with glitzier credits (she’d been in movies) but her “chemistry” with McRaney was noticeably less intense.

Having McRaney as an Executive Producer proved a definite plus in this regard. Serving in his role as one of the show runners, McRaney made himself available to read with all the “Polly” finalists. Because of this, we could quickly determine which woman was best suited to play opposite him. It was unquestionably Shanna

Our next step was to present all our finalists to the Universal executives for their approval. The studio enthusiastically agreed with our selections, and they were particularly excited about Shanna. Now, there was one final step.

The network.

You gather in a small theater in the basement of the network’s headquarters. The stage is at ground level, and you walk up to a dozen or so rows of seats. Rather than in a real theater, where you look up at the actors, here, you looked down at them. Read into that any symbolism you desire.

The network expects to see at least three actor candidates for every part. We were free to express a preference, but CBS was not obligated to go along. As I mentioned, the network has the final say.

Though agreeable to our “favorites” in all the other roles, CBS was less than enthusiastic about Shanna Reed. Especially the CBS president, Kim (a man). Kim strongly favored the actress with the glitzier resume.

The network – as per the law at that time – did not own the show – Universal owned the show – but they did own the schedule. They alone decided which pilots would be picked up as series for the following season. We knew CBS wasn’t thrilled with the pilot story I’d insisted upon. They may not have been that sold on doing a comedy series about a Marine. Now, they were balking at our selection for “leading lady.”

Hmph. Meaning, it’s a tricky situation.

At that point, the Universal contingent, writers and executives, got up, congregated at the top of the theater, and had a meeting. It was decided we would take a vote.

“How many people want Kim’s selection (the actress with the glitzier resume)?”

Rick’s (my writing partner on the project) hand immediately shot up. Rick wanted to be an Executive Producer. And he knew you couldn’t be an Executive Producer if the network didn’t pick up your show, and they were considerably less likely (bordering on “dream on”) to pick up your show, if they hated your selection for “leading lady.” More than anything, Rick wanted the show to have a chance. So he ignored his actual preference and voted with the network.

I voted with Rick. For the same reason.

It was a shameful decision, and I regret it to this day.

The Universal executives, who outnumbered us, voted to stick with Shanna.

And it was done.

The decision was announced to the network. Kim wearily shook his head, but conceded our right to have whoever we wanted. He did not look happy.

So there you have it. We had hired a director, the sets were in place, the production staff had been put together, and we had our cast.

Next stop:



Reader Alert: I’ve received several questions concerning my posts about Major Dad. I plan to respond to those questions on Wednesday. If you wish to add any questions of your own on the subject, today and tomorrow are the days to get them in.

Answering reader’s questions will be a pleasant change for me. I’ll finally be certain I’m writing something that at least one person wants to know about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Story of a Writer - Part Twenty C"

In the ferocious competition known as “Pilot Season”, you’re fighting for your life.

That’s a little melodramatic.

In the ferocious competition known as “Pilot Season”, you’re fighting to get your show on the schedule.




When it comes to choosing a pilot story, my strategy is simple: Do the best idea you can think of.

The premise for Major Dad was established: a bachelor Marine major who marries a woman with three daughters. That was done. Now. What story did I want to start with? The best story idea I could think of.

The First Day.

How the whole thing began.

Where we see, for the first time, the tradition steeped major barking orders at his subordinate. We witness his first encounter with the scrappy, local (liberal) reporter. We’re there for the major’s first “head-to-head” with the reporter’s three free-speaking daughters.

The biggest and truest laughs come from these “first time” exchanges. This is where the “money” is, the test of whether your series’ premise has “legs.” If the audience watching the pilot gets into the conflict-laden relationships you’ve set up, they’re hooked, and your show is a hit. These relationships can then be played, and built on, through imaginative variations, throughout the series.

Along with constructing Major Dad’s primary, and hopefully enjoyable, character relationships, I decided to propose something shockingly bold for the pilot’s storyline. I would start with the major’s far from successful interview with the female reporter – she comes to interview him for her paper, and as she’s about to leave, she “surprise attacks” the major, and he flips her. I would then proceed to a final scene where the major arrives in his “Dress Blues” and asks her to marry him.

From strangers to a marriage proposal in twenty-two minutes.


Not too realistic, perhaps, but, still, I couldn’t imagine a story that was more fun and more surprising.

After writing an outline, we – meaning me and my writing partner on the project named Rick – pitched our story proposal to CBS.

CBS had “concerns.”

What concerns?

In those days – I can’t vouch for now – networks were not comfortable with what they called “premise” pilots, meaning pilots whose storylines establish the premise for the series. They were concerned that a “premise” pilot was “atypical.” It was more like a stunt. What the networks more comfortable with was what they called “Show Six” – a pilot representing a typical sixth episode of the series. With a “Show Six” pilot, the network could get a clearer idea of what the series would be like on a weekly basis.

A “first-encounter-to-a-marriage-proposal” story was hardly a “Show Six.” Besides that, the episode had no resolution. It ends with the major down on one knee and the reporter looking like…any woman would look if they’d just been proposed to by a stranger.

My answer to their “concerns”?

“That’s what I love about it.”

After some meaningless “back and forth”, CBS asked me and Rick – whose primary interest was in not rocking the boat – if we’d be willing to come up with an alternate story idea for the pilot. We responded simultaneously.

ME: I really like this one.

RICK: Absolutely.

CBS said they’d think about it and get back to us shortly.

I was confident (as confident as a not very confident person can be) that I was right about this. I understood what the network was looking for, but I was trying to sell a show, and from a selling standpoint, I believed this story provided our strongest chance at outshining the competition. (Of course, you can’t sell the show, if they won’t make the pilot. So there’s that.)

As for the “Show Six” concern, everything I knew told me that “first” jokes were by far the funniest. (“You’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!” Mary Tyler Moore pilot – the first encounter between Mary and Lou.)

The decision was not in our hands. All we could do was wait, hoping that the network would, uncharacteristically, trust the people they were paying to do the job.

Years later, I was told about a chance encounter during that time between Bob, my agent’s hard but highly effective boss, and the then president of CBS, named Kim (a man.) Kim expressed his reservations about our pilot story. A marriage proposal in the first episode? It seemed too…not “Show Six.”

Bob advised Kim that the worst that could happen was that there’d be an “Episode Eight” wedding show that would get huge ratings like the, then, recent wedding episode on Rhoda, at the time, one of the highest rated episodes ever.

Awright, Bob!

After a long and worrisome week, CBS finally approved our story idea.

Exultation and relief.

Rick and I happily set to work on the pilot script. An enormous obstacle had been overcome. It would not be the last one. Or even the biggest.

(A sneak preview, in case you pass away before tomorrow’s installment: Kim hated our selection for the leading lady.)

"Story of a Writer - Part Twenty B"

I found this out later…

Okay, so there’s this long running detective show produce by Universal called Simon and Simon, a murder mystery played on a lighter note – bullets, fights, car chases, wrapped in a continuing stream of amusing banter. The show ran from 1981 to 1989.

One of the show’s co-stars, Gerald McRaney, has a studio deal to star in a situation comedy after Simon and Simon finishes its run. (You have clout coming off a hit show.) With Simon and Simon winding down, McRaney and the show’s Executive Producer, a guy named Rick, put their heads together and come up with a sitcom idea, where McRaney would play a widowered Marine major with children. Hence, the title:

Major Dad.

Red Alert: At the end of this posting I will say something complimentary about a network executive. Spread the word.

McRaney and Rick set up a meeting with the smart and decent Universal president of television named Kerry. They pitch Kerry their idea. They explain that McRaney will star in the show, Rick will write the pilot script, and they’ll run the series together.

Done deal?

Not so fast.

Kerry patiently listens to their proposal, and then says this: “You guys have no comedy experience.” Rick replies, “Yes I do. I write amusing banter on Simon and Simon.” Kerry replies, in a firm but non-insulting manner, “You do that admirably. But it’s not comedy.”

Kerry then tells them that in order for him to support the project, their creative team should be supplemented by an experienced, sitcom-writing veteran. Rick and McRaney are understandably less than thrilled, but for the sake of their project’s moving forward, they agree.

Shortly thereafter, Kerry calls me into his office and says,

“I’m going to say a name to you. If you respond to that name, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I just want your honest reaction.”

I say, “What’s the name?”, Kerry says, “Gerald McRaney”, I say, “Yes”, and there we are. I’m a partner with two people I have never met.

So I meet them. One at a time.

Rick is charming and easygoing. He is happy to collaborate with an experienced veteran like myself. His only deal breaking condition in the arrangement is this: “I have to be an Executive Producer.”

This is his dominant concern, and I immediately agree to it. Rick will have an “Executive Producer” credit on the show. Along with McRaney. who had the clout to get the deal, and who came up with the show’s concept, I believe by saying, “I want to play a Marine.”

I then inform Rick that I have a deal breaking condition of my own, and it’s this: “I want the last word concerning anything that goes into the script.”

Rick immediately agrees, the speed of his response revealing that he doesn’t care what goes into the script, as long as he’s the Executive Producer. Did I just suggest a value judgment in the comparison of these priorities? I believe it did.

Credits matter, I won’t deny it. I’ve fought over them in other contexts. But control over content matters more. Feel free to disagree.

I have lunch with McRaney in the Universal commissary. Straight out: I’m afraid of actors. In general, actors’ minds are not primarily wired for reasonable thinking. Plus, they are trained in acting school to project in ringing, reverberating voices. Which means, sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, actors are known for saying unreasonable things very loud.

(It’s your basic logic. I feel comfortable around people who say reasonable things in regular voices. Actors are people known for saying unreasonable things in volcanic voices. Ipso facto, I don’t feel comfortable around actors.)

I only recall one exchange from that lunch. (Forgive me. I’m trying to remember stuff I haven’t thought about for twenty years.) Since McRaney seemed so “gung ho” about playing a Marine in the series, I asked what seemed to be a reasonable question:

“Were you ever in the military?”

To which McRaney responds, with what seems like a hint of derision,

“Not this boy.”


The partner meetings are over. We are now a team of three. The next step is to “pitch” the concept to the networks. Somebody has to want to do the show or, Universal support or otherwise, there’s no show.

Things go poorly at ABC. McRaney did most of the talking, and at the end, an ABC executive took me aside, and for the first time I could remember, he treated me as if I wasn’t the craziest person in the room.

In the executive’s opinion, McRaney’s “pitch”, leaning heavily on Marine Corps history and lore, made little sense as an idea for a situation comedy. I didn’t totally disagree. But I tried to reassure him that we were still tinkering the “elements.”

The “pitch” took a similar trajectory at CBS. But there, the reaction was not immediate. Instead, as networks invariably do – ABC’s response was exceptional, because they hated the “pitch” so much – the CBS executives told us to “leave it with us.” They’d discuss it “in house”, and they’d get back to us shortly.

I left the meeting certain the show was finished.

I was wrong.

A few days later, a lower Universal executive named Brad informed us that they'd heard back from CBS. As he ushers Rick and I into McRaney’s trailer outside the soundstage where they're shooting the final episode of Simon and Simon, Brad confides to me that CBS has suggested an “adjustment” to the concept, adding encouragingly, “I think you’re going to like it.”

In the trailer, Brad tells us that CBS is willing to “Green light” the pilot but with this new wrinkle. Instead of McRaney’s playing a widowered Marine major with children, CBS suggests he play a bachelor Marine major who marries a woman with three daughters.

McRaney immediately hits the roof. (We’re in a trailer, so it’s only about six inches above our heads.) In a professionally trained vocal eruption, McRaney thunderously reminds us that this is not the series he agreed to do. He wants to play a widower Marine with children, not a bachelor Marine who marries a woman with three daughters.

Brad patiently tries to explain the advantages of the altered concept, not the least of them being that if we don’t accept their "adjustment", CBS will not be willing to do the show. Rick chimes in in Brad’s support, his main concern, I believe, being that if CBS doesn’t do the show, he won’t get to be Executive Producer.

At first, I say nothing. McRaney’s outburst has been untargeted, and I’m afraid if I cross him, the targeting will be re-directed at me. I’m not the most popular person in the trailer to begin with. I’d been foisted on my partners by Universal. Nobody likes the foisted guy.

Finally, I find my voice. Concerning CBS’s "adjustment", I opine, as the veteran comedy person Kerry’d forced them to take on, that, “It gives us more to work with.”

It did. Instead of having a widowered Marine disciplinarian with kids who couldn’t fight back because they were kids, you had a woman of equal stature and three skeptical stepdaughters the McRaney character would have to win over. From a writing standpoint, both comedic and dramatic, CBS’s proposal was a considerable improvement.

In some ways, McRaney and I aren’t all that different. I consistently say “No” first and change my mind later when I’ve calmed down. (Which explains how my daughter, Anna, got Hawaii for her twenty-fifth birthday.) That’s what happened here. A couple of days later, McRaney, persuaded he could do any story that he’d wanted to do in his version of the series and would therefore lose nothing by the alteration, finally, with a magnanimous, capitulating sigh, surrendered.

Next step: Pitching the pilot story to CBS.

But before I go, I don’t know who it was – I never found out – but whoever you are, Mr. or Ms. CBS executive person, thank you for your wonderful improvement on our idea. It saved the show and got me Lexus.

Whoever you are, I honor you as a truly creative executive, and I am eternally appreciative and grateful.

How’s that for class?

Great. Till you said, “How’s that for class?”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Story of a Writer - Part Twenty"

“I’m going to say a name to you. If you respond to that name, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I just want your honest reaction.”

A television executive said that to me. A smart and decent television executive named Kerry. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m not all that generous towards television executives, my sentiments on my least generous days bordering on “Grrrrr!”

The reason for this attitude – it wasn’t personal – was that television executives, through their “notes” and “pitches”, which included (shudder!) the pitching of jokes, clearly indicated that they didn’t respect the uniqueness of what I did. And when I say “I”, I don’t mean me personally, I mean me, as a representative of a category of humanity called “writers.”

Television executives in the period in which I worked habitually overstepped their boundaries, depriving the writers of their creative prerogatives. (Imagine restaurant patrons barging into a kitchen, ordering the chefs to “pour on the salt.”) The executives projected the clear impression that they could easily write the scripts themselves if they weren’t too busy wielding power.

(I imagine that the arrogance of today’s television executives is even greater, now that the networks own their own shows, rather than – as they did previously – buying programs from studios and independent producers. Before attaining an ownership position, networks could merely make threatening suggestions. Now they can make threatening demands.)

Read the first lines of this posting again. You notice something? There’s no pressure. No manipulation. No buttering up. And no demand.

“I want your honest reaction.”

It was a breath of fresh air.

(Paranoids may feel some justification in suspecting a “breath of fresh air” manipulation. I have to say I bought it.)

I was in my second, generous two-year deal at Universal. Getting Family Man on the air – albeit for only seven episodes – had earned me another contract. I worked off a portion of that contract consulting on other Universal series, one of them being Coming of Age, a sitcom set in a “Seniors” community in Arizona. But they don’t give you substantial weekly paychecks, a big office and a patio where you can barbecue hamburgers on a hibachi until the fire marshals tell you to stop for consulting. It was time for me to step back up to the plate and deliver a new show.

That’s what I was being enticed with that day. Kerry, the smart and decent president of Universal Television, was about to reveal the name of an actor, who, if I responded positively, would be starring in my next series.

To those less familiar with the inner workings of television, the building of a show around a star, or at least a “known quantity” – meaning the audience has heard of them – is a common practice in the development of new series. For openers, the inclusion of an attached “name” makes for an easier sale to the networks.

The networks see the attachment of a “name” as an advantage, because, then, they’re not just buying a concept they’re hopefully enthusiastic about, they’re buying a concept they’re hopefully enthusiastic about, plus a familiar-to-the-audience-so-they’ll-be-predisposed-to-liking-to-the-show-or-at-least-giving-it-a-fair-shot “name.”

In the high-stakes gamble known as “Pilot Season”, having a “name” attached to a project is the equivalent of holding a poker hand that includes at least one ace. (It is hoped that the writer-creator will be considered another ace, but owing to my uncertain track record, I was perceived to be somewhere in the area of a nine.)

(Note: Stop for a moment and think about how many television series succeeded because there was a “name” attached – The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Cosby Show – and how many failed applying the same formula – for example, the shows starring “names” (Jason Alexander, John Goodman, Patricia Heaton), who’d succeeded in earlier series. Also, consider how many shows scored featuring relative unknowns – such as Married With Children and Friends. As the great Chief Dan George observed in the movie, Little Big Man, “Sometimes the medicine works, and sometimes it doesn’t.)

Returning to our story…

“I’m going to say a name to you. If you respond to that name, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I just want your honest reaction.”

“What’s the name?” I asked a little nervously in case I hated it and had to tell my boss that rather than earning my substantial salary creating a television series, I’d prefer instead to return to my office and take a nap.

Kerry told me the name.

“Gerald McRaney.”


That was interesting.

In what can easily be considered a coincidence, I had recently watched a tape of Gerald McRaney, performing as the “second lead” in a failed comedy pilot. McRaney, who made his name co-starring in the long-running hour detective series, Simon and Simon, had displayed a grounded – meaning unforced and believable – acting style and a light touch for comedy, rivaling, if not quite equaling, the easygoing charm of James Garner.

I had Gerald McRaney if I wanted him.

I told Kerry I did.

And with that, I was off on an adventure that would produce the longest run – four seasons – of any Earl Pomerantz-created television series. *

* My actual credit on Major Dad is, “Developed By”, by that’s just business stuff.

Coming up on “Story of a Writer” – Earl Pomerantz returns to producing. (Just writing that gives me a retroactive stomachache.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Just A Little Change..."


You might have heard about it; it was in all the papers. The new president won on change. The guy he beat ran on it too. They called it a “change” election. One thing they neglected to tell you?

People hate change.

Why did they vote for the “change” candidate? They forgot.

Plus they didn’t want to vote for a Republican.

Plus the new guy’s really cool.

Nobody likes to change. If they did, therapists would be out of business, and Dr. M and I would be on planes, traveling to distant locales. Does that mean the people who claim they want to change actually like things the way they are? No, they hate things the way they are. The thing is, they want things to be different “magically.” They refuse to change their behavior, while hoping to get different – read: better – outcomes. This never happens. Therapy’s in demand. And I don’t get to see Victoria Falls.

Conventional wisdom: “Change is good. Inflexibility is bad.” (Years ago, a therapeutic professional proclaimed, “The only thing I’m inflexible about is my flexibility.” I believe my response at the time was, “Good for you.”)

(Before we proceed further, a tip of the hat to inflexibility’s responsible relative, discipline. I’m a fan of discipline. (We’re not talking leather and chains here.) Discipline allowed me to virtually never miss a deadline in the thirty-plus years I wrote professionally. Discipline sends me to practice the piano without anybody telling me to. Discipline has allowed me to publish five blog postings a week for the past ten months, delivering a greater reliability than energy, mood or inspiration would predict. So there’s that. And never forget it.

That may have come out a little pricklier than I intended it to, but I believe discipline gets a bad rap, coming off Nazily “goose-steppy”, when in reality, it’s an indispensable ingredient in getting things done. And I exhale.)

No question, change of any kind is not easy. A while back, when I damaged my left shoulder, I had to retrain myself – so it wouldn’t hurt – to pull on my left sleeve before I pulled on my right sleeve. If it weren’t for the stabbing pain reminder, that change would have taken forever. It’s been months, and I still sometimes forget.

I think a lot of people’s resistance to change stems from the concern of an alteration so transforming that “I won’t be me anymore.” Setting aside whether that’s a realistic worry, or a bad idea (as well as the question of how much of “me” is all that uniquely me), I’ve discovered that meaningful change doesn’t have to be anywhere near that big. You can change a sliver of your behavior and remain so essentially “you”, you will recognize yourself immediately when you look in the mirror.

Okay, here’s a confession, and I’m aware of its implications. I’ve been eating the same breakfast cereal for thirty years. Spoon-sized shredded wheat. It’s dry, it’s crunchy, it doesn’t get mushy in milk, and it doesn’t contain any sugar. Four essential requirements. All present in spoon-sized shredded wheat.

I’m only human. After twenty-five years, spoon-sized shredded wheat started losing its appeal. I was really getting sick of it. I mean, you know, you come down to breakfast, and there it is. Again. And again. And again.

I couldn’t find a substitute. I was doomed as doomed could be, as Ed Grimley would say, destined to eat the same boring breakfast cereal for the rest of my life. And then, with the help of a visit to this spa I go to in Mexico, I made a discovery that changed my entire breakfast-eating life.

What I discovered was, I didn’t have to change my cereal. I could stick with my spoon-sized shredded wheat, as a base, but supplement it with other things. Dry, crunchy, not mushy in milk, non-sugary things. Such as almonds and sunflower seeds.

And that’s what I started doing.

I felt transformed. Without in any way sacrificing my principles, I had discovered, or, more accurately, invented, a “change” cereal. And the change was virtually nothing.

To paraphrase a classic:

“Just a little change

Small to say the least

Mornings were transformed

And I felt reborn

Beauty and break…feast.”

Another example: (so the concept will sink in.)

My first car. An orange and black Mazda. I’m so excited, I drive it my brother’s law office to show it off. I park beneath his window. I “honk-honk” the horn. I take my foot off the brake, and roll into the car parked in front of me. My front grill is caved in. My headlights are cockeyed. My car had eleven miles on it.

Six years later…

My second car. A burgundy Peugeot diesel. (There was a gas shortage, lines were shorter at the diesel pump, and diesel gas was cheaper.) I drive my new car back to my condo, pull into the driveway, push the button, the electric garage door slides open. I start into the garage, a fellow condo owner walks by, I stop to brag, the electric garage door closes, crashing into my car. The car has two miles on it.

Taking stock: Two new cars, two first day accidents. Both times, I was showing off.

Four years later…

My third car. A bright red Saab. (The Peugeot had been totaled when I was rear-ended.)
Two thoughts immediately flash to mind: One, I had crashed my first two cars on the first day I had owned them. And two, both times it happened ‘cause I’d been showing off.

I addressed myself candidly. “Earl,” I inquired, “is it possible for you not to show off when you get a new car?” My response was equally candid. “I don’t think so.” I was honest, but It looked bad. My inability to change doomed my new Saab to an early trip to the body shop.

Then, I thought of something. A change that was substantially smaller than the change I had asked myself to consider.

What I realized was that, although I was unable to stop bragging when I got a new car, I didn’t have to be in the car when I did it.

I made an adjustment. I saw a friend. I parked. I got out of the car. And then, I bragged.

Just a little change. But it saved the Saab.

Or, in song form…

“Just a little change

Well within endurance

You can brag away

And not spend the next day

Calling your insurance.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

"My Favorite Cowboy Poem"

Ah, yes, the Poetry Corner. Two hundred and second posting, it’s my first poem. I like poetry, but I rarely, bordering on never, understand it. For me, poetry is like mime. You know they’re trying to tell you something. What it is? Not a clue.

In High School, where I generally did well, I did least well in English literature. For homework, as assigned, I would read over the poem before we studied it in class and, as a result of my preparation, exploring the rhymes and stanzas, the rhythms and the reasons for writing the poem, I would come way with…


A brick wall. An impenetrable forest of “I don’t get it.” I hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on. It took the teacher the next day to explain the poem’s hidden mysteries and subtle delights. They were there. The teacher found them. For me? A total blank.

As the years went by and I gained in knowledge, experience and, hopefully, wisdom, I’d notice some short poem in the New Yorker or The Atlantic, written by a name I recognized as a lion or lioness in the field, and I’d stop, respecting the reputation, and I’d carefully read it through. My reaction to the poem was invariably the same:

“What the hell are they talking about?”

Nothing has changed. I’m poetically challenged. Metaphors and allusions elude my comprehension. I need it straight. “Tell me what you want to tell me.”

Enter: Cowboy poetry.

You know I like cowboy stuff. The adventure. The excitement. The connection to a bygone time that will never return. Add to that, the directness and the simplicity. You’ll find it all in the best cowboy poetry.

This poem I totally understand. It says the thing, and it says it clearly. I offer it today for your enjoyment.


By John “Jay” Kulm

The West is disappearing, not so near
as once it was
But if you think the West is far away,
I was at a rodeo in Northern California
And the West was awful close to me that day.

I met an older fellow with a weathered
looking face,
His knees bowed out the way old
bowed knees will,
He told me that his father, way-back-when,
had shaken hands with
The man who we recall as Buffalo Bill.

I thought on this a moment, that I’m
Looking in the eyes
Of the son of him who looked into the
eyes of Bill Cody,
And Buffalo Bill Cody once looked
in the eyes of him
Who had a son who’s looking back at me.

Then I reached out to the man, I asked
him, “Could I shake the hand
of the son of the man who shook the hand
of Buffalo Bill one day?”
And as he shook hands with me I felt
The West was very near,
The West which once I thought
was far away.

So if you’re thinking that the West is
only something distant,
You can shake my hand and,
my friend, if you will
You can say you shook the hand of
the man who shook the hand
Of the son of the man who shook
the hand of Buffalo Bill.

Isn’t it great? If you like this poem, go out and buy something by the writer. If you do, I won’t feel quite so badly about reprinting his poem without permission. This exposure may actually be helping him. At least, that’s what I need to think.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Yesterday, slavery; today haircuts. It’s a blog of surprises.

In Toronto, when I was growing up, every barber I ever went to was named Tony. (And every popcorn man was named Georgie.) This wasn’t some prejudice thing, like on the Pullman “sleeper” trains, where passengers were in the habit of calling all the porters George, even though that wasn’t their name.

The barbers told us their name was Tony. All of them.

When I was thirteen, the closest barbershop to my house was located in an outdoor shopping center called Lawrence Plaza. Eight barber chairs spanned the length of the facility, the chairs manned by eight different Tonys. The Tonys, however, were not equal. The Tony closest to the door was an older Tony. Gray hair. Gray mustache. This Tony appeared to be the head Tony. He acted like it, telling the other Tonys what to do.

“Sweep up-a da hair!” “Not so much-a-da powder!” “Hey! Watch-a dat guy’s ear!”

As you moved down the line of Tonys, you could detect an unmistakable pecking order. Proceeding towards the back, the Tonys got increasingly younger, which inevitably meant less experienced, till you got to the last, and youngest, Tony – Tony Number Eight – who, I imagine, was a Training Tony. He may not have been a barber at all. It’s possible he was there to give one of the other Tonys a ride home.

I was a kid. Never worthy of the attention of the First Tony. Or Tony Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, Number 5, Number 6 or Number 7. Like a condemned prisoner headed for “the Chair”, I’d proceed fatalistically down the line. It was always the same. No words from the increasingly less skillful Tonys. Simply a head gesture. The head gesture saying, “Keep going.”

And so I continued, down the line, from Tony to Tony. Till I finally reached Tony Number Eight. As I reluctantly climbed into the chair, I detected muffled chuckles from the more senior Tonys who had passed me along.

“Wait’ll you see what you get-a from him!”

They were usually right. Tony Number Eight was unquestionably the eighth best Tony in the place.

I was thirteen. It wasn’t going well. Socially, I was losing ground, and I wasn’t holding much ground to begin with. I needed to make a statement to my maturing schoolmates, an attention-grabbing gesture, to remind them I was there. (I write cryptically about this period, because it still brings me discomfort.)

At the time, there was this detective show on TV called Peter Gunn. Stupid name, now that I’m noticing, but a breakthrough in its genre. Clever. Sophisticated. A driving theme song by Henry Mancini. It was the first ’45 I ever bought.

The star of Peter Gunn was an actor named Craig Stevens. Stevens’ "Peter Gunn" represented an updated kind of hero, an icon of “cool” and unruffled confidence, from his wardrobe to his haircut.

I couldn’t pull off the “cool” or the unruffled confidence. And I could never afford the wardrobe, which would have looked silly on my anyway, I was thirteen. But there was one thing I could get, and I was determined to get it.

The haircut.

I march into the Lawrence Plaza barbershop, a picture of "Peter Gunn" cut from a recent TV Guide clutched tightly in my hand. Today, I would demand an experienced Tony. This was important to me. This was my head.

And that head would be accompanying me to school the following day.

The First Tony tries to give me the brush-off, but I stubbornly persist. With a dramatic sigh, he snatches the Peter Gunn picture from my hand, “honoring” it with an impatient glance. Then, something happens. He continues studying the picture. And then, he speaks, calling to the other Tonys:

“Hey, look! It’s-a Perry Como!”

Seven Tonys scurry to the front. They examine the picture, all agreeing that Perry Como had never looked so good.

“It’s not Perry Como,” I correct them. “It’s Craig Stevens. He plays Peter Gunn on a detective show.”

“No,” insists the First Tony, the other Tonys rapidly concurring, “It’s-a Perry Como.”

Okay, I need to explain a few things. First, Craig Stevens looks nothing like Perry Como, a famous Italian-American singer who had a long-running variety show on TV. The two, however, did have one thing in common. They had the same haircut. Which, apparently, was the only thing the eight Tonys were paying attention to.

Both Perry Como and Craig Stevens as "Peter Gunn" wore what I think they called crew cuts – short hair, combed straight across. This was hardly the prevailing fashion in men’s hairstyling at the time. Teenaged trendsetters’ hair was generally worn longish and greased up, and featuring a mountainous “flip” in the front. It went straight up and then flipped back.

Some people called it a pompadour; others, a “waterfall.” Elvis had one. Ditto Ricky Nelson. The Everly Brothers had one each. Like others my age, I struggled tirelessly to emulate that look, but there’s a natural curliness to my hair, and no matter how hard I worked, and how much Vitalis I applied, my “flip” had an infuriating dent in it. Instead of going straight up, it collapsed in the middle.

I had two problems. I wanted to be rid of my defective dent. And I wanted to look cool in school. The "Peter Gunn" would take care of them both.

Only at the barbershop, it wasn’t a "Peter Gunn". It was a “Perry Como.”

A memorable moment was about to take place. For the first time ever, I was invited onto the barber chair of the First Tony.

The seven other Tonys abandoned the haircuts they’d been working on to concentrate on mine. Not mine specifically, but the way the First Tony cut mine. There was dead silence in the barbershop. It was an historic moment. Someday, a hundred Tonys would insist they were there.

The First Tony snipped. He stood back. He snipped some more. His only words, the instruction: “Don’t-a move.” You could sense his confidence, a master rising to the occasion. The First Tony was an artist. His medium was hair.

Sitting quietly in the chair, my mind filled with a frenzying panic. Was I making a huge mistake? Was I deliberately turning myself grotesque? Would my impulsive gesture catapult me from anonymity to laughingstock? These thoughts came far too late. Clumps of my hair were dropping to the floor.

And then he was done.

With a finishing flourish, the First Tony whirled the chair around, and with the help of a hand-held mirror, allowed me to examine his handiwork.

It was the perfect “Perry Como.”

The next day, I was a sensation at school. Kids – even girls – gathered to check out my new “do.” Some asked if they could touch it. I magnanimously said, “Sure.”

I’d been brave. I had taken a chance. And it had paid off beautifully. The attention didn’t last, of course. But there’s this great line in the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show:

“When an elephant flies, you don’t complain ‘cause it didn’t stay up that long.”

A few weeks later, I swaggered into the barbershop, my “Perry Como” in need of a trim.

I was ushered down to Tony Number Eight.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Celebrating The Election Of The First Black President"

"Simcha" is a Hebrew word meaning celebration. ("Simcha’s" adjectival cousin "sa-may-ach" means happy.) Electing the first black president of the United States is clearly a happy moment in our history. In the Jewish tradition, however, at the beginning of every celebration, a moment is always taken to recall those who, through natural causes or otherwise, were unable make it to that day.

It therefore behooves us, or maybe just me, to take a moment to remember the other side of our history (and how easily we fell into it.)


Slavery was a really bad idea.

(An acknowledgement: Canada didn’t have slavery. The explanation for this can be found, I believe, not in Canada’s moral superiority but in two illuminating words: no cotton.)

Traditionally, when you’re rich, or just lazy, and there’s a job to be done that’s tedious, backbreaking or too yucky, you’d pay someone else to do it – clean out the chimneys, empty the chamber pots, slaughter the chickens. Or pick cotton in the blistering heat.

It seems, however, when it comes to cotton-picking, someone came up with an even better solution. Not being up on my plantation history, I can’t say how this really bad decision was originally made. I can only fall back on is my imagination:

AN EARLY PLANTATION OWNER sits behind his desk, writing in his ledger with a feather. Another PLANTATION OWNER comes in, and sits down facing the first PLANTATION OWNER.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Sit down!”

“I am sitting down.”

“I know. That’s just my way of saying ‘I have exciting news!’”

“Well, it’s very confusing. Saying ‘Sit down!’ to someone already in a seated position.”

“What should I have said?”

“I don’t know. ‘Hold onto your hat!’”

“You’re not wearing a hat.”

“Agreed. But ‘Sit down!’, as we’ve just determined, can mean two things, while ‘Hold onto your hat!’ can mean only one.

“Not true. What if a sudden wind were to kick up, and I said…?”

“I meant indoors.”

“…oh. Well, in that case, you’re correct.”

“Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”

“Of course. (WITH AN EXCITED GIGGLE) “Hold onto your hat!”

“It’s that good.”

“It’s inspired. (LEANING IN, IN A CONSPIRATORIAL MANNER) “You know the enterprise we are engaged in…”

“The cotton business.”

“Just so. Well, I have discovered an ingenious method of increasing our profits.”

“You have?”

Greatly increasing. I mean, by plenty.”

“That’s wonderful! What’s the plan?”

“I knew you’d be excited.”

“Tell! Tell!”

“You know those terrible workmen we’re paying to pick our cotton?”

“You mean those unsavory white fellows who do a substandard job and never sing?”

“The very same. Well, I propose that we send those substandard pickers packing, and replace them with – are you ready? – slaves.


“Is that not the most ingenious…”

“Be ye daft?”

“Hello. Why have you suddenly turned into a pirate?”

“I have not suddenly turned into a pirate. I am merely expressing my perplexity in a colorful manner.”

“But there’s nothing daft about it. Slave labor has many advantages, the greatest, of course, being: We don’t have to pay them.”

“Because they’re slaves.”

“Who, by custom, habit and definition are not entitled to compensation.”

“Hm. You may have something here.”

“‘May’, nothing! Do you realize what this means? (POINTING TO LEDGER) Under this column marked ‘Labor Expenses’, we can henceforth inscribe: ‘Zero.’”

“Sweet Juniper! Free pickers!”

“Precisely the concept.”

“We’d be subtracting a major expense!”

“And we’ll always need pickers. I may be new to this undertaking, but if there’s one thing I know it’s that cotton doesn’t just jump off the thing it grows on and hop into the thing one puts it into.”

“A problem cleverly solved. And yet…”


“I wonder if it’s wrong.”

“If what’s wrong?”

“You know, the whole slavery business.”

“What’s wrong about it?’

“It’s slavery.”

“Oh, now. Slavery is hardly new.”

“That’s true. We’d be simply perpetuating a long, albeit dishonorable, tradition.”

“It's in the Bible."

"Truly said."

"So you agree then?”

“Slavery it is! But let it never be said that we didn’t stop and think.”

Okay, that’s done. Now on with the celebration.


A reminder on my two hundredth posting: If you're interested in being written back, you can reach me at

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Unique Talent"

When you worked in Canadian show business – I don’t know if it’s the same today, but I suspect it is – you were required to do multiple jobs to make any semblance of what would be considered a living. I once worked three jobs to make $120 a week. I know those were 1970’s dollars, but, you know, you’d like to make more.

Once I was hired to write and perform a series of radio commercials for a Toronto deli called Shopsy’s, which at the time was expanding their product line into supermarkets. I remember one commercial very vividly. I played the voice of “Salisbury steak.” My first line was,

“Hi. I’m Salisbury steak. I come with mushrooms, but they don’t talk.”

Whatever you think of that, the Shopsy’s commercials earned me an offer of a full-time job as a copywriter. I turned the agency down, explaining that I’d rather stay in show business, which was odd, because I wasn’t in show business at the time.

Another avenue of income was acting in television commercials. I got a job on my first audition. It wasn’t a speaking part. It was more a drumming part. I was hired to play a skinny guy with glasses (which I happened to be at the time) who didn’t wear a shirt and pounded out the rhythm in a galley ship while a boatful of galley slaves (also without shirts but with considerably more muscles) rowed. From this, they sold a candy bar. I don’t remember which one.

After my initial success, I continued going to auditions, but I never got hired. I was brought in whenever the commercial called for “a Woody Allen type.” The problem is that in Canada, “a Woody Allen type” isn’t Jewish.

With my hope for employment rapidly fading, I was called in to audition for a Chevrolet commercial, the first of a series of commercials for an expensive, national campaign. If I got the job, it would pay thousands, which, if you know your math, is more than $120 a week.

I was introduced to the director. I recognized his name. He had been the primary director for the long-running TV series My Three Sons. His name was Peter. Peter took to me right away, partly, I think, because I knew who he was.

My audition went so well that a few days later, I was brought back for a second look, which went well too. Other candidates were being eliminated. I remained in the running. I was moving closer and closer to getting the job.

Or so I thought.

Here’s the deal. Chevrolet wanted a “name” to star in their commercial, an actor the audience knew, or at least recognized. By definition, at least to Americans, there are no Canadian “names.” Ipso facto, Chevrolet wanted an American.

Who they wanted specifically was Arnold Stang, a “skinny guy with glasses” American. Arnold Stang was hardly a big “name”, but he was at least semi-famous, maybe a notch and a half below “semi.”

Arnold Stang’s claims to fame were two in number. Years before, on the hugely popular Texaco Star Theater, starring Milton Berle, whenever Berle called “Make-up!”, a deadpan Stang would march onstage and whack Berle in the face with an enormous powerful puff. Stang’s other claim to fame was a series of commercials for Chunky chocolate bars, where he over-pronounced the tagline: “Chunky, what a chunk-a chawklit.”

From such moments are careers made.

Chevrolet wanted Arnold Stang to get the job. The problem was that Arnold Stang was American, and this was a Canadian commercial. You see, there was this rule (maybe there still is). The rule stated that you couldn’t hire an American for a Canadian commercial unless it was demonstrated that no Canadian was capable of doing the job.

If no Canadian was found suitable for the commercial, you could then hire the American, bringing him in as a “Unique Talent.”

The tiny glitch for Chevrolet was this:

Earl Pomerantz was suitable for the commercial. (More than suitable. I was really good.)

The production came to a standstill. They didn’t know what to do. There was a Canadian “talent” – Early P. – capable of doing the job, which meant they couldn’t bring in a “Unique Talent” – Mr. Stang – from the United States. And they wanted Mr. Stang.

They brought me in for a third audition, hoping, perhaps, I’d forget what I did at the first two auditions and stink the place up. I didn’t. I could see the conflict contorting the director’s face. His eyes seemed to be pleading,

“Why couldn’t you be worse?”

Finally, they convinced themselves I was, and they gave the job to Arnold Stang.

Years later…

I’m applying for a “Green Card”, granting me permanent residency is the United States and the ability to work here legally. My immigration lawyer advises me that, though there are various criteria for obtaining a “Green Card”, including – lookee there – “Unique Talent”, the safest strategy is to set up a business in the United States, with a business license and a business bank account – everything that would indicate I’m a business – in my case, a television production business.

I do what the lawyer tells me. I am now a business.

Flash Forward: I’m sitting in front of an American Immigration Officer, and he’s studying my application. Everything seems to be in order, he announces, but he has one question. The question is this:

“Why didn’t you apply for your ‘Green Card’ under ‘Unique Talent’?”

(By that time, I had won an Emmy Award and had been nominated for another. “Unique Talent” would by no means have been an unreasonable claim.)

I could have given a “High Road” explanation. I could have said to the Immigration Officer, “You know, I once lost a job I really wanted because of this ‘Unique Talent’ arrangement, and I was not willing to deprive an American writer of an opportunity to work the way I was deprived when I was working in Canada.”

I didn’t say that, because that wasn’t the reason I had applied as a “business” rather than applying under “Unique Talent.” Instead, I told him the truth. My decision was of a practical nature. There was the chance the Immigration Officer might test my “uniqueness”, leading to the risky possibility:

“What if you didn’t think I was funny?”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"The Myth Of Unanimity"

You’re in the park and you’re touched by a spontaneous impulse to pick one of the pretty flowers. You reach down to pick one when someone (invariably a loved one) says,

“Don’t do that.”

“Why not?” you reply. “It’s only one flower.”

To which the “someone” inevitably replies,

“What if everybody wanted to do that?”

There’s an answer to that question, an answer that’s unquestionably true, but you don’t pull it out, because you’re in enough trouble for merely thinking about picking a flower. The answer to the question, “What if everybody wanted to do that?” is this:

“They don’t.”

My extended inhabitance on this planet has led me to a conclusion that comes very close to being a rule:

Everybody never wants to do anything.

It is my view that, in virtually any situation you can think of, some people want to do something, and some people don’t. Everybody never wants to do anything.

A non-“flower in the park” example:

Today’s Voting Day. Voting Day sends me back to Tenth Grade at my high school, Bathurst Heights Collegiate and Vocational School. (I’ll tell you about the school another time. They tried to intermix academic students with vocational school students in a single facility. It didn’t work. The “academics” were picked on for four years.)

Before our first class, our Home Room teacher, Mr. Payton (“Pay attention or you’ll get a detention”) announces the opening of nominations for Class President, who will serve on the school’s student council. Some wiseass nominates me. I immediately decline. The wiseass’s sidekick nominates me again. I decline again.

I know what’s going on. It’s a practical joke to get me elected, so I’ll have to attend meetings in the mornings before classes begin, and have to walk to school in the dark. Not to mention being stuck having to do things, like plan for a prom I had no intention of attending.

I can’t put a positive spin on this. I have a miniscule impulse in the direction of service. The closest I come to even leaning in that direction is the service I provide in this blog with the recurring message: ”You’re not alone. I’m messed up too.”

I have to believe that’s at least partially what I’m doing here. Otherwise, it’s simply an exercise in ego with borders.

There is no election I can ever imagine running for. Which leads to the same question as the “flower picking” question, but with negative trajectory.

“What if nobody wanted to run for election?”

The answer is the same. Only backwards.

Nobody never wants to do anything.

Could you put that in English, please?

Somebody always wants to run.

I don’t understand why. I don’t want to run. But that’s me (and my friend, Paul, among, I imagine, others.) Another group of people clearly feel otherwise. Everyone running today, and everyone they defeated in the primaries desperately – or passionately – your choice – wanted to run for office. My explanation for this is the same reason I have finally concluded as to why people go into show business. The reason is:

There are lots of reasons.

Some people run for office because they want to serve their country. Hats off to them. (Not sarcastic. I mean it.)

Some people are inveterate problem solvers. Thank goodness for them. We need problem solvers. Which is good, because problem solvers need problems to solve. And what bigger problems are there to solve than the problems facing our country today (or any day)? So, “Vote for me. I’ll solve your problems.” You know what? Sometimes they actually do.

Some people are drawn to the action in politics, the slash and parry of furious debate. (I hate that. I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t agree with me.) For those with a taste for combat, politics, at least to some degree, is essentially a competition, a sport, maybe even a blood sport. The combatants are never more alive than when they’re whacking away at each other, knee deep in the fray. At some point, the stakes become secondary. The battle becomes primal. You’re simply driven to win.

Some people go into politics because they like wielding power. “Look what I can do? Ooh, and look what I can make other people do. And on top of everything, people keep giving me stuff.” Finally, as Henry Kissinger, not the most attractive of men, candidly opined: “Power is an aphrodisiac.”

So there’s that.

It may be instructive in assessing a candidate’s motives to take note of the way they run their campaigns. Yes, there’s the undeniable reality: You can’t govern if you don’t win. We got that. The question becomes, with that understanding, “What is it that you will you do and what is it that you won’t do in order to win?”

It is my opinion that every time a candidate opens their mouth to make a pronouncement, they’re delivering two messages. The first message involves the content of that pronouncement, for example, “My opponent is Un-American.” The second message involves A) the candidate’s willingness to express that pronouncement and B) their willingness to express that pronouncement in the particular manner in which they express it.

Many of the issues are pretty clear-cut. “My opponent believes in getting out of Iraq as soon as possible. I believe in staying in Iraq as long as is necessary.” “My opponent would cut taxes for the middle class but raise them for the wealthy. I want to cut everybody’s taxes.” The choices are simple. Two positions. Take your pick.

It appears, however, that a lot candidates don’t trust that their positions are persuasive enough to carry the day. They seem unwilling to allow the clearly articulated contrasting views to simply stand there and duke it out. Instead, we get “campaigning.”


Distortion. Exaggeration. Sarcasm. Innuendo. Name-calling. Deliberate lying.

“Attack” politics. Demonizing the opponent. Disrespect bordering on contempt.

On the other hand, is the candidate who eschews such odiferous strategies really being more truthful? Or are they merely subscribing to an alternate, but equally calculating, set of tactics?

Which seems to lead here:

“All politicians are self-serving crooks.”

I don’t, however, believe that. Not because my experience tells me otherwise. I have no experience with politicians. (I knew Al Franken, but before he decided to run.) I don’t believe all politicians are self-serving crooks because of my rule. Reformulated in the following sentence:

No everybodies are ever anything.

Now that I’ve confused you sufficiently…

Enjoy your vote.