Friday, September 30, 2011

"More Fall Season Frivolity"

This season, a comedian named Whitney Cummings has two sitcoms on the air, one – called Whitney – which she created herself and in which she stars – as “Whitney” – and another, Two Broke Girls, which Cummings co-created with former regular “Sex in the City” writer, Michael Patrick King.

First, I’d like to take a moment to imagine how that felt.

Whitney Cummings, calling her agent:

WHITNEY: Help! I just got two scripts picked up for pilots!

WHITNEY’S AGENT: That’s a “First Class Problem.” (Meaning, a lot of people would kill to have two scripts picked up for pilots.)

The Fall Schedule is announced. Whitney calls her agent again.

WHITNEY: Help! I just got two pilots picked up for series!

WHITNEY’S AGENT: That’s a “First Class Problem.” (Meaning, a lot of people would kill to have two pilots picked up for series.)

At this point, were I Whitney, I would drive straight to their office, to ascertain whether my agent was a recorded message.

Having one show on the air is a nightmare. Having two – there is no word for that. But if there were, it would come with a gun, and instructions for blowing your brains out. Or maybe that’s just me, projecting my personal fears onto a challenging but objectively manageable situation.

So, okay. A woman has two shows on the air. Curious, I decide to check both of them out. And, albeit with a shamefully miniscule sampling – I watched Whitney once and Two Broke Girls twice – and I will not be expanding that sampling, as I am unwilling to watch either show again – I am left, post facto, with a head-scratching observation:

The show that Whitney Cummings co-created seems, to me at least, to be superior to the series that she’s in. (Though Two Broke Girls’ second episode, penned by co-creator King, felt almost like a parody of a sitcom, with every second line of dialogue being metronomically and obligatorily a punchliine, whether King was able to come up with one, or not. I feared for the actors’ subsequent ability to look themselves in the mirror.)

That brackets part notwithstanding, what still remained was the following nagging question:

How is it that a comedian who, one might imagine, knows herself – her comic proclivities, her timing, her perspective on the world – ends up creating a series in which she appears that is measurably less satisfying than the one she co-created, but is not in?

(I don’t know you, of course, but you might find it enjoyable to play a game called, “The Germ”, as in, “What was the germ of the idea that triggered Earlo’s decision to write this post?” If you guessed that, in this case, it’s the nagging question posed in the paragraph immediately above, then you, my friend, are a winnah!)

What came to mind as explanations for why Two Broke Girls seemed to me more enjoyable than Whitney are three in number:

One: The Director

Two Broke Girls was directed by Jim Burrows, hands down, the greatest sitcom director that ever was. Jim directed my Best of the West pilot, making everything in the script work as well as I imagined it would, and adding underscoring bits of physical business that made some things work even better than I imagined they would. Though visually, one sitcom director is pretty much as good as the next one, when it comes to making the comedy feel organic, believable and attain its maximum comedic potential, the selection of the director makes an enormous difference.

Two: The Premise

Two Broke Girls involves a smart-mouthed, blue-collar girl thrown together with a pampered, rich girl who has unexpectedly lost all her money. Whitney involves a longstanding, stable relationship whose only problem seems to be that they’re not married, though it doesn’t seem to make any difference, unless one of them is taken to the hospital and the other one is barred from staying with them. You see the difference? One premise contains built-in conflict, while the other one purrs like a contented cat, with the occasional fur ball hiccup.

Now recently, a commenter spoke strongly against exaggeration, exaggeration, to them, feeling like tiresome, sitcom contrivance. To that, I respond with a quote I read somewhere that opined that, “Comedy is exaggeration, plus ten per cent.”

Excessive exaggeration can understandably make a sophisticated audience roll its eyes – unless we’re talking about Lucy, in which case, no amount of exaggeration seems too great and the results are always hilarious – but, Lucy aside, you do at least need that “ten per cent”; otherwise, what you’re watching is not comedy, it’s a documentary.

Two Broke Girls may display too much over-the-top exaggeration – the girls do keep a large horse in their backyard – but, on its primary outing at least, Whitney, to my sensibilities at least, offers less than enough.

Point Number Three: Acting Chops

To me, comedian Whitney Cummings is less interesting playing herself than actors Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are playing made-up characters. Why? Because “being” is not acting, any more than “showing up” is doing stuff. The actor’s training and experience is different from the comedian’s, which, with notably exceptions like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, revolves less around sustaining a character than on a hit-and-run bombardment of a series of jokes.

Whitney Cummings may well get better at playing herself, but someone else will have to tell me if she does. I will not be revisiting her show, nor will I be checking back on Two Broke Girls. Unless someone explains to the co-creator that a joke and a good joke are not the same thing.

By the way – in case you are ready to consign me to the “grump” pile – the TV comedy that makes me laugh more consistently and my loudly than any other on the air?


Family Guy.

So I do like something.

On the other side of the coin – it’s not really the other side of the coin, I’m just trying to pretend it fits – the explanation for why I am out of the sitcom-writing business entirely?

The “Viewer Rating” assigned to New Girl, a sweet but innocuous new entry on Fox:

“S”, for “Intense Sexual Situations”; “L”, for “Strong Coarse Language”; and “D” for “Intensely Suggestive Dialogue.”

I am unable to do any of that.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"An Atheistical Companion"

For those descendants of the Red Sea pedestrians who are not partaking in today's proceedings in the ecclesiastical arena of your tribe of origin, I offer a companional, concise rationale for your counter-religional predilections.

It's a definition of religion from The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce. I hope it fills the spot that is filled for believers by the unquestioning surrender to a Higher Power.

Are you ready? Here goes.

Religion: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

So there you have it.

It is still not too late to get to the synagogue.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Moneyball" (Not Quite A Review)

Moneyball is a floppy-eared puppy of a movie that I wish were better but it isn’t, though, considering its subject matter, it’s probably better than it has any right to be. (That’s why this is not quite a review. A review would have offered a snappier opening sentence.)

Here’s Moneyball’s premise, if you don’t already know. (It’s also the premise if you do already know.) Adopting a statistical approach to identifying overlooked and undervalued baseball players, the beleaguered General Manager of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s commits to a revolutionary strategy in order to compete with far wealthier teams, challenging baseball’s longstanding tradition of player evaluation in the process.

Try selling that at a studio “pitch meeting.” A baseball movie about math. But somehow, the producers pulled it off. So solid points for that. And for the fact that they provided a sports movie lacking the standard “we fought against great odds but we triumphed in the end” trajectory. Which I hate.

Adhering to the mandate from its backers, Moneyball, the movie, eerily mirrors its subject matter. Though the movie boasts a huge star, Brad Pitt, and two Oscar-winning writers, Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Moneyball is, compared with the current movies crop, a low-tech endeavor with a clearly limited budget (a conservative hedge against box office rejection).

Just like the A’s had to find creative ways to make it with a constricted payroll, the Moneyball production seems to have faced a similar challenge. (Production value-wise, it paid the price. With its reliance on inexpensive stock footage and minimal staged on-field performance, Moneyball is slowed by a lack of crackling action, a war movie with no battle scenes.)

Okay. Now.

Aaron Sorkin is one of Moneyball’s two credited screenplay writers. (Another writer, Stan Chervin, is credited with the story.) Oh, here’s something you might not know. When two writers are credited on the screen and there’s an “and” between their names, as in “Written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin”, it means, not that they were a team who wrote together, but that each of them took independent, consecutive cracks at the script. Whose name is listed first could reflect anything from the order in which the writers were hired, to which writer contributed more substantially in the final product, to who has the greater clout, to alphabetical order, to “Let’s flip a coin.”


I’ve written about Aaron Sorkin before. I greatly admire his work, especially on The West Wing. His writing is smart and funny and clever and insightful. His characters feel human, and his dialogue sparkles with quatoability.

What I’ve noticed, however, is Sorkin’s repeated commitment to big-time bluffs in his storytelling.

In A Few Good Men, Sorkin anchors the bad guy’s argument for his criminal misbehavior in Cold War rhetoric – “You need us on that wall” – at a point in historical time when the actual Cold War is virtually over. Sorkin’s bluff is that we’ll forget that this isn’t “back then”, gambling that this anachronistic justification will satisfactorily serve as an explanatory rationale.

In The Social Network, Sorkin’s bluff is that the movie’s framework, a series of lawsuit deposition scenes, will mesmerize us into imagining that the movie is a taut, Law & Order-type courtroom wrangle, when, in fact, one side – the Mark Zuckerberg side – is ultimately told that he hasn’t got a chance, and that he should settle, which he does. This is like a western called Showdown, in which the whole movie is structured towards a climactic gunfight, until one gunfighter is told that the other gunfighter is faster than him, so he gets on his horse and leaves town. The End.

(Having leveled the “bluffing” charge, I will candidly – and perhaps contradictorily – admit that I have watched both A Few Good Men and The Social Network on numerous occasions, and look forward, especially in the case of A Few Good Men, to doing so again. Go figure.)

In Moneyball, Sorkin, I submit, is at it again. Only this time, the “bluffs” are multiple.

One: There’s the bluff that this is a sports movie, when it’s really a movie about change.

Two: There’s the bluff that the new system improved the Oakland A’s fortunes on the field, when, in fact, they did no better in the playoffs than they’d done the year before.

Three: There’s the bluff that we’ll be distracted away from the the real story, which is that, unlike football where the profits are shared equally between all the teams, baseball allows – nay, requires – poor teams to compete for the players’ services with rich teams, offering virtually no meaningful provisions that would promote parity.

Four: There’s the bluff that we will ignore the fact that we are being asked to root for statistical “bean counting” over experience, gut instinct and professional expertise, which is comparable to rejecting executives who respond to “idea pitches” viscerally in favor of movie grosses “Numbers Crunchers” screaming, “I want more of the stuff that makes money!”

Five: Moneyball wants us to believe that this new system works, citing, at its conclusion the success, not of the Oakland A’s, but of the Boston Red Sox, who, adopting the same player evaluating strategy, won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. What the movie intentionally leaves out is that the Boston Red Sox, simultaneously, had one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball.

Bringing us to the biggest bluff of all – Numero Six: The creation of a false “either-or” dichotomy, when the Red Sox conclusively proved that it can – and should be – a combination of both.

So there’s that.

On the other side, Moneyball offers an endearing, “star turn” performance by Brad Pitt, an Oscar-worthy portrayal of nerdy hyper-seriousness by Jonah Hill, and a beguiling debut by twelve year-old Kerris Dorsey, as the daughter.

Would I watch Moneyball again? Yes. Would I respond to the movie the same way I am drawn back to The Social Network and A Few Good Men? No.


Too many bluffs.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me six times, shame on me, me, me, me, me

And me.


Jewish New Year's wishes to those who participate. For the next ten days, as their future's are being determined, outsiders will see Jewish believers with concerned looks on their faces. Non-believers will also sport concerned looks, but their look involves the concern that they may be mistaken in not being believers. Atheists? Not a care in the world. But the price is - no holidays. Best wishes to all. Hedging my bets once again, I'm off to pray for my life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"An Echo In The Wilderness - Conclusion"

You like a show; you don’t like a show. The reasons are various.

“It’s funny.”

“They’re doing my life. But with jokes!”

“That girl is hot!”

“It’s on after a show I like, and I’m too lazy to change stations.” (Even with a remote! Imagine Attila the Hun, determining his chances of beating America in a war. “They refuse to change stations, even with a remote. I think we got ‘em!”)

Sometimes, you don’t need a reason to like a show. It’s “Some enchanted evening you may meet a stranger across a crowded room.” Your response is purely visceral. A chemical reaction to sequential flashes on a screen. It’s okay. Reasons are not necessary.

You like a show; you don’t like a show. Case closed.

I spoke last time about the subjective elements that could singly or in concert compel a viewer to become a fan. You cannot dispute any of them.

"'That girl is hot'? Are you kidding me?”


Case close again.

It’s the same with all eight of the categories I delineated (and there are probably others) in evaluating, say, a pilot for future viewing consideration.

“It’s all subjective”, one might say. But that “one” would not be me. For me, it is not all subjective. It’s subjective a lot. But sometimes, it isn’t.

What do I mean by that? I mean this. There are elements that affect one’s appreciation of a show that are simply not subjective. The reason a show fails to appeal is because the creator of the show did something objectively wrong. Or at least flagrantly unhelpful.

Which brings us back to Up All Night.

And their, for me at least, serious mistake.

Here’s what it is. There are three main characters in Up All Night. And in the pilot episode, the show’s creator sold two of those characters down the river.

That’s a big number, two out of three.

And it’s important.

You want to distract the audience from the reality that they’re watching paid actors playing made-up people on a show. In order to get the audience to return week after week, it’s important that they care about those characters. And that they take those characters seriously.

The premise of the show: After they have a baby, named Amy, lawyer husband, Chris (Will Arnett) decides to stay at home and raise her, while his wife, Reagan (Christina Applegate) returns to work on an Oprah-type television show, eponymously called Ava (“featuring Maya Rudolph as Ava”). The couple are former cuss-comfortable, “party hearty people.” So this is all new to them.

Okay, I got it. Now.

In the pilot story, Reagan has to cancel her and her Chris’s desperately needed night out to celebrate their anniversary because of a last-minute emergency at work. How does the husband respond?

“It’s the deal, right? Don’t worry about it.”

At the episode’s climax, Ava insists that Reagan drive to Santa Barbara with her, to nail down a guest for the show. Reagan demurs, explaining that she needs to stay home with the baby. How does the husband respond?

“It’s okay. You go. Amy and I will be fine.”

Yikes! This guy is wim-pee! Unworthy of my interest, sympathy, viewing time, or respect.

At some point, I want Chris to erupt. Even if it’s hopeless. Even if he’s being petty, and he knows he’s being petty, but he can’t help himself, because he’s a human being! I’m watching this guy, and the only thought in my mind is, “Do something!”

The closest Chris comes to erupting is with a philosophical observation. (Who of us doesn’t erupt that way?) The observation?

“I guess I’m just pissed…and I don’t know who to be pissed at.”

Well, okay then.


I get, “Men need to be sensitive”, but this actor has nothing to play. And more importantly, I as a viewer have nothing to watch. “Passive and reactive” is not a compelling characterization. I don’t know many audience members who will happily return, explaining, “I like it when he gives in.”

One major character (out of three) – a soap bubble. Then it gets worse.

Ava, played with energy and comic verve by Maya Rudolph, is a needy, insensitive terrifying tyrant. She says “insan”, and everyone in the office is too intimidated to tell her it’s “insane.”

When Reagan returns from maternity leave, she immediately stops Ava from “eating her feelings.” Ava confesses that Reagan has been sorely missed; she’s the only one who will call Ava on her mishugas (foolishness). Reagan promises Ava that she will be there for her one hundred percent.

In the final confrontation, Ava says I need you to come to Santa Barbara with me. Reagan says I can’t. Ava reminds Reagan that she promised to be there for her one hundred percent. Reagan respectfully stands her ground. Then, after a “You can’t have everything” story that says, “At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her ass and her face”, and Reagan’s continuing refusal to acquiesce, what does the megalomaniacal ogre Ava say?

Pretty much,


The primary antagonist of the series has just caved. In Episode One! And with very little opposition to boot. This is not satisfying. I’ve been watching the show for twenty minutes. I deserve a decent argument. “I love you, but… no” is not an argument. And “Okay” is a surrender. I’d call this toothless capitulation a letdown. And an egregious disservice to the integrity of the show.

It’s not enough for a show to be funny, or the players are talented. If the show’s creator doesn’t make the effort to protect her characters, what reason is there for me to care about them or take them seriously ever again?

A, humbly proposed, alternate version?

“I need you to come with me.”

“I’m sorry, Ava. I love you, but…no.”

“At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her ass and her face. You can’t have everything.”

“Well neither can you.”

“”I’m sorry, what?”

“If you want me to be the woman you need me to be, I can’t be a doormat.”

“Wait, did you just turn this around on me?”

“I thought nothing would change after the baby. I was wrong.”

“So you’re reneging on your promise?”

“Ava, you need me to be strong. For you. But to be that person to exist…that you need, sometimes, I’m going to have to be strong…for me.”

“Will you be doing that a lot?”

“Only when as I need to.”

“Fine. But on my drive to Santa Barbara – by myself – I am going to think real hard about what’s wrong with this.”

Something like that. It doesn’t have to be those words, or those beats. But it has to be something. Otherwise, I’m watching a show for no reason.

Many explanations for why a show works for you are subjective. A small number of them are not.

One of them?

You do not sell out your characters in Episode One.

It may take a professional to diagnose a problem. But anyone can hear when a show has a rattle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"An Echo In The Wilderness"

Nobody asked me…

But here are my thoughts about a new NBC comedy series called Up All Night.

First, let me tell you what I have nothing to say about. At least nothing significantly meaningful.

I have nothing to say about the issue of commercial popularity. I have long ago lost – and I never much had – any ability to determine whether a show will become a hit. If I possessed such an ability, I’d have a big office at a studio developing “Can’t miss” projects for the networks, I’d be sitting on panels pontificating on “The Future of Situation Comedy”, and I’d be a sitting on a dais sharpening my bon mots for the Charlie Sheen “roast.” I am, instead, wearing slippers in my office at home, and I’m writing this blog.

I have nothing to say about the comedic gifts of the regular actors on the show. All three performers – Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph and Canada’s own Will Arnett – have impressive comedy credentials, but Larry David, in my view, beats everyone in that department, and some people would not be caught dead watching Curb Your Enthusiasm. Talent is certainly helpful, but it Is unequivocally not the ballgame.

I have nothing to say about “Is it funny?” Maya Rudolph does what I believe is a reprise – with a different name – of her “Oprah” characterization from SNL, and I recall chuckling several times at her performance. (I have never seen the SNL version.) I have to admit, much of the rest of the show’s dialogue slipped by me, sounding mumbled or “thrown away”. However, that could be hearing impairment on my part.

I have nothing to say about the show’s premise – a former “party hearty couple” now tied down with a baby, the mother returning to work after “Maternal Leave”, the Dad staying home with the baby – because premises rarely make or break a series. (Notable Exception: My Mother, The Car.) It’s what you do with them. If I’d created M*A*S*H, the doctors would have shut down the Operating Theaters – too bloody – and gone out to try and make peace with the Koreans. Or maybe I’d have changed their professions to battlefield accountants.

I have nothing to say about the number of “Lead Characters”, which, in the case of Up All Night, is three. I recall famously complaining that Frasier didn’t have nearly enough lead characters to hold my attention – two brothers, a Dad, and his nurse – but I believe the show proved me hideously mistaken.

I have nothing to say about the pilot story – a workplace emergency causes Christina Applegate to renege on her promise to “party like it’s before we had the baby” with the housebound Arnett on their anniversary night, leading ultimately to a confrontation with her needy and demanding diva boss – Rudolph – over her priorities. My reason for remaining “mum” on this subject is the ditto of the show’s premise. It’s not what it is; it’s what you do with it.

I have nothing to say about the series’ marrying realistic characterizations (Applegate’s and Arnett’s) with a sketch-like, broad characterization (Rudolph’s). I had similar concerns about 30 Rock, where the Tina Fey-Alec Baldwin interactions seemed positively documentary-like, as compared with the surreal comic stylings of Tracy Morgan (I believe there was an “abducted by aliens” subplot) and Jane Krakowsky (didn’t she have a boyfriend who, as a turn-on, dressed exactly like she did?) But that show did pretty well. Headed for syndication, I believe.

I have nothing to say about the production format. My instincts suggest that these tested comedians would soar performing before a live studio audience, rather than toiling in the feedback-free bubble of single-camera entombment. But I don’t really know. The show’s current rhythm, tone and style could be exactly what makes it.

In conclusion, there are a lot of things – wait, I’m going back to count them – okay, I’m back – eight things…I have nothing to say about. Why do I have nothing to say about them? Because they are all subjective concerns.

Every category of evaluation I have mentioned is a matter less of professional adjudication than of individual taste. Series are no longer required to appeal to everyone. (The television critic for the L.A. Times admitted recently that he did not find Two and a Half Men funny. The show seems to be doing quite nicely without him.)

Today’s TV series need only to appeal to enough people. And if those people happen to be eighteen to thirty-five, Up All Night’s creator, Emily Spivey, can start pricing really expensive automobiles.

There is, however, one thing about the Up All Night pilot that I can say something about. It concerns a major, and, to me, egregious, misplaced priority in its presentation. This criticism is not subjective. It’s a “not taking care of business” error that a professional writer notices, and an audience senses in their bones, feeling a vague dissatisfaction with the product, without exactly knowing why.

(This may also be subjective, in that fans may be onboard for the show regardless. However, the issue in question is a structural one, and if they had done things – pardon my hubris – correctly, it would not have impeded their enjoyment, it would only have made things better.)

This glaring miscalculation, and how I would have proposed to ameliorate it had I been consulted, I will discuss with you next time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Ten Reasons Football Is An Extremely Blessed Spectator Sport"

I don’t mean that football is blessed by God. I don’t think God watches sports. At least I hope not. There are some famines going on that would seem more worthy of His attention. Not that I’m telling God what to do. Everybody needs a break. But so do the famine victims. I’m just sayin’.

Regular readers are aware that, though I appreciate the moments of heart-pounding excitement, and the mouth-dropping ability of players to execute under pressure, football is by no means my favorite sport.

Rabid football fans seem readily forgiving the huge amounts of time swallowed up by the huddles, the first down measurements, penalty announcements, ball placements, the discussions between the officials, the “Instant Replay” assessments that are far from instant, and the ever-popular rolling injured football players off the field on gurneys. I imagine if you added up all the “down” time during a football game, there is less actual playing time than there is in baseball, which is incessantly criticized for being slow.

Aside from my, arguably irrational, resentment because football is more popular that my favorite sports – baseball and hockey – it is football’s inherent chauvinism that bugs me the most. You know how, at certain sporting events, like, four military jets fly over, reminding everyone watching how strong and powerful and proudly testosteronal America is?

Football is like the flyover that never leaves.

It is my view that a considerable portion of football’s popularity results from the advantaging blessings the game enjoys as televised sport. I will now delineate what these are.

One: The Schedule

I realize that rabid football fans watch every second of it – including the exhibition games, which involve scores of players who, by the start of the actual season, will inevitably be working elsewhere. But, for the casual viewer, the early part of the football season has them still focusing on baseball, culminating in its climactic finale, the World Series. By the time the casual viewer turns to football, the season is half over, and the remaining half season of games are all critically important.

Two: The Fewer Number of Games

A six-game losing streak in baseball (162 games), hockey (84 games) or basketball (82 games)? Worrisome, but there are plenty of games left to bounce back. A six- game losing streak in football (16 games), and you’re likely to be hunting for elk on Super Bowl Sunday.

Three: The “Fewer Games” Excitement Factor

With football teams scheduled to play only one game a week, every game feels like an event. In baseball, “I went to Game One Hundred and Twelve” offers the “memorable experience” uniqueness of brushing your teeth. (Unless something spectacular happens. I once saw a Perfect Game, during the first game of midseason double-header.)

Four: Linearity

(Or call it something that sounds clearer, let me know, and I’ll change “linearity.”)

Football is primarily an “up and down” game. You go up the field; you go down the field. This makes it very easy for the cameras to cover. Compare this to baseball, which is not linear, but multi-directional. The outfielders are looking in. The catcher is looking out. The pitcher is looking in. The batter is looking out. The infielders have that “diamond thing” going, so they’re looking all over the place. And the runners proceed around the bases, in an angular direction that in no way resembles a straight line.

In baseball, when the action starts, meaning after the ball is hit, numerous things are happening at once. Unable to present everything, which action is the director supposed to show us – the runner(s) proceeding around the bases, the outfielder chasing after the ball, in infielders positioning themselves for the throw, the catcher, bracing himself for the tag?

When you’re in the stadium, your eyes dart around, and you can process the whole play. But exactly how is the television viewer at home, not watching on a three-dimensional television – because they currently don’t exist – supposed to comprehensively follow the action? With “up and down” football, this problem does not exist.

Five – Advantageous Technology

I don’t know if “Instant Replay” was invented for football, but football exploits it, by far, the most. Almost every play is replayed after it takes place, filling the time during the endless huddles. Baseball replays the meaningful highlights, but who wants a second look at “Ball Two – Low”?

Football, with its dozens of cameras, offers viewers the opportunity of seeing multiple angles of the same play. Hockey, due, I believe, to the inexperience of the camera personnel, relies primarily on a single camera, sweeping the ice surface, like a prison yard searchlight. Can you imagine a football game covered in a similar fashion? It would be like a “traffic camera”, looking for speeders.

Recently, football came up with a new gizmo, a simulated orange line, allowing viewers to see how far a team has to go to get a first down. In hockey – even with HD – you can still barely see the puck. Advantage: football. A big one.

Six – Helmets and Pads

Substantial padding and wraparound football helmets send a clear, edge-of-your-seat-inducing signal: A person can get hurt in this game. Hockey players wear pads, and, now, helmets, but they’re dinkier. The message? Mayhem is possible, but unlikely to require an ambulance.

Seven – Parity

Since the primary source of revenue – the multi-billion dollar network TV contracts – is shared equally by all the teams, the Green Bay Packers are on an equal financial footing with the New York Giants, allowing both of them to compete for top-of-the-line talent. Compare that to baseball, where, due to hugely unequal local television contracts, the Yankees boast the highest payroll in the Major Leagues, while Green Bay has a team playing in the Northwoods League called the Bullfrogs.

Eight­The Championship Game Is Played In A Weather-Friendly Venue, Or Indoors.

Nothing’s worse than having your showcase event turned into a joke by weather conditions that the game was not meant to be played in. Television often requires the World Series to drag on into November, and tradition decrees that the games be contested on the competing teams’ home fields, whether there are icicles hanging from the scoreboard, or not.


Football is particularly blessed in the area of betting, where for reasons, explainable and less so, the “point spread” – essential to the wagering process – is considerably easier to establish. In basketball – I mean, I personally, have seen a twenty-point lead disappear in two minutes – calculating a reliable “point spread” is virtually impossible.

It is my belief that “ease of betting” is, as much as anything, what shot football ahead, to become America’s, now, most popular sport. Without the betting, football is just twenty-two men, slamming into each other. Which has its own appeal, in a car crash kind of way, but it’s nothing like pocketing the spoils, because the team you put money on exceeded the “spread.”

– Synchronicity

Today’s sports fans show a strong preference for a game that’s in sync with the intense rhythms of contemporary life, rather than the time-banished tempo of yesteryear. I myself prefer a greater respite from reality than I get from watching a game, reminiscent of crossing a busy intersection at Rush Hour when the streetlights aren’t functioning. The majority of the sports viewing public, however, believes I’m insane.

Look at that. I said “ten reasons” in the title, and I made it to “ten.” That was pure luck. I wonder if there’s a football game I can bet on, while I’m on a hot streak.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The Puck Crisis"

A recent commenter, Zaraya by name, made mention of “The Puck Crisis”, a nine-minute mockumentary I wrote for a CBC (Canadian National Television) special that Lorne Michaels produced, in partnership with my brother, on what was called The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. Zaraya seemed to think that “The Puck Crisis” was pretty good. I liked it quite a bit myself.

As Zaraya noted, “The Puck Crisis” in not available on YouTube, or anywhere else. This is not my only disappointment concerning the CBC’s undervaluing of broadcast material. There was a Public Affairs program called Of All People that, hearing that I had failed twice before, sent a camera crew to film my upcoming Driver’s Test for network television. I passed.

I would have liked to have a record of both things. Unfortunately, the CBC is notoriously frugal. They probably taped over my efforts with coverage of the annual Governor General’s “Speech From the Throne”, or whatever. Either that, or the producers cut the videotape into little strips they could slip under their spinning tires during snowstorms.

Most people know that, other than Anne Murray the “Canadian Songbird”, Canada’s primary claim to international fame is hockey. Canadians take the game extremely seriously. I don’t know about now, but when I lived there, Canada’s Number One-rated television show was Hockey Night In Canada. The second highest rated program was Wednesday Night Hockey.

I had once seen a mock documentary called “The Spaghetti Harvest”, where, with a totally straight face, a short documentary-style film was presented, featuring happy, Italian peasants, harvesting their spaghetti crop. The film showed them cheerfully severing long, thickly growing strands of spaghetti hanging earthward from well-tended groves of “spaghetti trees.”

I took the same format and I adapted it to hockey.

It started with a two-minute commentary I concocted for a show I was doing regularly on CBC radio. I later showed it to Lorne, certain the idea might work even better on television. Lorne agreed, and off we went.

Time has relieved me of some of the specifics, but I believe it went something like this.

We opened at a news desk, where a seriously looking anchor announced the catastrophe to the nation:

The puck crop is desperately imperiled, endangering the imminent future of hockey in Canada, specifically the upcoming NHL season.

“Stock footage” showed Canadian puck farmers, in happier times, gathering their crops, ala “the Spaghetti Harvest.” The crops were flourishing. Healthy. Fecund. And gloriously abundant.

And then, tragedy struck.

Its name:

“Dutch Puck Disease.”

The virus had been inadvertently imported to Canada on the sticks of a touring Dutch hockey team. The lethal germs infected all the crops in their path, bringing the Canadian puck farming industry to its knees.

The formerly burgeoning puck farms are now revisited. But this time, the once vigorous pucks, droop limply from the trees, no longer their vibrant black color, but sickeningly gray, decayng and desiccated. Think: leprosy, but with hockey pucks.

We then cut to the Canadian equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, where expert scientists weighed in on the situation. Using microscopic blowups, Canadians were told that, as the Dutch hockey teamed barnstormed the country, the “pucktacocci” spores from their sticks took to the air, ultimately penetrating the fundament of the deteriorating pucks. There is, as yet, no way to reverse the infestation, no protocol for keeping the virulence in check.

Actual hockey players were then interviewed, all of them understandably concerned. Without pucks, the game that they love is in terminal jeopardy. One player reminisced,

“When we were kids, we used to play hockey without a puck. But at the end of the game, we never knew who won.”

Also included were a series of unscripted “Person-In-The-Street” interviews. A camera was set up on the corner of a busy Toronto intersection, and random passersby were asked how they felt about the endangerment of our national game. One teary-eyed hockey fan could only say,

“It’s terrible.”

It appeared he might need to be sedated.

A beleaguered puck farmer is then shown, wondering where his future livelihood lay. He tried to diversify, planting a crop of lacrosse rackets, but his heart, he explained, just wasn’t in it.

Finally, the news anchor turned to the camera and made an appeal, soliciting donations to help find a cure for “Dutch Puck Disease.” In the end, the “Dean of Hockey Broadcasting”, the iconic “Voice” of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Foster Hewitt, sitting behind a large, oak desk in his office, injected his own heartfelt plea:

“Send a buck, and save a puck.”

And that, more or less, was that.

Words cannot do justice to the presentation. I wish you could see it. But even if you could, its impact would be considerably watered down unless you were able to think like a Canadian.

And I’m not sure if that’s even possible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Old Business"

I received this comment on August the 26th, but other stuff intervened, and I was unable to respond as quickly as I wanted to. Now, finally, I have time. So here it is.

I wrote a post called “Inflationary Hearing” (August 26). In it, I talked about people on both ends of the political spectrum who, when they hear the opposition promoting a minimally threatening idea – I used examples involving gun and abortion rights concerns – their brains instantly inflate that proposal to its most imperiling extreme. Commenter Ger Apeldoorn accurately, I think, described it as “a tendency to interpret anything that is said to them as an attack.”

My point was that “inflationary hearing” is a troubling obstacle to any effort to reach, not solutions, these issues will always be contentious, but reasonable compromises that people of good will can live with.

A commenter, monikered Lord Lillis commented:

“These are what I call your “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces. Adding, “Personally, I don’t care for them.” The Lord then adds, “But I wonder: should you do more of them so you get better (at the risk of losing readers like myself) or do less (because they aren’t your forte and they don’t kill like you camping pieces.”

Okay. One thing at a time.

What’s a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker”? (I know. But you may not.)

“Alter-Cocker” is Yiddish for “old fart.” “Crotchety” is English, so no translation is necessary.


In my view “Inflationary Hearing” is not one of my “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces.

This is.

But that isn’t.

To me, a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” piece involves a writer, nostalgic for his past, offering “things were better then” comparisons like,

“In my day movies were a quarter and popcorn was a dime.”

“Inflationary Hearing” had nothing to do with nostalgia. It had to do with my oft-mentioned concern that people have stopped hearing what their ideological opponents are saying to them, and instead hear only red flags and fire alarms.

“Inflationary Hearing” has resulted in a polarized environment the likes of which this country has never seen before. Yes, I know about the Civil War. It’s in all the history books. But even in the Civil War era, though each side deeply believed that the other side was wrong – “Slavery is wrong!” “Overruling ‘States’ Rights’ is wrong!” – they did not, as they do today, believe the other side is crazy. Or, from the Right’s perspective, “going straight to hell.”

“Inflationary Hearing” was what I hoped was a thoughtful offering, whose inclusion in a blog entitled Just Thinking seems, to me, entirely “title appropriate.”

Lord Lillis wonders if I should do more “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces, in his words, “so you get better.” At first, this stung.

“I need to get better?”

Ouch! And then whoh! How could I have so erroneously overestimated my performance? At the time, I felt that “Inflationary Hearing” successfully delivered on my intentions.

But now, I have to admit I was wrong.

Although criticism has never been my favorite form of acknowledgement, it is difficult to deny that, had I written “Inflationary Hearing” better, Lord Lillis – though he might still have found it not to his liking – he would at least not have miscategorized his complaint under “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces.

Instead, Lord Lillis would have focused on the flaws in my argument, or that the argument was indifferently delineated. He might also have gotten what I was going for, but respectfully disagreed. The nature of his criticism, however, is not along those lines. Though it possibly might be, were I to more carefully read between them.

I believed that Lord Lillis had played the “Alter Cocker” card inappropriately. It was only when, around the same time as the criticism, some fortuitous reading matter came my way, that I started to re-think my position, and wonder if Lord Lillis might actually be correct after all.

The Round Robin is a “Psychologists-Psychoanalyst Practitioners” newsletter. I am not a subscriber myself, but it comes to Dr. M, and when she spots an article she thinks I’d appreciate, she passes it along to me.

Which is how I got to read, “Notes on an Application of Psychoanalytic Thought” by Richard Grose, Ph.D., LP. (Don’t ask me what LP is. To me, it’s a long-playing record.)

Examining a seminal moment in our history, Dr. Grose argues that, without knowing it, the Founding Fathers had drawn on psychoanalytic principles, while engaging in the excruciating process of hammering out the articles of what would ultimately become the United States Constitution.

Case In Point:

James Madison adamantly opposed the proposal that all the states should be represented equally in Congress, finding such a distribution of power inconsistent with the importance and prosperity of the larger states.

The smaller states, however, fearing marginalization, announced that, that without equal representation, they would refuse to ratify the Constitution, the result being, no United States of America.

This is a really big deal, right? Something needed to be done, or a nation that had just been established would have their name taken off the globe.

A compromise was suggested – which will sound familiar, because it’s what we’ve got today – called “divided sovereignty”, wherein the number of representatives per state in the House would be determined on the basis of population, but in the Senate, the states, no matter their size, would each be allotted the same number of senators, that number being two.

Madison also hated this compromise, fighting tooth and nail – and apparently not always respectfully – against it. However, realizing he lacked the votes to defeat it, and also realizing that the country would go “bye-bye” without some form of accommodation, Madison ultimately surrendered to the position of the majority.

Now, get this. Quoting Dr. Grose:

“Later, after the Convention finally finished its work, while arguing for the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote eloquently in praise of the concept of divided sovereignty – which he had done so much to try to forestall.”

He fought. He lost. He thought it over. And he changed his mind.

Awright, Madison!

On the re-think, ala Madison, I have come to believe that Lord Lillis was accurate. “Inflationary Hearing” was a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” piece. But I am not the trumpeting the “things were better then” of my youth.

I am nostalgic for the Eighteen Century!

Thank you Lord Lillis for drawing that to my attention. I am really going to have to watch myself.

I swear to you.

I had no idea I was doing it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"A Farewell To Summer"

It happens this time every year

And now it’s happening once more

The day I say a sad “Goodbye”

To summer slipping out the door

I ache inside to see it go

While writing this I almost cried

You ask me why it means so much

The answer: simply look outside

Magnificence from wall to wall

The warming sun the sky bright blue

The air is sweet the breeze is light

The strollers smile the birds sing too

The kids can play outside till late

The days are long as long can be

Illusions of extended life

Imagined immortality

Inevitably fall arrives

The leaves turn gold that once were green

It’s hard to fault a time of year

That dresses up like Halloween

The energizing primal pace

The bracing nip autumnal smells

It’s not the season I dislike

It’s everything that fall foretells.

The Arctic gusts the chill that burns

The ink-black skies the locks that froze

The icy stairs endangering hips

The loss of feeling in my toes

Beyond the seasonal distress

For me the wintertime’s the worst

On December the Thirtieth my father died

My Mom, on January First.

It’s crazy stupid wrong it’s dumb

It makes no sense bypasses reason

But putting elements aside

I hate that unforgiving season

It’s true a season’s in between

It’s premature to feel dismay

But signs will surely soon arrive

Their message: Winter’s on its way

Though gratitude’s the proper stance

For summer’s recent splendid show

Where “Thank you” is the thing to say

A wrenching voice intones.

“Don’t go.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

"It Takes All Kinds"

Here’s an unusual thing for a writer to reveal:

I am almost entirely lacking in imagination.

It’s not like I wouldn’t like to have the ability to craft soaring scenarios entirely out of the air. It’s just not what I do. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say, I cannot make anything up.

I look back on the toast I gave at Anna and Colby’s wedding (posted September 6), which went on, to positive effect, for close to ten minutes. Yet, virtually none of it was the product of a rich and fertile imagination. The toast’s contents, instead, derived almost entirely from observation and perspective, and the selection of specific incidents and descriptives.

Imagination had nothing to do with it.

Let’s deconstruct the toast, and see how much of it is simply the facts.

My first comment concerned the wedding preparations: “I played my part in sprucing up the festivities. I bought a new net for the basketball hoop in the driveway.”

That’s exactly what I did. And the only thing I did.

I then “umbrellaed” my “Anna Stories” under the structural headline: “Bonding Moments”, chronicling three reminiscences, all of them true.

Did they hand newborn Anna to me directly after she was born?

They did.

Did I dump her, I mean, drop her off at the “newborn room”?

As quickly as I could.

Did newborn Anna cry so loud, she was almost immediately handed back to me?

The girl was barely out of my arms.

(Did the other newborns take a vote and throw her out of the room? No. Newborns can’t vote. But it was apparent that the hospital nurses, channeling the newborns’ wishes, had voted on their behalf.)

Did Anna tumble off the toilet during “potty training” and land on her head?

She did.

Were we subsequently called to a conference with Anna’s Kindergarten teacher, who reported Anna’s alarming deficiency in her ability to use a scissors?

We were.

(The connection I made between the fall and her condition, asserting that “the fall had irreparably damaged the ‘Scissors Function’ in her brain” is admittedly speculative, but hardly beyond the realm of possibility.)

Did I require Anna and myself to cross the freeway on foot, to get to the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier?

I did. And as I said, “It’s a great ‘Bonding Moment’…if you make it.”

Am I concerned that this insanity might evolve into a family “rite of passage” – “My father dragged me across this freeway; now it’s your turn”?

I am hopeful it won’t, but she is her father’s daughter.

I then bridged to my “Colby Stories” through the idea of “big transitions” using, again, an actual experience, in which, on the day we were leaving Freshman Anna behind at college, I did, indeed, step on an expensive pair of sunglasses, and brush my teeth with Ben-Gay.

Was my first encounter with Colby announced by a last minute “heads up”?

It was.

Did my “vigorous vetting process” of Colby abruptly end when I realized that “he listened and he laughed”?

That’s all I needed to know.

Was I once mesmerized, watching Colby, folding a sweater with infinite care and “engineering precision”, thus learning two more things about Colby – “He’s responsible and he’s neat”?

The guy was amazing. The only feat I’ve seen rivaling that tour de force was waiter in a fancy restaurant in Florence masterfully “boning” a fish. Both performances were wonders to behold.

Is Colby, at six-foot four, “a welcome addition to the Pomerantz gene pool”?


Which was followed by my one joke:

“Six-foot four is a Pomerantz standing on a chair.”

I went back and forth on that one, but it was too good to exclude.

A ten-minute oration. Entirely lacking in magnificent flights of fancy brilliantly conjured by the finest imaginations, which, for better or worse, does not include mine.

I simply don’t have those skills.

Or, going slightly deeper, maybe I do have them, but feel uncomfortably using them.

I once wrote a comedy piece for a Lily Tomlin Special in which a politician is strapped to a “Lie Detector” device, and every time he utters statements that are less than truthful, a buzzer goes off, repeatedly, until the lying weasel finally comes clean.

I strongly identify with that situation. Somewhere inside me, I believe that, if what I say – or write – is not entirely factually accurate, an intrusive buzzer will go “Ehhh!!!” exposing me as a prevaricator and a fraud.

So I stick exclusively to the truth.

Does it limit me creatively?


But it’s the kind of writer I am.