Friday, April 20, 2018

"Answering Yekimi's Question About Working On 'Amazing Stories'"

I have probably written about this before.  But since I have this annoying habit of giving my posts titles that are so incomprehensibly opaque – I have no idea why I do that – it is easier to write it again than to plunge into a protracted and likely futile blogatorial search.  

Wow.  The computer did not underline “blogatorial” in red this time. I guess it finally gave up.

“He makes up words. Why bother?”

Anyway… let’s see.

My first recollection concerning my experience working on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories– to my mind, a mistakenly revelatory title compared to more carefully branded but similarly themed Alfred Hitchcock Presentsand The Twilight Zone – was that, while driving to my first story meeting, my 1978 PeugeotDiesel was rear-ended by Joan Collins. Notthe famous DynastyJoan Collins.  The vehicularly negligent Joan Collins who rear-ended my car. 

A distraught Ms. Collins explained that she was distracted because she had just learned she was pregnant. I replied, “Congratulations.  My back hurts.”

Thatwas my introduction to Amazing Stories– an unfortunate mishap that “totaled” my Peugeot.

Numerous weeks and trips to the chiropractor later, I drove my new Saabto Universal Studios for my rescheduled story meeting.  How did I acquire this coveted assignment?  I and the show’s producers – working directly under Spielberg – had the same agent.  Plus, I later discovered though I no longer recall how, Spielberg had asked Jim Brooks, whom I had worked with on the MTMseries and Taxifor a recommendation of a capable comedy writer and Jim Brooks had proffered my name.  (Which he may nothave had he known I employ unfunny words like “proffered”, a guaranteed instant disqualifier.) 

Steven Spielberg’s production compound looked like the Alamo.  As I entered the building, I felt as nervous as its historical counterpart’s threatened inhabitants.  Not that it was surrounded by the Mexican army, but its “Generalissimo” (JawsE.T. – Spielberg’sscreen credits, notSanta Anna’s – was equally daunting.

I met the show’s producer’s – whose subsequent claim to fame was creating Northern Exposure – who pitched me a story called… Oh, man.  I gotta look it up… hold on a second, will ya?



“Fining Tuning.”

(That took a while but you’re worth it.)

(Note:  Almost all the episode story ideas derived from Spielberg himself, though unlike any previousseries I had worked on, where producers regularly provided freelance writers with story ideas but allowed them to receive a combined “Story” and “Teleplay” credit, Steven Spielberg appropriated “Story” credit for himself. Along with the accompanying “Story” payment. I guess it was a matter of,

“I need a few more thousand to make it a billion and this “Story” money will really help.”    


“Fine Tuning” involved teenage boys who, for a High School science experiment, rejigger a television so it can receive programming from outer space.  (Discovering in the process that faraway galaxies “pirated” The George Burns and Gracie Allen Program and I Love Lucy, only the performers were robots.)

Here’s the thing.

I had never written a “single-camera” episode before – my experiential forte being writing “multi-camera” shows filmed before live studio audiences – and I was fearful of handling the transition to the more “visual” comedic format.

My imaginatorial “high point” occurred when I wrote this scene where the “Producer-Aliens” land in Hollywood for some show biz “reconnaissance” – and the ultimate kidnapping of comedian Milton Berle back to their planet.  

The visiting extraterrestrials, decked out in loud, “Vacation-Issue” Hawaiian shirts, are on this “Bus Tour of the Movie Stars’ Homes.  And here’s the “good part” I made up.  For them, “taking a picture” involves blinking their eyes, followed by a hanical whirring sound, followed by the developed snapshot emerging “Polaroid-Style” out of their mouths.

Look at me, doing “Visual Comedy”!  (The exclamation point denoting my continuing sense of personal satisfaction.)  Which Spielberg perfectly produced.
“Fine Tuning’s” positive reception led to anotherassignment for an episode entitled “Mummy Daddy.”  (“Story by Steven Spielberg.”  “Teleplay by Earl Pomerantz.”)  Thatone seems more frequently remembered, although my preferential favorite is “Fine Tuning.”

“Mummy Daddy” involves an actor, playing the lead role in a “Monster Picture” filmed in a rural Southern location, racing to the hospital – still in costume – when his visiting pregnant wife suddenly goes into labor, all to the unnerving consternation of the terrified “locals”, finding a “Mummy” running amok in their veritable backyards.

When handing in the “Second Draft” of “Mummy Daddy”, I was asked, “Do you want
to meet Steven?”, which I misheard as, “Do you want to meet Jesus?” 

The man walked into the room, shaking my hand and praising me effusively for “cracking’” the story, a feat they were unable to accomplish “in-house.”

I replied, “We do that in ‘half-hours’ every week.”

(Though I am not sure I said “Thank you.”)

With the exception of a “downer” denouement I will not bother to go into, thatwas my experience on Amazing Stories.  I was not directly involved in the production.  I wrote two scripts at home, I handed they in and they made them.  I met Steven Spielberg one time, and he was nice to me.  

Thank you Yekimi for asking about that.

It reminded me of that “Polaroid” bit from “Fine Tuning”, proving, adopting a theater critic’s review of iconic composer Richard Rodgers’ only foray into also supplying the words (for the musical No Strings)– 

“Amazing Stories does not definitively prove that Earl Pomerantz cannot write movies.” 

High praise indeed.

Who knows?

Maybe it will inspire me to try again.

Nah.  Probably not.

1 comment:

YEKIMI said...

Hey, thanks for answering my question. I had not seen the Milton Berle TV watching aliens episode when I asked my question but I thought they were two of the better shows of the first season....and the "Daddy Mummy" one made me laugh out loud in a few spots.