pitch meeting

I watch a lot of tv, and I have fond memories of fall. Every fall as a kid I remember the TV Guide Fall Preview Issue, when times were simpler and there was a hell of a lot less to watch. You kinda felt like if a new show was gonna make it, it was your responsibility to watch. Shows like ‘Cheers’ started with low ratings, but because there weren’t 200 channels and internet shows and shows on your cell phone–well, networks were willing to let an audience grow.

I realize the big three networks are dinosaurs, but why are so many new network shows every year so incredibly, jaw-droppingly LAME? It can’t be lack of originality, because any studio or network head would tell you that they’re constantly looking for cutting-edge ideas and fresh faces. So all I can figure is , maybe the life of a TV executive is so busy, they don’t have time to…think up new shit. So, for all you harried industry players out there, here’s a few show ideas (with casting suggestions) you can have for free.

“Survivor: Idol”:

This can’t miss concept merges two unbeatable shows into one–once the 12 finalists on ‘American Idol’ are chosen, they are dropped off on a remote island and must find a way to survive. They must also find their own way off the island.

“Hey, Stop That! ”
A guy (maybe Chris Walken, if he’ll do episodic) goes around L.A. yelling at street people. In the pilot, he yells at that guy who wears a trashcan lid as a hat.

“The David Spade Mystery Hour”

Roundtable discussion in which scholars, philosophers and Hollywood insiders try to determine why David Spade keeps getting work.

“You Bet Your Ass!”
Game show where losers are forced into prostitution. Maybe have Saget host.

A bunch of twenty-something slackers hang out in a coffeehouse. Since the show is filmed in a real coffeehouse, the characters are too self-absorbed to talk to each other. No dialogue should keep production costs down.

“One-Hour Martinizing”
The gritty reality of the dry-cleaning business. In the opener, guest star Joan Collins gives a terrific performance as a woman with a suspicious stain on her dress. Gandolfini would play the owner of the shop–maybe give him a mob background to lure ‘Sopranos’ fans.

“Don’t Try This At Home!”
Science show where host teaches kids about loose wires, oily rags and light sockets.

“That’s My Chick”
Lovable guy gets drunk and starts a bar fight with a different guy every Friday night. Tony Danza is probably available.

“America’s Next Great Surgeon”

Reality show in which 12 people with different backgrounds (auto mechanic, barista, carny) learn surgery over 12 weeks, leading to a finale in which the final two each perform a heart-lung transplant.

“CSI: Law And Order”

Merging of casts of 3 CSI series and 3 L&O series creates first network ‘super-show’  In the pilot, the thirty-seven stars just get in each other’s way as they try to solve the case of a genius mathematician (and former cop) who is also a sexual predator and serial arsonist wanted for cases in Las Vegas, Miami and New York.

“First Draft”

At the end of each episode, an actual television writer has an epiphany about television and commits suicide.


to all the towns i loved before

In all my wandering, I’ve formed very specific relationships with each of the cities I’ve explored. Because really, when you move somewhere new, it’s a lot like dating–you get to know the personality of the place, try to figure out if the two of you are meant to be together…sometimes you have to break up with a place, and sometimes you just end up with some great memories. I decided to reminisce about the cities I’ve been ‘involved’ with.

Los Angeles: Ahh, my first love. I really only started seeing you because you were my neighbor growing up. We met when I went to UCLA, and I thought you were fun. But a guy needs more than fun, and besides, you were always dealing with some sort of drama–earthquakes, fires, mudslides–I needed something more stable in a relationship. It wasn’t till after I left you that I realized how shallow and superficial you really are, but I wish you well–I’m sure you’ll find others who get lured by your easy charm.

Minneapolis (the first time):  My first grownup relationship with a city. You encouraged me with your midwestern nurturing…because of you I was able to pursue my career. You cooked me wild rice soup and were always so nice…but like a typical man, I left because you were too nice. I thought I’d outgrown you, and needed have a little more action in my life. And let’s be honest–you can be really cold.

Boston: I’ll admit it–I was a jerk when we first got together. In my late twenties, making good money as a comedian, I was cocky and full of myself…I used you and had no intention of staying with you. We weren’t right for each other, and to be honest I always resented your provincial ways.

Miami: 1987…You were hot. And you got me into a lot of trouble. I’ve got no hard feelings about the time we spent together–but this was just a fling, all sex and drugs and no romance. I actually saw you again recently, and thought you looked good.

Los Angeles (again): I had no business seeing you again, and during our brief reunion I didn’t feel like I had ever really known you. Maybe it’s my insecurities–you’re almost too pretty for me, and though I still think about you, and I still want you, I can’t see you again.

Portland: After living on the edge for so many years, I found you, and I fell in love. You were so comfortable and low-maintenance. But ultimately, we just spent too much time getting stoned, and I was worried I was becoming complacent. With you, Portland, I didn’t have the drive to accomplish much, but it was cool hanging out.

Chicago: Now you were one helluva lady. A shot and a beer kinda gal who could still dress up and dazzle–in a simpler time, you’d have been called a ‘broad’ and it would have been a compliment. We spent three years together, and I think we could have made a go of it, but then I lost my job, my health became an issue, and I became a burden. It just seemed best to move on–guess it was a mid-life thing, and I had to find myself again.

New York: You know, I had heard about you from friends. Friends who thought we’d be great together. Exciting. Open to anything. We only had two weeks, but what a whirlwind it was (you probably don’t remember, but I actually met you ten years before–at the time you didn’t even notice me, and I left without so much as a goodbye). I think we might give it another try someday. But I’m not ready to commit to you yet. You demand more than I’ve got to give, and let’s be real–you’re used to someone spending a lot of money on you. When I get my shit together, though, I will definitely look you up.

Minneapolis (again):  Why do I always come back to you when the wheels fall off? But here I am. You’re not the most glamorous city–I’ve certainly had wilder nights and more adventurous times, but at this point in life your even temper and Lutheran reserve offer the kind of peace I need. You keep taking me back, even though you know that if something beckons, I’ll might leave you again. But probably not–I’m sure in a few months I’ll be making a hot dish, and we can bundle up like mummies and walk to the Sculpture Garden.


i should’ve done this in my twenties

A couple years ago, before I settled into my happy domestic groove and was still in vagabond mode, I thought I’d try to move to New York. My third try. Turns out, I think I liked the concept of  becoming a New Yorker more than the reality. Attempt number three happened when I was forty-nine, so I didn’t have quite the energy I had the previous times that New York slapped me down like a damned dog.

I packed up my life in six bags and took a train to New York City. What I’m really saying is, at almost fifty years old, I decided to move to the most expensive city in the country with a bum hip, no job, two weeks of housing at a friend of a friend’s and three hundred dollars. In February. If anyone needs a life coach, I’m available.

Basically, having been evicted, I had to move somewhere, and my (at the time) flawless reasoning was that I might as well go to one of the few places where there’s still a standup comedy ‘scene,’ that having been my career. And as far as finding the inevitable mind-numbing, soul-sucking day job, well, although New York is obviously getting bitch-slapped by the economic meltdown (which New York was partly responsible for), I thought there would still be more job possibilities in New York than in, say, Minneapolis. It’s a numbers game. Yeah, at least for my particular skill set, I was wrong.

But I got there, and I was excited. And terrified. And excited. I mean, when I first wrote about this, I was looking out a new friend’s window down Broadway–freakin’ Broadway! Tempering my enthusiasm wa the realization that I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping nine days later. So there’s that. Forget about mood swings–I was on a freakin’ mood playground.

When I locked the door to my Chicago apartment for the last time, I realized I became officially homeless. That’s weird to wrap your brain around when you always thought you were just ‘bohemian.’ It was almost a badge of pride to live a kind of spartan life. I’m an artist, goddammit! Oh, how I wish I lived in the fourteenth century, so I could have a patron. I could write jokes for the king, and live fabulously. Of course, I’d have to write jokes that only showed the king in a good light, but hey it’s showbiz.

Twenty hours. That’s how long it takes by Amtrak to go from being a Chicagoan (“fuckin’ Cubs!”) to being a New Yorker (“fuckin Mets!”). The first stop of any length along the way is Toledo, Ohio. For forty-five minutes. For no apparent reason. All I was told is ‘it’s built into the schedule.’ So I’m in the Toledo train station at 3:30 in the morning chatting with a fascinating Orthodox Jew whose trip ended in Toledo (I’m sure many Passover seders end with the hopeful prayer ‘next year in Toledo’). Now a train attendant told me we would be leaving at 4:00, so at about 3:45 I start getting ready to say my shaloms to Chaim and I see my train…start to move.

Suddenly I’m in a bad romantic comedy, all slow-motion and muffled yelling, as I try to hobble after my train. Incidentally, on said train were my bags, which contained my phone, wallet and laptop. My entire life,or at least all record of it, was slowly, but inexorably, leaving me behind.  After what seemed like, oh, half an hour, or at least enough time to ponder every bad decision I’d ever made up to that point, the train stopped. Great. Now my imagination has me thinking this was some colossal prank, like when you’re hitchhiking and the car slows down, pulls over and then drives away. Very funny, Amtrak.

Turns out they were moving the train closer to some air hose thing (sorry, I wasn’t really processing things well at that point), and I reunited with my life. Also turns out the attendant was speaking in approximate terms with the whole 4:00 thing, and that the train departs Toledo at 3:50. Really my fault for not saying to her as I got off the train “No, when EXACTLY do we leave, because I want to make sure I don’t end up having to stay in FUCKING TOLEDO!” Apologies to any Toledo residents reading this. I’m sure it’s a lovely city.

When I settled back into my seat, I told a guy I had been chatting up on the train the story, and he said the same thing happened to him  at a stop in Cleveland recently. Which leads me to what I call the Toledo Theory. See, I think so few people choose to go to Toledo, or Cleveland, that the state of Ohio has paid Amtrak to leave a certain number of passengers behind, to help the local economy. I believe most of the residents of Toledo, Ohio were actually going somewhere else, and once they were stranded, basically said “Well…I might as well just stay here.” Granted, it’s not as sexy as black-ops helicopters or Area 51, but it’s my first wacky conspiracy theory, I’m kinda proud of it.