This summer, I was tickled to read the oral history of one of the craziest episodes in TV history -- in which a dog who's digested marijuana makes off with the heart being brought into a hospital for a character's transplant. Because I had been part of that creative process, as a story editor on season 6 of One Tree Hill.
In fact I was kinda sad I hadn't been interviewed.
I would have told the reporter the episode probably contributed to me not being asked back the following season, because when the creator, Mark Schwahn, pitched the dog-heart scenario, I blurted out "You can't do that!"
Being told "no" was a trigger for Schwahn, who often reminded us he'd grown up in a trailer park and, with no showbiz connections, created the young-people smalltown soap opera and kept it on the air despite getting no respect from critics -- or even his own network. Every season he concocted a finale that could double as a series finale, because he was never told in advance that the show would be renewed. Six seasons in, he bristled that he was still arguing with the higher-ups over his casting choices. In fact even though the show was produced by Warner Brothers, instead of being on the legendary studio lot the offices were on the lower-rent "Ranch" down the street, in a grim little trailer (a weird ironic twist given how far he'd come from his origins).
Perhaps in retaliation, he made so many out-there nutty plot choices that the room had developed the catchphrase, "What just happened?" to remind us to think outside the box. While critics may have looked down on it, it outlasted, say, The West Wing by two seasons.
So: when I blurted out "You can't," Schwahn bellowed back "Handelman! Never say 'can't'!" He was the king, and I was the peon.
We both knew I was lucky to be there-- in fact he had rescued me from the scrap heap. He'd interviewed me for season 5 and not chosen me, and then my agents had dropped me. So a year later when they called to say he was looking for me, I landed the gig with no agents at all.
So it was very hard to go up against him. And most of the other writers in the room were in similar positions --
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
|The Deuce premiere. Gambling addict Frankie and his bookie. |
1971 NYC. Yay! A Mets reference! Seaver was my favorite!
At least -- to me it's a glaring error. I'm sure most people gloss over it, or just let it go.
I've joked that since the rise of the Internet and all its sloppiness, I see my main role as its sole copy-editor. But I DO send emails to writer friends about mistakes in their articles or headlines (since these days they can be fixed). I have tweeted to authors I don't know about their mistakes. I'm trying to keep the world safe from perpetuating - let's not call it fake news -- just ignorance.
It's exhausting. And I'm not proud of it. And it's probably cost me a couple of jobs where I just should have kept my mouth shut. I kind of think of it as my Wile E Coyote impulse. There's an old Roadrunner cartoon in which Wile E has programmed a piano to explode as soon as Roadrunner pecks on a certain key. He leaves sheet music on the piano. Roadrunner comes over and plays it wrong several times. After cringing, the increasingly furious Coyote bursts forth, pushes the bird aside and pounds out the correct sequence, blowing himself up. (Update: this was apparently the FOURTH time a Warner Bros. Cartoon used this joke, leading me to think Chuck Jones hated the song from childhood piano lessons.)
With all the accusations of falsehoods bouncing around the world in 2017, easily fact checkable misinformation should not be out there.
I understand how this kind of oversight can happen in the rough and tumble of journalism, with its increasingly breakneck deadlines, but it's still no excuse -- like when, for example, my one-time employer and music bible Rolling Stone published a remembrance by Rickie Lee Jones about Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker, and she misspelled the other guy's name as "Fagan" instead of Fagen. Or, in the obit for Rod Temperton, initially called the hit he wrote with Michael Jackson "Rock with Me," instead of "Rock with You." (Both I sent notes about, and both now are corrected. Was it my doing?) I also corrected a friend's assertion about who had read a statement from Bill Cosby's wife after his mistrial. The friend was grateful, having had to file the piece from an airplane.
But it's always a little more confounding to me when an error pops up in a movie or a TV show. After all, not only did the people on the set all hear it and see it -- the script had to get through many incarnations and
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
| “I guess the WGA thought it would be fun for the children’s category to be presented|
by a foul-mouthed puppet—but unfortunately, Sean Spicer wasn’t available.” - Triumph
But this year's Writers' Guild East Awards (a parallel ceremony was being staged live in LA simultaneously) - because of a perfect storm of host, presenters, political situation, nominees, victors, and honorees -- was remarkably rewarding and entertaining for me. Not just as a member, or as a TV viewer, but as a former journalist And it ended with a hilarious near-tragedy-turned comedy, involving Triumph the Comic Insult Dog's missing trophy.
|Cobb (right) applauds Bernstein (center)|
I had the happy task of ushering New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, who produced the Frontline documentary Policing the Police and was being given the first Walter Bernstein Award, for writers "who have demonstrated with creativity, grace and bravery a willingness to confront social injustice in the face of adversity." The award is named after the Blacklisted screenwriter hero - who is still sharp at age 97 and was sitting at the table with Cobb (left) - a living testament to standing up to governmental malfeasance.
From the get-go, the proceedings had a special charge to them. It's hard to explain how much harder the East Coast community of writers has to work to succeed in showbiz, which prefers everyone to be under its eye and thumb in L.A. -- and have stuck to their creative guns while doing so. Among those in the room: Simon, Waters, Tina Fey, Kenneth Lonergan, Jill Kargman, John Patrick Shanley, Americans showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, the staffs of John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Colbert, as well as unionized broadcast news journalists like our President, longtime Bill Moyers writer Michael Winship.
The intro to Lewis Black - another inveterate New Yorker who I first encountered when he was staging plays by aspiring playwrights like Aaron Sorkin downstairs at the West Bank Cafe in the 80's - correctly stated, "He was the voice of Anger in Inside Out, and was also the voice of anger in literally everything he's ever done."
He spoke of watching Trump's recent press conference while trying to write his monologue, "and I was forced to realize yet again that we are living at the intersection of satire and reality."
Thursday, February 2, 2017
|Walter Handelman (1931-2009) in the Navy circa 1954|
But this year feels like something more is in order.
I realized it had to do with an email he sent me and my brothers after election night 2008 - that I wound up quoting in his eulogy not two months later. He died only 12 days after Obama's inauguration.
Dad was a lifelong Republican - but a bygone species of moderate sometimes referred to as "Jacob Javits Republicans" - who last voted for a GOP Presidential Candidate in 1968.
All my life, Dad hadn't been that communicative about his emotions. My mom (a lifelong Democrat, whose dad was a labor lawyer) was the, shall we say, expressive and dominating partner . The two of them were inseparable - literally. At some point we surmised they had never spent more than a few consecutive days apart their entire 49 years of marriage.
She died suddenly at 70, in October 2007, of an aneurysm, while swimming. (He had found her and had jumped in to the pool fully clothed trying to rescue her, but she'd died instantly.)
After all those nights in a couple, in his solitude he uncorked a new (or rather, hidden from me and my brothers) frankness that gave us a new relationship with him.
He would often go to Mets games solo, leaving her seat empty rather than trying to replace her companionship. and confided to us that at bedtime he often "spoke" to her.
Here's the email he sent after Obama's election.
NOVEMBER 5 2008
Obama's win was an historical event in our country's history. It is hard to overstate its meaning, the full extent of which will not be known, probably, in my lifetime.
I feel proud of our country, in a way that I have not fully felt for many years. Hope is what has gotten us through one crisis after another during the 20th century, and is what we can cling to into the 21st.
And in Obama I think we have a president who has the intellectual capacity to seize the opportunities that make hope a reality As someone who served in the armed forces, and who has made the ideals of Boy Scouting a central part of his lifetime, I am happy to see a person in the White House who shares my belief that the leadership of our country on the world scene, as we had during World War II, is the most important gift we can make to humankind.
I talked to Mom about this at length, aloud, last night, and felt her with me as I dropped off to a deep and dreamless sleep.
|getting Eagle Scout award|
I imagine it might be something like how my folks in their seats behind first base at Shea Stadium reacted when the Mets - inevitably -- imploded. Let's just say, there was a lot of...expressed emotion.
As they headed to the parking lot, however, they did not swear off the Mets or baseball or the traffic jam forever. They knew the season was 162 games long. And if the Mets didn't make it to the playoffs, there was always next year.
I'm trying to keep that in mind.