Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My tribute to Vin Scully Part Two

Here's Part Two of my two-part personal tribute to Vin Scully, who is retiring after Sunday's game in San Francisco.  Part One was yesterday.   To give you a better profile of the man I'm sharing some stories dealing with my interactions with him.  

When major league teams travel they take charter flights.  Buses bring the club right to the plane on the tarmac.  So we're never in terminals.   As such, the TSA screening is very minimal.   It's essentially what TSA Pre-Check is now.  You throw your keys and phone in a bowl and go through.  One time we were flying from LA to Denver and for whatever reason Vinny was singled out.  He had to take off his shoes and belt and hold his arms out while they ran the wand up and down his body.  Seriously?  They suspected Vin Scully of being a terrorist? 

All announcer score games. By that, I mean we keep track of what each player does throughout the game, inning by inning. We have little symbols to denote outcomes. A “K” for a strikeout. “W” for a walk, etc.

SIDEBAR: Phil Rizzuto for many years was one of the Yankees announcers. One day his broadcast partner Bill White came back into the booth after being away for an inning. He looked at Phil’s scorecard to catch himself up. He noted that for one player Phil had written “WW.” White had never seen that desingnation. He asked what “WW” meant? Rizzuto said, “Wasn’t watching.”

Every announcer has a somewhat different method of scoring. And usually over time you modify it to suit your needs. No one has to know what you mean except you. I’ve always been fascinated by how people score. And usually I can quickly figure out the gist of their system.

Except Vin's.

He has lines going in different directions and dots. His scorecard looks like a player piano roll. I have no idea what anything means. He also does his scorecard in ink, which is braver than doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.

Here’s something that will make you groan. I asked if he kept all of his scorebooks down through the years and he said no. At the end of each season he just chucked them. To me that’s like throwing away the Ten Commandments. (Happily, other longtime announcers have kept their scorebooks. Ernie Harwell had every one, God bless him.)

In 2009 the Dodgers got into the National League Championship Series. I got to travel with the club. The games were televised nationally but Scully would do the local radio. My broadcast partner, Josh Suchon and I would do our pre-game show from the visiting radio booth in Philadelphia. So that meant I had to sit in Scully’s seat. We were doing the show and Vin was in the second row continuing his preparation. I said something funny on the air and could hear Vinny laugh. And my reaction was: “OHMYGOD! I MADE VIN SCULLY LAUGH!"  I'm sure jokes of mine in MASH and CHEERS have made 30,000,000 people laugh, but this was VIN SCULLY! 

One of the (many) amazing things Vin could do is recall plays and moments from games he saw 60 years ago. He then recounts them naming the specific players and game situations. He’s a walking baseball Google. And of course, no one else has that link with the past. No one else can tell Jackie Robinson anecdotes. I once asked him how he remembered all that stuff. He said he couldn’t just recall it at random, but something will occur in a game that triggers a memory. I said, “It’s very impressive. But how do we know you’re right?” He laughed and said, “You don’t.” I told him it didn’t matter. Just hearing those forgotten names of ballplayers from the past was a real treat.

There was some guy on the internet selling full game broadcasts from the ‘50s-‘60s. He had some Dodger games so I bought them. I’m driving to the stadium one night listening to Vin call a game at Wrigley Field from 1966. I get so caught up in the drama of his description that when Ron Fairly hit a long fly ball down the rightfield line that just missed being a home run by inches I slammed my hand down on the dashboard in disgust. Then I thought, “This is insane. This game has been over for decades.” I told the story to Scully later that day and he said with mock urgency: “Oh, I hope we won.”

At home he always ate in a private dining room with the rest of the Dodger announcers, but on the road he chowed down in the press dining room with everyone else. On numerous occasions I had bad enchiladas and dry turkey with Vin. And of course he would tell great stories. One of my favorites was the day he co-hosted the Rose Parade with Elizabeth Montgomery for ABC. She was apparently afraid of heights and they were to broadcast from a tower that was erected for the occasion.  The only way to get to the broadcast position was to climb up a ladder.  She was freaked.  So Vin had Liz wrap her arms and legs around him tightly and he climbed them both up the ladder.  I said, "Whoa!  That's a greater thrill than calling the only perfect game in the history of the World Series!"

Another time he mentioned he was having computer troubles and spent an hour on the phone with some IT guy (probably in India). The techie didn’t know who he was talking to. Imagine getting to spend an hour on the phone with Vin Scully.

I could make this a five-parter because I just keep thinking of other Scully tales. But at the risk of wearing out my welcome I’ll start wrapping it up.

Two last stories. Both about spring training in Arizona. A few years ago Scully and I both flew home together from Phoenix one Sunday night. He had called the game that day and by the time we arrived at LAX he was pretty tired. We entered the terminal area where people wait for passengers, and of course the crowd spotted Vinny and their eyes lit up. They mobbed him for autographs and pictures. Like I said, he was exhausted. But he stayed and honored everyone’s request. No one would have blamed him had he said he was tired, he was sorry but he had to get home. Still, he took the time to accommodate the fans.

And finally, people ask me my greatest thrill in broadcasting. I’ve been very fortunate. I broadcast baseball around the world on the CBS radio network. I’ve been a disc jockey on major market stations like WLS. But all of that pales in comparison to one spring training game in 2009. I filled in and did the radio play-by-play. It was a TV game and Vin Scully did the first three innings simulcasting on both radio and TV and then did the remaining six on television while I did those six innings on the radio. So think of it – as an eight-year-old kid who wanted to be a baseball announcer, for one shining day Dodger baseball on the Los Angeles Dodgers Radio Network was broadcast by Vin Scully and me. I even saved the tape of him introducing me. I get Goosebumps every time I hear it.  I've it included it below. 

At the end of every season I would go into his booth and thank him for another year. I now thank him for a lifetime. And hope he has a long and enjoyable retirement. Maybe 67 years worth.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My tribute to Vin Scully

Okay, this is part one of a two-parter. It didn’t start out a two-parter but I just had so much to share I couldn’t stop writing. Even the two parts are a little long. But the subject matter deserves it. My tribute to the great Vin Scully.

I can’t imagine not having Vin Scully. It’s like… what if there was suddenly no color red? Or (for you Millennials) no more computers?

Growing up in Los Angeles, Vin Scully calling Dodger games has been a constant. His voice has been a reassurance that no matter what craziness goes on in the world or my life, everything was going to be okay. Listening to Vin Scully was the ultimate comfort food; the quintessential Linus blanket.

This has been going on here in LA since 1958. For folks in Brooklyn, even longer. For an overwhelming part of the population, that’s longer than they’ve been alive.

And it all ends next Sunday.

Vin Scully is retiring after Sunday’s final game with the Giants. He’ll turn 89 in a few weeks. After broadcasting for 67 years he’s certainly entitled. But the void he will leave is incalculable.

Everyone in the world is writing tributes to him this month (as they should be). I won’t dwell on just how great an announcer he is. He is Mozart. No one will ever be better. Period. No announcer will ever have as much impact on a community. Never again will 50,000 people bring radios to a sports venue to hear an announcer describe the game they’re watching. There must be a hundred sites that are featuring his highlight calls. But I want to talk about the impact he had on me personally and my relationship with him.

Quite simply, no one besides my parents have had a greater influence on me. My love for baseball, broadcasting, and storytelling all stem from being enraptured by Vin Scully calling countless baseball games. His use of language, his sense of drama, his humanity, even his comic timing inspired me to chart my course. From the time I was eight years-old I wanted to be a baseball announcer. (Most kids want to be players, but I knew even then I was a klutz.)

When I was nine I organized a Vin Scully fan club. Me and several friends would meet in our garage at 7:30 on nights the Dodgers were playing. Back then home games began at 8:00. We listened to the warm-up show (brought to you by Draft Brewed Blatz Beer), stood up during the National Anthem, and listened to the first inning. After that the meeting broke up and we all had to go to bed. (Of course I listened to the rest of the game on a transistor radio under my pillow.)
This was a post card of Vin Scully & Jerry Doggett that I sent away for in 1962
When I was thirty-five I decided if I really wanted to be a baseball announcer it was now or never, so I went to the upper deck of Dodger Stadium and began broadcasting games into a tape recorder. Two years later I sent around tapes, got a job in the minors and that launched my play-by-play career that would take me to Baltimore, Seattle, and San Diego.

My first year in Baltimore, we were in spring training in Florida. One day we traveled to Vero Beach to play the Dodgers. Scully happened to be there that day. I introduced myself and we sat for fifteen minutes trading information about our teams. And the thought struck me, “Holy shit! Vin Scully is treating me like a PEER.” That’s when I knew I had arrived.

Years later I became the host of Dodger Talk (the Dodgers’ pre and post game shows) and got to see Vinny in the booth every night. Every time he would cheerfully say, “Hi, Kenny!” I was like, “Ohmygod! The prettiest girl in school knows my name!” Vin was always approachable, always willing to answer questions or share a story.

I did some traveling with the Dodgers and in 2000 we opened the season in Montreal then went on to New York. I always got out to the park very early. On Sunday, April 9th I arrived at Shea Stadium and it looked like Christmas morning. It had snowed during the night and the field was white. No game that day. The only other person in the pressbox was Vinny. So he and I went to the press dining room for warm coffee, and for two magic hours it was just he and I sitting at a table talking. Any time he asked questions about me I wanted to say, “Who gives a shit about me. Let’s talk about YOU.” Having been a fan since the day the team arrived, I was able to ask him questions about those early days, how difficult it was to call games in the Coliseum, what he and longtime partner, Jerry Dogget would do on the road, etc.  If ever in my life I wanted time to stand still...

He revealed something I never knew, and something he never made public until just a few years ago. After several seasons in Los Angeles he was offered the number one job with the Yankees. Vin was still a little homesick for New York at the time, and as a New Yorker recognized that lead voice of the Yankees was the pinnacle of baseball broadcasting. So he almost took it. Yikes.  At the last moment something in his gut told him to stick it out in Los Angeles. But I had no idea that we came that close to losing him and how different my life might’ve been as a result.

We didn’t only discuss baseball. He loves Broadway musicals. For the last few seasons he’s had a driver, but for many years he’d drive himself to the park and sing along with showtunes. Wouldn’t you love to be in THAT car?   Fans got a glimpse yesterday when he sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" after his final home game.   Big surprise -- he's a terrific singer.  Even at 88. 

My other memory of that East Coast trip is coming home one night in Montreal. There is a subway line that goes straight from the stadium to a block from our hotel. It was a much faster and easier option than taking the team bus. So Vin and the other broadcasters took the subway. One night we’re sitting on the train and some tipsy baseball fans enter the car, see Vinny and just about plotz. I’m sure it’s the same reaction when someone sees Barbra Streisand at the 99-Cent store.

Doing Dodger Talk from 2008-2010, I would get out to the park very early. Usually around 3:00; partly because I loved how still and peaceful Dodger Stadium was at that hour. And it was so quiet that I could hear Vin chatting in the next booth. Again, just hearing that voice was a source of great comfort.

My new play that opens this Thursday is dedicated to Vin Scully.  

Part Two is tomorrow.  Hope you'll join us and "pull up a chair." 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Me as a newscaster

Here’s another chapter from my misguided radio career:

As a Top 40 disc jockey in the early ‘70s, I often had to fill multiple roles. In addition to humming the hits,  I was also the engineer on duty. I would have to take the transmitter readings every few hours. To qualify for that job I needed an FCC First Class Radio License. This required five weeks in a school in Glendale cramming five years of electronics courses into one month. The truth is if a transmitter ever did shut off we were fucked because I knew shit. But you couldn’t get a job as a DJ in these medium market stations unless you had your “first ticket” as the license was called.

My other job responsibility was being the newsman. Rock stations in San Bernardino and Bakersfield didn’t have “newsrooms.” News was a turn-off. The news would come on and half the audience hit the car button for another station. The only reason there were newscasts in the first place was because the FCC insisted on it.

Most of the time I had the evening or late night shifts. I was more your “teen jock”. Translation: higher voice and mildly inappropriate jokes. So another of my responsibilities was reading a five minute newscast every few hours.

The news came over teletype machines. Two minutes before scheduled newscasts I would quickly scan the copy as  the teletype machine coughed it out, I would grab a few stories, and go back in to the control room and read it cold over the air. This is called “rip and read.” I can only imagine the number of Vietnamese names I butchered. The newscasts had a format that everyone followed and that included signing off with your name. Since I didn’t want to use my disc jockey name I reported the news as Barely Read (a name I stole from fellow jock Tom Maule).

When I finally made it to KYA, San Francisco in 1974 I was assigned the 10 pm-2 am shift. And much to my surprise, I was expected to do a ten minute newscast at 1:20 every morning. Now this station did have a news department but the last man left at midnight.

At the time I was using the air-name Beaver Cleaver. I figured, I couldn’t call myself that when I read the news. That’s hardly dignified. And this was a major market heritage radio station.  So at 1:00 each morning I looked to see who Tom Snyder’s guest was on THE TOMORROW SHOW WITH TOM SNYDER on NBC and that’s who delivered KYA People Power News at 1:20. So it could be Charles Manson, it could be George Will, it could be Soupy Sales. It could be Betsy Palmer.

One night while delivering the news on KYA I got the hiccups. I decided to just keep going as if nothing was wrong. My engineer (yes, we had engineers there) was doubled-over in laughter. Let’s be real -- I made a travesty of the news department.

Fortunately, no one was listening.

My favorite disc jockey-as-newsman story is this: A jock in San Bernardino was reading the news cold. He reported that the president of Bolivia had just died. Then he saw the name, which was a long tongue-twister. No way would he come close to pronouncing it correctly. So instead he said, “the president’s name is being withheld pending notification of his family.”

You gotta love the fun days of radio.

This is Barely Read reporting.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is there laughter in the writers' room?


A lot of it.

There is a misconception that comedy writers never laugh.  Although we frequently do just nod and say, “That’s funny, put it in” there is also a ton of laughter.

Being able to laugh all day is the one saving grace of sitting in a pressure-filled room night after night after night. Well, that and junk food.

True that most of the laughs stem from jokes that don’t get in the script. No comedy writer would ever win a Humanitas Award or Peabody if any outsiders heard him for five minutes during a rewrite session. And when you consider the jokes that do get into 2 BROKE GIRLS (I caught a few minutes of an episode while on a plane recently where two characters were having sex in a dumpster), you can only imagine what didn’t get in.

You need laughter to keep the energy level up. And raunchy, totally appalling material sparks that. If you’re loose and having fun you’re more apt to come up with that great line that will get in the script. Even the California courts agreed when a disgruntled writers assistant tried to sue the staff of FRIENDS for sexual harassment. She lost. Courtney Cox vagina jokes won.

The tone of sitcom writers room differ depending on the showrunner and staff. Our first staff job, as I mentioned at one time, was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW run by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses. I’ve never been to a comedy club where I laughed even half as much as I did during any one rewrite night on that show. Don’t tell anybody but I would hope for bad runthroughs so the rewrite nights were longer. I was young, single, had nowhere else to go, and they had Almond Joy minis.

As a showrunner I prefer a raucous room. And I like good laughers. But that isn’t to say you have to have a boisterous atmosphere to write funny scripts. The quietest, most subdued room I’ve ever been in was FRASIER. It was like rewriting in a library. And yet look at the results. Pure magic. But there were long periods of silence. If there was a Daphne joke that didn’t work we could be there for an hour.

I have a rule. If someone pitches a joke (for the script) and it gets a big laugh in the room the joke goes in just the way it was pitched. So often someone will pitch something and someone else will suggest an alternate version. Then it gets tossed around and after awhile you don’t remember the original or why you laughed in the first place. This is called “Stabbing the Frog.” You have a bouncy little frog in Biology class. You dissect it and see what makes it tick. But now you have a dead frog. (I know one showrunner who pathologically had to change at least one or two words of every pitch so he could put his own stamp on it. Yes, he was infuriating.) So my policy – if a pitch got a huge laugh, even if its structured weirdly – it goes in as is.

So yes, there is laughter in the writers room. I would hope in drama writing rooms too, although I can’t picture a real party atmosphere in the CRIMINAL MINDS room (well, maybe now that Thomas Gibson has been booted). Laughter is a great release, a great indicator, and all you have left when the Almond Joy minis are all gone.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Questions

Who’s ready for some Friday Questions?

Justin Russo begins:

What does a show do if the lead actor becomes sick (not gravely ill where a character can be written out) but perhaps just a flu? Are they written around? What would "30 Rock" be without Liz Lemon in an episode? I recall one "Cheers" episode where Sam has the chicken pox, which excused Ted Danson from the remainder of the episode. In other instances, Joey once had a broken arm on "Friends" (which was added to the story) and I've noticed on "30 Rock" again Alex Baldwin with a stye in a few episodes.

You work around it. If it’s your star sometimes you have to shut down production. Tina Fey would qualify.  Studios take out insurance for just such occurrences.

Occasionally, you have to write an actor out of an episode. On CHEERS the first season, Nick Colasanto was rushed to the hospital with pleurisy mid-week. We stayed up quite late writing him out of that week’s show. Then on show night he was back so we had to write him back in.

But you have to be creative sometimes in finding ways to explain away absences, broken arms, and especially pregnancies.

That said, I am often in awe of how actors will persevere through ailments and injuries to do a show as planned. They are troupers.

When my play, A OR B? was at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles, one night our star Jules Willcox had the stomach flu. There were buckets just offstage. I had no idea about this until after the show. This was a two-character play so she was on stage the entire time. And yet, you’d never know from her performance that night that she was green. Amazing.

Dhruv from India asks a really long questions and I have a really short answer.

Recently (past few years) lot of Hollywood icons like Spielberg, Scorsese, DeNiro, others have been coming to India? [They don’t have anything to sell. But still they just come here and go on TV channels where fawning assholes and shitty audience ask inane questions of what they think of India? Its movies? Culture?]. They on their part give condescending answers and smugly go on and on about their past glory.

Since you are an acute observer of Hollywood and its people, do you think that these are icons who are fading away in America's memory, so to massage their ego and self-worth, they are coming to India for the adulation they receive here? [India being a needy country for attention from Hollywood and Indian media always looking for bones (praise) thrown by the American media and its personalities].


Did Hollywood as a whole, recently discover that India is the largest English speaking country in the world (outside USA), so are they angling to connect with newer audience?
(Hence patronizing oscars to crappy movies like Slumdog Millionaire instead of Dark Knight, one Indian character with fake Apu-like Indian accents in new sitcoms etc….)


Larry Commons wonders:

You said on your blog the first season of "Cheers" is the best season. I think so too, and as I re-watch it now I'm struck by how professionally done it is, especially compared to most other sitcoms from 1982 (think: cheap videotape). Why do you say it's the best season? And were the ratings really as poor as we've heard?

The sexual tension between Sam and Diane was delicious. And very unique for a situation comedy at that time  (now every sitcom does it). Once they were in any kind of relationship it just wasn’t as sparkling. The writing was just as good, but the circumstances weren’t as ideal… in my opinion.

From cd1515:

Why were spinoffs so big back in the day but almost nonexistent today?
even on 1 of the Seinfeld DVD extras I remember Jason Alexander saying they missed a big spinoff possibility with Jerry & George's parents in Florida.

There were more spinoffs because there were more legitimate hit sitcoms that commanded large audiences. Niche hit sitcoms don’t have the same potential.

But in the feature world – sequels (the sort of equivalent of spinoffs) – is very much alive. There is so much product being introduced to audiences that having a known franchise is a big leg up. You see that on Broadway too. They’re making musicals from movies or plays from TV shows (like for instance that show about a bar in Boston).

Spinoffs are also hard to pull off (says someone who worked on AfterMASH). WHO you spinoff and what the new situation is is key. Second bananas often can’t carry shows. And characters that are funny in small doses rarely work when they have to do the heavy lifting. George’s parents from SEINFELD to me would have a tough time sustaining a series.

What’s your Friday Question?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The process continues

Getting closer now!  My new play, GOING GOING GONE! opens for previews ONE WEEK FROM TONIGHT. Tickets are discounted. Here's where you go for discount tickets. It’s a very funny play set in a baseball pressbox. And I've got a great cast. 

I’ve been taking you through the rehearsal process each week (my version of HBO’s HARD KNOCKS except without the violence). And today is another chapter.

Last Saturday we had a “Designers’ Runthrough.” All of the technical people involved in the production watch a full runthrough of the play. This includes our set designer, costumer, lighting director, sound director, prop master, stage manager, producers, etc.

I personally find Designer Runthroughs hard to sit through, especially with a comedy, because rarely does anyone laugh. They’re all viewing the play in relationship to their own department’s involvement with it.

Following the runthrough, our director, Andy Barnicle presided over a production meeting. Questions and concerns were discussed along with timetables and when dinner breaks would be.

This week, for the first time, the actors are rehearsing in our actual theatre.  It seems it makes a difference performing on your actual stage and not a chalked out outline.  Who knew?

The thesps pretty much got the play memorized and I’ve stopped torturing them with new pages after every rehearsal. This is the week when it’s all starting to really come together. Actors no longer are holding scripts, and they’ve really started to make the piece their own. And the sense I get is that they’re having more fun.

This weekend the tech rehearsals begin. Less fun will be had. More on that next week.

Again, come join us for previews and opening weekend. I’ll be there pacing.

Note: The photos of our cast (Annie Abrams, David Babich, Troy Metcalf, and Dennis Pearson) were taken by Ed Krieger.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Do you scream at the TV?

Even though we all know they can’t hear you inside the screen (you do know that, right?), how many of you still scream at your television? How many of you have “Living Room Rage?”

And I don’t mean sporting events. All proud sports fanatics do that. It’s either scream or break lamps. We scream at ballgames knowing the players won’t hear us (except at Oakland A’s games in September).

I’m talking about entertainment programs. What brought this to mind was Sunday night’s Emmys. During long acceptance speeches I find myself yelling at the screen, “Get off! Shut up! Where’s the music?” And “Fuck your agent at CAA!”

Do you do that too?

Do you yell at the screen over some absolutely idiotic story turn? Or vile 2 BROKE GIRLS vagina joke?

My father once threw a shoe at the TV.

Elvis was once so upset seeing Robert Goulet on the screen that he shot his television set.

Tell me you didn’t curse loudly at the monitor or throw something during the finale of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.

I don’t believe it’s possible to watch THE PRICE IS RIGHT without screaming out prices. Or WHEEL OF FORTUNE without screaming out vowels. And if you’re with friends, it’s fun to play along with JEOPARDY (until you look like an idiot for not knowing Hawaii is a state).

I’m guessing way more people scream at their TV’s (or computers or tablets or phones) than ever before. Hate watching shows has become a national pastime and what good is sitting through some cringeworthy piece of shit if you can’t let them have it?

I don’t think “Living Room Rage” is a bad thing. It’s a crazy thing and a futile thing, but not harmful. And generally it’s in the privacy of your own home so who’s going to know except your neighbors, but they already hate you?

So rejoice TV screamers. What you’re doing is totally natural and won’t cause you to go blind. And if you don’t yell at your TV screen, if you have more self control than that, if you recognize that it’s a pointless exercise, if you are restricted by religious beliefs -- I say to you: Wait until the Presidential Debates.