Serling, Lear & Goldman

 

No, this is not a law firm.  As far as I know.

These are the names of three show business icons better known as Rod Serling, Norman Lear and William Goldman.

It’s not a good idea to trot out words like icon or legend too often.   You sound like a syndicated talk show host whose sole purpose in life is to overpraise someone more famous in the hopes that it’ll do you some good.

Think Mike Pence whenever he’s in the presence of the Electoral College POTUS.  (Note: And how could you not?)

Let’s hope that’s all he is #Mueller?

Still, there are some cases where the word icon feels exactly right, especially if we are to believe the dictionary definition:

Icon: A representative symbol of something.  Synonym,  idol, paragon, hero. 

Certainly Mr. Serling, Mr. Lear and Mr. Goldman are all of the above and more to most everyone in the writing trade, the entertainment industry and by extension, through the reach of their life’s work, the world.

Hyperbole?  I think not.

Thank you Stefon

In the last several days I was reminded of the gargantuan achievements of these three writers, all born within 10 years of each other, for completely different reasons.

William Goldman, who died this week at the age of 87, was for years the most respected and highest paid screenwriter in the business.  Consider the movies from over 40 years, beginning with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then on to All The President’s Men, Marathon Man and The Stepford Wives and then back around to The Princess Bride, Chaplin and Misery and you might begin to get some idea.  If not, you can throw in tons of uncredited rewrites on things like A Few Good Men and Good Will Hunting and perhaps it will get clearer.

The Real Deal

It was William Goldman who introduced the infamous phrase follow the money into the lexicon of political writing via his Oscar-winning screenplay for All the President’s Men.  Peruse his other scripts and you will no doubt find many others.

Just ask Wallace Shawn  #asyouwish

Though none of them will even come close to his three-word perfect summation of the movie business:  Nobody knows anything.

For those not directly involved in the industry, here’s a full sentence of his  elaborating on that thought:  Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.

That and a lot more were written by Mr. Goldman in his 1983 seminal book on navigating Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade.  But more than anything else, those three perfect words – NOBODY. KNOWS. ANYTHING. gave hope, courage and permission to a generation of people starting out in the business, myself included, to soldier on and persevere.

Cheers to you Mr. Goldman

His screenwriting work was brilliant, and he wrote a bunch of fine novels (on some holiday vacation read his first, Boys and Girls Together).  But his ability to so bluntly tell the truth about what he experienced and observed extended far beyond fiction or the movies.  He gave so many of us who had our noses pressed up against the glass the belief that the people we thought we had to impress didn’t have all the answers – we did.  All we had to do was to tell the truth through our work and we had as good of a shot at making it as he did.

Rod Serling and Norman Lear might not seem a natural combination at first mention but when you give it some thought it’s exactly right.  They were born within two years of each other in the 1920s and though Mr. Lear, now 96 and still active, has lived twice as long (Note: Mr. Serling died prematurely at the age of 50,) each writer changed the face of television by being fearless in their own very specific ways.

.. and both have a signature look

By his early thirties, Rod Serling was already an accomplished playwright and Emmy award-winning writer devoted to telling meaningful stories that touched on social issues.  Still, he was known in the biz as a bit of an upstart who had grown weary of battling corporate sponsors and executives too timid to support the kind of tales he wanted to tell.

That was when he got the idea to write in the more commercially appealing science fiction genre, grounding his characters in a way so relatable it would enable him the ability to tackle such timely themes as war, racism, class, politics and censorship.

Like you’d ever forget these faces

One can hardly imagine when The Twilight Zone first aired in 1959 that even he could foresee the enduring legacy of that groundbreaking anthology series.  Not only does it still run all over the world more than half a century later, it has been reinvented as a feature film, in numerous television spin-offs and remakes, as well as homaged in the music world.

Most recently, Jordon Peele was announced as the host of a new CBS reboot of The Twilight Zone set to air in 2019.

But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that those three wordsTHE. TWILIGHT. ZONE. – are now embedded as a permanent part of language and pop culture as we know it (Note/Nee: Being an American these days is like living  in The Twilight Zone) that will forever be associated with its writer and onscreen narrator.

It was in that spirit this past week that Ithaca College presented Norman Lear with its annual Rod Serling Award for advancing social justice through popular media.   (Note: Serling taught at the college in the 1970s and his archives are housed there).  As a professor and Chair (Note: Ahem) at the school’s L.A. program, I got to be part of that evening and had a front row seat to Mr. Lear’s sharp as ever comic timing and humility as he got up to the podium at L.A.’s Paley Center to accept.

The man himself, pictured here with Ithaca College’s Park School Dean Diane Gayeski, and One Day at Time colleague Mike Royce

Anyone who has watched television comedy in the last fifty years has likely seen one of Mr. Lear’s shows and the majority of we baby boomers came of age on them.

To watch a first-run episode of All in the Family in the actual era it came of age was to see for the first time in half-hour prime time TV an unvarnished version of ourselves and our extended families in all of our inglorious prejudices, ignorances and, ultimately, humanity.  No one had ever used THOSE WORDS before on the Big Three networks despite the fact that they used them and we heard them every day of our lives.  Heck, no one had ever even heard a toilet flush on TV before the series did it in 1971!

Archie is not that impressed

Mr. Lear also gave us the first upwardly mobile Black family (The Jeffersons), the first TV comedy episode to ever deal with abortion (Maude) and the first divorced prime time mom of the era (One Day At A Time).  (Note: The latter also recently rebooted on Netflix). The fact is if we don’t see an immediate connection between the subjects tackled by the fictional law partners, Serling and Lear, it is merely due to our own shortcomings, not theirs

Among the unplanned comic gems during Mr. Lear’s acceptance speech at the Paley was the moment when his iPhone began to audibly ring.  He stopped mid-speech, instantly reached into his pocket and saw it was a family member, began a conversation with her, and, without missing a beat, put it on speakerphone so the rest of us NOT at the podium could hear.  Most actors, not to mention us non-96 year old pros and non-pros, couldn’t rehearse this and get it right (especially the speaker part) never much less be funny in our ad-libs to a faceless voice.

More skillful, however, was what came next. After he said of his TV work: I didn’t do it alone  he went on to reassure his many admirers that he really is only a person who gets up in the morning, eats, goes to the bathroom and then goes to sleep at night – just like they do.

Don’t mind me.. getting emotional over here

Then suddenly he, and then the room, fell dead silent as he contemplated this for a few VERY long moments.   As we all got concerned something was wrong, he finally looked down, then right back out at us, and said:

You know, everything in life led me to this moment.  Isn’t that something?

At which point he let some more time go by, evoking more silence once again, until he reiterated:  And to this one.

Then once more again, echoing:

And that one.  Everything you have done before has brought YOU right here…..Think about it.

One couldn’t help but wonder if what he was really telling us was that taking in the moment, really feeling it, and then sharing those feelings with others, was not only the key to his art but the secret to life.

Of course whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. Since, let’s face it, nobody knows anything.

“Those Were The Days” –  Theme from All in the Family

 

 

 

 

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Give it the Boot

I like nostalgia as much as anyone but do we really need a new Magnum P.I. and another Cagney & Lacey? CBS thinks so. They just greenlit them as pilots.

And why not?   They thought the same thing some years ago when they decided to bring back that brilliant series of my youth…wait for it…. Hawaii Five-O – which is now entering it’s…wait for it….EIGHTH season. Never mind CBS’s refusal last year to bring the salaries of its two Asian actors, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, in parity with its other White stars after all that time (Note: No, they didn’t take to heart the snarky hint to change the series title to Hawaii White-O), thus casing them to leave.

ugh.. whatever CBS

And why should they care? As the vaudeville comedian once quipped after an endless string of bad jokes – I (they) got a million of ‘em!!

Case in point. CBS also greenlit reboots of the cutting edge series of my teens and twenties…MacGyver and S.W.A.T!   Yes. Who knew??? Well, somebody did even if we didn’t. Because they’re both in their…wait for it…second year!

Which is to say nothing of their straight to series deal for a reboot of the Emmy Award-winning comedy about a sober female TV journalist — Murphy Brown — but this time with its original creator and star.

Well.. this could be interesting

That’s right. No re-imagining or recasting here. Candice Bergen is returning as the fictional, crusading, single Mom journalist who – to clarify for my current students – once came under attack from the real Vice President of the U.S. in a nationwide speech as a real, culpable threat to the nuclear family for daring to bring a child into the world without a husband or father in her house. Um, fictional house.

UGH. Everything old IS new again. #helpus

Yes, truly, this happened! His name was Dan Quayle (Note: The veepee, not the kid) and no doubt you haven’t heard of either him or Murphy Brown but just wait till the fall. You will. If it gets an airdate. And heck, even if you don’t watch your parents will no doubt tell you about it in one of those torturous, endless conversations where you’re only half-listening, surfing the web in boredom.

Way to compete for that key ad demographic, CBS!!!!

OK, no fair to pick on the Eye network (though they make it so easy to do so). This season NBC brought back Will and Grace with its original writers and cast to great success and somehow managed to embrace their ages AND make the gay-straight thing seem as relevant as it did when it first aired 20 years ago.

and the pop culture train keeps on coming!

So let’s see what Murphy Brown can do 30 years later. As well as Hawaii Five-O did 40 years later, albeit with a different cast (Note: Alas, its stars and creator are deceased)? Well, perhaps.

But no, wait – we see you hiding there in the corner, ABC. Don’t think we forgot YOU.

they’re back on the couch… and so are we

Late last year you had promised to give us a new version of….can’t wait for it….Roseanne!! And now it’s what, less than two months away until its March 2018 announced airdate?? Kewl. Plus, the real Roseanne recently announced to TV critics that her fictional TV doppelganger and husband will be…TRUMP SUPPORTERS!!… …And that she, herself likes the way he’s shaken things up.

omg.. someone get me a bag.

Though seriously, before anyone goes all ballistic on real Ro just know canny comic TV stars say all sorts of provocative stuff when promoting a new show – and even when they’re not. Again, you have to do something to compete with Netflix and everyone knows the real Ro is about as dumb as a fox.

And while we’re speaking of Netflix (not Fox, we’ll get to them), one does wonder: Just how in the hell did CBS let the reboot of its 1970s hit Norman Lear series, One Day At A Time, go to the most successful streaming service around, where it has emerged as a major critical, and from what we hear, though who ever really knows with Netflix, let’s be honest, commercial hit?

Ohhhh.. is that right? #youtellemRita

Was having one of the few living EGOT recipients, Rita Moreno, as a co-star, too much for them? Or was the issue an actual half-Latinx writing staff? Couldn’t they have tempted Mr. Lear to return to the Eye with a new hands-off approach after decades of earning them billions of dollars, literally? Or did it not fit into their…um…business plan?

Well, perhaps they’re just discounting everything other than the three major networks that created new shows during the time ODAAT first aired. Not likely. Very soon after it was cancelled, Fox emerged as the fourth major, then there was pay cable, then basic cable, then streaming and now, well, there’s just too many to count. Or, well, to take seriously as creative, and especially ratings, competition.

There is just too much TV to watch. #help

Which begs this question:

Is it too soon for Fox to bring back Glee with the adults at night school playing the kids’ roles? I, for one, don’t think so. But if we know Ryan Murphy (and we don’t) he might do it better and make it a limited or horror miniseries where the marginalized high-schoolers REALLY get revenge and become…Oh, never mind. That’s the type of reboot that’s probably already been done to film, live, on-tape or/and virtual death. And beyond. Which is not to say that it couldn’t work…in the right hands.

Of course, there is no point in leaving a real-life decision at Fox out of the loop, particularly since that was its choosing to NOT actually reboot American Idol after a long 2 years and instead allow ABC to have the honors. Way to go, Fox! (Note: We Think). And way NOT to go, ABC! (Note: We Think). Since at the end of the day, well, who really knows? There could be a way by, say, 2030, to reboot a series that is currently on the air with a concurrent alternative version and new location. Or perhaps the same general location and even the same stars but in a different reality.

… but just, like, enough with this show already. #isthetruthstilloutthere

Don’t you dare say no and give us the stink eye before you look in the national mirror towards our nation’s capital…and report to us exactly what is real…and what is fake.

Which could actually be a political remake of 1998’s Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, but set in D.C.. Anybody see it? No.   Well, apparently she’s one of Ryan Murphy’s best friends. Want to be a TV producer? Well then, you can have the idea (Note: I got a million of ‘em!) but only if you start there. I’m dying to see what they say about it and what happens when it goes to the networks.

Peter Allen – “Everything Old is New Again”