Today's Video Link

Bill Maher's piece about what's happening in Kansas…

Today's Political Comment

The other day I heard some Talking Head on CNN puzzling over why, if Congress has an approval rating two points below Ebola, so many of us will soon re-elect our same Congressperson. I don't see why that's such a mystery. We may hate the institution as a whole but we can only vote for our guy or gal and we may well be satisfied with him or her.

More to the point, we may be satisfied with the party he or she represents. I'm a Democrat and while there was a time in the past I could and did vote for Republicans, I don't think that could happen today. Today, for a Republican to get my vote, a candidate would have to move to the center in a way that would probably make him or her unpalatable to too many Republicans. You can't win an election in this country when you lose votes from your party and count on members of the opposition party.

And even if a Republican did say the things that might get me to vote for him/her, what are the chances of that person going to Washington and not toeing the party line? Or having any power?

Now, if it turned out that the Democratic candidate had a history of felonies and sex crimes…well, I'd probably vote against that person or perhaps not vote for anyone. But in the absence of something like that, I'm kinda stuck voting for the Democrat. If I want to vote for someone who has a chance of winning, at least.

(I understand the premise of voting for Independents but I don't think it works, at least at the Congressional level. I don't think it sends a message to anyone. I don't think it empowers future candidacies. I think it has the same impact as not voting and I wish that wasn't the case. And anyway, there are no Independents on my ballot in this election — not for Congress, not for Governor, not for Lieutenant Governor, etc.)

So: My choice on this ballot is the Democrat or the Republican. If the Democrat was still Henry Waxman, I'd vote for him because I was actually quite happy with Henry Waxman. I told pollsters I had a low opinion of Congress but I had a high opinion of Henry Waxman.

Since it's now Ted Lieu running with the "D" after his name, I'm voting for Ted Lieu. His G.O.P. opponent, Elan Carr, has a very vague platform that suggests he's for a lots of things that Democrats oppose but is trying not to admit that in a heavily-Democratic precinct. My guess is he has about the same chance of winning as I do…and I'm not even running.

And if he did win, he'd go to Washington and vote the way the Republican leadership told him to vote. That's kind of what I'm voting against. I'm against giving them another vote in Congress.

I don't like any of this. I'd like to think I could vote for a person who'd cross the aisle and side with the other team when they're right, as other teams sometimes are. But I don't think there is such a person on my ballot so I have to just vote the party. Which is what everyone does these days, which is why we keep sending the same people back to a Congress we hate.

Today's Video Link

I just set the ol' TiVo to record Michael Feinstein at the Rainbow Room, a new special that debuts on PBS on October 31. I have a little preview of it for you.

It's always nice to see masters of cabaret performing like Mr. Feinstein and his guests. It's also nice to see that the Rainbow Room is open and operating again. In case you don't know the place, it's a swanky supper club located on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. The place opened in 1934 and for many years, it was the highest dining establishment in the U.S. and folks went as much for the view as the food, the entertainment and the chance to see celebrities.

It closed in 2009 for a remodel and some feared that was just "spin" and that the place would never reopen…but reopen it did, just recently. I assume they didn't remodel the pricing, which struck me on my one visit there — to hear Joe Williams years ago — as just as high as the Rainbow Room.

I also recall getting as dressed-up as is humanly possible when you're me and still receiving a withering, nose-in-the-air sneer from the maître d'hôtel, who seemed well aware his job description had two circonflexes in it. I actually said to him, "Don't worry. When the rest of my party arrives in a few minutes, they'll be better-dressed than I am." A man of great class, he resisted the temptation to say, "They'd have to be." But you could tell he wanted to.

I still have such guilt about that, I may have to get into my tux before I watch this special…

Today's Political Snide Remark

Ted Cruz's Deputy Chief Of Staff Nick Muzin tweeted, "Before Obamacare, there had never been a confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S."

Yeah. And before Ted Cruz was running around saying stupid things like that, we didn't have Ebola in this country, either. I see a direct cause-and-effect there.

Friday Morning

Running around today, mostly working on the Freberg Tribute. I hear we're close to sold out…

Funny thing about that. Whenever I hear someone say "Order now! We're sure to sell out!", I think, "Why are you telling me that? If you're really going to sell out, why are you hustling orders? Why do you care if these people buy up the last of it instead of those people?" But now I realize why I'm doing it. I don't want my friends coming to me next week and saying, "Hey, can you get me in?" Some will and I want to be able to say to them, "Hey, I warned you we were going to sell out."

If you wanna be there, here's the link to order seats while you still can.

Right now, we're just waiting on a better copy of the episode Stan did of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. We have mediocre video quality and are looking for excellent. It's a great episode with not only Stan but Jack Cassidy, Ann Sothern and George Furth. Boy, Jack Cassidy was good at playing handsome psychos. Or maybe he just seems more convincing in those roles once you know what happened to him later.

Something Else to Kill You


A lot of folks are getting upset or incensed or something about a new fast food concoction at KFC. It's the Zinger Double Down King which so far is only available in Korea. What is it? A hamburger patty with bacon, pepper cheese and a couple of sauces, served not on a bun but between two fried chicken patties.

Total number of calories? 760.

I've written about this before but I don't understand the fuss. Okay, yeah, it's not healthy to eat that thing but it's not like this is a new outrage. Almost any medium-sized meal you get at a KFC is going to have at least 760 calories. A breast, thigh and leg plus one dipping sauce is 770 and has twice as much sodium.

At McDonald's, the Bacon Clubhouse Crispy Chicken Sandwich has 750 calories and the large shakes have over 800. At Burger King, if you order a Whopper with Cheese, a small French Fries and a Diet Coke, you're still at 1070 calories.

I wonder if we don't make things worse by fussing over something like the Zinger Double Down King. I can imagine someone walking into a Carl's Jr and ordering the Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet Sandwich and thinking they're showing restraint and a better discipline about food because they didn't go to KFC and gets the Zinger Double Down King. Yeah…but the Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet Sandwich has 860 calories in it and they have other choices that make that look like a Jenny Craig meal.

Recommended Reading

Joe Conason on the Minimum Wage…and why it's a myth that raising it hurts the economy.

Today's Video Link

Batman has a special message for you from President Lyndon Baines Johnson…

Recommended Reading

This article claims that by the year 2100, much of Louisiana will be underwater. I suspect a lot of people will hear that, do the math on how old they'd have to live to be to see that and shrug.

There are, of course, folks who want to do something to stop that, regardless of whether they'll be around then. I suggest they start listing some of the bad things that might happen before 2100. If the disaster will be complete by 2100, some calamities will have to occur well before then, possibly even in our lifetimes.

In the meantime, there are those in Southern Florida who want to break off from the U.S. and form their own state to better deal with their not-dissimilar problem. Disney World is in Southern Florida. Why don't we just let Disney run this new state because, you know, they will anyway?


We have a copy of that commercial I asked for in the previous message. Thanks, everyone.

Thursday Morning


Freberg selling soda.

I'm spending a lot of time working on this Stan Freberg Tribute we're doing on November 2nd. Hey, maybe someone reading this can help me with something…

You may remember Stan did that great commercial with the Lone Ranger for Jeno's Pizza Rolls. Well, of course we're going to be running that at the event and Stan will be telling the incredible tale of getting Clayton Moore to put on his Lone Ranger suit and come over and do it. But that commercial was a parody of another, then-current commercial — for Lark cigarettes. We'd like to show 20 or so seconds of that Lark spot and all we can find are fuzzy online video copies of it that won't look so hot projected up on the huge screen of the Egyptian Theater. Does anyone have a crisp, clear copy they can let us have? My e-mail address is under the Contact Me section to the right.

I am told tickets are selling at a brisker pace than the American Cinematheque imagined and will soon be all gone. This then is a warning to people who know me: Don't write or call me next week and say, "Hey, can you get me tickets?" You have your chance right now to get tickets. Here's the link.

You'll want to be there just to see 1953 footage of Stan, Daws Butler and June Foray doing "St. George and the Dragonet" live on The Toast of the Town, aka The Ed Sullivan Show. And we have some other stuff that even I, a supposed expert on All Things Freberg, had never seen before.

I spent yesterday at the Paley Center for Media comparing their copy of the Zagnut commercial with Stan's copy of the Zagnut commercial and things like that. I keep forgetting what a wonderful repository of wonderment that place is and how helpful and well-informed the staff is. I need to get over there more when I can just watch anything I want…which will probably include more Freberg stuff.

By the way: They have a Jay Ward exhibit on now in the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. They even have on display the old but refurbished Bullwinkle statue that used to stand in front of Mr. Ward's place of business on the Sunset Strip. How they got that thing in there, I have no idea. But then when it comes to most things in this world, I have no idea…

Today's Video Link

If you're not watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you're missing some of the smartest, funniest moments on television — like this one…

Recommended Reading

During the last election, Mitt Romney said Barack Obama "gets full credit or blame for what's happened in this economy, and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch." That's not really true since there's not much the president can do about either of those things, especially when Congress blocks almost everything important he tries to do. So it would be interesting for someone to ask Mitt — who's sure making noises like he thinks he can be the nominee again — if Obama gets full credit now that gas prices are trending downward.

Recommended Reading

Isaac Asimov asks and answers the musical question, "How Do People Get New Ideas?" Actually, that probably should be in the past-tense — asked and answered — since Doc Asimov ain't around no more. He died 22 years ago. If he were still alive, he would have written 88 more books.

Tales of Something Or Other #5


Here's a story I don't think I've told here before. It occurred around 1983 when I was writing a lot of pilots for cartoon shows. I'm going to change a few names but this actually happened…

There was a Korean animation studio that did a lot of sub-contracting work for American cartoon companies. Several Hanna-Barbera shows, as well as programs for other U.S. producers, were largely animated at this studio owned by a man we'll call Mr. Woo. (If there is a studio in Korea owned by anyone named Woo, this isn't that one.)

Mr. Woo decided to try to sell some shows into the American marketplace on his own. He hired some writers. He hired some artists. Most of all, he hired a Development Exec we'll call Hermione. She was an American who worked out of his Southern California office, trying to put together something that an American TV network would purchase directly from Mr. Woo's studio.

One of their artists came up with something they thought had real potential if (big IF) they could find the right writer to develop it and write some outlines and a pilot script. Someone suggested I might be that right writer. Hermione called and asked if I could come in so they could get a look at me and I could get a look at their idea. I said sure. What time and where?

This was back when I believed in going in to meet with anyone who wanted to meet with me. It didn't always result in a job but it usually resulted in me learning something, including what kind of people not to go meet with. That was not without its value. So I went in and met Hermione but not Mr. Woo. Mr. Woo, it was explained to me, was not in the country at the time.

I gave their idea the once-over, thought it was a pretty good one and told Hermione that, yes, I could do something to push it closer to a network sale. She said they wanted to hire me and she started to mention dollar amounts. I said, "Whoa, stop, halt. I don't talk money. That's why I have an agent." I gave her contact info for that person, who was then Stu the Agent. But the numbers I'd heard before I put an end to that part of the conversation struck me as pretty low. When I got home, I called Stu and warned him we were about to get a very low lowball.

When she called him, that's what she pitched. Stu told her my established price for such work. She said that was way too much. Stu said, "Hey, the last time a studio paid him that, the material he produced got CBS to buy the series. That's what you want, isn't it? You can find writers who'll work cheaper but see how many of them did work that got CBS to buy the series."

This is why writers have agents: So they can say things like that. And I should add that the dough we were asking for was not that high. Hanna-Barbera, Marvel, Ruby-Spears, Filmation…they all paid me that without complaint. Even, I think by then, Disney.  It was just high for Mr. Woo's operation.

There was some haggling, wholly from their side. Hermione came up in their offer. We did not come down. As Stu and other agents taught me, negotiation is not always a two-way street. Imagine you go in to price a new Infiniti and they tell you the model you want is $50,000. You offer a dollar. They laugh in your face. Then you say, "Okay, let's compromise. Meet me halfway!" See how far that gets you. Finally, Hermione said, "I'm not authorized to go any higher. If you want more money, you'll have to speak with Mr. Woo."

Stu said, "Okay. Let me speak to Mr. Woo."

She said, "I'll see if I can arrange it" and she hung up. A half-hour later, she called back and said, "How about two weeks from Thursday? At 4:00 PM? That will be 9:00 AM in Korea."

Things had started to be odd. She'd been saying how eager they were to get this thing going; how they'd need the bible and script done quickly. Suddenly, she wanted my agent to wait 16 days to speak to the one person with whom he might be able to make a deal. "I'll talk to him right now," Stu said. "Or tomorrow, or whenever you like." That was a great thing about Stu. He'd chase a potential deal like Javert pursuing Jean Valjean right into the sewers.

"Let's say two weeks from Thursday at 4:00 PM," Hermione confirmed. Stu wrote it on his calendar, but he didn't understand why he had to make an appointment two weeks in advance to talk money with Mr. Woo.

Then Hermione phoned me. "Mark," she said, for indeed that was my name, "I need your assurance on two points. One is that, if we're able to make a deal with your agent, you'll be able to jump on this right away. We're way behind our schedule."

"I'll start the minute we have a deal," I said. "Matter of fact, if it's that urgent, I could start writing right now. Can't you have Mr. Woo call my agent today?"

"No, they'll speak two weeks from Thursday…which brings me to my other concern. I'd like some reassurance from you that you think we'll be able to make a deal."

"Beg pardon?"

"Mr. Woo will get very mad at me if he has a conversation with your agent and we can't go forward with you. Tell me you think we'll be able to make a deal."

I didn't know what to say to that. When you're negotiating with someone, the last thing you want to do is to assure them that you'll settle. They have no incentive to meet your price if they know you'll lower your price.

Finally, I said, "You should know the answer to that better than I could. You know what my agent was asking for…and you have a clearer notion of how high Mr. Woo will go…"

"Yes, yes, I understand that," Hermione insisted. "But do you think we'll be able to make a deal?"

"I don't know."

"This is troubling," she said. "But I guess I have no choice. I have to let the call go ahead."

Later, I recounted all that to Stu who didn't get it, either. Why the fuss over one phone call with Mr. Woo?

Two weeks from Thursday at the precise moment, Stu's phone rang. "Please hold for Mr. Woo," a voice said. Mr. Woo came on the line and, with no formalities, made a terrible offer for my services. In fact, it was less than the last offer we'd turned down from Hermione.

Stu said no. Mr. Woo said, "Look…if Mark writes the script that sells this show, I will see to it that he benefits in many ways. I will reward him but I cannot go any higher with my offer."

Stu said, "Your offer is lower than any of your competitors have paid him for the same kind of work. It's even lower than your Development Person offered him. If anything, you should be paying him more. If he's successful, he's not only going to sell this show for you, he's going to establish you as a network supplier, capable of selling more shows in the future."

Mr. Woo was starting to get a bit peeved. "I understand all of that. I just cannot pay more than what I just offered. But if Mark succeeds, he will be rewarded further. You will just have to trust me."

That baffled Stu: A man he'd never met in person…a man he'd been speaking to for under a minute…saying, "You will just have to trust me." Stu told him, "It's very simple. I gave you Mark's price. If you're not prepared to pay him that, other studios are."

Mr. Woo was not happy. "This is very disturbing," he said. "If you were not going to make a deal with us, I wish you had told us before so I would not have wasted this call."

That was the end of the conversation. Without so much as a "bye-bye," Mr. Woo clicked off. Bewildered, Stu phoned me and recounted the odd exchange. "What I don't get," he said, "is why it was so horrible that Mr. Woo phoned me from Korea. I checked with the phone company and the call only cost a few dollars." I was also sans clue.

An hour later, Hermione phoned to moan how awful it was that we hadn't been able to make a deal. "Mr. Woo is very mad at me," she said.

"Listen," I said. "You have to explain to me what's going on here. I get the feeling there's some vital piece of information that I am lacking."

"Mr. Woo gets very upset when he wastes his daily phone call," she explained.

"Daily phone call?"

"Yes…didn't you know? Mr. Woo was convicted of tax evasion. He's running the company from prison and he only gets one phone call a day."