Friday, April 20, 2007


It's 4:20 on 4/20... I'm just sayin'...


I watch a lot of TV. I mean, a lot. Because I work in television, I can justify it as career-related viewing, but I must admit I'm a slave to the vidiot box and a wee bit TiVo-obsessed. Not only do I consume as much as I possibly can in prime time, but there are three shows I record and watch on a daily basis without fail -- Boy Meets Grill, Pardon the Interruption, and The Daily Show. In all my hours logged on the couch with magical TiVo remote in hand, I believe I have earned the right to declare Friday Night Lights the best show on television this season.

For starters, the show features perhaps my favorite opening credit sequence in television history.

To paraphrase an old Sam Cooke song, I don't know much about chemistry. But I do know that combining the right elements and finding the formula for making a television show or movie pop off the screen is incredibly daunting and elusive work. Of course, it all starts with the writing. (Predictable, coming from a writer.) The DNA for a successful project is naturally encoded in the script. Best case scenario, the teleplay or screenplay is a work of art in itself. But those honors are reserved for an elite few. More often than not, the words aren't perfect, the plot doesn't fully make sense, and the characters aren't quite three-dimensional yet. But if it's in the genes, it's in the genes. Script doctors, directors, and actors exist to flesh those things out anyway, right? (Such a writery writer thing to say.) Every once in a while, it all comes together. The script is gold, the actors are perfectly cast and bring the characters to life in a way previously unimaginable to the writer, and the executive producer or director creates an environment conducive to collaboration while still demonstrating a singular vision in guiding the process. It happens. Just not very often. In recent television history, it definitely happened with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. It happened with Seinfeld and The West Wing. Imagine Entertainment pulled if off a few years ago with Arrested Development. And now they have done it again with Friday Night Lights.

As Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, respectively, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton deliver nuanced and soulful performances on a variety of levels. They serve as the backbone of an outstanding ensemble cast (including the smoking-hot Minka Kelly) that is lucky enough to work with phenomenal scripts and producers who obviously know their way around video village. It all works. The alchemy is simply perfect.

Unfortunately, besides the converted few who I'm preaching to, people didn't watch. Despite heaps of critical praise, the show struggled in the Nielsen ratings all season long and never really showed much audience growth as it progressed. NBC is not a strong enough network right now to adequately promote the quality shows they do have on the air because they don't have the blockbuster hits to lean on for support. Maybe the show is too smart for the average bear. Maybe its target audience is playing video games and surfin' the net instead of watching TV these days. Maybe it stumbled out of the gate, numbers-wise, and could never quite recover its stride. Maybe it aired on the wrong night. (Geeky admission: I TiVo the show and save it for Friday nights where I feel it belongs.) Whatever the case may be, it's a real shame. People are missing out. To put the numbers in perspective, the over-hyped and overblown "Desperate Housewives" draws three times the weekly audience that FNL does. I've watched both shows and can say unequivocally that there is no comparison when it comes to quality. In fact, Friday Nights Lights just might be the anti-Desperate Housewives.

Growing up, when my friends and I liked some slice of entertainment, we would repeat an exhausted cliche in a world-weary voice, "I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me." As much as it pains me not to have access to better words than those to describe my emotional involvement with the show, the cliche holds absolutely true. As long as you imagine me saying it with the world-weariest of tones, I may still cling to a shred of dignity as a writer. But this isn't about me. If you didn't watch this season when it aired, do yourself a favor and watch Friday Night Lights in reruns this summer or get the damn DVD as soon as it comes out. And don't be a schmuck by accidentally bringing home the DVD of the film. The movie's all right, but it's not even qualified to hold the TV show's jock strap.

Clear eyes... full hearts... can't lose.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Though he may not be The Godfather, he is my godfather. And he happens to be one of the greatest people I know. David Schiffer has been a role model, a surrogate father, and a best friend to me since I was born. He and his amazing wife Linda, their son Mark, and daughter Taryn have become my second family. On David's urging, I stayed with them for the entire year in 2000 while I was writing a screenplay. Not only did he refuse to accept rent from me, but he and Linda loved me, fed me, and bought me a gym membership as a birthday gift. They supported my endeavor and believed in me. At the time, David was starting up a software business and working like a dog to get it off the ground. Suffice it to say, it has since taken off. His company, Safe Banking Systems, develops and distributes software to major banks around the world, all in the pursuit of nabbing money launderers. Long Island Business News recently did a profile of David and SBS that better explains the ins and outs of his complicated job. In a way, you could say he's a white-collar version of Jack Bauer.

Maybe not. But he is fond of passing on the wisdom he has acquired over the years. The first of his favorite sayings is, "See It From Above." This advice was usually given when my less-than-stellar sense of direction frustrated him. He told me to think of driving directions as if I was looking down from a satellite. I thought it was also a great metaphor for life (as he intended). If you remove yourself from the situation long enough to see it from above, you can gain perspective on just about anything. Schiffer's second favorite saying is, "Just Show Up." This applies to the whole of life as well. Be the kind of person who always shows up when needed, whether expected of you or not. In its complete version, the phrase actually reads, "Just Show Up, You'll Figure Out What To Do When You Get There." I honestly have no idea if these aphorisms are going to read corny or not, but I can attest to them as words to live by. Schiffer has always showed up for me. And I don't need to see it from above to know that he is a truly special person. Love ya, Davey Baby.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The following was written between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM:

Last night, the once venerable "24" hit a nadir for the season and possibly the series. The thrill is gone, the fun is gone, now it's just plain lame.

First off, Audrey's not worth it. Jack's going to trade his life for Audrey's? Please, like Audrey is more valuable to the US and A than the greatest counterterrorist in the history of counterterrorism. Laughable. How many times has Audrey saved the fuckin' universe? And -- and this is a big one -- she's not hot. I mean, if Jack Bauer was going after some supersmart Betty who was a fraction as cool as he is, then maybe I can buy the motivation for his character to take that big a risk. But, come on, Jack, don't even think about ending it all over Audrey. Look at it this way, Jack... tomorrow's another really shitty day. More suspects to interrogate in cruel and imaginative ways. More no-win situations for you to somehow manage to snag victory from the jaws of defeat. More carrying on your techno-erotic love affair with Chloe. The sun may not come out tomorrow, Jack, but you can bet your bottom dollar there'll be some serious terrorism. Audrey won't be able to stop any of it. But you can. And you will. Just let her go, man. Why don't you take out that nice girl who works for the VP? Try her on for size. Or maybe go out with Connie Britton again. She sure is looking good these days...

Secondly... nice pratfall, President Palmer. The Velveeta people are on line 2, wanting to know if you're all right. Ugh, and the Vice President is standing there in the viewing box watching the speech while holding his letter of resignation. It reminded me of a recent late night snack I prepared for myself in which I melted three different kinds of cheese together to see what would happen. Why would the guy take questions? It violates the first rule of comedy and Presidential Addresses -- Get in late, get out early. Wayne held it together perfectly for a handful of comforting words to the nation and there's no question that should have been it. The audacity to open the floor to questions when his health is failing and there are an infinite number of details about the day's events that he could never in a million years talk to the press about. Just friggin' ridiculous.

Lastly, Ricky Schroeder sucks. He was cute as a button in The Champ and Silver Spoons. (I still don't know if I watched that show for him or because his house had a video arcade and a rideable toy train running through the living room.) He's in over his head, like he was on NYPD Blue. Oh wait, was that Zack from Saved By the Bell? Anyway, I don't believe for a millisecond that little Ricky Schroeder is going to push Jack Motherf-ing Bauer around.

The whole show just made me nauseous. Like they suckered us in with five and a half years of roller coasters and then wouldn't let us get off that stupid pirate ship ride that just goes back and forth and back and forth, threatening to flip all the way over but never actually doing so. And, of course, it's all in the name of continuing to sell us the same goods and services they've been shoving down our throats since Dennis Hopper tried out a crappy Czechoslovakian accent in his short stint as the bad guy. Thank God TiVo makes that all go away...