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The Greatest Bit SNL Ever Did.

02/06

I’m working on a Youtube series that will debut at the end of June 2017 called Thirteen Week Theatre about short lived TV shows, both the underappreciated gems and the absolute horrible bits of tripe.

One show I’m working for it is Saturday Night Live ‘80, the retitled, revamped version of the classic show that debuted in November of that fateful year. It took me a while to track down copies of the 12 episodes that killed Jean Doumanian’s TV career (along with those of people like Ann Risley and Charles Rocket), but I found them so I could watch them again and get some footage to work with.

At the time I was foraging for VHS copies of those 12 wpisodes I decided to seek out another little-remembered SNL season: Season 7, the first full season for Dick Ebersol and which would prove to be the second year in a row that half the cast was fired by the end of the season.

I did it mainly to seek out one particular bit: one that can’t be found online because NBC rightly polices the hell out of YouTube and because Lorne won’t allow them to have much if anything from Ebersol’s reign on Hulu or the web. A bit that I had only seen once almost 36 years ago and had stuck with me until I tracked it down tonight.

In my opinion, it’s an example of what made SNL great. Probably the greatest bit they ever did.

The official title was “An Editorial Reply,” about the week when Life and Time both had Marilyn Monroe on their covers and some telefilms were in production about her life. In reality, it’s probably known better for the refrain of the musical number. Mary Gross played Marilyn in a wonderful parody of the quintessential number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

“If Life Magazine needs my face to sell issues, then downers are a girl’s best friend.”

I can’t confirm that it was written by Michael O’Donohugh, but if it wasn’t I’ll eat my hat and worship at the feet of whoever did write it.

This bit shows the genius that SNL had in its early years. It was edgy bordering on offensive. (The “downers” that are being sung about are supposedly books about her, but it’s also an obvious swipe at how Marilyn killed herself.) It didn’t talk down to you. It presumed that you knew the original source material that was being parodied. It presumed you knew about Marilyn, who she loved and how she died.”

“Capote! Miller! Garson Kanen! Talk to me, Norman Mailer! Tell me all about me!”

It’s brash. It’s bold. It’s 3 and a half minutes that are right on target.

“If made-for-TV films ’bout me must be written
Downers are a girl’s best friend.
And writers who write on the… men I was smitten
with… make so much dough
and write as though they really know!

“Dunaway would run away
to play me, though she’d need my rear end!
This isn’t defensive!
To me, it’s offensive!
Downers are a girl’s best friend.”

And you know what? It’s witty and funny as hell, but for those three and a half minutes there is not a single laugh to be heard. Maybe a couple of gasps when the word “downers” is first used, but no laughs.

Yet the audience goes nuts at the end. They didn’t need to laugh out loud. The wit was enough.

No need to pull a “Debbie Downer” and try to deliver a punch line every 20 seconds. No hammering away at a catchphrase. No condescension. The sketch refuses to play to the lowest common denominator. Who cares. It isn’t too hip for the room; if it goes over your head go laugh at the “Rubik’s Teeth” commercial elsewhere in the episode. But the more you know the funnier it is. And the wittier. And the sadder.

It’s the perfect example of what SNL was supposed to be. It’s just how Lorne Michaels envisioned the show.

As Lorne prepares for his annual bloodletting, firing stars who are underperforming in an effort to keep the show under budget, and trying to once again reinvent the show without reinventing it like they did in 1980 (and 1981, and 1984, and 1985, and 1990, and 1995, and… Well, I could go on) he would do best to go back and watch some of the Ebersol years. They were uneven, they relied too much on one or two cast members per season, but they did have times when they had pure genius.

Remember that the greatest sketch SNL ever did, the quintessential “edgy” yet “highbrow” moment, the sketch that best illustrated what you wanted from the show, happened while you weren’t there.

Doctor Who: ENOUGH ALREADY!

23/11

SPOILERS for Doctor Who: “Face the Raven” and others.

Doctor Who said goodbye to another companion last week, and while many of us cheered the long overdue departure of Jenna Coleman’s Clara, the means by which she left the show continued one of the revived show’s more annoying trends: burning the companion’s bridges before dispatching them with a needlessly sad departure.

a0d8ed26a967e1beb388d240e4f46fb1b26f7c7d_hqIn the 26 years of the original series, only two companions were killed off: Katarina (who was written in specifically to die in the next adventure) and Adric (who was generally hated as a character and mourned by few). One companion (Peri) was killed off but then retconned a few episodes later to have survived. Of course, she was revealed to have gone on to marry Brian Blessed instead, so maybe death would have been preferable.

So out of 28 companions of the first seven Doctors, we have a mortality rate of 7%. Not the safest job in the Universe, surely.

If we add in companions who left the Doctor on bad terms, at best we add four more. Jamie and Zoe had their memories wiped and were sent back to their own times in The War Games. Sarah Jane Smith was abandoned in the wrong town (in the wrong country, too) with little warning by the Fourth Doctor in The Hand of Fear. And Tegan pulled a Tegan and went storming off before trying unsuccessfully to change her mind in Resurrection of the Daleks. So six out of 28, or 21%, could be described as not having a happy ending.

021Fast forward to the new series.

Rose? Stranded in another Universe with a fake Doctor.

Captain Jack? Dead, eventually, although we didn’t know it at the time. But his situation is unique so I won’t count him in these figures.

Donna? Memory wiped.

Amy and Rory? Stranded back in the past with no hope of return. And let’s not even try to count the number of times Rory “died” before that.

River? Dead.

Clara? Dead.

clara-goodbye-doctor-who-face-the-ravenOf the new series’ companions, only one could be seen as having anything other than a miserable end to her travels: Martha. And that was only because they contrived to sign her up with Torchwood and have her patch things up with the Doctor after her misery. If you count Mickey as a companion (I really don’t) you could add him as one who had a neutral ending. (But he ended up with Martha, so this could be a Peri-like situation).

death4So a possible two out of eight. That’s a 75% chance of things ending badly. And if you add Danny in as a companion (like with Mickey, I really don’t) then the mortality/misery rate jumps to 78%. Add in Adam Mitchell and it’s 80%.

Who the hell would want to step into the TARDIS if they knew those odds?

It could be said that this tendency to kill, maim, fold, spindle, and mutilate companions is just the way modern television works. Producers feel the need to work characters over just to elicit “the feels” from squeeing little fangirls. But, really, is that necessary? This isn’t just any television show, this is Doctor Who. From the beginning, this was intended to be one of the best shows on the air, and while its history (even its modern history) is checkered, overall it has a damn good track record. Even at its worst, like pizza and oral sex, it’s pretty damn terrific. So it shouldn’t feel the need to sink to these levels.

And this is not an attack on showrunner Steven Moffat. The Vast Toffee Man has come under barrage after barrage of fan criticism since before he took the job, but the tendency to grind companions into fine powder didn’t start with him; Rose and Donna’s fates were sealed by Russell T. Davies. This is a problem with the show itself, not the people running it.

And it needs to end.

We’ll have a new companion coming along next year, if not at the end of this one (the producers are being tight-lipped), so we’ll once again have a chance to set things right. Here’s hoping that the next companion actually travels with the Doctor instead of being picked up from time to time like Clara (and toward the end Amy and Rory), and when the time comes to end their story it ends with a happy ending. Let the next companion end his or her story by ending his exile like Turlough. Or becoming a warrior king like Steven. Or going back home happy like Ian, Barbara, Ben, and Polly. Or falling in love like almost everyone else.

Traveling with the Doctor is supposed to change the companion for the better. Let their stories end well.

“On My Phone”

15/09

Parody lyrics for the classic song from Les Miserables to discourage the use of cell phones in entertainment venues.

(Enter Eponine, texting furiously)

EPONINE

On my phone
Pretending I’m important.
On my phone
Pretending that I’ve got friends.

Even though
I ought to watch the actors
I find Twitter so compelling that I
C
annot look away.

On my phone
And missing all the plot points.
On my phone
Ignoring the reprises.

For these seats
I paid two hundred dollars
But Facebook calls my name and I give
It all my attention.

And I know
I ought to shut it off
That I’m wasting this real life experience.
And although I’m acting like a jerk
Still I play Angry Birds non-stop.

(The rest of the company enters, pleading)

COMPANY

Please watch us
For when the play is over
We’ll be gone
You’ll miss all our hard work.
Without us
The world seems two dimensional
Those tiny screens are just a sorry
Substitute for drama.

EPONINE

I love it,
But every day I’m learning
That real life
Is better than a login.
Without it,
The world is more compelling
And full of real expriences
I have never known!

COMPANY

Please watch us.
Please watch us.
Please watch us.
And please turn off your phone.

Spamazon

04/08

One great thing about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace services: they will let you publish anything.

One terrible thing about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace services: they will let you publish anything.

It’s called (among other things) Spamazon – when something hits it big, the me-too crowd comes along and puts out cheap knockoffs with deceptive titles to con the shopper into perhaps buying the knockoff instead of the original.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a great example. Until enough people complained and enough cease and desist letters went out, you could find “50 Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades of Gray,” “50 Shades of Gray,” “Fifty Grey Shades,” and even “Thirty-Five Shades of Grey” on Amazon.

This isn’t a question of parody (witness Fifty Shades of Grey Matter and Fifty Shades of Beige) but a slightly gentler form of plagiarism. Someone tries to capitalize on another author’s success by putting out something quickly with a similar title. Someone searching Amazon quickly might get confused and click on the wrong book.

So how widespread is this problem? So widespread that it’s touched upon my circle of friends.

Exhibit A

In 2011, my friend Alice Ozma put out a memoir entitled The Reading Promise. It carried two different subtitles depending upon the edition, either “3,218 Nights of Reading with My Father” or more commonly “My Father and the Books we Shared.” It’s the true story about a single father who promises to read to his daughter every night for 100 nights. And after those hundred nights are over, they keep going until she leaves for college.

Response to her book was immediate and amazing, the kind of acclaim that most of us authors dream about. It got rave reviews, was shortlisted for prizes, and spawned a whole movement of getting parents to read with their children. It’s even being made into a motion picture.

So what reward comes from all this success?

Last month, a 38 page book quietly slipped into the “stacks” at Amazon. It’s a fictional story about a mother who reads to her son every night.

Sound familiar? Guess what the title was.

Aw, you guessed it. Probably even before you looked at the picture didn’t you.

After three years of notoriety, acclaim, and time spent on the best seller charts, a writer stumbles upon the same exact concept (just gender reversed) and the same exact title and quickly rushes out a book. As people hear about this charming book about a father and daughter reading every night, they will go search on Amazon. Maybe one out of a hundred might click on the knockoff instead of the original. That is enough of a response to make some real money when you consider how many people might be looking for the original. Especially once the film comes out.

The tactic seems to be working, too. As of this morning, the knockoff is at #281,749 on the Kindle charts while the original is at #100,382.

Stuck Pig Syndrome

Like any legitimate author, I am opposed to Spamazon knockoffs. Even when the author being robbed from isn’t someone I know. So I did what any conscientious Amazon shopper would do: I wrote a review to help dispel the confusion.

review

This book is a direct ripoff (down to the title) of “The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared” by Alice Ozma and Jim Brozina. Don’t reward plagiarism; go buy the original instead.

Yep, I went there. I used the “P” word. And I stand by it. You put out a book with an identical premise and identical title to a best seller, you are a plagiarist. You are trying to make money off of another person’s hard work.

The writer in question posted a response to my review on Amazon, as is his right. I could tell right away that I had hit home.

“When I wrote my children’s picture book, I did not know about Alice Ozma’s book of a similar title.”

Uh, huh. First off, when you have an idea it’s good practice to go make sure it hasn’t been done. I’ve had lots of concepts that I didn’t develop because someone got there before me. It’s common.

And not “similar” title. The same title. Alice Ozma’s book is entitled The Reading Promise. The knockoff is entitled The Reading Promise. That is not “similar.”

Continuing: “There are several (many) books/collections of poetry, etc. titled ‘The Promise.’ Because all of the titles share a similarity, should they all be considered plagiarized works?”

Uh, huh. Yes, there are many books called The Promise. But there are only two entitled The Reading Promise. And those books carry identical concepts, with only the gender of the characters reversed.

But the writer in question did not think that a public response to my review was sufficient. He had to send me a threatening E-mail this morning:

 

Subject: Defamatory Comments

Pab,

I’m sure you are aware of the fact that I’ve read your defamatory comments about my book online. I take defamatory comments very seriously, so I respectfully ask that you please take them down.

I’m not sure if you actually read my book, but if you have you certainly know that the content (right down to the genre) is not like your friend’s book in any way; is she aware of what you are doing?

As you likely know, book titles are not copyrighted. Take a look at your book “Norton Hears a Who,” which only changed one letter from Giesel’s title. The fact that I happened to use three of the words from her ten-word title, one of which was “the,” certainly does not constitute plagiarism.

When I titled my book, I did not know that her book existed.

Thank you very much.

 

To which I say….

 

You released a book with identical concept and identical title (the title of Ms. Ozma’s book is “The Reading Promise,” and had two separate subtitles during its publication history) to a book published three years prior. A book which was not only widely reviewed and received extensive publicity, but is currently being developed into a motion picture.

It’s safe to assume that a book released three years after another with the same title and the same concept (only gender reversed) is purely intended to deceive the customer into purchasing the new book instead of the original.

No, titles are not copyrighted. But concepts connected to titles are. Ozma’s The Reading Promise is a story about a parent reading to a child. Your The Reading Promise is about a parent reading to a child. Published three years after the first, after the former had entered development for a motion picture.

Were I to put out a 30 page murder mystery entitled Stinky Blinky: The Mysterious Case of the Gas We Pass about a detective on the trail of a strangely flatulent child, you would have a case against me. And would have a right to point out the similarity in a review on a bookseller’s website. As I did with your knockoff of Ozma’s book. Although a good case might be made that my work would be a parody, something that can hardly be used as a defense of your work.

One of the first things an author should do when writing is to use Google. Any search at all for your title over the past three years would have returned dozens to hundreds of hits about Ozma’s book, which should have prompted you to pick another title. That you did not suggests an intent to deceive, either on your part or your publisher.

As for your comments about Norton Hears a Who and Other Stories, you might want to consult a dictionary for the word “homage.” No one in their right mind would mistake a collection of a daily comic strip for a Dr. Seuss book. I made no effort to pass it off as such. And the concept of the six strips within the collection that lent the book its title (namely an insane historical figure thinking a flower is talking to him) is not an attempt to deceive book shoppers but a homage bordering on a parody of the original. On the other hand, you released a book with an identical title and identical concept, not a parody nor an homage.

I stand by my review.

Oh, and by the way….

For future reference, sir, this is how you handle a one-star review on Amazon.

“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 5 – “Clothes Maketh the Man”

25/08

Picking up the pace a little here with the commentaries. In this chapter, Bobby gets ready for school, suffers through a talk with his guidance counselor, then suits up for action!

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“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 3 – “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

08/08

At long last, the audio commentary resumes as Bobby gets the job offer.

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