Writer Rob Kutner, known for his work on The Daily Show, Conan, and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, among other things, and our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, often hang out in the same circles – online at least – and share a host of common friends on Facebook.
If you are a Rob Kutner FB follower – and why aren’t you? – you already know about this piece Rob did for The New Yorker recently. If you are, congratulations, you sure as hell know about it now!
by Rob Kutner
“Sal was the owner and sole proprietor of Sal’s Salumeria Salata, but, to us kids, he was more like Santa Claus. We’d drop by after school, and Sal would say, ‘Wait, bambinos, I got a little something for you in the back.’ Then he’d disappear for a sec and return with a special treat he’d pop right in our mouths—garlic knots, cannoli, cheesecloth, antifreeze, long rows of industrial staples—just whatever Sal had on hand that was fresh, no money accepted, no questions asked. In retrospect, maybe someone shoulda asked some questions.”
“See that knucklehead counting tickets by the money box? That was Jimmy (Screeches) Scrizzione, a smooth-talking grifter with a million-dollar smile and a work ethic that’d put any Puritan to shame. Unfortunately, he also had a teensy little habit—some of the boys think it may have been neurophysiological—of being unable to take a whiz without making a series of screeches so loud and, frankly, alarming that they unfailingly attracted the notice of law enforcement.”
“Nobody was prouder of his Italian heritage than Wesleydale (the Italian Guy) Von Stroppenheimer IX. The I.G. was constantly hitting us with phrases from the old country, like ‘Oh! Solo mio?’ and ‘That is a spicy ball of meat!’ And good luck trying to stop him whenever a hydrant burst—he would rush outside to get into a splash war with the neighborhood kids, frolicking among the ice-cold jets of marinara….”
As most TVWriter™ visitors probably know, The Wild Wild West‘s main character, James West, AKA actor Robert Conrad, died last weekend.
TVWriter™’s good buddy, Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato, reminded us the other day that Conrad’s last TV appearance was on Herbie’s fascinating classic TV talk show, Then Again with Herbie J Pilato.
Here’s an exclusive report on the appearance, courtesy of Herbie J.
by Herbie J Pilato
“I’m not debonair. I’m not suave. I did wear tight pants, though, because I found out that it worked.” — Robert Conrad
Robert Conrad — you were one tough nut to crack.
But I loved having you on my show, “Then Again with Herbie J Pilato,” which ultimately became your final on-screen appearance.
What an honor — and what a blast it really was.
You joked — and you razed me, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Rest well, tough guy.
Whether in fiction or in reality, no male TV character of the 1950s, ’60s, and ‘70s came any tougher than Robert Conrad as James West on the unique sci-fi western, The Wild Wild West, which originally aired on CBS from 1965 to 1969.
The fact that Conrad portrayed a character named West on a series that was set in the Old West served both as a metaphor and as a wink to the program’s loyal fan-base who came to love the show’s frequent use of self-deprecating humor and style. As Conrad once said about the series, which displayed ingenious, whimsical stories, sets, props, and performances, “It was just so elaborate and so luxurious. We had every gadget imaginable…[like] the little gun that [popped] out of [West’s] shoe.”
The show arrived on TV just as the western genre was giving way to the spy game….
Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the host ofclassic TV talk show THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, now streaming on Amazon Prime, Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and author of several classic TV companion books. He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J HERE. This article first appeared in Medium.
The esteemed Callie Khouri, writer, producer, director especially known for her Oscar winning screenplay Thelma & Louise brings us the kind of news all too many creatives don’t want to hear…but we sure as hell need to know it, and now.
Our Industry is at Stake in the 2020 Election
by Calie Khouri
The Trump Justice Department announced at the end of 2019 that it will seek to end the landmark Paramount Consent Decrees. These decrees arose from concerns in the 1940s that a group of entertainment companies wielded outsized power over the film business. They limited the largest Hollywood production studios’ ability to own movie theater chains, control ticket prices, and fill theater screens with their own content to the exclusion of independent films. The decision by today’s Justice Department to undo the decrees continues a disturbing trend of undermining laws and regulations that promote competition and curtail abusive practices of the largest corporations.
We are already seeing the effects of the Justice Department’s hasty approval of the Disney-Fox merger. This massive corporation has used its increased market share to aggressively pursue its franchise strategy while reducing the number of films it produces, creating an artificial scarcity that reportedly now extends to classic Fox movies like “Alien” which have been withdrawn from some independent movie theaters. This strategy may redistribute wealth to Disney, but it is a grave threat to independent theaters and independent film, along with the writers and others who create them.
The newest streaming services from traditional content companies — Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock— are all the product of companies permitted by regulators to consolidate horizontally, vertically, or both. By merging content companies with distribution channels — the very thing the Paramount consent decrees sought to regulate — these streaming services have been allowed to erect fences around their content, while under-pricing and bundling their services with other products, making it even harder for new independent producers to enter the market. Without reasonable regulations, this small group of powerful companies will be able to prevent new competition for writers’ work, once again using monopoly power to destroy free markets.
This is an unfair playing field that our unions must navigate in every negotiation cycle and that we must navigate with every individual deal. But fighting for a more level field doesn’t solely happen at negotiations with our employers, it happens in the halls of power. It’s clear that without a change in political leadership, the trend toward increased concentration will continue. To that end, my union, the Writers Guild, formed a PAC in 2008, because writers must have a strong, collective voice in our political process. It is not enough for us to make individual contributions to politicians we believe in; like it or not, in politics we are most powerful if we speak through our Guild, with one voice.
The days when creators could sit on the political sidelines and hope that good policy and respect for fair play would result in a thriving middle class are long gone. It is crucial we fight to elect representatives who will fight for us.
This article originally appeared as a guest column at variety.com
I have now coasted past my 70th birthday and have acquired the rights of geezerhood, one of which is a variable memory. I forget things. Not everything nor am I making claims to senility (yet). But sometimes some things drop out and that isn’t necessarily bad.
I suspect I acquired both this trait and outlook from my mother. Every year she would re-read Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather and at the time I didn’t understand that. Why re-read a book when there are so many out there she had not yet opened? She told me that, due to lapsing memory, she didn’t always remember the plot and so had the pleasure of discovering the story anew. I have since discovered that pleasure for myself. It’s not simply re-reading books that I like but forgetting some the plot details. Mysteries work well with this; for example, I have read every Nero Wolfe mystery that Rex Stout ever wrote (and a few that he didn’t) and I am currently re-reading them. With some (not all), I have forgotten who-dun-it and that’s okay.
The real pleasure is not in the unravelling of the mystery but in time spent with the characters, especially Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. I’ve really come back for the interplay between them. The resolution to the mystery – indeed, of most mysteries – is very secondary for me compared to that interplay. I would argue that’s true for most mysteries; when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced us to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in A Study In Scarlet, we’re not deeply interested in who the killer is but in how Holmes catches him. I would argue that Doyle’s deepest interest also is not in the killer although he spends a great deal of time in the killer’s backstory. The identity of the murderer and the workings of the plot are there to drive the story and to give us an excuse to visit with our friends, the main characters.
It is somewhat the same with music; I’d forgotten how much I liked the group WAR until I recently stumbled on to their recording of Cisco Kid
which in turn led to re-discovering Low Rider, Why Can’t We Be Friends, All Day Music and so many others. The algorithm on YouTube thought I might like The O’Jays For The Love Of Money and it was right and that led to Earth, Wind and Fire’s That’s The Way of the Worldand the algorithm was even more right there. With all these, there are complicated rhythms and harmonies that I don’t think are matched in today’s music (I told you I was hitting geezerhood; HEY, YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY MUSIC!). I remember the cuts but forgot just how good they were. Re-discovering them doesn’t just take me back. The music buoys me up as it did when I first heard it.
Rediscovery is harder for me to do with movies. The ones that have been my faves I tend to watch again with some frequency. I remember the plots; I remember the details. On some like Casablanca or Waking Ned Devine, I can almost speak the lines with the characters. However, there are some TV shows that I liked when I was quite a bit younger that I have occasionally re-encountered not that long ago. (That’s one of the blessings of TV these days; everything that was ever shown before may be on again.) My favorite TV show when I was a boy was Zorro with Guy Williams in the title role.
They all were half hour shows and what really makes them work is the writing. Not only first rate but a season back then had more episodes than they do these days. More demanding. And they often worked with themes and social questions. Keep in mind, this was back in the 50s and the early 60s – not an era we associate with “social relevance”. I remember seeing these shows now and then back in the day but forgetting how good they were.
There were shows and books and music that I sort of remember when I encounter them – and hey, they’re as bad as I remember. One of my PBS stations runs re-runs of Lawrence Welk every Saturday and I can hardly bear to see even the commercials. But sometimes selective amnesia is a gift and it can give a great deal of pleasure.
So excuse me while I check back in to a certain brownstone on West 35th street in NYC to find out what Wolfe and Archie are doing. They may have told me but I forget.
John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but our favorite editorial scapegoat, AKA Tim Muncher, found this piece, which seems to have been John’s last at the eminent and still trucking blog, PopCultureSquad. You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE