The time I met George Clooney

Thinking about Sean Connery got me thinking about the Bahamas… which got me thinking about the time I met George Clooney in Nassau.


My wife Valerie and I had just finished spending a week or so vacationing in Nassau and were the only passengers in a rickety van to the airport that stopped at several hotels along the way. At the last hotel stop, Clooney, Richard Kind and some other guys climbed aboard. Clooney was wearing a big sun hat and was very gregarious. I believe he was on SISTERS at the time. I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed his co-starring role in a busted pilot that my friend, and mentor, Michael Gleason wrote and produced (a series I would have worked on if it had been picked up). Clooney said he loved working with Michael and we all got into a nice conversation, first about the pilot, then into other things that had nothing to do with the business, like what we’d seen and done in Nassau, etc.


Suddenly there was a loud bang, the van lurched and veered, and the female driver pulled over to the side of the road. A tire on the van had blown out…it was shredded… and she had no spare… and wasn’t able to, or was having difficulty, reaching her dispatcher. I think we were stuck there for 45 minutes or an hour… I don’t recall. We all knew were all going to miss our flights.


None of us were upset about it, these things happen, but with each passing minute, she got more and more freaked out, eventually breaking into tears of frustration. Which was odd, because none of us was blaming her or expressing any anger. So Clooney gave her a hug, reassured her that everything was fine, nobody was mad at her, and insisted that she take his hat. Which she did, with a great, big smile on her face, and she stopped crying. I was immediately wowed by what a nice guy he was.


A few years later, when Clooney was a big star on E.R., Valerie and I ran into him again at a restaurant in the valley. He was at the next table with Miquel Ferrer. I said hello to Clooney and reminded him that we met in the Bahamas on a van to the airport. He vividly remembered the experience, introduced us to Ferrer, explained to us how they were related to one another, and then proceeded to tell the whole van story to him. We chatted for a little while and then went back to our meals. I was amazed and pleased that fame hadn’t changed him. He was still a nice, easy-going guy. I hope that’s still true.

The Time I Met Sean Connery

I’m a huge James Bond fan. I have all the Bond posters. I’ve interviewed just about everyone who wrote a Bond film between 1962 and 1987, the producers, a few of the directors, and every actor who’d played Bond up to that point…except Sean Connery. But I did encounter him once, in the early 1980s.

I went to the Plitt, a movie theatre that once existed in Century City, to see an early show of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. I was getting popcorn when I realized the man standing next to me was Sean Connery. I was speechless. The first thing that struck me was, holy shit, that’s Sean Connery. The second thing that struck me was that he looked so, well, ordinary. He was wearing one of those sweat suits with the stripe down the sleeves and pant legs. My grandfather had one like it. And because he appeared so ordinary, I decided not to bother him by saying anything, to treat him as I would anybody else. I gave him a polite smile, he smiled at me in return, and I took my popcorn & Coke and went into the theater.


And, as it turned out, he and his wife sat right behind me. For a while, I was frozen. OH MY GOD. SEAN CONNERY IS SITTING RIGHT BEHIND ME. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do with my head or my body.


The movie started… and his wife wouldn’t stop talking. It really began to get on my nerves. I stopped thinking about SEAN CONNERY. I started thinking about that woman who was ruining the movie for me. I was about to turn around and ask her, Mrs. Sean Freaking Connery, to please lower her voice when Sean Connery turned to her and said:


“Would you please shut up? I can listen to you any time. I came here to listen to Jimmy Woods.”

It was an epiiphany for me. Sean Connery looked like an ordinary guy because he was… he just happened to be one who made his living as an actor rather than, say, a contractor or mechanic. And from that moment on, I was never intimidated or uncomfortable around a celebrity again, which has been a big benefit in my career.

He will always be, at least for me, the one and only true James Bond.

A Big New Reference Book on Unsold Pilots

The Encyclopedia of Television Pilots, 1937-2019 by Vincent Terrace. This is the second edition of his encyclopedia, covering 2470 broadcast pilots, and it’s a big step up from the previous book. For the new edition, he’s added two useful appendices — one on Series Pilot Films (pilots movies that aired and led to series) and another on Series Spin-offs (TV series that begat other series). It’s a terrific book. And if you combine it with his recently-released Encyclopedia of Unaired Television Pilots, 1945-2018, it represents an astonishing achievement in television research and the definitive work on unsold pilots to date.Most of the problems I had with the previous edition of the Encyclopedia of Television Pilots have been solved with this new edition and with publication of his Unaired Pilots book…but some persist.

For example, Terrace still organizes pilots alphabetically rather than by the season/year they were considered by the networks for the fall schedules…so it’s missing the cultural, creative, and strategic context at play that’s crucial to understanding why a particular pilot was developed and produced by a network. Although an unsold pilot may have aired in 1977, that doesn’t mean that’s the year/season it is was developed and produced. Many pilots were aired years after they were made. He could have organized the book by season and also included an index that listed the pilots alphabetically, with their entry number. The alphabetical arrangement of the book makes the book far less useful than it could be for TV producers and network and studio development executives…a large audience outside of libraries and universities that could afford this book.Also the index doesn’t include the titles of TV series that hosted unsold pilots for proposed spin-offs (aka “nested pilots”)…so if you wanted to look up all the unsold pilots that aired as episodes of, say, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Untouchables, Magnum PI, Bob Hope Chrysler Theater, Diagnosis Murder, The Rifleman, or Mr. Ed, you couldn’t. You’d have to slog through the book and find each one. And I wish each listing included the studio or production company that produced the pilots…which is invaluable information for TV historians, particularly those researching a particular studio or production company.

There are also unsold pilots that are missing, particularly among the nested pilots. For example, the final episode of George Segal’s 1988 series Murphy’s Law was a nested pilot for an unsold Joan Severance spin-off and in his second Appendix on Series spin-offs, he misses that Diagnosis Murder was a spin-off from Jake and the Fatman and that Dirty Sally was a spin-off of Gunsmoke. (Richard Irvin’s book The Forgotten Desi and Lucy TV Projects includes several nested pilots and spin-offs that Terrace missed in this book). But that’s a minor quibble. It’s inevitable that some pilots will fall through the cracks. It’s very, very hard to keep track of all the shows in development, particularly those that are snuck onto the air as episodes of existing series…or that are aired in only some markets in the dead of summer in the wee hours of the night. The networks have become incredibly secretive over the last twenty years about their pilots… their R&D…even forcing producers to sign NDAs, limiting circulation of scripts, and refusing to allow unsold pilots to be seen outside of their screening rooms. In the face of all that. he’s probably succeeded in finding and listing 98% of the scripted, network pilots that have ever been produced, which is remarkable.

However, a few of the missing pilots raise a troubling question. How many of the omissions are intentional?

For example, only one of the half-a-dozen aired, episodic drama pilots for major networks that I wrote and produced are in the book, which I have to assume is a conscious decision by Terrace, perhaps based on animosity he feels towards me and my book Unsold Television Pilots 1955-1989 (I assume that Mystery 101, the one pilot of mine that slipped into his book, in his appendix on Series Pilot films, happened because he didn’t realize that I co-wrote the pilot and co-created the series). As a result, a researcher looking for all of Fred Dryer’s unsold pilots wouldn’t know that he and Neal McDonough starred in The Chief, an unsold pilot that aired as a two-hour episode Diagnosis Murder. Or someone researching an article, paper or book on nested pilots wouldn’t know that Sal Viscuso and Kate Burton starred in Play It Again, Sammy, an unsold spin-off pilot that aired as an episode of Spenser for Hire. I suspect these are intentional ommissions, since Terrace lists some, but not all, of the unsold spin-off pilots from Diagnosis Murder and Spenser for Hire. It makes me wonder how many other pilots or credits he didn’t include for purely personal reasons…a dislike of a writer, actor or producer. If that is the case, it’s petty and undermines his work.

But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about the book or raise the stench of sour grapes. This is a wonderful book. Vincent Terrace is the undisputed Godfather of TV reference books, breaking ground with his landmark, multi-volume set The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs 1947-1979 and he hasn’t stopped since. If anything, he’s repeatedly topped himself.Today, his four mammoth (and outrageously expensive) reference books — The Encyclopedia of Television Pilots Second Edition 1937-2019, the Encyclopedia of Unaired Television Pilots 1945-2018, The Encyclopedia of Television Shows 1925-2010, and The Encyclopedia of Television Shows 2011-2016 — represent the crown jewels of any television reference library.

A Ton of TV Reference Books Reviewed

I couldn’t help myself and bought Vincent Terrace’s outrageously over-priced ENCYCLOPEDIA OF UNAIRED PILOTS, 1945-2018 by Vincent Terrace…supposedly a complete list of unsold pilots that were shot and never broadcast. The book also includes appendices of series that sold, but were substantially recast after their pilots. How could I resist this?? I’m wowed. It’s a very impressive book, filled with useful information. I doubt anybody but me, who is steeped in this stuff, would notice the shows that he missed. For example, he missed the 1993 Fox pilot DR. DOOLITTLE aka WILDE LIFE (Brian Wimmer played the role), the 1986 CBS pilot FLAG (starring Darren McGavin) and the 2018 CBS reboot of CAGNEY & LACEY (starring Sarah Drew & Michelle Hurd), to name a few. In his section on series that were recast after the pilots, he doesn’t include ABC’s 2008 version of LIFE ON MARS (Jason O’Mara was the only cast member retained…Colm Meaney was among the actors booted), the 1987 CBS series SPIES (George Hamilton replaced Tony Curtis as the lead), the CBS series MARTIAL LAW (Dale Midkiff was Sammo Hung’s original partner), the 1987 Fox series 21 JUMP STREET (Jeff Yagher was the original star, replaced by Johnny Depp), THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (Bill Daily wasn’t in it and Peter Bonerz’s Jerry wasn’t a dentist, he was Bob’s partner, another shrink!), PERFECT STRANGERS (Louie Anderson was replaced by Mark Linn Baker), THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (Darren McGavin was Oscar Goldman in the pilot), etc. I’m sure there are many more omissions I could mention if I put my mind to it… or compared his book to my own (UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS 1955-1989). To be fair to Terrace, it’s very, very hard to find information on unaired pilots and only a handful of people like me, longtime TV writer/producers, and seasoned studio and network development executives, would notice what he missed (I only know about SPIES, for example, because I was up to be on staff and a screener video cassette was given to me). I also wish there was more context to some of the listings…details on the development history, what the projected series would have been and why it wasn’t picked up. But again that’s just me…and I can’t blame him for not having the details, it requires a lot of interviews, and a real passion for the subject. Let me stress, that these are nit-picks. This is a fantastic book, an incredible work of TV research…and I’m saying that after only sitting with it for a couple of hours. If this book wasn’t so ridiculously and unjustifiably expensive, I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in TV history snap it up. It’s an essential reference work for *any* TV reference book library, personal or institutional.

Ed Robertson just released 45 YEARS OF THE ROCKFORD FILES, an updated edition of his previous books on the series. It’s terrific! I’ve loved every edition of this book (and have them all). It just keeps getting better and better. I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable reviewing this edition because I keep coming across quotes from me in the book. So let me reshare what I said about the previous, 2006 edition, because the praise still applies:

If you’re as into TV… and TV Private Eyes… as I am, you’ve got to buy yourself Ed Robertson’s “Thirty Years of THE ROCKFORD FILES.” The book covers every aspect of the classic series, from the making of the pilot through the production of the eight reunion movies (as well as unproduced scripts and the tie-in books by Stuart Kaminsky among other things). Robertson interviews all the key players in front of, and behind, the camera, including James Garner, Steve Cannell, Roy Huggins, and Charles Floyd Johnson, and provides detailed episode synopses. Like improved software, it’s well-worth “upgrading” to this new edition.

Sometimes it seems like there’s an entire segment of the publishing industry devoted only to producing books that examine every aspect of Star Trek, and it’s many sequels and spin-offs, to an almost molecular level. Some of those books are quite good (like Marc Cushman’s massive reference works). Some are just coffee-table books full of pretty pictures targeted like a tractor beam to lift every last cent from a Trekker’s wallet. STAR TREK: THE OFFICIAL GUIDE TO THE ANIMATED SERIES by Aaron Harvey & Rich Schepis, falls somewhere in-between. It is a pretty book, basically a slick, hardcover episode guide with nice artwork and production sketches.  There some interesting information here, but there’s also a lot of repetition, many of the same facts are repeated over and over and over… either out of laziness, or for padding, or an assumption that nobody will read the book cover-to-cover, so some information needed to be repeated.  Take out the artwork and the repetition and it would be a thin book. As a TV reference work, it can’t compare to Marc Cushman’s THESE ARE THE VOYAGES: GENE RODDENBERRY & STAR TREK IN THE 1970s (1970-75), a 750 page behemoth that goes into extensive detail (perhaps too much) on the production of the animated series as well as Roddenberry’s unsold pilots (Genesis II, Planet Earth, Spectre, etc) and other projects produced during that period.

Cannon Fodder

I only meant to skim Austin Trunick’s THE CANNON FILM GUIDE VOL 1 1980-1984 to the chapters on the films I’ve seen or am curious about. But the book is so much fun, so compulsively readable, so full of great anecdotes and insider-details, that I ended up reading the entire 530 page book… and I don’t even like 99% of the crap the studio released. But it was impossible for me to put it down.

The book, the first of three volumes, devotes a chapter to each Cannon title released during the first four years of the schlock-studio’s short life, though Trunick will leap forward in time to include all of a movie’s sequels in the chapter that discuses the first film (for example, all the Missing in Action and Death Wish movies are covered in this volume, even though they spanned the studio’s run). Movies covered in this volume include The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood, Bolero!, Hercules, Enter the Ninja, The Last American Virgin, Breakin’, Sahara, and Exterminator 2 among many others. In addition to the author’s extensive reporting and lively commentary, most chapters also include a Q&A interview or two with key cast members or production personnel. Trunick has done an enormous amount of research which, combined with his easy-going narrative style, boyish enthusiasm, and sense of humor, make the book a pleasure to read… though it gets frustrating watching studio heads Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, men with terrible instincts and even worse taste, keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

On the movie The Secret of Yolanda Trunick says:

A nomad cowboy wanders onto a ranch, bangs every breathing woman within a 40-mile radius, and then is run out of town for taking advantage of a handicapped stable girl. That’s “The Secret of Yolanda” in a nutshell. And that guy is supposed to be the hero of the movie!

On Seed of Innocence aka Teen Mothers, Trunick has this observation:

The script was co-written by Stu Krieger, who’d become better known for writing the screenplay for the classic Don Bluth animated filmed “The Land Before Time,” a movie with significantly fewer prostitutes and unplanned pregnancies.

Trunick discusses the ending of Nana: The True Key to Pleasure, which inexplicably concludes with the heroine flying away in a hot air balloon.

“As the balloon floats away, a man is revealed to be hiding in the bottom of the basket. He ducks under her dress and a sly smile forms on Nana’s lips as we have to assume the stowaway gentleman performs cunnilingus on her. Meanwhile, Emile Zola’s original novel ended with [Nana] dying horribly of smallpox, describing her as, I quote, ‘a heap of pus and blood, a shovelful of putrid flesh.’ Talk about a softening ending for movie audiences…

It’s a terrific book, but not without some flaws. There are numerous proofreading mistakes (mostly missing words) and some formatting errors, and a few factual errors (for example, he refers to Chuck Norris’ Walker Texas Ranger as a “long-running syndicated series,” apparently unaware that the show ran for eight straight seasons & 200 episodes on CBS before going into reruns), but those are very minor quibbles. I can’t wait for the next two volumes!

RIP Fred Willard

I’m sad to learn that Fred Willard has died. I was a big fan of his and was lucky to work with him twice.
 
The first time was when he guest-starred in a DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode that I co-wrote, “Must Kill TV,” that was a spoof of network television. We spent a lot of time between takes on set talking about his career, FERNWOOD TONIGHT, and even his work on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. I had a blast.
 
The second time was some years later. I was invited to be a guest on TV KITSCHEN, a half-hour pilot he starred in with Martin Mull. It was essentially an attempt to reboot FERNWOOD TONIGHT. I was asked on to be interviewed about memorable unsold pilots…specifically TARZAN IN NEW YORK…because of my book on the topic. I gladly agreed and they said they’d secure clips from the show. But I was shocked when, the day before the taping, a script arrived at my front door. I thought TV KITSCHEN was going to be an actual talk show, not a scripted sitcom… there was a character named “Lee Goldberg” and I had lines to learn. I’m not an actor, so I was very nervous.
 
I showed up at the studio in a collared shirt and khakis and met the director, who was Ted Lange, the bartender from THE LOVE BOAT. He looked at me and said “Lee Goldberg wouldn’t wear that.”
 
“I am Lee Goldberg,” I said. “I can assure you that this is how I dress.”
 
He dismissed my comment and sent me to wardrobe, where they put me in a turtleneck and a blazer. I looked like a syndicate hitman on a 1970s episode of MANNIX… or a cliche of a college professor.
 
This only made me more nervous. I was sent to make-up and found myself sitting next to Fred. He introduced himself, and asked if we’d worked together before because I looked familiar. I reminded him about the DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode. I admitted to him how nervous I was. He told me to relax, that there were teleprompters all over the set with the dialogue…and that he and Martin had been ad-libbing a lot. He told me to concentrate less on remembering the scripted dialogue and more on being myself. He assured me that he and Martin would make me feel at home and to just roll with it, to forget the cameras were even there.
 
So that’s what I did. The first take I was very stiff, reciting my scripted dialogue. Fred leaned over and whispered, forget the dialogue. You know the gist of it, be you. So I did that…and from that moment on, it was a blast.
 
The pilot didn’t sell and, as far as I know, never aired. But I have a copy of it somewhere. I need to dig it up and watch it…