The Mail I Get: Rejection Edition

How to never sell your book…

We received a submission at Brash Books, the small publishing company I co-founded six years ago with Joel Goldman. After reading the submission, we decided to pass. This is the entirety of the rejection letter we wrote to the author:

Thank you for thinking of Brash for XYZ. Unfortunately, it’s not a fit for us. We wish you the very best finding the right home for the book.

His reply:

Keep printing The same redundant shit Arrogant ass, just remember the title of this book, u will see it on the best sellers list asshole.

And I’m sure he wonders why he hasn’t sold a book yet. (BTW, his submission was awful). So I decided to respond:

I sincerely doubt it… and I say that as a novelist who has actually been at the top of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller lists multiple times. To be a successful author, you not only need to write well, and tell a good story… you also need to have some decent people skills. If I lashed out and called every publisher who politely rejected my work an arrogant asshole, I wouldn’t have achieved my success. How do I know? Because I ultimately ended being published by two of the publishers who’d rejected my previous work. You are clearly the biggest obstacle to your success. You might want to rethink your strategy.

He responded a short time later. 

 
This book has a very complex plot and vivid characterization that you couldn’t have possibly ascertain in the brief time you review my story. is a very complex plot, and profound characterization. This story is very unique, and has major shocking twists at the end! A PHD from Western Kentucky, who was a professor for 38 years is editing it, and compared it to Silence of the Lambs. It is very, very unique story, and intertwines orwellian themes, which compare to today’s political and social upheaval. I DO APOLOGIZE FOR LASHING OUT, NOT PROFESSIONAL AT ALL, sorry just have my heart and soul in this book, and you rejected it in record time, this is not my first rodeo, again I do apologize!

Still a little crazy, but at least he apologized. I guess that’s progress.

The Mail I Get: For the Weatherman Edition

There is are a lot of Lee Goldbergs out there. One of them is a popular weatherman at WABC in New York…and I get a lot of emails meant for him. I always reply and politely tell them they have the wrong Lee Goldberg (which you’d think would be obvious from the face on my website). By the same token, Lee the Weatherman also gets a lot of emails about my books. We met a few years ago and he invited me on his show. It was a lot of fun.

Here is just a tiny sampling of the mail I get for him:

Dear Lee,

Please be advised that Clason Point in the Bronx is pronounced CLAW-son and not CLAY-son.

And another:

Hi Lee it was nice you mentioned the Moon and Jupiter tonight but Saturn was there too.

If its clear tomorrow in fact you might want to mention in your forecast that the crescent Moon, Saturn and Jupiter are gathered even closer together.

And another:

What type of meter is on the wall in your home above the computer monitor?
While watching you broadcast from your home (I assume it is your home) there is a device with many numbers on it in red.
Is that something I can purchase?
Thanks

And another:

Thank you for thinking of Toms River Ocean County NJ. Other channels don’t talk about Toms River. You are the only one who speaks about Ocean County NJ. Thank you, thank you, thank you. BTW, I’m from Toms River.

And another:

Hi Lee- it’s a great idea to tell your viewers the reason for the nightly colors. However, please do it at 5 and 6 pm for the many viewers who are fast asleep at 11:20pm especially kids and my Nursing Home residents. Thanks – please reply if you get this request.

And another:

Hello, Lee!
Could I be of any assistance in reporting weather conditions/readings for the northeast Bronx – Pelham Bay Park/City Island?i.e.Rain, snow, flooding, temperature, barometric pressure, etc.
Basically.. just another set of eyes for this outer area of New York City.

And another:

I worked in landscaping for 43 years. Outside work 6 days a week, plus drove an oil delivery truck in the winter. Always out in the weather. In the last 3 years the wind, especially out of the northwest has been relentless! The only calm is early AM and in summer Bermuda high when dew points and humidity are raging. I’m on LI. so the proximity to ocean and sound and peconic bay, but REALLY…… what’s going on?

When I responded to this guy, and told him he had the wrong Lee Goldberg, he actually replied:

Sorry. I thought that was a little too easy.

The Mail I Get: Recommend Me Edition

Two weeks ago, the same day that my new novel BONE CANYON came out, a complete stranger sent me an email on Facebook asking me to recommend him to my agent:

Hi Lee: Need to ask a question. Do you have an agent, order you publish yourself? If you have an agent, can you refer me to him/her. I have completed a novel, 60,000 words. If I send a cold-call query to an agent, I get a polite response. If I send a query to an agent with a recommendation, I get feedback. So far, feedback has said my manuscript is “well written.” But that doesn’t mean they will represent it. Asking for your input and a recommendation to your agent. Thank you, Ben

I didn’t reply…because I was very busy promoting my book and I really didn’t want to deal with his request. Two days later, I got another note.

I sent you the above message. Would love to get a response.

I didn’t reply to that one, either. The next day, I got an email through my website:

I left you a message on your Facebook page but never heard back from you. Can you read it and respond?”

This time I responded. I said: “I am represented by an agent and no, I will not recommend you to her. What an outrageous and inappropriate request to make of a complete stranger. Why would I do that? I don’t know you and I don’t know your work. And no, I don’t want to read your book. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject.”

He wrote back on Facebook:

You’re an asshole.

Then he followed up with an email saying:

What an asshole you are. I won’t expand because I don’t want to hear your pompous diatribe. So I’ll leave it at that.

I responded:

From screenwriter Josh Olson who, in his great 2009 piece in The Village Voice, said it best when dealing with a person like you:

“At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on. Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you created this situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very definition of a dick move.”

Here’s the rest of his wonderful essay on guys like you:https://www.villagevoice.com/…/i-will-not-read-your…/

Your emails to me make it very clear why you’ve had no success finding an agent or getting published. You might want to rethink your approach going forward. Good luck!

Ben responded immediately:

You are still an asshole.

A bad guy.

A dick.

A jerk.

I am very secure in my writing. Based on past experiences, I am very secure calling you the above names. You made your position know. I get it. But you are pretty insecure otherwise it seems. Now asshole just walk away. Take a frickin hike.

Regards,

Me

Five minutes later, he added:

Response 2

From now on, just send me or people like me a one or two sentence response saying you are in no position to read a manuscript and offer recommednations. That’s all you need to do. But you make an asshole case out of it trying to shame people. It shows you are pretty insecure or at least very petty. You need to rethink your approach to dealing with well-intended writers.

Now I’d had enough. Here’s what I wrote:

Wow, are you full of yourself. Let’s recap, Ben. You sent a note on Facebook to an author you don’t know (or, apparently, don’t know anything about). You began by asking this question:


” Do you have an agent, order you publish yourself? ” 

If you’d done even the most basic research about me, you’d know the answer to that question, that I am a #1 New York Times bestselling author who has been published by Penguin Putnam, St. Martin’s Press, Random House, etc. But that was too much work for you. And if you’d ever opened one of my books, which I’m sure you haven’t, not only would you know if I have an agent or not, you’d also know their names, since I thank them in my acknowledgments. So, strike #1 for laziness, poor research and a complete lack of professionalism. (Add poor-proofreading: “order” instead of “or do” in your dashed-off, “cold call” email)


You went on to ask: “If you have an agent, can you refer me to him/her.”

You are now asking a complete stranger to make a personal recommendation, leveraging their hard-earned reputation and hard-won personal relationships, on your behalf… a huge ask, even for someone who actually knows me or even, at the minimum, my work.  But you don’t acknowledge that. You think it’s nothing. So, strike #2 for ignorance and rudeness. (Add poor proofreading: you forgot to add a question mark to the end of your question, which again underscores the unprofessional, dashed-off nature of your “cold call”).


You go on to say: “If I send a cold-call query to an agent, I get a polite response. If I send a query to an agent with a recommendation, I get feedback. “


So, you’re saying  I should do this for someone I don’t know because my relationship with the agent will help get you feedback. In other words, you’ll get more attention from the agent because she feels a responsibility to me, the person who recommended you. 


And you’re making that request with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the significance of what you are asking. And you don’t even ask politely. So, strike #3…for presumptuousness, ignorance and rudeness.


You go on to say: “Asking for your input and a recommendation to your agent.”

Now you are asking an author you don’t know, or even know anything about, to not only recommend you to his agent (twice, I might add), but now you also want him to give you feedback…another big ask. So, strike #4 for nagging, ignorance and rudeness. 

And there wasn’t a single “please” in your entire cold-call email, a big strike #4, for having no common courtesy.  

But you didn’t stop there. When I didn’t answer you immediately, because really, what could possibly be more important in my life than responding to a complete stranger, you asked me two days later to respond. When I didn’t, you then prodded me again, a day later, through my website:

“I left you a message on your Facebook page but never heard back from you. Can you read it and respond? Thank you”

You not only hit up a complete stranger for a big favor, you now had the chutzpah to insist on an immediate response… and to complain when you didn’t get one (and, once again, the word “please” seems to be missing entirely from your vocabulary…because the whole world owes you their time and attention). 


I’m sure you have no idea how rude and inappropriate that is, but we’ll set that aside. This may come as a shock, but I have a few other things going on in my life (for example, if you’d done any research on me, you’d know I had a new book come out last week and have been busy doing scores of interviews every day). I have no obligation to you… certainly not to drop everything to engage with you. 


But no, in your mind, there is nothing more important, more time-critical, than you and your needs…even to someone you don’t know and know nothing about.


And when I did respond, (“I am represented by an agent and no, I will not recommend you to her. What an outrageous and inappropriate request to make of a complete stranger. Why would I do that? I don’t know you and I don’t know your work. And no, I don’t want to read your book. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject…), your reply was:


“You’re an asshole.”


Amazing. And you have the gall to try to school me on how to behave? Your arrogance and cluelessness are astounding. You aren’t a “well-intended writer,” but you’re certainly an ill-prepared, impolite, and self-defeating one. You asked me for feedback. Well, now I’ll give some to you. 


The proper response from you to my reply would have been an apology, an acknowledgement that what you were asking was out of line and ill-considered, and that you now realize that it was a foolish way to approach an author for advice…especially one you don’t know…and that now you know no better. That you don’t blame me for being irritated, you would be, too. 


That might have led to something productive. Instead, you doubled down on ignorance and arrogance…and responded with a crude, childish insult that proved me right: You aren’t someone who deserves my help…or *any* successful author’s help. 


No, Ben, I am not an asshole. What I am is a successful author, screenwriter, TV producer and publisher who is very busy…and doesn’t have much free time. Even so, over the last thirty years, I’ve taught and mentored writers across the United States and all over the world…in classrooms, in seminars, at conferences, and on-the-job. The difference between those writers and you is that they’re smarter, more professional, more polite, and a lot less full of themselves.


You’ve made many dumb, cringe-worthy mistakes in your interaction with me…and instead of responding now by telling me that I’m an ugly, smelly, talentless, creepy, petty, vindictive, Godless asshole, shithead, bastard, prick and overall terrible person, don’t respond to me at all. Instead, think of this as a learning experience and rethink your deeply flawed strategy of “cold calling” authors you don’t know (or know anything about) for help. You need a new approach….because your current one sucks…and works against you. 

Lee

His reply was entirely predictable:

You really took all that time to write this. Wow I must have really got on your nerves. You are sick. You need help. Ask your therapist if this is logical. 
As I said a simple two sentence reply at the beginning would have sufficed. 
I’m not even going to read this
I’m just going to delete it
Good night

I don’t think Ben, with his attitude, is going to have much luck finding an agent or getting his book published.

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…
 
 

The Forgotten Desi & Lucy TV Projects

 The Forgotten Desi & Lucy TV Projects by Richard Irvin. This is yet another terrific television reference book by undoubtedly one of the best authors/researchers/historians working in the field today.
 
This book is typical of Irvin’s work—find an overlooked corner of television history, exhaustively research the topic, and write an entertaining, fascinating, and revealing book that will help countless other researchers. So much has been written about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and even about Desilu Productions, but until now nobody thought the examine their failed television projects, the unsold pilots (produced & unproduced) that never made it to series and rejected concepts for specials that never got made. He not only examines the failed projects by the two different iterations of Desilu—the one run by Desi and the one run by Lucy—but also those developed by each of their independent entities after the company was sold to Gulf & Western (aka Paramount).
 
I’m a sucker for unsold television pilots—having written a book or two on the topic myself—so there was much to enjoy here and also much to learn, even about projects I thought I knew everything about. I thought it was interesting how often Desi used THE UNTOUCHABLES as a platform for shooting pilots…even ones that , had they sold, would have been set in present day rather than the 1930s. What’s the point of shooting a period pilot for a contemporary show? It’s no surprise to me the strategy didn’t work.
 
Irvin also looks at the half-dozen unsold pilots and series projects Gene Roddenberry developed for Desilu before and during STAR TREK. One of the fascinating revelations is that Lucille Ball almost starred in a movie about Fanny Brice before FUNNY GIRL was made.
 
All-in-all, this is a fantastic book that belongs in every television reference library…along with every other book Richard Irvin has written.