Friday, April 28, 2006


STORY SALON presents
an evening of stories presented by
Donna Allen-Figueroa

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio RE-POST.

On my last trip to the video store I found The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio on DVD. This caused some memories to come flooding back. In October of 2005 I posted an article titled I’m The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. I also posted this article on Blogcritics ( I'm The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio.). The article featured material about my life in Defiance Ohio from stories that I performed at STORY SALON and our show GUESS WHO'S COMING TO COFFEE. (By the way Donna and I will be performing the show at Fringe Festivals in the Midwest this summer). This material was always well received when performed live. I got a great deal of positive feedback from people who now live in Los Angeles bur have a small town in their past. Perhaps this same material was intended to be performed and not read because other former Defiance residents (No one that I knew) who read this article on Blogcritics took issue with what I had to say. Some of my punch lines were taken at face value. My sources of information were questioned even though these sources were news papers, web sites family members a quote from the movie, and my own childhood memories. I have lived in Hollywood most of my life. We who live in Hollywood are constantly being accused of being out of touch with the rest of the country i.e. middle America. I disagree with that accusation. I know more Angelinos who came from somewhere else i.e. middle America, than were born here. Neither these people nor I forgot where we came from in fact our past is an inspiration for our art. An artist creation should invoke some sort of response be it pleasure, inspiration, or even anger. When one’s art is comedy somebody usually takes a pie in the face. So I’d say that we are not out of touch with the rest of the country, it’s that there are some people in this country who are not ready to face themselves in our art.

To quote Bill Maher (Host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher), "Hollywood isn't your cesspool, America, it's your mirror".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

I'm The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio.

Last week I went to see the Go Fish Pictures (DreamWorks) production of The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. The movie stars Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. It is biased on Terry Ryan's best selling book about how her mother raised ten kids on twenty-five words or less. I really enjoyed the book and thought that Jane Anderson did a nice job adapting the screenplay. I only wish that the movie could have captured the town of Defiance better. In the book the town was it's own character. I fully realize turning a 351-page book into a 90-minute screenplay requires some streamlining.

Now you may ask, "What does this have to do with me or my CHILD OF TELEVISION column?" Well, I lived in Defiance Ohio from 1965-1972 and until recently I would visit the town often. Defiance Ohio is the inspiration for the fictional town of Compliance Ohio in my pilot RED STATE. My childhood memories of Defiance were very romantic it was like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. It was quiet, everybody knew everybody, and kids played safely in the street. The people who lived on my street were like the Nelsons from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, or the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver, Defiance was the ideal that television presented to America. When I was small, I was not aware of the many un-Mayberry like elements connected to Defiance. For example, there were other Puerto Ricans and even some blacks living in Defiance when I arrived, but they literally lived on the other side of the train tracks. Since I was half-Swedish, I was allowed to live on the good side. In my adulthood I saw Defiance make the national news several times. Once when the KKK went to recruit members (unsuccessfully) at the Defiance courthouse. Another news story involved a run-a-way train coming through town. The cops decided to shoot out the tires. Proof alone that we are not dealing with the smartest part of the country. Then there was the Christmas when Santa Claus was physically thrown out of a church by four guys. Santa spent the holidays in traction because some Defiance residents take their religion very seriously. The best restaurant in Defiance is the Defiance Hospital Cafeteria. It has been written up in all the local papers. I never heard my grandparents mention Defiance Hospital in conjunction with quality health care, but it's cafeteria gets 5 stars from the Toledo Blade food critic. I have a friend who did a lot of TV in Puerto Rico. While doing a Google search and typed in his name, Johnny Ray Rodriguez, that another Johnny Ray Rodriguez, is one of thirty or so sexually oriented offenders living in Defiance Ohio. I'd seen news stories about registered sex offenders who would try to move in to a neighborhood only to be run out by the residents. I always wondered where they wound up. Now I know.

"What are they? High?" I asked. Then I remembered something historically significant that my Grandfather told me. During WWII there were huge fields near my grandparents house that the government used to grow hemp to make rope. When the war was over they didn't do a very good job of clearing the hemp. No wonder hippies would go camping in these fields (maybe that's what attracted Woody Harrelson to the movie). Birds and the wind spread the seeds all over town. For years my grandmother kept pulling these weeds out of her flower box. "What are these things?"

Grandpa knew. After he died I was going through his tool shed and I found this little pipe. He was in constant pain towards the end of his life and hated the care he was getting at Defiance Hospital (probably because he could never get a reservation). Perhaps Grandpa was self-medicating. I think that hemp seeped into the ground water. I see myself as the Real Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. I got the hell out of that town.

I wish Terry Ryan continued success and have to admit that I have some professional jealousy. I had wanted to be the first to put Defiance, Ohio on the map by making fun of the town. Instead, she has used the town as the backdrop for a very inspirational story. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in that... Naah!

There is a scene in the movie where Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), while leaving town for the day, passes by a sign that reads, "Defiance is a nice place to live". Evelyn turns to her daughter Tuff (Ellary Porterfield) and says, "Defiance is a nice place to leave!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Reader’s Comments at I'm The REAL Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What was the best sitcom pilot ever made?

In a few weeks we will be saying farewell to shows like Will and Grace and The West Wing. New shows will have to take their place this fall. A television pilot is a prototype of a TV series used to get the network, and then later the viewers, interested and may be the aired as the first episode of the series. Due to the popularity of single camera sitcoms like My Name is Earl and The Office we can expect to see more single camera sitcoms. The good news is that the sitcom is not dead. The bad news is that we may see a lot of carbon copies of My Name is Earl and The Office.

Whenever I talk to friends about the new fall season and we place our bets as to what shows will last and what shows will die and how soon those shows will die, I always ask, "What was the best sitcom pilot ever made?" When I ask that I mean, "What pilot presents you with the best example of what you are going to see on the show week after week?" I have to ask the second part of the question because there are many pilots that are not good examples of what a regular episode will be like. These premise pilots set in motion a chain of events that the rest of the episodes will follow. The Cheers pilot titled: Give Me a Ring Sometime is an example of a premise pilot where we see how Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) gets stood up by her fiancée and then winds up working at the bar. Understandably there are shows whose episodes may differ from the pilot in regards to changes in cast, characters, set or style but these business decisions are intended to be improvements.

I have three examples of what I think were the best sitcom pilots ever made.

The Andy Griffith Show
This is an example of a backdoor pilot where characters and their story lines are introduced in an episode of another TV show with intentions to judge the audience’s reaction. This is also a cheap and easy way of getting a pilot produced and seen. The Andy Griffith Show originated from an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) arrests Danny Williams (Danny Thomas) for running a stop sign while driving through Mayberry, North Carolina. While Danny is waiting for a resolution to the problem, various town folk enter the courthouse and Andy resolves their problems with his own brand of homespun common sense. Even though The Andy Griffith Show’s look and cast were retooled, we saw a slice of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s life.

Hogan's Heroes
First we must put aside any criticism of the show in regards to historical inaccuracy, German characters in the show speaking English to each other or the depiction of the Germans as funny and incompetent. The pilot of Hogan's Heroes Titled: The Informer was shot in black & white and aired as the first episode of the series. The pilot was not shown in syndication because it was in black & white and lacked continuity with the rest of the series until TV Land started airing the show. In the pilot Lieutenant (not Sergeant) Carter, played by guest star Larry Hovis, has just escaped from another POW camp and is brought to Camp (not Stalag) 13. Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane) and his men help Carter escape to England by passing him off as a German civilian. Hogan’s operation is threatened when the Germans plant a spy in the camp.
Note: Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer) attempts to speak to the spy in German and the spy informs Klink they will speak in English. In his line of work it is dangerous to even think in German. The Pilot bears a striking resemblance to the movie Stalag 17.
Even with the differences between the pilot and the rest of the series, the pilot presents you with the best example of what you are going to see on the show week after week, although I wish the show kept some of the elements of the pilot.

The Pilot of TAXI, Titled: Like Father, Like Daughter opens in the Sunshine Cab Company’s garage. Enter Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner), a part time receptionist at an art gallery. She first has an unpleasant encounter with the dispatcher Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito) when he finds out the she is just a driver. She then meets Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) who she informs that this is just a part time job. Alex responds with, "We're all part-time here. I'm part-time. I only work 60 hours a week. You see that guy over there? Now, he's an actor. The guy on the phone, he's a prizefighter. This lady over here, she's a beautician. The man behind her, he's a writer. Me, I'm a cab driver. I'm the only cab driver in this place." That quote alone tells the viewer everything that they need to know about the show and it did so within the first five minutes.

Now I ask my readers, "What pilot presents you with the best example of what you are going to see on the show week after week?" Please let me know what you think.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, April 03, 2006

Chico, don't be discouraged.

Last week I mentioned in CHILD OF TELEVISION: The 2006 TV Land Awards. that, "For me the highlight this year was José Feliciano performing the theme to Chico and the Man." Since then I have heard from fans of Chico and the Man expressing their love for the show. But I am amazed that now there is a whole generation of people now who had never heard of the show. If I asked this same generation, "Who is Freddie Prinze?" the answer I'd get is, "Freddie Prinze Jr’s father?" Although that’s the correct answer, I tend to get the answer in the form of a question.

I remember in the fall of 1974 NBC premiered a new show that followed Sanford and Son. The show was called Chico and the Man. It stared Jack Albertson and "Introducing" Freddie Prinze. The show was set was a broken down garage in the barrio of East Los Angeles. The garage was owned by, The Man, a cranky old bigot named Ed Brown (Albertson). Ed liked yelling as his customers and neighbors who were mostly Mexican. Enter Chico Rodriguez (Prinze) a young Chicano, Vietnam vet who comes to Ed's garage looking for a job. In the first few minutes Freddie Prinze steals the show. I was blown away by his performance and thrilled to see a fellow Puerto Rican on TV. (Freddie Prinze actually was of Puerto Rican and Hungarian decent. He referred to himself as "Hungarican". I am of Puerto Rican and Swedish decent, making me a "Swedearican".)

Over the first three seasons, the relationship between Ed and Chico went from adversarial to partners to father and son. Here is my historical television perspective. If Norman Lear opened the door to a new type of television comedy with All in the Family, Chico and the Man was one of the first shows that was not produced by Norman Lear to go through that door (The show was created and produced by James Komack). The show did face some controversy since few Mexican-Americans were actually involved in the production. Freddie Prinze and Jose Feliciano were Puerto Rican. The name "Chico" was considered a derogatory nickname to Chicanos. Chico’s catch phrase "That's not my job" (Used in Freddie Prinze’s his stand up act) was seen as perpetuating the lazy Hispanic stereotype. The catch phrase was later changed to "Looking Good". On January 28, 1977 Freddie Prinze took his life. The show did go on and it was explained that Chico went to work for his father. In the fall of 1977 the show returned with a new Chico (Whose character’s real name was Raul Garcia) played by twelve-year-old, Gabriel Melgar. Coincidentally this was the same time that Fonzie jumped the shark on Happy Days.

There are many shows that I grew up with that are being shown to a whole new generation on channels like TV Land. I wish that Chico and the Man was one of them. There are many stars that left us way too early who are getting fans who were not born when they were alive, thus giving them immortality. I want Freddie Prinze to be one of them and thanks to people like George Lopez, Jay Leno and Freddie Prinze Jr that might be possible.

To quote the Theme Song Lyrics,
Chico, don't be discouraged,

The Man he ain't so hard to understand.
Chico, if you try now,
I know that you can lend a helping hand.
Because there's good in everyone

And a new day has begun
You can see the morning sun if you try.
And I know, things will be better

Oh yes they will for Chico and the Man
Yes they will for Chico and the Man.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa