Saturday, September 30, 2006


Dallas Episode Number: 223 Season Number: 10
First Aired: Friday September 26, 1986
Title: Return to Camelot
As Bobby emerges from the shower in Pam's house, she discovers how long her dream was and she can't believe he's not dead.

As a young man I discovered that that I loved making audiences laugh. I wanted to have a career as a standup comedian. I was inspired by TV’s Laugh–In, Tim Conway on The Carol Burnet Show and then later comedians Robin Williams on Mork & Mindy and Steve Martin on SNL. Of course, I did not want to tell anyone that because, oddly enough, I was afraid of being laughed at. Especially when my older sister is an attorney and my older brother is an accountant, you are reluctant to say that you want a career in the performing arts. So I told people that I wanted to be a writer, thinking that it would make my goals more legitimate. The first time I went on was on stage was Tuesday, September 30th 1986. I performed my set at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood on open mike night. TV inspired my first set. I did a routine about Bobby Ewing returning from the dead on Dallas, and mocked some local commercials. It wasn’t that great but at least it was material that I wrote. Lots of the guys were stealing from Eddie Murphy or Jerry Seinfeld. But I played it safe. I was detached from my material. I was still finding myself. Not so easy, remember this was the 1980’s, where you were defined by your car, your cloths, and your job. Over time I would become friends with other comics. Around two a.m. several of us comics would go to a local Denny’s and talk about where we came from, our lives and family. I told stories of my childhood, my parent’s divorce, living with my grandparents in Defiance Ohio, and as a defense mechanism I kept adding punch lines to the stories if I thought they got to depressing. I liked getting into a nosedive then pull up at the last second with a punch line. My colleagues told me that was my act right there, tell my story. In the past twenty years I have had many opportunities as a writer and a performer but you never forget your first love.

To quote Sir Donald Wolfit on his deathbed, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: JERICHO.

I've heard that the new series Jericho is CBS's version of Lost set in a small Kansas town named Jericho following a nuclear holocaust. I don't see that this show is any more Lost than it is Gilligan's Island. Here we have a microcosm of people from different walks of life who have to work together in order to survive. Strange that while I am writing this I seem to remember that there were plans for another Gilligan's Island reunion movie where the seven castaways are the only known survivors of a nuclear holocaust. This was a common theme during the cold war. I have also heard Jericho compared to the 1983 controversial ABC TV movie The Day After staring Jason Robards. I think Jericho in actually more comparable to the BBC TV movie Testament staring Jane Alexander because the town is not at ground zero, but isolated from the rest of the world as a result of global events.

Since I used Gilligan's Island as a model let me continue with that model. The "Gilligan" is Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) the prodigal son returning home for a short visit after a five year mysterious absence. Jake's absence and life choices have been disappointing to "The Skipper" his father Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) the town's mayor. "The Millionaire" is Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston) the owner of the local salt mine and political adversary to Mayor Green. It's nice to know that local politics like cockroaches can survive a nuclear war. This closest thing the show has to a "Mrs. Howell" is Mayor Johnston's wife, Gail (Pamela Reed). Gail takes her role as first lady of the town seriously and has to play peacemaker between her husband and her son. The "Mary Ann" is Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden), a pretty young schoolteacher and the "Ginger" is Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott), Jake's high school sweetheart. The "Professor" is Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), a new arrival who claims to be a former cop from St. Louis. Robert knows everything there is to know about surviving a nuclear war claiming that after 9-11 the St. Louis Police Department were trained for all attack scenarios. I think that this show has potential to tell some great human stories. What do they do when the provisions run out? How will they survive a nuclear winter? Will the people who dropped the bombs invade? Just the fear of invasion is good for several episodes. I only hope that the show stays grounded in reality, meaning that I don't want to see the town attacked by giant radioactive spiders. I look forward to the next episode because I never judge a show by it’s pilot.

The next episode was very well laid out. A storm is coming and with the rain comes radiation. The problem is how to shelter the town’s population when the town’s only circa 1950s fallout shelters can only hold a few hundred people. We also learn that Robert Hawkins has secretly received a Morse code message on the police radio and knows what other cities were bombed. My concerns are that the show may be to slow paced for anyone under thirty years of age. I remember the cold war. I wonder how those who have no recollection of a time when we feared that someone was going to "push the button" and "drop the big one" will see the show.

To quote Jake, "I go away for five years and the town goes to hell".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

I watched the pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with my wife and when it was over she said, "He's back". He being Aaron Sorkin the Emmy Award-winning executive producer-writer of The West Wing. Sorkin along with Emmy Award-winning executive producer-director of The West Wing Thomas Schlamme brings us an intelligent look at the television industry. To call Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip a "backstage look at a late night comedy show" is not doing the show justice. This show examines Television's creative talent, decision-making executives, arbiters of standards & practices, the audience and that’s in the first five minutes. We open with Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) having an argument with Jerry Jones (Michael Stuhlbarg) the network censor over a smartly written sketch that could potentially offend religious people. After the censer pulls rank the controversial sketch is pulled and replaced something unfunny and lame. When the show goes on live, Wes walks on camera dismisses the cast and delivers a controversial rant similar to the "I'm as mad as hell" speech delivered by Peter Finch in the 1976 movie Network about the television industry.

"Ah, it’s not going to be a very good show tonight and I think you should change the channel. Change the channel. Right, right now. Turn off the TV ok. No, no, I know it sounds like this is supposed to be funny but tomorrow you’re going to find out it wasn’t and by that time I’ll be fired. Now, this is not, this is not, this is not a sketch. This show used to be cutting edge political and social satire, but it’s gotten lobotomized by a candy ass broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience. We were about to do a sketch that you’ve seen already about 500 times. Yeah, I know. Now no one is about to confuse George Bush with George Plimpton. Now we get it. We’re all being lobotomized by this country’s most influential industry. It’s just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn’t include the courting of 12-year-old boys. Not even the smart 12-year-olds, the stupid ones, the idiots. Which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network. So why don’t you just, change the channel, turn off the TV. Do it right now, go ahead. Oh, I get it. There is a struggle between art and commerce. Well there has always been a struggle between art and commerce. Now, I’m telling you, art is getting its ass kicked. And it’s making us mean. And it’s making us bitchy. It’s making us cheap punks, that’s not who we are! People are having contests to see how much they can be like Donald Trump. We’re eating worms for money. Who wants to screw my sister! Guys are getting killed in a war that’s got theme music and a logo. That remote in your hand is a crack pipe. Oh yea, every once in a while we pretend to be appalled in some way. Pornographers, its not even good pornography, it’s just this side of snuff films. And friends, that’s what’s next because that’s all that’s left. And the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention at a boycott. These are the people that they’re afraid of. It’s prissy, feckless, off the charts, greed-filled whorehouse of a network. And you are watching this thoroughly unpatriotic..."

Then the show’s director (Timothy Busfield), under pressure from the censer cuts to the show’s opening titles.

I have three thoughts,
1. I have been saying a lot of this stuff on my blog for the past two years.
2. If you don’t like what you see, like the man said, "Turn off the TV". Why is this so hard to understand?
3. When people say that Hollywood is out of touch with America, I know they mean the creative people in front of and behind the camera. My question is, are network’s Standards and Practices people any more in touch with America?

Back to the show. Wes’s tirade gets him fired by the network chairman Jack Rudolph (Steven Weber) and the recently-promoted network president Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) rehires Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) who left the show four years prior over disagreements with network executives. To make things more complicated Danny has a history of drug problems and Matt has recently ended a relationship with on of the show’s performer Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who is also a devout Christian, but stood by the controversial sketch (Titled: Crazy Christians) because it was funny. The episode ends with Jordan telling Matt to air the sketch next week.

The pilot struck a perfect balance between the premise and the introducing the main characters. I liked what I saw and feel that more shows should be like this, not a copy of this show but something that goes along with the spirit of the above rant. Still with all I just said I never judge a show by it’s pilot.

In the next episode we see the first day at work for Jordan, Matt and Danny. The Crazy Christians sketch is going to air. There are protests from Christian groups and some network affiliates are refusing to air the episode. We also get to meet the supporting cast including hack writers Ron Oswald (Evan Handler) and Ricky Beck (Carlos Jacott). The show (within the show) opens with a musical version of the shows recent problems sung to Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General that proves to be a great closing to the show (that we are watching).

The question has to be asked, "Why should I care about people who work on a late night comedy show?" It's true they don't save lives like the characters on E.R., run the country like the characters on The West Wing or keep the streets safe like the characters do on countless crime dramas. Instead the late night comedy shows make us laugh at the end of a long hard day. Through satire they show elected officials how the public sees them. Sadly, they are some people’s only source of news and in times of crisis they remind us that it is okay to laugh. I also have to ask those who are accusing the show as being Anti-Christen to count all the Christian characters you see on TV. Then with your other hand count how many Christian characters are presented in a positive light on TV. My hope is that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip becomes the next great water cooler show. Unlike other water cooler shows where people just talk about what the characters did, here we can shift topic of conversation to the issues discussed on the show. This show could be bigger than The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin is kept in charge and left alone to do his job,

To quote Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), "Well, there are gonna be some horny psycho-religious cults tonight".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, September 25, 2006

Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: THE CLASS.

Here is the premise. We have a group of twenty-somethings that are linked because they were in the same third grade class together. Twenty years later one of the class members Ethan Haas (Jason Ritter) falls in love and gets engaged with another classmate. He invites several more classmates to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the day they all met. The classmates range from cynical to suicidal. Things go wrong when Ethan’s fiancĂ© dumps him at the party.

The Pilot for The Class has some good elements. Talented actors (Jason Ritter, Lizzy Caplan, Heather Goldenhersh, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jon Bernthal, Sean Maguire, Lucy Punch and Andrea Anders) a good creative team David Crane (Friends) & Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You) and was directed by James Burrows.

So why do I have doubts that this show will last past Christmas?

First, the show is about a bunch of twenty-somethings and the only people who care about twenty-somethings are other twenty-somethings. Those 20-somethings who do watch TV watch MTV or the new CW (By the way CBS, MTV & the new CW are owned by Viacom).

Second, when you promote the show by saying, "From the producers of Friends and Mad About You" people expect to see Friends and Mad About You. When you say that the show stars the son of the late John Ritter, people will expect to see Jack Tripper Jr. pratfalling left and right. Jason Ritter has his dad's looks, like his dad gives a hundred and ten percent to his performance and is a good anchor for the rest of cast, but the similarities end there. Please, let him be his own man. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that TV Land (Also owned by Viacom) had a Three’s Company marathon the weekend before the pilot aired.

Third, the pilot was more dedicated to the premise than the characters. A good pilot should tell us everything we need to know about the characters. The show has continuing story lines, but we need to know more before the cliffhanger. To no fault of the actors, I thought that characters were incomplete. Is the Yonk character (David Keith) an abusive husband? Is the Perry character (Sam Harris) in the closet or is he a cured homosexual? I need to know more in order to care about these characters. I also saw good chemistry between a couple of the characters but I don’t really see an ensemble. Lets see what happens in the next episode because I never judge a show by it’s pilot.

I did not see any improvement in the second episode. I think that an audience may fall in love with the characters over time, but don’t see the network giving them that time. I really liked the actors and can see their work on this show as a launching pad for bigger and better things.

To quote my favorite characters Kat(Lizzy Caplan)and Ethan(Jason Ritter),

Kat: Just so I know, um... how long are you gonna wallow?

Ethan: She left me an hour ago, I was thinking maybe an hour and ten minutes!

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Sunday, September 17, 2006

West Hollywood Book Fair 2006

Story Salon
West Hollywood Book Fair
(Booth 41)
Sunday, September 17, 2006
10 am to 6 pm
with a specialStory Salon performance
at The Robertson Scene at 2 pm
West Hollywood Park
647 North San Vicente Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

“Gemstones of narrative. Something new, funny, astonishing.”
–Los Angeles Daily News

Autographed Books, a Live Show, and More!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The people from Iowa.

We call it Middle America, The Bible Belt, "Iowa", Red States, Fly-Over States or as Donna likes to call it Oklabama. This grouping of people was always empowered with setting the standard for what is acceptable in our creative pursuits and our dayjobs. Even though I know that there is absolutely no difference between catering to the mainstream and selling out to the lowest common denominator I want to have a marketable product.

In the thirteen plus years that we have been married we have always known that there will be people in this great land of ours that would not accept us as a couple. That's okay, we live in Hollywood where we are considered mainstream, but whenever we left the protective bubble of Hollywood we were cautious.

Two weeks ago we were in Indianapolis for the Indianapolis Theater Fringe Festival and having drinks with another married couple who did a Mind Reading/Magic act. They were fascinated with the whole idea of storytelling, but wanted to know if we had story about an encounter with racism. I gave my standard response, "The bad news is that we don't have that story about overcoming adversity the good news is that we don't have that story about overcoming adversity". The conversation shifted to business and marketing. Then we were asked, "Do we ever work together outside of Story Telling?" We mentioned developing a morning talk show that we tried out on cable access. Everyone liked our chemistry but while some people wanted to exploit the "Black White Thing" like (it was a novelty) others felt that the interracial element should be downplayed saying that, "the people from Iowa are not ready for that". We also mentioned that since we both have the same commercial agent we would go out on calls together for McDonalds, Sears or some other American Institution. We’re there to read for the same spot. However when we arrive we’re split. Donna gets paired up with the Danzel clone and If I am seen as white I may be paired off with a Caucasian wife or if am seen as Latino I will be matched up with someone of color but there's a lot of cream in the coffee. The fine line between JLo and Beyonce. In the America of McDonalds & Sears, nobody marries outside of their own race. Why? Because someone on Madison Ave. feels that Middle America is not ready for us.

It became very sobering that after performing throughout middle America and being totally accepted as husband and wife, I mean people liked us best when we were onstage together telling stories, we realized that the only time we seem to encounter prejudice is in Hollywood. But Hollywood is really acting on what they believe to be the intolerance of the people from Iowa. People at home aren’t really like that. Then while in Cincinnati I read in the paper an article from New York Times Reporter JENNIFER STEINHAUER

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized Friday for saying in a closed-door meeting in March that Cubans and Puerto Ricans were naturally passionate because of their combination of "black blood" and "Latino blood."The comments were captured on tapes during a speechwriting session between Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican seeking re-election, and his chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, when they spoke of their shared affection for Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s legislative style. "I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot," the governor says on the recording. "They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it."

When I first read that I admit that I wanted to make a comment about Austrians being historically known for making generalizations based on race, but that’s beneath me.

I forwarded the article to my sister in Puerto Rico who E-mailed me back saying, "The news item came out in both English and Spanish here. The reaction? Ho-hum.At school we are taught that Puertoricans are a mix of Spanish, black (from slaves) and Taino (the indigenous people of the island) blood. The best sample we have right now is Zuleyka Rivera, Miss Universe 2006."

My point here is that we have come a lone way and still have a long way to go. It might help us get there if the creative people on both coasts spend some time in the Fly-Over States instead of just pandering to them or who we think they might be.

To quote Mark Twain, "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because things always happen there 20 years later."

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, September 11, 2006

My first laugh post 9/11.

I am a child of television. I represent the first generation whom, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes. Sadly the worst day in American history was captured on TV for all the world to see, unless you lived in Afghanistan where if you owned a television the Taliban sentenced you to death.

9/11 was a bad time for comedians, but let’s face it, it was much worse for a lot of other people. 3000 people dead and we're wondering when is it okay to be funny again. I felt that what I do is so unimportant compared to the police and firefighters.

Of course like most of us on the West Coast, I was asleep in bed. About 10 minutes to 7:00 the phone rings my wife Donna answers, it’s our friend Susan. Then Donna grabs the remote to turn on the TV, but turns off the cable box instead. She forgot how to operate the remotes. I get out of bed cranky and manually turn on the cable box and the TV. We’re watching Matt and Katie as all hell is breaking loose. I ran to the living room, got on the cell phone and called my mom while channel surfing between the all cable stations. Now I don’t like using the "F" word in front of my mom, but on this day I made an exception. What the F? Who the F? How the F?

Somehow I forgot that I was a liberal and a pacifist and I think I know why. In 2000 and 2001 I lost three close family members. In my mind I was getting through the grief process then someone else would die and I had a setback, then someone else would die and I had another set back. I described in my comedy routine, "I felt like I failed the grieving process and had to repeat it in summer school." For the rest of that day I’d was glued to the TV news. That night we went to church not our regular church, but the Hollywood Methodist Church. It was open and within walking distance. You know Billy Joel's New York State of mind sounds really cool as a hymn.

I wanted to write about what had happened but had the worst writer’s block I’d ever had. I’ve dealt with grief before through comedy. I wrote about having to go to a funeral in Orlando Florida.

Where do you go for a funeral in Orlando Florida? The Snow White Funeral Home? Just look for the sign with the 7 little pallbearers. "Hi Ho! Hi Ho! it’s in the ground you go!" That joking made me realize something. I can never remember the 5 stages of grief. You know, denial, anger… then I’m lost. But I found that the 7 dwarfs work well. The shock from the news made me Dopey. When the reality set in, I became Grumpy. Then I had to meet all these people at the funeral. When you’re not in the mood to meet new people, you become Bashful. Grieving messes with your immune system and I got Sneezey. Got help from Doc. He gave me something that made me Sleepy. But you’re supposed to be Happy because your loved ones are in a better place.

Now remember David Letterman had not come back on TV yet, giving comedians the green light to be funny again. Jay Moore did a special show at the now reopened Laugh Factory. He told the press, "Everyone’s ignoring the Big Pink Elephant in the room and we decided to talk about it". He was right. I tried to get some stage time. I was not sure what I was going to say, I just needed to be on stage, but only the Big Names were getting stage time. Still where was that line that nobody wanted to cross? Comedy is a business where either you kill or bomb and can you even joke about that now. I ranted, "Singers had it easy... you know the words to God Bless America and you're good to go."

I kept hearing all these great singers sing God Bless America Then something in my Child of Television mind clicked while watching the memorial service at the national cathedral in Washington D.C. Remember prior to the attacks, Carroll O'Connor had died and in all the tributes they showed the same scene from All in the Family where Archie sings God Bless America. So while this mezzo-soprano sang her beautiful rendition of God Bless America, in the back of my head I heard Archie Bunker sing, "God bless America you dumb Pollack!"

And I had my first laugh. It started as a snicker. Then I actually looked around my living room to make sure no one saw me laugh in church. The absurdity of the situation caused me to laugh louder. All of a sudden, during a very solemn occasion I became Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral. Now I was finally able to write. I wrote of my fears, of my anger, I wrote about everything. Some of the material made my routine, some of the material I told at STORY SALON, some of the material was just for me as a release. But being able to laugh was important. For me it starts with the laughter then I can move on. I learned that what I do was important.

To quote David Letterman on September 17, 2001, "We're told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor... religious fervor... and if you live to be a thousand years old will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamn sense?"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Some Random Thoughts

Donna and I are done with Fringing for this year but we are not back in Hollywood yet. We are visiting Donna’s family in Cincinnati.

Note to self: Suggest that TV Land erect a statue of WKRP’s Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) dodging live turkeys.

Here are some random thoughts.

I don’t care that Katie Couric wore white after Labor Day. Anyone on the Style Channel will tell you that this rule is no longer valid. Yes, I’ve seen the Style Channel… Hello, I’m married to Donna. I just want to see more hard news on a news program. My feeling is that as long as we are at war there is no such thing as a "slow news day". I do like the Free Speech segment on the broadcast.

Note to self: Contact The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric about doing one of the Free Speech segments.

Rosie O’Donnell needs to be more of a team player on The View. Yes, I’ve seen The View… Hello, I’m married. By the way their new set looks like it’s from a local TV station in a very small market.

Keith Olbermann is at the top of his game with his commentaries on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Finally I am looking forward to the new Fox Sitcom Til Death staring Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher. I find it refreshing to see a married couple that looks like they could really be married not a dopey looking fat guy who is married to a size zero ten to fifteen years younger than him.

To Quote WKRP in Cincinnati’s Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Monday, September 04, 2006

Before the jokes start flying

Steve Irwin
1962 - 2006
To Quote his producer and closest friend, John Stainton said on Croc One today,“The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet. He died doing what he loves best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. Steve would have said, ‘Crocs Rule!’”

Good Night Steve

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa