Sunday, December 30, 2007


Another year comes to an end tomorrow night. And most in this business are looking toward the future with trepidation. The bad guys aren't letting up. There's no stability. Everything feels like it's constantly shifting beneath your feet and what lies ahead seems more uncertain than ever.

All you can do is ride it out. So suck it up and do just that -- because perfect storms give rise to perfect waves and that ride can be spectaular.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Last evening, a Tiger named Tatiana escaped her compound at the San Francisco Zoo and mauled three visitors, killing one before being killed by Police. In reporting that news this morning, CBC radio included the following caveat..."the Tiger had a history of violence."

Well, not exactly...

To quote comedian Chris Rock commenting on the Tiger attack on Las Vegas magician Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy, "That Tiger didn't go crazy, that Tiger went Tiger!"

I've had the pleasure of working with Tigers on several occassions, including one set where a big cat mauled two crew members. And, while I don't know the whole story about what happened at the SF Zoo, in the end, I think we'll discover there's a lot more to the story. Most of all, I wanted to assert that there's no such thing as a Tiger with a "history of violence".

The first time I worked with a Tiger was the first episode I wrote of the CBS series "Adderly" which concerned the terrorist takeover of a foreign embassy and included a Tiger (a symbol of the fictitious nation's royalty) getting loose and adding to the dangers as our hero tried to rescue the terrorists' hostages.

Working with wild animals occurs frequently in film and television, and the process is approached with all the care and attention possible -- because first and foremost, no matter how well-trained an animal might be, it's still an animal, not bound to any human rules of behavior and therefore completely unpredictable.

Adderly's producers and I met with the trainers of the Tiger we would be using, learning exactly what the animal would and would not do, how many takes it could be relied on for each piece of business and most importantly, what actors and crew could and could not do in its presence.

Based on those discussions, the script was refined and went into production.

During prep, the trainers met with each production department, making sure props and costumes didn't include animal products or scents that might attract the cat's attention, what the procedure was if a light arc'd, a sound cable fed back or a gel began smoking. Actors were carefully schooled on what movements were and were not allowed, highlighting anything that might make the animal believe his co-worker had suddenly evolved into some category of enemy or prey.

You see, wild animals view the world differently than we do. Unimportant details to us trigger primal instincts we'll never understand in them.

While filming the kids' movie "Lions for Breakfast", the other actors and I had to play a scene in which the bus we're riding breaks down in the middle of one of those drive-through wildlife parks. We decide to sack out until morning and wake up to find the vehicle surrounded by a pride of hungry Lions.

It was a terrific sequence, shot with two cameras, one in the bus with us, the other in a glass doored camera truck nearby. We shot our dialogue through the night and as dawn approached, were locked into our respective vehicles as the Park Rangers herded about a dozen Lions into our enclosure.

What no one had taken into account was that we'd driven in through the muddy Zebra pasture and both the bus and camera truck had been liberally spattered with Zebra shit. The Lions arrived, sniffed the air and promptly tore the tires off the vehicles as well as completely dismantling the empty horse trailer we were towing. They smelled prey and they went for it. The attack was both awesome to witness and terrifying to be in the middle of.

On our Tiger's first day on "Adderly", cast and crew were gathered on set and given final instructions before the animal was finally introduced. With one trainer at the ready with a holstered Magnum, the other entered with our Guest Star on a chain.

He was magnificently beautiful and far bigger in person than he'd appeared in his cage. His eyes swept the unfamiliar faces in the room as his nostrils puffed and flared, expelling all air to take in as many new scents as possible. Then he turned -- and pissed all over us.

If you've ever smelled a catbox, multiply that by a thousand and similarly expand one of those clumped puddles for the gallons that shot over us, the walls and everything else. He was marking this new territory and that included the humans who wanted to be near him.

Sodden and stunned, we watched as the cat turned, seemed to smile and took his place for the first scene. We were told to wear our now smelly clothes for the balance of the Tiger's stay on set. He never gave us another moment of trouble. Although, I swear he smirked everytime he saw me in that stained shirt.

Animal trainers have told me that they prefer working with Lions to Tigers. Lions, apparently, will beat you up pretty good if they get annoyed with you, but seldom try to finish you off. A Tiger's first instinct, on the other hand, is to kill and it finishes the job as quickly as it can -- usually in under 30 seconds.

On "Beastmaster", we had fifteen Tigers on staff. Our lead Tiger, "Sasha" had lived with her trainer since birth and loved him with more affection than I'd seen from a devoted dog. Yet, he assured me, he knew that if he were to turn his back on her for even a second at the wrong time, she'd kill him. It's what Tigers do and they do it very well.

The "Beastmaster" Tigers came from "Dreamworld", a theme park down the road from our Queensland, Australia studios. And although part of the park exhibits, they were also trained and supervised by a scientific team not only studying Tiger behavior, but working to expand the genetic pool that might eventually save the big cats from extinction.

Through them, I was introduced to aspects of the animals that most people never get to see. The series crew were given an extensive grounding in not only how to behave around Tigers, but the nuances in their behavior that might forshadow an incident. We also learned the verbal expressions and body language that would assure them we were friendly, not really worth sampling for lunch nor in need of being peed upon.

On set, a Marksman always stood by with a high-powered rifle, no matter how docile or reliable the animals appeared to be. And it was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. You were around these creatures every day. Some got excited to see you, came over to get a good whiff of you, occassionally even rubbed up against you like a happy kitten.

But you always had to keep one thing top of mind. At any moment, they could be above you in the food chain.

One of my favorites was "Sultan". He was a dominant male, huge and extremely intelligent. I watched him learn to hit a series of complicated camera marks in less than an hour one afternoon, a skill some actors fail to master over a lifetime.

The other cats seemed to take their cues from Sultan. If he was in a good mood, they were too. If something was bothering him, the others were equally surly or wary.

Day's end was signalled to our Tigers when a rail fence was erected from their on-set enclosure to their trailer, indicating it was time to return to Dreamworld and dinner. One evening, I arrived on set as the crew went for the window shot (the last shot of the day). The fences were up and Sultan and his brothers were squashed against the gate, eager for wrap.

But as often happens when you're fighting the light and trying to get one last take, things started to go wrong. A light burned out, sound had a problem, something wasn't right with a costume. The two minutes the cats usually had to wait quickly turned to 20. I glanced at an unhappy Sultan. He met my look, stuck out his tongue and blew a Bronx cheer. A couple of other cats joined him. Pretty soon the whole gang was making fart sounds to let us know how unfair it was to keep them waiting.

A few days later, while filming with our 2nd Unit, Sultan turned on two trainers costumed as episode characters and in less than five seconds inflicted serious puncture wounds. It was over before the Marksman had time to take aim and all that saved Sultan's life was that one of the wounded trainers convinced our shooter the attack was over.

Both injured men were med-evac'd out as news choppers converged on the scene and our "Tiger Attack" made headlines across Australia and I'm sure much of the rest of the world. Within a few hours, we were in meetings with the "Dreamworld" scientists, Queensland Wildlife Inspectors and Government officials to figure out what had gone wrong.

But our production operating procedures were far more strict than even the government's own rules and as much as we tried to find the flaw, it seemed that no one had done anything they shouldn't have.

Oh, we had theories. The smoke from nearby wildfires had spooked Sultan. He'd taken the synthetic animal skin one of the trainers was wearing as the real thing, or thought another animal was attacking one of his friends.

Or -- our Tiger had simply gone Tiger.

To paraphrase another of Chris Rock's lines, "If you praise fire for cooking your food, you can't damn it for burning your fingers." We all knew that there were unpredictable dangers inherent in working with animals, so if we wanted that in our lives, we had to except what inevitably might also happen.

In the end, no one, especially the men who'd been attacked, felt Sultan should be destroyed. Truth be told, his survival meant far more to the survival of his species than any of what we did meant to the history of entertainment. In addition, we all knew that if he had wanted to kill somebody he would have, no matter how many rules we all tried to live by.

But, we retired him for the season and added some new regulations to the many pages of them we already had to make us feel better and went back to work.

Did we do the right thing? I think so. The truth is that you don't change a Leopard's spots or a Tiger's stripes. They are what they are. And if we want creatures like Tigers to share our world and enhance our experience of life, we have to understand that sometimes they'll be what they were born to be.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


It's hard not to have a soft spot for a television series that quite literally saved your life, even if its reincarnation carries the virus that will further weaken if not kill television as we know it.

On January 6th, NBC will launch its new version of "American Gladiators" a series which graced the network from 1989 - 1996, featuring a cast of pumped up, spandex clad "athletes" (the Gladiators) who excelled at such sports as ducking tennis balls, defending a pyramid of giant foam mats and fighting with oversized Q-tips.

They were the Gold's Gym version of the Mouseketeers.

With big hair and package hugging outfits, the Gladiators went by names such as Nitro, Laser, Ice, Dopey, Doc, Cubby and Annette.

Competing in their "athletic events" on a giant neon and laser lit set that was a cross between Studio 54 and the playroom at Chuck E. Cheese, they set a tone and style that was soon mimicked by virtually every porn film shot in Southern California and continues to this day in the ambient cultures of $30/month gyms and Club Bouncers.

This mass assault of Disco/Spandex/Glamrock Cheese was given a patina of respectability by the network in being hosted by legit NBC sportscasters and real athletes like NFL Quarterback Joe Theismann, author of my favorite football quote: “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”

But -- they did save my life.

I was peripherally aware of the show but had never seen it. Around the 3rd season, I came down with what I thought was a bad case of the flu. My doctor wanted to shoot me up with some kind of wonder drug. But, convinced I could lick a simple bug on my own, and promising to call if my temperature got higher or I began hallucinating, I went home to a comfy bed and a big TV.

My wife came in to check and found me watching "American Gladiators". She asked how I was doing and I assured her I was feeling better, but "This is the worst football game I've ever seen". An ambulance ride and some wonder drugs later I pulled through.

So Blaze, Malibu and Lace, thanks for that. But I fear what you helped unleash on the world is about to destroy television as we know it.

And let me say, I don't blame any of that prognosis on the gym-rats, failed athletes and "I wanna be on Reality TV" narcissists who will be drawn to be part of or watch the new version of the show. If all you got's a hammer, everything's a nail and our society doesn't offer many alternatives for those with good pecs, a nice tan and not much else going for them. And what's wrong with being good at a made-up sport when you're just not good enough to play in a real one, anyway.

No, what bothers me about the new version of "American Gladiators" is how jaundiced and concocted it looks and how it so clearly represents an almost palpable disdain for the audience by the executives at NBC who revived it.

Faced with no scripted dramas because of the WGA strike, Jeff Zucker and his fellow suits only real alternative is reality programming. But why this reality? What does programming a new version of "American Gladiators" really say about the state of television and the people who decide what goes on the air?

First, it comes from Reveille, the company previously owned by NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman, who also developed the project. Proving that while the big media owners may not technically be guilty of self-dealing or colluding, they sure do like to air shows that come from their own inner circle.

That proves that the gene pool from which Television draws its newborn is shrinking and like all shrinking gene pools will soon birth only defective and mutant offspring.

"We've been circling around this property for a long time now," said Craig Plestis, exec VP of alternative programming, development and specials at NBC Entertainment.

I love that quote from Variety on so many levels. "Circling" like sharks, and circling what sharks most often feed on, the sick and damaged or simple carrion. But the image also implies intellectual caution and uncertainty, as in “Are we gonna have to do this?”, “Are we really this desperate?”…

I’ve always believed that television executives want to program good television, but now many seem aware that they swim in a corporate culture that demands profit no matter the aesthetic, ethical or social cost that might be incurred.

In going for the lowest common denominator of 1989 and pushing it even lower, NBC reveals not only how bereft of creativity they have become, but how little they care about the industry that used to be their license to print money and more importantly the audience that was the source of that wealth.

Even the patina of respectability and nuance of "sports entertainment" have been dropped. Everything about the show says, "We know it's shit and we're happily eating it, so you should be too."

I start wondering why Jeff Zucker's desperation needs to become one of my entertainment alternatives and I also start asking questions like:

1. Did they hire Hulk Hogan to host this show because...

a) He was a part of the WWF programming that killed the first version, so maybe he knows how to make it better?
b) He had a failed reality show and is going through a costly and messy divorce so he's desperate for cash and will be on TMZ like all the time?
c) He taught his son to street race and now the kid's put a buddy in a coma and is up on charges, so we know he's 'edgy and irresponsibly quirky' so he'll be on TMZ like all the time?

2. Are the fighting Q-tips so much bigger in this version of the show because...

a) The new Gladiators aren't as tough as the old Gladiators?
b) We now have insurance companies influencing our creative decisions and those guys are gonna kill our budgets if anybody gets like -- really hurt?
c) This will continue to send the message that violence doesn't really hurt anybody, like those soldiers we won't show you coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan?

3. NBC Sports has been wringing its hands about steroids in baseball for months, any chance the Hulkster will discuss his own steroid use or any of the Gladiators will be tested?

But, we already know the answers to any questions we might have, because this appears to be the clear goal of Big Media – “Buy the crap we sell you, even if it’s poisoning the culture or deluding your kids and not even providing the people who make it with a reliable income. It’s good for us and we're all that matters!”

No wonder these guys hired the former tobacco industry shills to be their public face! It’s the same profit at any cost philosophy -- and maybe sending the same signal that the gravy train has derailed and it's time to move on to something else.

Overall, the new cast of “American Gladiators” radiates a quality I would describe as "skank".

This is an ensemble most people would go out of your way to avoid at the mall, let alone invite into their homes. As someone opined, “Grape smugglers and women who look like men. ‘Hellga’ and ‘Mayhem’ already seem to have swapped sexes.”

Look, I’m not saying that you have to be pretty to be on television. (Hellga)

But it sure looks like NBC went out of its way to find people unlikely to ever acquire a SAG card and therefore potentially be in a strike position against the network. (Mayhem)

One of the cast “Toa” (formerly The Rock’s stand-in) is described as “Drawing on the power of his ancestors, Toa has the strength of a thousand warriors flowing through his veins, and he will never, ever show mercy.” – illustrating that neither “Toa” nor his showrunners or publicists have the first inkling of any warrior culture they insist they are replicating.

Meanwhile, fellow cast member “Militia” has already been outed as a performer in gay porn films, counting among his significant roles, “Naked Pizza Boy” and “Curious Guy at Gym”. After viewing Mr. Militia’s porn resume, I have to say it’s unfortunate his most striking asset will be hidden from NBC viewers, although I’m sure it helped Mssrs. Zucker, Silverman and Plestis thoroughly enjoy the casting session as well as the private meetings which have surely followed.

I wonder if Sodomy will eventually round out the competition events if ratings sink low enough? Maybe NBC can even find a way to begin offing the cast like real Gladiators (or drama series regulars who got too pricey) as a way of increasing the numbers.

Or maybe they’ll just use “American Gladiators” as a way of cross promoting “Heroes” or “Bionic Woman” (Save the Cheerleader from -- Venom! Tonight, Crush on a very special Bionic Woman!) as those dramatic franchises are sacrificed for the good of television’s future – a place where actors are replaced by porn stars, writers by manufactured reality and programming that inspires thought by that which numbs any desire to resist.

Or, maybe they’ll just do us all a favor and pit the entire Gladiator cast against the winners of “Clash of the Choirs” -- Michael Bolton meet Militia. Please bend over.

In closing, here’s a sample of what’s in store…

Um – NBC -- there's still time. Couldn't you just hire some writers and do something you can be proud of? I mean, before you ruin it for all of us?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I hit my teens at the same time that The Beatles arrived and have watched endless marketing efforts since, trying to create the next big thing in music. Gosh, from the very first weeks of Beatlemania, the press wanted us to believe they would soon be surpassed by "The Dave Clark Five".

But in all musical incarnations from "The Bay City Rollers" to "Darkness", the pretenders to the next big thing have all lacked one essential element that permeated The Beatles debut -- an infectious sense of fun and excitement.

Today's Globe & Mail has an article about an emerging band who just might have that asset in spades. Playing Ska will make anybody sound fun and exciting, but add the rest of what constitutes Oreskaband and they just might be the wave of the future.

Monday, December 17, 2007


The long awaited Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League baseball was released this week, and appears to be an even bigger bucket of whitewash than most fans were expecting.

And although this is a blog primarily devoted to writing and showbiz, what's going on in baseball needs to be seen as the kind of naked bid to hold onto power that permeates our business as well.

Under pressure from the US Congress to clean up its act, a cleansing that might help it hang onto its exemption from Anti-Trust regulations, Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB owners conscripted former Senator George Mitchell to investigate just how wide-spread the use of steroids, Human Growth Hormone and other performance enhancing drugs might be.

That was a bit disingenuous to begin with, since the Commissioner and Owners already knew full well their game was enormously juiced and had either tacitly encouraged or simply turned a blind eye to the practice for 20 years.

But that Anti-trust exemption and convincing Middle America that it's squeaky clean is what makes Baseball owners tons of money. So the decision was apparently made to smear as many players as possible (thus shifting any media focus from management), announce that retribution would be counterproductive (thus avoiding defending its evidence in court), insist the Players Union obstructed them (thus seeking the help of Congress in breaking a troublesome union) and suggesting fans accept past indiscretions (Barry Bonds aside) and just "Play Ball"!

So 86 players were "outed" as users of performance enhancing drugs, MLB's version of sewing a big red "A" to their uniforms, despite the fact that some are barely circumstantially guilty and others took these drugs as part of club or medically supervised treatment for injuries.

Such niceties as "due process" were also ignored by Mitchell as he lumped these guys in with proven or admitted cheaters, so that enough blame could be spread around that none of it would fall on the true enablers of the process, the Owners and the Commissioner.

Now, I've been a victim of gossip and innuendo and I'm here to tell you that it's almost impossible to fight. There are few alternatives when you're faced with a concerted effort to either destroy your reputation or save somebody else's by making you the villain. In my case, things got so bad that when somebody said, "I've heard of you." my response was, "I sure hope it's as juicy as some of the things I've heard."

Perhaps, the lawyer for one of MLB's superstars can best explain what these players now face...

I can't count the number of team owners I heard interviewed over the weekend who went out of their way to describe Senator Mitchell as "respected" or "above reproach", as if saying those things enough times would make them true.

In their stampede to support his report, the owners ignored the fact that their investigator might have used his prerogative to make sure the Boston Red Sox, a team of which he's a sitting Board member, came off as the one least tainted by the scandal.

Sports radio also trotted out Dick Pound, former Olympic drug Czar, current head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the only guy with a better Porn Star name than Tom Cruise, to further drive home the point that athletes cheat and we should all deal with them harshly for their frailties.

I don't have a lot of respect for Dick Pound. First, he spent a good portion of his professional life serving as the respectable face for a horribly corrupt International Olympic Committee, an organization which also certifies dancing around with a ribbon on a stick as a sport.

Dick's also the dick who publicly stated 1 in 3 NHL hockey players were on steroids without a single shred of supporting evidence -- a statement that might have had something to do with the fact that the NHL hadn't awarded WADA its lucrative drug testing contract.

Anyway, the message of the Mitchell Report was clear -- Players bad -- the rest of baseball -- uh, just sitting in the getaway car counting some money.

So now Players like Roger Clemens have to defend themselves against former batboys and trainers who might be saying anything to avoid lengthy jail terms for drug dealing.

Andy Pettitte holds a press conference to say yes he took HGH for 2 days to heal an elbow injury a full three years before Baseball banned the substance, admitting "guilt" while making anyone with a brain ask how 2 doses of still legal HGH could enhance the performance of a guy who wasn't even playing at the time or make someone deserve a public shaming.

Former Boston pitcher Brendan Donnelly, conveniently dumped from the team Mitchell advises 24 hours before the report's release, must defend his reputation not against any tangible proof he took steroids, but against emails between team trainers stating suspicions that he "might be" juicing.

Meanwhile, a player for the Arizona Diamondbacks is named simply because a package addressed to him and containing steroids was sent to the Diamondbacks training facility, with no return address and while he was playing winterball in Venezuela.

I mean, if you were depending on steroids for your onfield performance, wouldn't you have them sent where you are and not the one place that might notice you're ingesting something illegal? And if this is all it takes to prove somebody a miscreant, I've got some shit I can mail Bud Selig that'll permanently sully his ass.

But the personal tragedies set in motion by the report almost pale against some of its absurdities. Jose Canseco, an admitted juicer vilified by the baseball establishment when he published "Juiced" in 2005, is repeatedly footnoted by Mitchell as a now "reliable" source. Even Jose thinks that's a laugh, questioning why Mitchell hasn't named players he accused of doping in his book with far more tangible evidence.

Could it be that Mitchell didn't name Alex Rodriguez because he's the highest paid and current draw for the sport? Did he conveniently forget Mark MacGuire and Sammy Sosa because there are too many pictures of them with Commissioner Bud while their homerun derby was saving baseball and drawing fans by the tens of thousands?

Much easier to repeatedly make the point that all of the named players "refused" to be interviewed by Mitchell, thus implying their obvious guilt. You know what, Sparky, if I knew you were setting out to job me, I wouldn't talk to you either!

I've shared my opinions of steroids in baseball before and they're basically this. Everybody (including the media) knew what was going on and played along when it helped the game and the bottom line. Now that the jig is up, no one has any right to toss scapegoats to the wolves to save their own hides.

What's going to be interesting is where the reaction to the report will go from here. Lawsuits from many players seem to be in the offing.

Fielder Mike Greenwell has stepped forward to ask if he'll get the MVP honors Baseball awarded Jose Conseco in 1988 while Greenwell came in second. Overall, virtually 75% of baseball's trophies and records are held by players known or suspected of juicing.

As an aside, 1988 was the first time steroids raised their ugly head in the sport, prompting Selig to conduct a closed door meeting with owners that resulted in -- a gag order preventing baseball executives from discussing the matter.

As one Baltimore sportswriter observed -- Can you imagine what would happen to any other business that had earned this much money for so long by perpetrating a fraud?

You also have to wonder if players who fell short on financial bonuses for home runs or RBI's are considering suing anyone because they played against juiced pitchers. What about the pitchers who saw careers cut short by long balls clubbed by juicers?

What about all those minor leaguers who never made it to the show because some Juicer was holding the only available position for a team that owned their lives lock, stock and barrel? Can you imagine trying to prove in court that they were treated fairly by baseball?

And what about the fans? I was in Skydome (now the Rog-Mahal) at the playoff game where Jose Canseco canceled our world series bid with a massive jolt to left field that's still a distance record. Can I ask baseball for some money back because that game wasn't played fairly -- and they probably knew it?

No wonder Senator Mitchell recommended everybody just forget the past and move on "Like they did in Northern Ireland". The problem is -- we can't. Because his report, in seeking to ensure that the foxes remain in control of the henhouse, made forgetting the past impossible for those he named and the rest of us who believe things are supposed to be fair.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Dream of Led Zeppelin tours, more Spice Girls reunions or winning tickets to Hannah Montana if you must. But in the last year we lost two whose like may never come again and seemed far apart in life -- but weren't...

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I spent years of my acting career on the road, endless weeks in unfamiliar cities and hotel rooms that all looked alike. I don't know who chooses the pictures that hang in hotel rooms, but their intent seems to be to deliver a setting as devoid of time, place and personality as possible.

So, at some point, I bought myself a really nice set of oils and brushes, along with a framer's tool kit. During my stay in one of these sterile boxes, I'd take a few hours, remove a painting from its frame -- and add a small touch that would go unnoticed by all but those who, perhaps feeling as bored or displaced as me, might search the picture for some idea of what the assemby line painter was trying to say.

I left little suicidal men hanging from ropes in lush forests, arsonists torching the barn on an idyllic farm, naked lovers going at it on the marble steps of an impressive edifice. My version of tagging, but done with the subtle sophistication and charm that are my trademark. For all I know, Banksy owes me his career.

Nowadays, the internet offers endless opportunities for remade art. Entire re-edited (and better) versions of "Star Wars" are out there. And sometimes you find something as simple as someone taking a cinematic touchstone like "Bande A Part" and merely changing the song. In the process adding something unique and personal, while not harming the original intent of the work.

Who says corporate conglomerates have to control the distribution of art or entertainment. You now have the tools to make your own.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Maybe winter's already getting to me. Maybe it's spending two solid days doing the endless edit tweaks (lose 4 frames here, add a little blue to that close-up there) but I ended up reading deeper into the newspaper than normal this morning.

That's a symptom of Final Cut Pro avoidance.

Can somebody who works with or invented this editing software please explain why everything it does needs to be re-thought, re-rendered and reconfigured all day long!?!

Sure, it's only a couple of minutes here and 7-10 there, but it completely savages your creative train of thought. I spend my day trying not to scream, "I CAN'T THINK THIS SLOW".

And no wonder the CBC is shifting over to it. Those guys need ways to fill their days.

Anyway, I found BIG NEWS in the back pages of the paper and felt the urge to pass it on immediately.


German research published in New England Journal of Medicine indicates that men staring at women's breasts prolong their lives by several years. "Just 10 minutes of staring at the charms of a well-endowed female is equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics work-out," said author Dr. Karen Weatherby, a gerontologist.

The team led by Weatherby was made up of researchers at three hospitals in Frankfurt, Germany, and for 5 years, monitored the health of 200 male subjects, half of whom were asked to look at busty females daily, while the other half had to abstain from doing so.

For five years, the boob oglers (Is that a medical term?) presented lower blood pressure, slower resting pulse rates and decreased risk of coronary artery disease.

"There's no question: Gazing at large breasts makes men healthier. Our study indicates that engaging in this activity a few minutes daily cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack in half." said Weatherby, who recommended that men over 40 should spend at least 10 minutes daily admiring breasts sized "D-cup" or larger.

So, there you have it! We can now be assured that Uninflected Images Juxtaposed will still be posting long after the rest of us are dead and gone.

Meanwhile, in a section the dog mauled and I can't seem to find online, there's another study which indicates the current WGA strike might be a good thing.

The Harvard Medical School has just completed research which indicates erectile dysfunction increases by up to 30% in men who watch television more than 30 hours a week.

The prescription for a healthy life for us males seems clear.

Forget the Big Media conglomerates and only create material for the internet. Make sure your television is only on for hockey, Victoria's Secret Christmas Specials and repeats of the Pam Anderson Roast.

And -- while you're working on those internet shows, always keep a tab open for Maxim and FHM.

Just trying to help.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


First, we get the ice storm that leaves a six inch thick floe on my roof. Somebody let David Suzuki know I personally have room for a couple of Al Gore's drowning Polar Bears.

Then we get the foot of snow completely burying the skating rink normally known as -- outside.

So, before I take my life in my hands venturing out for the day, I thought I'd better update you on a couple of items recently covered here.

First, the petition to win deceased Constable Chris Garrett his Medal of Valour has grown from the 10,000 (when I signed on) to over 28,000 as of this morning. Much of that credit goes to comedy scribes Mark Farrell and Mark Critch of "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" who literally doubled the number of signatories overnight by a reference on their show.

That forced the Prime Minister to take over the file from our bumbling Governor General one day later.

Insert your own, "The Pen is mightier than..." quote here.

I'm not saying saner heads will now prevail, but let's not forget that the PM adores Hockey God Don Cherry, who picked up the gauntlet yesterday.

Listening to Don's inspired radio rant about heartless Ottawa bureaucrats got me thinking the powers that be might want this settled before he mounts the big pulpit on Saturday night.

I'm also thinking he should be our next regal consort. Governor General Grapes -- it's got a ring to it -- and just imagine the impact on the fashion industry!

But the deal is not yet done, so please add your name to doing what's right here. Let's see if we can't deliver something special to Chris Garrett's family in time for Christmas.

And in the spirit of continuing to do what's right, the Ryerson students who promised the unemployed crew of "The Office" a Christmas Party are already halfway to their $10,000 goal.

Even if the AMPTP delivers an offer we can readily accept later today, few in Hollywood will be back to work before Christmas, so help for people adversely affected by our strike is still needed. You can make a contribution here.

The "Office Party Christmas Fund" has also inspired fan groups from other shows to do likewise. The lists and projects are sprinkled through the United Hollywood site. Please find one that appeals to you and help in any way you can.

So, if the weather, the strike or anything else has you stuck in front of the computer this morning with nothing to do, you can still be a contributing member of society. And if you live in front of your computer day trading. Sell your media holdings! It's for the good of society and a slap in the face to Satan.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Another Sunday hybrid offering of cool things you only find on the Net and keeping awareness of the WGA Strike at the forefront.

This week's Day of Solidarity in Toronto ended with a bunch of us "occupying" a coffee shop to warm up. At my table, we got talking about the human differences between ourselves and the conglomerates and their producing class.

I mean, we're all people -- what part of their DNA has been altered to bring out that streak of greed and entitlement; a trait brazenly exhibited a day later by the AMPTP's "groundbreaking" offer of an 88% rollback to our earnings.

A writer friend hit it exactly. "They think they're the predators and we're the Gazelles." Now describing any of the writers at that table as Gazelles requires the kind of imaginative power that creates great movies and television, but it got me thinking...

How do you deal with predators?

Three things struck me about this video. First, never take classic archetypes for granted. Second, there is real strength in sticking together. And third -- well, just listen to the people watching this event...

Hang in there, everybody. Be strong. Stay together. The Audience is on our side.

We can win this thing.

Friday, November 30, 2007


There's probably nothing that better defines my "Shitkicker" status than my affection and respect for Robert "Evel" Knievel, the motorcycle stunt phenomenon who died a few hours ago.

I honestly don't know when I first encountered Evel Knievel. There was just a point when he was kind of there and a moment later he was everywhere, making the leap from obscure cult hero to cultural icon about as fast as he covered the distance from one ramp to another over an ever increasing number of cars, 18 Wheelers, fountains, canyons or buses.

Evel Kneivel routinely took his life in his hands by doing something oddly stupid, and arcanely unique -- jumping things on a motorcycle.

He probably failed at this more often than he succeeded. In the course of his "career" he broke every bone in his body at least once and endured untold muscle tears, skin shears, concussions and pierced organs. The pulmonary disease that took his life today was contracted in the same manner as the Hepatitis C that almost killed him in 1999, by a transfusion of tainted blood.

But he kept coming back. He just healed, got up, got back on his Harley-Davidson #1 motorcycle and did it again -- each time making the task before him harder than it had been before. If he crashed jumping 10 cars, the next time he took on 11. He never went back. All movement was forward.

Forward toward what? Your guess is as good as mine. Try asking yourself that question no matter who you are or what you do in life. I'm sure many of us would not comprehend your own answer.

My addiction to what he did had been affirmed by the 1971 George Hamilton movie "Evel Knievel" and fed regularly by the numerous jumps that were covered "Live" on ABC Sports.

That's how big the guy was. Before the networks had even heard of NASCAR or motocross, let alone conceived the "X" Games, Evel had touched that Thrill Ride/Desperado/Redneck nerve and consistently delivered millions of viewers.

The man's exploits were followed by "Life" and "Rolling Stone". For good or ill, Joe Esterhaz owes his Hollywood career to the coverage he wrote of Evel's failed rocket cycle jump of the Snake River Canyon.

I saw Evel Knievel jump a bunch of trucks at the CNE in August of 1974. The photo above was taken on the afternoon of the event.

The old stadium by the lake was sold out -- which would have meant I was in the company of 25,000 other fans. The show consisted of an hour or so of stunts, car rollovers and thrill driver stuff. And then Evel came out of his American flag painted mobile home, mounted the jump ramp and made a speech about how happy he was to be there. After he had taken us through the minutiae of what was arrayed against him, he led us in a moment of prayer and then got on board #1.

He was dressed in his trademark white leathers with a blue criss-cross of stars that I emulated by wearing in my 1975 film "A Sweeter Song", reversing the blue and white and replacing those American stars with more Canadian Maple Leaves.

Evel donned his helmet and did a couple of warm-up runs past the line of trucks, doing wheelies, tweaking the bike throttle, enriching the fuel mix. News reports today say there were thirteen trucks. I remember the number as 12. Either way, lined up side by side, they offered an impressive obstacle, an almost 2-storey high wall of steel.

By the time he took his place on the runway track, it was growing dark. One of those soft summer nights we get in this city, where the air only moves enough to flutter a flag and the temperature so approximates body heat that you don't know where you end and the night begins.

The place slowly went silent, as all of us suddenly came to the realization that the soft spoken man on the bike in front of us might be only a few seconds from death. Part of you wanted him to take off his helmet, wave and go home to his family. We'd seen him. We'd touched his courage and that was enough.

But it wasn't enough for him. He cranked the throttle and that Harley engine roared louder than I'd ever heard a motorcycle roar. It echoed around the mute stadium for a moment before his white boot lifted from the pavement and he was away, careening toward his destiny.

It took seconds for him to mount the ramp and seconds more to cross that chasm of trucks, but for that part time stopped. This tiny white figure hung in the sky. Then Flashbulb stars began exploding around him as he arc'd above, the bike gliding silently over the chasm. Then he started to drop and you watched the line of the fall. It looked like he'd make it. No, it didn't. Yes, it did...

The crowd erupted as the realization that he would clear the last truck became obvious. Then the place went nuts as he landed, man and bike compressing into the off-ramp. He wobbled, then shot down to the field and open road ahead.

We were all screaming now, in that tribal way like when you'd seen one of the young warriors elude the sabre-tooth tiger or slay the wooly mammoth. Evel Knievel had cheated death right there in front of us. He took the one thing he knew we all are most afraid of and took it on, demanded it either show its face and its power or shut up and scurry on home.

That night we knew death wasn't as powerful as it thought it was. And that feeling was incredibly freeing and inspiring.

We walked out of that stadium on air. Nothing was impossible. Fear was just a word. If Evel could overcome his challenge, you could scale whatever was placed in front of you.

Death, of course, lets us play that game. It knows it always wins in the end. And this afternoon it finally came to claim Evel Knievel.

But you know, if you take a careful look at the box score, it reads:

Evel Knievel: 300 or more -- Death: 1.

Rest in Peace, Buddy. You kicked the sonovabitch's ass!

And for a way cool one-on-one with Evel, check out DMC.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007



“...and the men of Israel were gathered together, pitched by the valley of Elah, and set in battle array against the Philistines.”

I'll be joining the Day of Solidarity with the WGA in Toronto today. But with both sides in the Strike back at the table and hopefully making progress, I wanted to communicate a little about my own experiences negotiating writer agreements.

I hope it will help those of you who are new to this process understand what you can expect in the coming days. Because this is where the hard part begins. This is where you come face to face with Goliath, depending on little more than your faith in what you believe in and hoping the small stone in your sling is enough.

I have been connected to Unions my whole life. When I was a kid, one of my grandfathers and later my dad worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. One of my dad's best friends was an officer in their union and went on to become a respected Member of Parliament.

I can remember going to smokey meetings in the local Legion or Oddfellows Hall as he would outline the latest company offer or a negotiated agreement the other men needed to ratify.

The details of those deals were beyond me, but I won't ever forget the turmoil and emotion in those meeting halls as men struggling to make ends meet argued over what they were losing to see a few extra dollars in their pay packet or achieve a benefit many of them might never require.

That taught me early that no one wins a strike. No one.

In school, they regularly showed us NFB films about the importance of the rail lines that connected the country and gushed with pride over the massive shipments of wheat and cattle that left places like my home town to feed great cities. We were the "Breadbasket of the world".

Those sprocket jumping films showed me that the companies who owned the box cars carrying our produce also owned ships and airplanes, great skyscapers and luxury hotels; along with the shiny streamliners with Club and Observation cars that zoomed past town once a day in either direction.

It would be years before anyone coined the term "convergence". But the overall message was that the companies were very rich and very powerful and we were very lucky to have them looking out for our interests.

But then the railroad workers would disagree with the wage or benefit packages the company offered, negotiations broke down and their union went on strike.

It wasn't anything they looked forward to doing. To be honest, it made no sense given the money and power arrayed against them. But like sending a child into battle against a giant, it was the only option they had.

And it made you realize that maybe the companies didn't have your best interests at heart at all.

What I remember most from these disputes was the way it impacted my family. I overheard late night calls threatening my dad if he didn't go back to work and discussions with men who worked alone or in small groups in remote locations along the tracks. They were vulnerable and afraid, often warned of the imminent arrival of scabs and railroad "Bulls" determined to break their will, physically if need be.

It was a time when it wasn't unusual for union men to be beaten or humiliated in front of their families, sometimes as the Mounties looked on -- or just the other way. I remember seeing my dad and my grandfather and that future MP loading the .38s the railroad had issued them to protect its property, now being carried to defend themselves from their benefactors.

It was an early lesson in how fragile society really is, how the concept of fairness doesn't seem to graduate past grade school with some people and that those with power sometimes feel the need to grip it with frightening tenacity.

It was my introduction to the concept of the "Working Class Hero". I understood you should respect authority and great wealth and power -- but you could never trust them to show respect in return. Sometimes they had to be reminded that people without wealth and power were people too.

And like the man said, a working class hero was "something to be".

My own union affiliations have included the Musicians Union, Canadian and American Equity, ACTRA, the Writers Guild of Canada and the WGA. Early in my career, when Canadian writers were still members of ACTRA, I was part of the group that helped seperate us from their embrace and form the WGC.

That was a difficult and complicated process, especially for me, mostly still an actor at the time. But I knew that the working goals of actors and those of writers were not always compatible and whether I stuck with the new Guild or not, writers needed their own voice, which by its separateness could enhance rather than weaken the position of Canadian artists overall.

My original WGC membership card was #2.

Around the same time, I was pressed into service on the negotiating team that hammered out what became the WGC's first Independent Producer Agreement. For the first time in my association with Unions, I was part of constructing the terms and conditions under which I worked.

Along with Jack Grey, the Guild's first President, John Hunter ("The Grey Fox") and rotating regional reps, (ably guided by the Guild's first Executive Director, Margaret Collier) we spent the best part of a year locked in that process. Opposite us were several producers I'd worked for and an experienced entertainment lawyer; like us, determined to create an agreement that realistically reflected our growing film and television industry.

At first, a lot of time was spent with both sides being painfully honest and detailed in how we worked, what individual and industry realities we faced and how we envisioned a future that could benefit all of us.

For all you've heard recently about how essential writers are to the process, writers also know that a prosperous industry is just as important and that the future needs to be bright for everyone involved.

That approach is complicated by the knowledge that the industry is populated on both sides by those whose motives are more selfish and to whom the "here and now" always takes precedence over "down the road".

As Craig Mazin correctly compares labor and baseball here, you quickly learn that your duty in that room is to be both strong and reasonable.

Strong as an advocate for your fellow writers, reasonable in knowing that you can't always get what you want.

Writers here at that time were trying to establish that there really were -- writers -- here -- at that time. Some of us had a certain caché because we'd sold scripts in NY, London or LA. But overall, there was little to encourage Producers to use local talent. It was much more fun for them to fly to LA and come back with a little bag of "sparkle dust" from there.

Come to think of it, some things never change...

So part of our agenda was to create incentives to encourage our hiring while not undercutting what were economically realistic WGA minimums. To establish a foothold in the industry, we needed to be cheaper than they were without working for less than we could live on or leaving the impression that Canadian scripts weren't worth as much as those sold South of the Border.

The Producers had their own problems. Development money was non-existent. Production funding was tenuous right up until the day cameras finally rolled and Distribution was American controlled and iffy when it came to accounting for the profits.

Some of that was posturing. But we knew that establishing ourselves as working writers depended on helping them reach a position of cost certainty with backend profit sharing structured to ensure that they had seen profits in the first place.

Canadian residual income was a pipe dream in the late 70's with neither side seeming capable of tracking where and when income was being earned after the initial theatrical or television runs.

Like I said, some things don't change...

However, in a day when almost any information is a few mouse clicks away, it might be hard to understand that creative unions once used to horde TV Guides from all over the world as their trump card in keeping Producers honest.

I once learned a film of mine was making the rounds of American USO's only after getting fan letters from soldiers in Germany and Korea. Another time, I discovered another was being shown as in flight entertainment from a friend who'd seen it while flying Hong Kong to Bombay. The somewhat chagrined airline paid, after achieving a lower dollar amount by insisted the film had only been made available to those in "Second Class".

The negotiation process is a complex one. You come to see some of your own positions as justified but maybe unattainable. You see some of the Producer's requirements as onerous but logical. And both of you get snagged on issues that can't be addressed without throwing some other section already agreed upon completely out of whack.

A clause may be painful for some of the membership and perfect for the rest. They pay the same dues and work just as hard. What do you do?

A loophole covered creates another that a disingenuous producer could drive a truck through. Do you hamstring them all for the sake of one potential bad apple, or cut them some slack and hope the trust is appreciated and respected?

Those two words constantly reverberate in your head -- strong but reasonable.

In the end, the final agreements are always imperfect. This isn't a business where everybody operates the same jack hammer.

Both sides also know that times change, they're not carving anything in stone and better minds or new experience will get a crack at the same issues in 2 or 3 years time. You do the best you can under the circumstances, both for your union members and for your industry. Sometimes you make mistakes.

Our first IPA (Independent Producers Agreement) was imperfect, but it achieved its goal of creating a a reliable foundation for a burgeoning industry. Accepting that development money was scarce, we made the initial writing stages cheaper, creating a "script fee" that was below WGA rates, but was topped up when it went into production. We also created a "Production fee" that prepaid residual uses and didn't require further outlays from the producer until he was out from under his negative cost and in profit.

I've had writers tell me it was an agreement that finally allowed them to earn a living in this country. I've had others insist it cost them a fortune. They're probably both right.

What comes out of the current talks in Los Angeles will be imperfect. Nobody will get everything they want. We'll give away things we've championed to make a deal and some writers will complain that the strike wasn't worth it.

There will also be producers who find loopholes in the new contract and use them against our best interests. That's simply the nature of the beast and not something you change with a sling and a small smooth stone.

But it's all we've got -- and sometimes it can make all the difference.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Up to my early teens, I was convinced I was going to be a cartoonist. I'd rush home after school to watch Jon Gnagy's "Learn to Draw" and even applied for a job at Disney when I was 12. I drew all the time and even won a couple of awards at the local fair for my artwork. Drawing from life was my favorite. But I never imagined anybody could be as good as this...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Canadian screenwriters, along with others in our showbiz community, often bemoan the lack of appreciation we receive for what we do. Sometimes the grousing can make it feel like the "powers that be" in this nation are somehow out to get us. I believe there's much truth in that. But I also know we're not alone.

Constable Chris Garrett of the Coburg, Ontario police department, responded to a 911 robbery call from a teenaged boy in the early morning hours of May 15, 2004. What he didn't know was that the call was a set up, designed to lure the officer who answered it into an ambush that was to mark the start of an all out assault on the local police.

Posing as the victim, 18 year old Troy Davey, gained Garrett's confidence, getting close enough to slit his throat. But the officer fought back, chasing his attacker as blood gushed from his neck and firing a shot that wounded him in the leg before Garrett died.

Davey was soon captured, the investigation revealing that he was in possession of homemade bombs and other weapons. The evidence at his trial indicated that he had planned to destroy the Coburg police station and kill as many cops as he possibly could.

I've been to a few Police funerals. They're an incredibly moving spectacle. And while writing on "Top Cops" I had the opportunity to pen several stories about fallen police officers, learning first hand from their families and fellow officers how impactful these events are.

That led me to writing speeches for two US Presidents on occasions honoring their fallen at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington. Not the same as having your work voiced by Pacino or Clooney, but still very cool. If you visit Washington, the Fallen Lions overlooking the names of the Fallen Officers on that memorial delivers a profound and moving message.

I also shot a documentary about the Canadian Police/Peace Officer's Memorial at one of the annual Services held the last Sunday of September on Parliament Hill. That event draws thousands of Police from around the world to witness the names of the previous year's fallen enscribed in the granite stone at the pavilion's base.

After his death, Chris Garrett was rightly named a hero. His actions, while they forever took him from his wife and two children, undoubtedly saved many other lives and many other families from the same anguish. It was a selfless sacrifice and Garrett's thankful colleagues nominated him for the highest award a member of law enforcement can receive in Canada -- the Cross of Valour.

But Garrett won't get a medal.

Governor General Michaelle Jean, whose office handles such matters, has let Chris Garrett's family know that she won't award it. You see, there is a time limit of two years between the date of the incident and the date an application will be considered. Constable Garrett's application arrived -- eight months too late.

Now, there was a reason for that late application. It's called the Canadian Justice system. Which, for reasons good or bad, took almost 3 years to try and convict Garrett's killer of First Degree Murder. And no application for awards to Fallen police officers can be made until all legal matters in the incident have been resolved.

You'd think a Governor General might have enough common sense to do the right thing under the circumstances; or that one of her minions would take a moment from planning the guest list for the Rideau Hall Christmas party (which you can be assured did not include members of Constable Garrett's family) to find a way to bend the rules.

But that's not how Ottawa works. And that's not the mentality of the kind of people who work there.

And you thought all those CRTC rulings that only favored the wealthy and powerful were an anomally, didja Sparky?

Unfortunately, the GG may strike an egalitarian pose when she's touring Haitian slums or glad-handing Inuit school kids. But at the core she's part of the cabal who really run this country. And just like we showbiz types, cops are not part of their inner circle, nor much valued by it, if the truth were known.

If this callous disregard for someone who gave their life in service of their fellow citizens appalls you as much as it does me, there's an online petition you can sign here, which, as of this morning, had over 10,000 signatures.

Or you can contact your local MP, who'll be on the list here and ask what they plan to do about it. Maybe you could phone the Prime Minister and suggest that when he's finished abolishing the Senate, he take a look at some of the other parasites in Ottawa we're supposed to respect.

At the moment, a movement is afoot in Canadian Police circles to return all medals officers have received, including Crosses of Valour that will come from the widows and families of Fallen officers. Just how sad is that?

And come next September, GG Jean will still take her coach to Parliament Hill, as she and all her predecessors have always done, escorted by her personal Horse Guard, to make a nice speech to several thousand law enforcement officers and their fellow Canadians about how much they are valued.

Only those people will know she doesn't mean it.

And maybe some of them will also be wondering if anyone's taken convicted felon Conrad Black's place as an Officer in that self-same Governor General's Horse Guard -- or if that is being politely ignored and hopefully forgotten by us masses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My home team's playing for the Grey Cup! Perhaps I could even go so far as to say that Canada's team is playing for the CFL Championship this year. For those fans who come from other cities, I understand your loyalties are split, but you have to admit it's true.

Nobody dislikes the Saskatchewan Roughriders! Even when we're killing other teams we're the underdogs, the small town guys who made good, an eternal Cinderella story.

For those of you reading from lands afar, I'm talking about Canadian football. It's a game not much removed from the American version, but with unique quirks that make it faster and more fun. We play with more guys on a bigger field and three downs instead of four. Other than that and arcane scoring terms like the "rouge", it's pretty much the same product.

The Roughriders are from Regina, the smallest city in the league. They're our equivalent of the Green Bay Packers and their fans are just as loyal.

They were also the first professional sports team I ever saw play. And when I was a kid, I worshipped each and every one of them. They were heroes in a land that had none. Larger than life and yet so much a part of the town that they seemed no different from your dad or next door neighbor.

My family moved to Regina from the SW of Saskatchewan in 1960. Back then, the city had a population of less than 100,000 and not much in the way of traditional sports and entertainment. The Riders were literally the only game in town. And at that time, that wasn't saying much.

The team had suffered a terrible tragedy a couple of years earlier when their four best players were killed in a plane crash returning from our version of the Pro-Bowl. Without their stars, and with the fans' hearts cut out, the Riders endured a string of miserable seasons. Attendance fell to nothing and the franchise was close to going under.

In fact, the team ended up being taken over by the city fathers in a last ditch erffort to save it and to this day remains the only community owned franchise in professional sport. If you live in Saskatchewan, you can buy a club membership and have a say in how things are run.

Anyway, around 1961 or 2, I landed my first job; a paper route with the Regina Leader-Post. And when football season approached, us paperboys were handed books of tickets and asked to sell them door to door as we delivered newspapers, to help keep the team alive. For every book of tickets you sold, you got an end zone seat in a section reserved for kids with an overhead sign that read "RIDER ROOKIES".

I sold two books and my brother and I went to our first football game. It was against the BC Lions and their hated Quarterback (later NFL and B-movie star) Joe Kapp.

Kapp had gotten on the bad side of Saskatchewan kids by becoming the spokesman for "Squirrel" Peanut Butter. We couldn't understand how the people at Squirrel would let a quarterback for some other team try to sell us peanut butter. The brand immediately dropped to last place on the shelves at Safeway. We'd eat crap like "Jif" before we'd let our mothers buy another jar of "Squirrel"!!!

Joe was so detested, that when you got his picture wheel in a bag of Old Dutch Potato Chips, those guys were smart enough to encourage you to return it for a free bag.

Unfortunately, Joe (now dubbed "The Peanut Butter Kid") and his team kicked our ass that night. Although he did get sacked on the two yard line right in front of us which was sweet! We lost bad. But the combination of crisp night air, steaming hot dogs smothered in mustard and the thrill of being in a sea of happy drunks dressed in green and white turned me into one of the best ticket salesmen the team ever had.

I'm not saying that it was all those people I convinced to attend games that turned the Riders around. But turn around they soon did, inaugurating what's still considered the Roughrider's golden age.

In 1963, a Fullback from Washington State named George Reed turned down the Denver Broncos to play in Regina because the Riders offered him $3,000 more in an era when salaries in both leagues were interchangeable.

Reed was an astonishing ball carrier who took endless punishment as he ground out his above 5 yards per carry career average. As a testament to his courage and determination, George once played a half dozen games with a broken leg and broke both his hands four times each over his 13 year career. After he also broke Jim Brown's professional rushing record, 12 different NFL teams offered him a contract. He chose to stay in Regina.

George Reed was also one of the first guys to buy me a beer. I walked into a pub one day just after turning 18 and he was sitting at the bar. His off season job was doing promotional work for a local brewery. I stared. George smiled and asked if I was old enough to drink. I nodded and he suggested I try a "Canadian" and directed the bartender to slide one my way.

I snuck that bottle outside and it stood in a place of honor for many football seasons to come.

Two years after George arrived, the Roughriders paid Ottawa $500 for a back up quarterback named Ron Lancaster. At 5' 5" tall, Lancaster was considered an unlikely candidate for pro ball. As the saying goes, they failed to measure the size of his heart.

I don't know that I can adequately describe the sheer terror you felt as you watched Lancaster scramble out of the pocket, pursued by Defensive lineman literally twice his size, knowing that if he didn't get the pass away he might never get off the ground. Some said the legendary Offensive line that soon formed in front of him, including Ted Urness and Bill Clarke (who lived up my street) felt Lancaster's very life depended on them stopping the blitz.

But the terror was matched by the excitement as Lancaster would scoot to a point where he could just see over the defenders and launch a perfect spiral to his favorite receiver, "Gluey" Hughie Campbell.

Campbell was a long, lean and rubbery man who moved like a Chinese fighting kite, rippling off the ground to snare impossible passes. It was as if he was born to perform this one action with perfection. In fact, that might be true, because Campbell actually wrote his college thesis on the math and geometry involved in successfully completing the forward pass.

By now, I must be coming off like some kind of rabid, stat monkey. But what you have to understand is the Riders were a couple of dozen guys who lived and worked in a really small town that had little else. Most of them had regular jobs there in the off-season. They were our neighbors.

The local Ford dealership didn't need to have a celebrity Saturday because half their sales staff was the defensive backfield to start with. A tight end delivered the mail. Guys who returned punts helped you try on a suit at The Bay. Kicker Alan Ford was even my Math teacher for a while.

Because it was Saskatchewan, nobody treated them like they were special. And they didn't act like they were special either. They just played football for a living. Reed and defensive tackle Ed McQuarters were probably the first black people half of Regina ever met. You saw Bill Baker at church and Wayne Shaw at the grocery store.

It was a grown up version of "Friday Night Lights". Farmers drove tractors and combines to Taylor Field so they could get right back to the fall harvest after a game. We didn't have tailgate parties, but on a cold night, it wasn't unusual to have somebody's mickey passed down a row of strangers until it was gone, or see some guy take hot dog orders for his section because he was heading to the concession stand himself.

I think our official mascot was a Gopher, but the unofficial one was some madman who strapped a flash pot to his head and lit it after every touchdown.

Calgary might have a pretty cowgirl on horseback circling the field, but we had somebody willing to risk blowing his head off everytime we scored -- right in the middle of the stands! I believe the league stepped in and ended the practise before anything more than a few eardrums were lost.

In 1966, led by coach Eagle Keys out of East Jesus, Tennessee (Honest, I am not making that up) the Saskatchewan Roughriders finally won their first Grey Cup. The long yearned for victory and their return to the Championship game the following year marked the end of that golden era.

But the loyalty that decade of teams had created endures to this day.

I last saw Ron Lancaster play in the 1976 Grey Cup game, when Tony Gabriel broke my heart catching a touchdown in the dying minutes to seal a win for the other Roughriders from Ottawa. But I tasted victory again in 1989 at the Skydome in Toronto as the Riders beat Hamilton on the last play of the game -- accompanied by a brother who hadn't even been born when I first saw them play.

I guess, like the place you come from, the teams you love stay a part of you as well. They get into your blood, their character sets a standard that forms your own. In some ways, I think that's what being a fan is really all about. It's not just being a part of something bigger. It's knowing that that something is also a part of you.

Go Riders! The game's Sunday on CBC and available to 70 million homes in the US on Comcast regional sports channels and HD net. I believe it's also available in Europe and Asia. Check your local listings.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Just before this whole strike mess started, I got to spend a fun weekend swimming through my Country music collection. One of the artists I didn't feature in the resulting post is the absolute King on modern Country, Garth Brooks.

This morning Garth cancelled appearances on "Ellen" and "The View" and announced he won't be making any television appearances in support of his new album until the WGA goes back to work.

Garth's stance caused a flurry among media pundits because Country is inaccurately seen by the big media sock puppets as conservative and leaning to the political right. Truth is it's anything but. You don't write songs about "the working man" without understanding a whole lot of what that really means.

Mr. Brooks graduated from the University of Oklahoma with degrees in advertising and marketing that helped him become an impressive force in the music business. He's also had a frighteningly accurate understanding of the national pulse for more than a decade and personal experience in what's involved in taking on somebody far bigger, stronger and more powerful than you are.

I couldn't find an embed to link the song off his "No Fences" album that best expresses all of this, but the lyrics are printed below. You might like to find and purchase it online, a small token of thanks to somebody who's shown us his support.


January's always bitter
But Lord this one beats all
The wind ain't quit for weeks now
And the drifts are ten feet tall
I been all night drivin' heifers
Closer in to lower ground
Then I spent the mornin' thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pulled down

Charlie Barton and his family
Stopped today to say goodbye
He said the bank was takin' over
The last few years were just too dry
And I promised that I'd visit
When they found a place in town
Then I spent a long time thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Lord please shine a light of hope
On those of us who fall behind
And when we stumble in the snow
Could you help us up while there's still time

Well I don't mean to be complainin' Lord
You've always seen me through
And I know you got your reasons
For each and every thing you do
But tonight outside my window
There's a lonesome mournful sound
And I just can't keep from thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Oh Lord keep me from bein'
The one the wolves pull down

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I'm skipping my newly adopted "Lazy Sunday" post of internet content you'll never experience offline in the interest of keeping the WGA Strike at the forefront.

It's great that the AMPTP and WGA are heading back to the bargaining table after the Thanksgiving holiday. But returning to the room does not mean that an agreement is imminent. In fact, some of what's happened in the last couple of weeks may force the parties to become far more entrenched in their positions.

Here's WGA writer and negotiating committee member Marc Norman ("Shakespeare in Love") in discussion with former studio heads Peter Bart and Peter Guber on AMC's always fascinating series "Shootout", describing how things look from the inside.

Of particular interest to me was Peter Guber's reaction about 20 seconds in. This guy is a real producer, not one of the corporatized big media executives who've been pulling the strings in this dispute. He gets it. He understands what's really going on.

It's a candid discussion epitomizing that it's time our business was returned to the control of people who know how to make movies and television and removed from the influence of those who follow other corporate models.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


One of the most unexpected elements of the current WGA strike has been the reaction of the fans. I think we were all prepared to take some heat from the loyal followers of Prime Time programming as their hours with Dr. House and Jack Bauer were curtailed. The media warned of the wrath of the "Lost" fanatics and reminded us how much of our audience had tuned out in 1988 and never returned.

But the LA and NY picket lines are awash with stories of ordinary viewers delivering coffee and pizzas to strikers, refusing to cross the lines for studio tours and even hiring planes to tow banners supporting the WGA around the monolithic office towers of the Big Media.

It's been a revelation to many writers that the people to whom they've been providing an escape from reality not only understand the real world issues we're facing but want to help us achieve our goals. It's a gift I don't think any of us expected and a gesture that won't soon be forgotten.

Personally, I've been overwhelmed by the response to my list of things you can do to help the WGA and stunned by the passion of people who aren't in this business, yet are going out of their way to make a difference to our struggle.

(Gawd, how often have a preached this -- "It's about the Audience, stupid!")

Anyway, tonight I was linked to a Facebook Group set up by a student at Ryerson University in Toronto named Alyssa Luckhurst. This is what she posted:

"On Saturday, November 10, the 102 members of the "Office" production crew were laid-off. That's 102 hard-working people who have lost their jobs as the WGA (rightfully) fights for a fair deal.

Crew members are arguably the most under-paid and under-appreciated people in the film and television business. They were not protected because their union is not on strike. As Kent Zbornak, co-executive producer, told me, "I had one crew member tell me that he needed to tell his children this weekend that Christmas was going to be tough and they may not get any presents this year."

As fans, I say we help them out! The "Office" crew have given us amazing Christmas episodes, so it's our turn to brighten their holidays."

Ms. Luckhurst's goal is to raise $10,200 by Friday, December 21st ($100/crew member) to make sure the men and women who make her favorite show can celebrate Christmas.

I'd love to see the looks on Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman's faces when they read that...

Actually, Mr. Zucker may already be wrestling with how badly he wants to get into his Scrooge costume. In a letter to me tonight, Ms. Luckhurst said, "Today I called Jeff Zucker and his secretary was taken aback when I asked to leave my cell number."

I'm starting to think it might not be us writers, but the people on whom Big Media depend for their income and their good corporate image who will settle this thing.

Anyway, if you'd like to help deliver some cheer to the crew of "The Office", you can find out all you need here.

And maybe the rest of us should start thinking about providing a merrier Christmas for the laid off crews of our favorite shows as well. Hey, Diane, how about hanging some mistletoe for the folks at "House". Alex, maybe spiking the punch will help get "Friday Night Lights" back on track.

As for me, I mostly watch Hockey lately, and after tonight's debacle, I think I'll be starting a Facebook Group to buy the Maple Leafs a frickin' goalie!

But seriously -- this kind of compassion is what truly sets us apart from the heartless conglomerates that would run our lives. We keep reminding ourselves that this struggle isn't just about us, but about the Guilds whose negotiations will follow the WGA and the generation of writers that will follow us.

Well, it's about our crews too. We may be the inspiration, but without their execution, we're just a bunch of guys standing around with fistfuls of paper. Taking a tip from our fans and doing right by the people now taking a hit for us is simply the right thing to do.

UPDATE: For those who commune on MySpace rather than Facebook, a seperate site for the "Office Fans Christmas Fund" has been set up here. And as a reminder of the power of the Fans, they've raised 1/3 of their goal in less than 3 days.