Monday, November 19, 2012


When CBS cancelled its freshman sitcom within twenty-four hours of ABC’s axing of “Last Resort” and “666 Park Avenue,” the Internet furor never came.  Of the three shows, “Partners” generated the least network hate.  While the show was okay, it was far from must-see TV.

There was a time when I’d tune in to any show that featured a gay character.  I wanted to see Billy Crystal on “Soap”, but my mother forbid me from watching.  The first regular gay characters I remember were Steven Carrington on Dynasty and that throw-away gay couple that engaged in the first televised same sex bed scene on “thirtysomething”.  In the 1990s, I remember gathering with a group of friends on Monday nights to see if Matt would ever gain a sex life on “Melrose Place”.  Then came “Will & Grace” and the British and American versions of “Queer as Folk.” (I tried but I couldn’t stick with the American version.  The actor who played Michael annoyed me in every scene.) 

Yes, it used to be that gay characters on TV created Event Viewing for a gay man.  It is a sign of progress that such is no longer the case.  Admittedly, I stuck with a couple of extra seasons of “Brothers & Sisters”, primarily because of how adorable Kevin’s beau, Scotty, was.  (Oh, Luke Macfarlane, come back!)  While I regularly watch Cam and Mitchell on “Modern Family”, I choose to watch because the whole darn show is hysterical and all the actors are so talented.  Tossing in a needless gay couple on “Desperate Housewives” did not sustain my interest, I was a fickle fan of the dark, sometimes morose “Six Feet Under” with Michael C. Hall playing the gay brother and my days of feeling gleeful about “Glee” are past.

This fall, I looked forward to two new series that prominently featured gay characters.  Ryan Murphy’s “The New Normal” garnered more publicity, including threatened boycotts from the two dozen members of One Million Moms.  I watched a trailer of the show back in June and predicted the show would be dead on arrival.  I have watched two episodes and the only interesting character is the sage Shania Clemmons (played by Bebe Wood), the young daughter of the gay couple’s surrogate mom.  It has been given a full season order, not because anyone is talking about it around the water cooler, but I suspect because networks want in on Murphy’s Next Big Thing, assuming he has something left in the tank.

I felt “Partners” was the better show and watched it whenever I made it home early enough from the ferry on Monday nights.  It was fine, something to watch as I made dinner or checked emails.  Louis, as played by Michael Urie, was a married version of his character Marc St. James from “Ugly Betty”.  Moreover, there was something even more familiar.  The show might as well have been called “Will & Jack” as Louis was a slight tweaking of Sean Hayes’ Jack McFarland and his straight friend-for-life Joe had an uncanny resemblance to Eric McCormack’s Will Truman. (So often, I could hear McCormack’s voice delivering the lines.)  Been there, done that.  And better to boot!

Despite having a gay couple as half the main cast, “Partners” was nothing new.  It failed, not because America doesn’t want gays invading their living rooms, but because it had little to offer.  As over the top as Louis may have been, I liked him.  Can’t say the same for the other characters which were different incarnations of bland.  I confused the sassy office worker from “The New Normal” with the one on “Partners”—both parts are utterly disposable.  (Too bad they couldn’t poach David Spade.)  Most egregious was the depiction of Louis’ boyfriend, Wyatt, played by Superman stud Brandon Routh.  Who decided to make this piece of eye candy intentionally flavorless?  Wyatt was essentially a non-character.  If the creators wanted to cast someone to give a flat delivery of lines, why not go back to the original source and bring on Shelley Morrison’s Rosario?  (There’s got to be a Members Only jacket for sale on eBay.)   Finally, “Partners” did not fit in its time slot, not smart enough to follow “How I Met Your Mother” and not dumb enough to precede “Two Broke Girls”.  Simply stated, it was not enough.

It was “nice” knowing “Partners” for a couple of months, but we all know that relationships must evolve beyond nice.  This is one amicable breakup.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I suppose it’s a cliché to be gay and traveling a great distance to see Barbra Streisand in concert.  To clarify, it was my straight girl friend who purchased the tickets.  And she just happened to think of me.  There are far worse types of profiling.

On a frosty Los Angeles night—it may have dipped below 50!—I raced toward my favorite concert venue, the Hollywood Bowl, after a weekend of slogging and slugging it out as a wannabe sitcom writer.  I stood out as soon as I got out of my car after generously donating $22 to the Starving Parking Lot Owner fund.  “Aren’t you cold?” asked an attendant while I walked past in a t-shirt.  That’s when I noticed everyone in the Babs flock wearing winter coats, scarves, gloves and lugging totes with blankies.  In the men’s washroom, a fellow mentioned wearing two pairs of long underwear.  It wasn’t a lewd come-on.  He just needed to talk about the freakish weather.  Los Angelinos are a fragile lot.

Despite her New Yorker background, our favorite diva has spent too much time in Malibu.  She too made at least two dozen references to the cold and draped a parka over a fabulous red dress that we got to see in a photo that flashed on video screens.  Our Funny Girl bantered at length between songs, coming off as amusingly folksy although I suspected that even if the most throwaway lines were fully scripted.  (Celine Dion, take note.  Divas can still project a real personality.)

Coming just five days after Obama’s re-election, the concert provided a forum for Babs to share the political equivalent to a post-coital glow as the liberal-leaning crowd clapped and whooped in all the right places.  (I imagine Romney supporters stayed away, licking their wounds while slouching in La-Z-Boys and catching up on DVR’d episodes of Reba sitcoms at home.)

It was an odd mix of concert goers.  I thought I’d glory in a Gay Immersion experience when I saw a drag queen dressed as Liza Minnelli clomp by me before I met up with my friend.  Alas, my gaydar lapsed to Inactive mode.  The night belonged to seniors and clusters of women who could not persuade their husbands to turn off Sunday football. 

As we ascended the steep paved path to our nosebleed seats, I detected a wisp of marijuana, a sign that a lone headbanger was going to be very disappointed when he realized this was not the Iron Maiden show. 

One of the charms of the venue is the picnic atmosphere before the show.  My friends and I staked out a bench outside the main gate to dine on takeout from California Pizza Kitchen as a hodgepodge of buffets popped up around us.  Others feasted at their seats, smuggling in bottles of wine to toast the fact they’d escaped the profane armchair quarterbacking that comes with watching a Cowboys game on the tube.

This charming dining element also proved to be a drawback.  Arriving late for the show, an older woman sat behind my friend and me and proceeded to fondle her plastic bag, fishing out munchies throughout Barbra’s quiet, controlled version of “The Way He Makes Me Feel.”  Crinkle Bag Lady continued to add her unique percussive sound to “Evergreen” and a truncated version of “Stoney End.”  My friend’s shushing and “Could you please stop with the bag?” made no difference.

There were other noise distractions.  Ushers moved about, their walkie-talkies blaring loudly as they tried to negotiate conflicts between several clusters of people purporting to have claims on the same seats.  Ugh!  Why can’t concerts be like tennis matches, whereby ushers refuse to allow movement until logical breaks?

During intermission, Crinkle Bag Lady was forced to mosey along elsewhere as someone else rightfully had a ticket for the spot.  Relief!  But shortly after the lights went down again, an older woman ascending the stairs fell and remained sprawled in the aisle.  I power-focused on music from “Gypsy” and missed most of the hullaballoo as attendants escorted the woman away.  Was it a tragic hip injury?  A casualty from smuggled wine?  Maybe it was the result of a sudden case of rheumatoid arthritis, brought on by the frigid air.

In the end, the sideshow distractions didn’t matter.  The Hollywood Bowl will always be a glorious setting.  Babs will always be a talented vocalist whose perfectionist tendencies are fascinating to watch unfold.  And getting to spend a Sunday evening with a university friend I’ve known for (gasp) thirty years is the ultimate cause for celebration.  No force could rain on my parade.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I have wanted to write for television since I was a child.  Strangely, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” was the first show I wanted to script.  (Yes, I was a pioneer in writing for reality TV.)  Cut all scenes with lions hunting game.  Cantaloupes, not antelopes!  Things evolved.  I wrote lines for the Muppets and imagined Chrissy on “Three’s Company” following the yellow brick road in search of a brain.  I re-imagined episodes of “Laverne and Shirley” (more Carmine, less Lenny and Squiggy—a bad bent, motivated by impulses I didn’t yet understand).

I wrote my first spec script in 1990 for “Designing Women” as a diversion from law school exams.  Studying in Malibu proved highly motivating.  I’d spot Bob Newhart in the video store and zip home to crank out another script, certain that he would accost me next time and say, “You’ve got that homely look of a writer.  Got anything?”  I developed a spec portfolio of “Mad About You”, “Seinfeld” and “Murphy Brown.”  Unfortunately, Bob never asked.

After bad experiences getting shot at during the Rodney King riots and screaming helplessly in my thirteenth floor apartment during the Northridge earthquake, I fled L.A.  I stupidly put my life ahead of career.

Over the last eighteen years, I have kept writing.  I’ve had a novel and some magazine articles published, but writing scripts has always been the most satisfying.  As I wait for U.S. Immigration to process my documents—could they be in a slush pile, too?—I yearn to build connections and gain a better sense of what it takes to be successful in television.  That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to fly to L.A. for Ken Levine’s TV Sitcom Room weekend.

Going in, I had realistic expectations of what the experience would offer.  It only reaffirms my desire to break in to the biz.  I have scripts ideas to flesh out and a better sense of where I am on track and where I need to sharpen my skills.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the weekend.  You have to experience it yourself.  If I’d had a chance to go on Twitter during the weekend intensive, these may have been my ten tweets (weeding out all lurid references to the Chicken Dance):

1)      Mention of a laugh-free sitcom will always get a free laugh. #Whitney

2)      Chinese food does not keep if you put it in the hotel room safe.

3)      People don’t see the funny in gluten-free.

4)      If you go for the testes, the natural response is a loud groan.

5)      Los Angelinos look for any opportunity to show off their winter wear. Toques? Really?!

6)      It’s true, nobody walks in L.A. At least, not when I’m schlepping back to my friend’s place at 3 a.m. 

7)      Networks should take note & hire Ken’s dad as an exec.

8)      Falling out of your chair is a good thing…when triggered by laughing. (Bruises heal.)

9)      Twelve hours can seem like a blip and an eternity at the same time.

10)   The real thing may be sweet, but I’d pay extra for a laugh track for some insincere ego boosting.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


When you swim in the shallow end, you’re going to hit your head on the bottom every now and then.  Yes, I am overly concerned about my hair.  I’ve been have a bad hair year with gray imposters sprouting up and a ‘do that naturally styles itself into that popular feathered look.  From the ‘70s. 

When my stylist unexpectedly shut down her salon, I had to dive back into the frightening abyss of unknown cutters.  I Googled salons for an hour and a half, reaching dead ends with stylists booking three months from now and establishments that required me to register online with yet another password to memorize (eight characters, including at least one number, two punctuation marks and an optional bouncing emoticon) only to take me to a screen indicating the online booking system was experiencing technical difficulties.  It was looking like I might have to be a walk-in at a place wafting with Old Spice where the choice is buzz cut or full noggin shave.

Eventually I did find a salon in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown.  I phoned and a live person answered.  I begged for a cut and highlights any evening this week.  I should have seen the openings as a clear sign that the salon was not as exclusive as its highly stylized website suggested.  Instead, I was simply relieved, knowing someone could tame my tangles and give my some youthful California streaks before my trip to L.A.

In arriving for my appointment, I dumped eight bucks in the parking meter for the maximum two-hour period, walked by the salon to case the joint and then entered.  The interior met the basic criteria for trendiness:  high ceilings, exposed industrial pipes coated in white paint and a New-Age-meets-club-music soundtrack.  After I donned a thin black robe that far from flattered me, the receptionist ushered me to a chair by the window for passersby to mock.  I fixated on the odd light fixtures at each stylist’s stall, enlarged rhino tusks protruding from the center of each mirror, a clear misstep. 

Serious hesitation came when my stylist appeared wearing a paisley vest like I owned in the ‘80s and sporting a bad dye job that made the back of his hair frizzy.  Too late.  I was in the chair without any hope of a last-minute pardon.

The initial consult caught me off guard.  Jed squinted as he stared at my face.  Was he lamenting the fact the salon didn’t pre-screen clients with an interview, a video submission and five references?  He spoke of my “very long face” and the prominence of gray.  Defensively, I almost blurted something about the vest.  I didn’t, of course.  With all that gray, I am supposed to be older and, yes,...wiser.

Jed lacked the quips of my on-the-lam stylist.  Moreover, he lacked basic conversation skills.  I sat for an eternity with foil in my hair while flipping through magazines that either documented Lady Gaga’s weight gain or featured black-and-white photo spreads of emaciated models working to put heroin on the table.  The images had the unintended effect of making me feel not as bad about my very long face.

After another twenty minutes of hair rinsing, washing, toweling and further goo applications, the first snips occurred.  I gazed at the smock covering my lap as gray clippings fell.  Where had all the auburn gone? 

After a prolonged cutting session, out came the blow dryer and Jed shaped my hair into a bouffant to rival Marge Simpson.  Either that or I resembled a 1980s televangelist.  While horrified, I wasn’t surprised.  What should I have expected from a guy in an ‘80s vest?  Moreover, the “subtle” blond highlights I’d requested were too subtle.  I couldn’t see any hint of a color change.

At the receptionist’s desk, I forked over my credit card and in a quick swipe I became $230 poorer.  I walked to my car, grateful for evenings getting darker sooner due to the time change while cursing the fact I’d have to being the Great Salon Search anew.  I discovered more to curse about on my windshield:  a parking ticket.  In all, a costly lesson from being too Hair Aware. 

This is why some people collect baseball caps.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Sometimes my trivial traumas become even less significant when I am awakened to the turmoil of someone else.  In this instances, my bad hair takes a backseat to my reportedly bad hair stylist.

First, the hair.  It is more important to me than it should be.  I’ve blogged about it before.  Rational or not, I feel it is my best physical asset.  If I ever come down with male pattern baldness, I’ll be staying up late each night, calling 1-800 numbers for every Miracle Gro hair product that exists.  Sell me hope and I’ll buy it.

When a stylist successfully cleans up my overgrown Medusa look, I feel a strong attachment to her.  If I ever win the lottery—come on, I’m overdue!—having a professional pop by the house each morning to skilfully apply the styling putty will be my first expense.  I kid not.  It’s all documented in my Lottery file. 

Today I had a hair appointment.  I’d been looking forward to it and worrying about it all week.  Whenever I looked in the mirror, I appeared disturbingly old, tired, even sad.  While I realize a haircut can’t cure all that, slapping on some dye to cover the grey sideburns always helps.  Taming the curls gives me a confidence boost, too.  And today’s appointment included blond highlights as well.  

The highlights happen twice a year.  I scheduled the makeover earlier than usual because I need a greater boost and an instant injection of relative youthfulness.  I am heading to Los Angeles to participate in a simulated TV sitcom writers’ room under the direction of a writer whose credits include “M*A*S*H”, “Cheers”, “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”.  My ability to work with the group, brainstorm amusing scenarios and craft witty dialog should be scrutinized more than my Larry Hagman eyebrows and my pronounced forehead lines; however, much of Hollywood, even regarding behind the scenes talent, is about appearances.  I have heard from many that ageism goes unchecked in script writing, particularly in television.

I didn’t get my customary call yesterday, reminding me of my appointment.  Unsure of my exact time, I wrote a note asking for my stylist to call me, grabbed a roll of tape and drove to the salon.  As I pulled up, there was already a note on the door.  It relates to what I’ve been worrying about.

“The salon will be closed indefinitely.” 

I wasn’t surprised, but disappointed.  (Alas, I head to L.A. with my tired, greying Flock of Seagulls look intact.)  More than that, I am even more worried.  And here is here my trivial hair matters no longer matter at all.

Back in July, my stylist got arrested.  The charge:  possession of child porn.  The report in the paper included a quote from her, saying that a house guest or someone else getting into her wireless network must have accessed the offending material.

In the three appointments I have had since the arrest, my stylist openly shared her fears and the ordeal she has gone through.  Glares in the grocery store.  Cancelled appointments.  Other stylists defecting to other salons.  Every court appearance, however brief, includes a hefty fee for the lawyer.  The prosecution wants to make a bigger case of the situation since it is so rare to have child porn charges against a woman.  She is experiencing a hellish nightmare with no clear end.

During our appointments, I have listened supportively.  I have never given a look or made a remark to question her involvement.  Innocent until proven guilty, right? 

But then an additional heinous charge was added during an October court appearance, as reported by the newspaper.  I cannot imagine her involvement in any of the allegations (which are not fully described due to a publication ban).  The situation gets darker, the hope of restoring one’s life fades.  I want to be supportive, to provide a hug and a look to say, “Hang in there.  Stay strong.”

But what if it’s all true?  How well do I really know her?  What do you do when everything you sense about a person is rocked by reprehensible criminal charges?  How would anyone know who is involved with child porn?  Surely, there aren’t visible signs.  As we go about our daily lives, our internet habits are unknown to the people we encounter.  If I didn’t confess it, you would never know that I spend too much time surfing Entertainment Weekly online. 

So many times I’ve watched newscasts and read news articles in which friends and neighbors talk fondly about people accused of shocking acts.  “He’s the nicest person.  Always waves when picking up his mail.”  How do you shift your opinion about someone when a sinister suspicion gets thrust in your head?  

Indeed, what if the charges are proven?  If I ever see my stylist again, do I shun her?  Pretend I don’t see her?  Jeer?  I really do not know.  I sense that the sadness I feel right now will only deepen.  However, nothing changes about my interactions with her over the past six years.  We have shared so many jokes and commiserated about the isolation we feel here as single people creeping toward forty and, for me, fifty.  She is one of the few people to truly understand my lingering sorrow from when my dog died last year.  She is one of the only people around here who knows I am gay.  There is goodness in her.  Indeed the person I know is someone who deserves support.  Even good people can do terrible things. 

I will carry my hair woes with me through the week, yet I am reminded how truly superficial the concerns are.  I am far more distressed by the judgments my stylist must endure.  I have no doubt she has left this small town to be with her parents, one of whom is terminally ill. 

Life is so much easier when it is only the grey hairs that give you grey hairs.