by Simon Apter
My bookshelf is my most prized sentimental possession, and I am convinced, after watching so many thrift-store appraisals and absorbing so many oddball-collector tips from Storage Wars, that it comprises the most financially prized objects in my house as well. (Once, after buying a virtual library in an L.A. locker, Dave Hester, the “Mogul” of Storage Wars, lined up the book-filled bankers boxes on the storage lot tarmac and then counted off in paces the serpentine’s length, declaring each literary step to be worth so many dollars as the SW cash-register sound dinged along.)
My shelf also comprises my favorite piece of “art” in the house, and not in the rather obnoxious way that people unctuously refer to high literature as high art (I’m looking right at you, ghost of Norman Mailer), and vice versa, but instead because I’ve arranged my books, from top to bottom, so that the spines form a rainbow. Red to violet from the top down, then whites, browns and blacks underneath.
One of my bigger disappointments in re-arranging the books this way was my discovery that I wasn’t nearly as well-versed in the Western Canon as I had thought—my bloc of iconically orange Penguin Classics was woefully smaller than I had expected it to be. A slightly bigger disappointment was my realization of just how few, exactly, of the textbooks held over from college I’d read or, in some cases, cracked open (What the Anti-Federalists Were For, by Herbert J. Storing, is as representative a volume of this collection as any, although I refuse to take complete blame for not having read this one. Upon registering for my rebels-versus-redcoats junior-year history seminar, “The American Revolution,” the instructor informed us—after it was too late to transfer out—that his class was actually supposed to have been called “Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution,” but that the registrar had deemed the title too long for the Bulletin. That, he explained, was why the syllabus had been stocked with so many excessively dry books).
But as much as I love my books, I’m afraid I may never buy another one again. For I’ve switched, you see, to tablet.
I’ll preface this by saying, mostly seriously, that I’ve gone electronic for medical reasons: the daily heft of lifting some combination or permutation of five or six books, magazines, and newspapers adds up, and after my second back surgery for a (re)herniated lumbar disc, I decided to lighten my load.
The early returns are promising. Never before have I been able to combine two of my four or five favorite activities—viz., browsing at the bookstore and lying around the house in my underwear—at the same time! Why risk getting kicked out of Barnes & Noble when I can now read the first ten percent of virtually any book I choose, in any room I choose, in any outfit (or lack thereof) I choose? Why spend hours at the store with a stack of books, vacillating Should I, shouldn’t I? when I can spend seconds downloading first chapters and then leisurely deciding what to do with my ten or twelve dollars (as opposed to twenty-five or thirty for a new hardcover title, yet another advantage of going digital) after taking in a generous sample?
But perhaps most inspiring is a rediscovered love of reading. Not of books—that affair has never flickered out—but with actual words-on-a-page, solid English prose. Just as one can hop around the Web via embedded hyperlinks in blog posts and articles–from Times science piece, say, to NIH study to university biology department–a tablet-reader can do the same with books. He can even purchase, for a mere $4.27—perhaps one-fifth what I paid in college—an electronic copy of Professor Storing’s What the Anti-Federalists Were For from Amazon’s Kindle Store.
My first electronic purchase, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, led me to download samples of Arthur Koestler, George Eliot, P.G. Wodehouse (Attempts, naturally, to rectify that aforementioned Western Canon deficiency). Should, for example, it interest me after Hitchens’s last chapter as much as it did when he initially mentioned it in the first, I’ve got the opening chapter of Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey ready to go. And all of these siphoned into my device without the hindrance of classical consumerist tyranny of choice–or of pants.
So where do I go from here? Not to B&N, obviously, except for sentimental reasons. I don’t know what my paperless future will be like, but I imagine less weight, less boredom, and most important, more reading.
by Simon Apter
No offense to CNN or MSNBC, or even to SNL, The Daily Show, or Colbert. But my place for politics, as it has been since 1989, is Fox; Springfield, U.S.A.; and, of course, The Simpsons. Because I’ve seen this presidential campaign before, this exercise in quarter-truths, strawmen, and ad hominem attacks. And if you’ve watched any of the episodes in which Homer, Burns, et al. have gotten involved with politics, then you have too.
We’re living in a quintessential laugh-or-cry moment, a time that in its extremism and straight-up ridiculousness resembles the over-the-top satire that The Simpsons utilized to mock the American zeitgeist of the ’90s. Now, I’m not talking about the scathing social commentary that the show continues to make hay with in the 21st century’s second decade. What’s truly mind-blowing to me is how astoundingly accurate the show’s over-the-top spoofs of ’90s politics and culture have become. That is, real life in the ’10s is reprising Springfield life in the ’90s.
Take one of the show’s early foray into politics, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” written by Sam Simon and John Swartzwelder. The show aired on November 1, 1990, just before Election Day. Mr. Burns runs for governor as a Republican candidate, only to be done in on the eve of election night during, naturally, a publicity stunt/media circus. In an effort to appeal to the common man, Burns ostentatiously eats dinner with the Simpsons, who’ve been primed by handlers and fed questions by party hacks. Example: Mr. Burns, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?
Burns’s campaign comes to an ignominious end when Marge serves for dinner the three-eyed fish whose ocular mutation had been caused by pollutants from Burns’s nuclear plant. It’s all captured on TV.
But the most interesting part of the “coverage” of the event is the emphasis given to the visual of Burns’s spitting the fish out of his mouth in disgust. The “camera” slowly traces the ark of the rejected fish, watching it peak, soar, and ultimately plop onto the floor. And there you have it. The small piece of regurgitated fish, and not the candidate’s business practices that led to the disfigured fish, is what’s deemed important. The blatant pandering of the dinner-with-the-common-family event is now ignored, its idiocy replaced by proxy with the piece of fish.
I thought of this episode and its relationship to politics in ’04, immediately after hearing Howard Dean’s infamous Scream after the Iowa Caucus in 2004. Say what you want about his campaign, it was torpedoed by the Scream, which essentially became the metonym for the entire failed bid. In Dean’s cry was Burns’s fish with its sleeves rolled up, neck bulging, showing the wrong enthusiasm at the wrong time.
The Simpsons of course also featured the greatest campaign ad of all time, for Sideshow Bob in his mayoral candidacy against Mayor Quimby. “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, aired on October 9, 1994. The ad, which accuses Quimby of operating “revolving door prisons,” intones, “Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob—a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor.” The last sentence, of course, is ridiculously rushed, lest the naive viewer realize that the man twice convicted of attempted murder is actually the subject of the ad.
Like the three-eyed fish example, the play here is with the naivete that Bob’s handlers assume is native to voters. Surely, if you say “Vote Sideshow Bob for Mayor” quickly enough, people won’t notice that he’s a murderer. Surely, if the contemporary candidate wears the flag lapel pin, we can overlook his lukewarm commitment to upholding the Bill of Rights. Surely, if Mitt Romney throws in a few “y’alls” in Dixie, people will realize he’s actually a Bubba who’s only wearing a Northern square suit.
“Sideshow Bob Roberts” also features The Simpsons’s most prescient and most frightening political pronouncement. After he’s convicted of a “masterpiece of electoral fraud,” he warns the gallery:
Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this: to protect you from yourselves. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.
Of course, under similar pretenses, Newt Gingrich et al. were swept into Congress less than a month later in the epochal ’94 midterms.
This is the current GOP platform, this mandate to rule Americans like a king and to somehow protect us—especially women—from ourselves. And it was divined by a group of comedy writers almost twenty years ago. So I couldn’t watch the RNC in Tampa last month; I just didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
by Marta Gibbons
Revolution begins with a wish for what’s right, an aspiration for justice. I’ve heard it said that abundance is dangerous to power, while deprivation, when carefully managed, is safe. High unemployment ensures a ready pool of strikebreakers and transforms the curse of a bad job into a blessing. Forcing a person to accept the role they are obliged to play allows a relaxation of vigilance. This could explain why low-paying employees remain silent, while relatively well-paid employees strike and demand better working conditions.
I seldom disputed my wages; I did stand up for better working conditions, for the perceived notion of equality and the opportunity to succeed. The guilt of challenging my employer did not prevent me from seeking justice, although my fear often caused me to come out fighting like a bull in a china shop.
The staff of the Writers Guild helped me to understand that employees have a right to fair wages, since their work allows companies to succeed. I want to thank the Guild for their support and for their guidance through the process of negotiation, because standing up for the rights of employees was one of the highlights of my career.
And thank you to this Council for allowing me to serve on this board. It has been an honor to be part of a group that maintains the organization of participation.
Thank you and best wishes on your continued efforts to fight silence while protecting the rights of writers.
Marta Gibbons served on the WGAE Council between 2010 and 2012.
by Simon Apter
One of my favorite offshoots of the twenty-first-century “prestige drama” genre (which, like so many recent TV trends, began with the debut of The Sopranos in 1999) is the Episode Recap. Made possible by the extraordinary TV writing working its way onto premium–and, eventually, basic–cable, and by the boom of instantly-rendered Internet opinionating, the Episode Recap is an entirely new, entirely modern form of short-form digital journalism. If Facebook digitized the old-fashioned “social” or “mixer,” then the Episode Recap is the latter-day version of water-cooler chatter.
While much of online journalism can be ridiculed as mere echo-chamber bloviating–that is, like-minded writers chasing like-minded readers, Birthers uncovering more fraudulent documents with other Birthers, Hacktivists sharing malware tips with Hacktivists–the episode-recap genre succeeds online because this echo-chamber, dog-chasing-its-tail milieu is actually what it’s all about.
For the episode recap is not written simply to describe the episode for those who haven’t seen it; rather, it’s an imaginative attempt to recast and reimagine the show through incisive, 20/20 hindsight. Even if–especially if–you’ve already seen the episode under dissection, the recap will uncover some aspect, some scene your memory elided, that adds another dimension to your enjoyment of the show.
You didn’t read Star-Ledger critic (and master of the genre) Vicki Hyman’s weekly Jersey Shore recaps because you wanted to find out what new kinds of trouble Snooki and the Sitch had gotten themselves into; rather, you wanted affirmation that the rest of the world–personified here by mainstream legitimacy of a major metropolitan paper–thought that the two were as batshit crazy as you did. Molly Lambert’s Monday-morning exegeses of Mad Men on Grantland gave us pithy instant analyses of characters’, well, character:
- Megan Draper: Megan is an actressy mix of highly arrogant and very insecure.
- Megan’s friend: Megan’s ginger friend is an attention slut.
- Pete Campbell: Pete is an opportunist who sees the potential for exploitation in everything.
- Roger Sterling and Lane Pryce: Roger is a schmuck, through and through. Lane is a depressive realist.
Yes, these are over-reduced distillations, but–importantly–they aren’t simplifications. A skilled episode-recapper assiduously avoids casting his “re-casted” characters as two-dimensional strawmen; rather, he works tacitly with the show’s writers to add depth and to increase complexity to what has already been developed on screen. These are not mere critiques; they’re postmortem examinations.
A good episode recap actually has more in common with fan-fiction than it does with criticism, and a good recapper will suggest backstories that are only hinted at on-screen; predict fallout from an implied future conflict; imagine and report on a character’s internal monologue that the show’s original writers chose to keep hidden from us. We spend 167 hours each week not watching a particular show; why not enrich and enhance them with intelligence and wit?
The reigning heavyweight champ of the recap is New York Magazine’s Chadwick Matlin, who has managed to make his weekly meditations on The Newsroom as anticipated as the Sunday-night program itself. He has also made himself indispensable: Say what you want about “Sorkinese,” the dialogue of The Newsroom is too lush, too booby-trapped with double- and triple-entendre to absorb in just one sitting, and this is where Matlin’s work becomes necessary.
“If art involves the cultivation of a relationship between creator and audience,” Matlin wrote in the introduction to his first Newsroom recap, “then Sorkin is one of our most intimate artists. His success stems from the oblique feeling that while watching his work, we, the audience, get to observe the obsessions of his mind.”
But it’s tricky to delve, unsolicited, into an artist’s mind; it helps to have a guide, and leading us through the obsessions of a writer’s mind–real or perceived–is what a skilled episode recapper does best. The recapper is a special kind of viewer, an evolved sub-species of Homo technologicus who can read between the frames, can burrow behind the dialogue as-written and as-delivered. And with the prestige drama, he or she is absolutely necessary. The recapper, not the broadcast, becomes the link between between creator and audience, much like an English professor serves as the link between literature and student.
And what about recapping the recaps? It’s only a matter of time before Hyman, Lambert, and Matlin find some enterprising scribe insinuating analysis of an analysis of an analysis.
by Simon Apter
I used to rail against 3-D movies. Sure, I’d seen and loved Michael Jackson in Captain Eo at Disney World when I was nine, and I’d bought and enjoyed the 3-D version of Rad Racer, the classic 8-bit car-racing game for the original Nintendo. But the twenty-first-century version of three-dimensional entertainment seemed to represent something else, something divisive and undemocratic.
The new 3-D movies are classist, I’d tell anyone who would listen, insisting that 3-D turned the movies (as in, “I’m going the movies”)–that great egalitarian space where executives rub elbows with nine-year-olds, Republicans with Democrats, and rom-com lovers with action junkies–into a segregated, pay-for-play enterprise complete with First and Economy cabins. For a few dollars more, it seemed to me, you could upgrade your movie-watching experience from humdrum 2-D into mind-blowing 3-D. And that didn’t sit right. The movies were supposed to be about festival-seating, general admission, and getting there early so you wouldn’t have to crane your neck back because of a front-row seat. Mayor Bloomberg’s seat was the same as mine, and so was his price of admission.
So naturally, in typical inferiority-complex fashion, I took it upon myself to look down on the 3-D viewers–those gilded moviegoers among us, eyes slightly glazed as they blinked out of their 3-D theatre, special glasses in hand. Surely their visual experience had been incredible, but was it better than mine? With just height and width to worry about, wouldn’t my brain necessarily have had more capacity to enjoy plot, characters, dialogue? While the 3-Ders were busy cogitating the depth of the image in front of them, I was pondering the depth of the writing and acting, the talent of the above-the-line and below-the-line folks who’d made the film in the first place. I was closer, I’d think smugly, to the art.
After all, I reasoned in a wonderfully bombastic strawman, Alexander Calder never released two versions of his work: the actual mobiles themselves, for those who could pay to see them; and then 2-dimensional pictures of the mobiles, for the hoi polloi. The Sculpture Garden at MoMA doesn’t demand an extra entrance fee for its 3-D wonders.
But I’ve since gotten down from my high horse. Cultural criticism runs aground whenever it begins to parse the nature, definition and propriety of art, and my 2-D snobbishness was no exception. Because three-dimensional movies, at the end of the day, are neither better nor worse than their 2-D older brothers. Three-dimensional viewing is about the experience of watching the movie, not about the movie itself. Changing the manner in which an object is enjoyed doesn’t actually change the object. You’d probably pay more to hear a recording of Morgan Freeman reading Inferno than you would to hear me, but nevertheless, through all 34 cantos, Dante’s poetry remains unchanged regardless of its medium.
It’s easy to be a stick in the mud about progress, especially when it concerns entertainment. For me, going to the movies always evokes memories of Friday-night trips to the second-run State Theatre in downtown Corvallis, Oregon, where the dollar-fifty double-feature was the place to be if you thought of yourself as remotely cool. In April 1994, I had my first real make-out session during Cabin Boy/Sister Act 2. That night became the platonic ideal of movie-watching in my imagination, and I’m transported to the State for a few milliseconds every time the lights go dark.
A novelty like 3-D feels like a threat to the happy memories and warm associations that we’ve spent our lifetimes cultivating, a cold reminder that our world is no longer ours, that “fun” itself is passing us by and relegating all that we love to nostalgia and to memories of things past. We can feel like our old-fashioned enjoyment of something has been marginalized and is no longer valid, like we’re hanging on to things “the way they were meant to be.”
But I’ve come around. I see neither a fleeting golden age nor a decaying future. I just see the movies now, in however many dimensions to which my ticket has entitled me. Because regardless of the movie, and regardless of the projection, the lights still darken, and I’m still in eighth grade, still making out with Sarah Collins, if only for the blink of an eye.
by Ira Sachs
It took me nearly 25 years to finally feel ready to write a film about New York. My first job in the city was the summer of 1984, when I was the assistant to Eric Bogosian at his office down on Mott Street, and I moved to the city full-time in 1988. When I started writing feature films, my mind and imagination were still rooted in Memphis, where I had grown up, and where I’d made my first two features, The Delta and Forty Shades of Blue. I lived in NYC, but it was my hometown that I knew from the inside. For me to feel ready to make a film about a place, I need both intimacy and distance. The intimacy with this city came over time, with the creation of memories; the distance came much more slowly.
In many ways, New York grabbed me too hard for me to be able to step outside and look at my life with any clarity. Yes, I was in therapy – many days a week, in fact; it was still the age of psychoanalysis – but my life was narrow and obsessive. The things I cared about, and searched out, were love and sex and making movies. The New York I discovered was a nocturnal one, of late nights in cabs, or on subway platforms; in restaurants with a lover starting a fight, before ordering the next drink; of mornings when I hoped the first coffee at the café on Smith Street would help me through the day. I recognized my own New York in the images I saw in films like Goodfellas or Chantal Akerman’s News from Home. A city driven and in motion. Lonely at times, always on the verge of sadness and ecstasy.
But in my late 30s, I had the good/bad fortune of having life as I knew it explode. I was in a relationship that had been ticking dynamite from the start, but that I tried to control and keep going for nearly a decade. The New York of those years was all contrast: daytime shiny surface, nighttime full of secrets and despair (the kind of double life that has become nearly epidemic in dramatic television these days, so, clearly, my story is not unique). But when the cards came tumbling down – symbolized perhaps most dramatically in a 34-day crack binge that left my partner in the Lenox Hill Hospital mental ward and me a trembling wreck alone in our apartment – I knew on some profound level that it was time for a change.
And so I did. It took a few years (and a few 12-step programs), but by 40, I was doing things differently. As a gay man who had come of age in the minutes after Stonewall, to live a transparent life did not come naturally to me. But like a baby who touches the burning stove one last time before knowing not to, when the New York of my 20s and 30s blew up around me – when the burden of hiding my behavior in this city became impossible to maintain – I finally was ready for real change. To put it most simply, I chose to live an honest life.
And it was only then that I felt truly ready, or able, to write a film about this city. With co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias, I wrote my fourth feature, and my first set in New York, Keep the Lights On. What I found, happily, is that the stories were there. The experience and the feelings were all there. I now have them all in my hand, and in my mind, and my New York feels for the first time full of movies I must share.
Want to read more essays by Guild members about writing in New York? Click here to check out WGAE’s new “Written in New York” blog!
In contracts negotiated by WGAE, Lion Television and Optomen Productions become the first nonfiction TV production companies to offer writer-producers company-paid health benefits, paid time off, and compensation minimums. The deals culminate year-long collective bargaining.
In first-of-their-kind agreements for the non-fiction television industry, the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) has negotiated collective bargaining agreements with two major reality and documentary television production companies, Lion Television and Optomen Productions. The contracts secured after more than a year of negotiations between representatives at Lion, Optomen and WGAE are effective immediately. Over the terms of the agreements, potentially hundreds of employees at these two production companies for the first time will receive:
- Company-paid health benefits, with 90% of the premium paid by the employer;
- Paid time off;
- Grievance and arbitration provisions;
- Compensation minimums
“We are very pleased to have reached agreement with Lion and Optomen,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “This is a part of the television industry that has historically been non-union, and these agreements demonstrate that people who join with the WGAE get, not just a community of creative professionals, but tangible improvements in their working conditions.”
The WGAE Non-Fiction Writers and Producers United campaign is an effort by hundreds of creative professionals in non-fiction TV to win the benefits, pay and respect they deserve. In the last year and a half, the WGAE has won union elections at four major production companies to begin the collective bargaining process. The Guild is still in negotiations with Atlas Media and will begin negotiating with ITV Studios once the National Labor Relations Board resolves the remaining appeal. The campaign is also actively working to see that labor law is followed, and overtime is paid.
by Timothy Cooper
- A sharp infield (Stu, Kevin, Jo, Shannon, Dave, Emmitt, Sharon) prevented virtually anything exciting from happening.
- Our outfield of Marni, Sam, Alan, Erik, Scott, and Julie didn’t liven things up much with their consistency.
- Doug and Zayd again proved that we have some of the best pitchers on all four remaining teams of our division.
- We batted all the way around in the fifth, scoring 6 and solidifying Thomson Reuters’ unhappy Monday night.
- We did some great hitting to their center and right fields. Plus, way to make their shortstop and first basewoman (a losing combo) work!
- They didn’t score from the top of the fourth onward. We held them to only 2 runs total, exploiting various holes in their game, such as their offense and defense.
- There was some tension in the sixth when nothing happened, as well as in the seventh, which was dull.
- Our full gallery of males somehow all got to bat, and I believe everyone of every gender got on base at least once.
There was no third-act twist, no denouement, no shocking reveal. We just won. Seriously, people, let’s get it together and make things more interesting than we have while winning the last–what is it, five games in a row (including forfeits, which totally count)? Other highlights:
- As most observers slumbered, Emmitt advanced mucho players in the second to get things started.
- With a yawn, Erik was consistently under the ball.
- Marni stultifyingly slapped in 2 RBIs in the fifth.
- Stu and Kevin didn’t let anything past them at short. Duh.
- Susan and Jason, zzzz, allowed us to bat 12.
- Newish oldcomers like Scott, Sharon, and Jason took care of business, exactly as expected.
We eventually won 10-2. It was quite the nail-saver.
One more regular-season game remains (July 30); however, we will likely have batting/fielding practice at the usual field this Monday, July 16, at 7 p.m. See the upcoming Evite. (I will be out of town, but all should participate, since we have a permit for the field.)
We are certainly tops in our division, though our position in the playoffs is never guaranteed due to the illogic of this league’s tragic system. All we can do is keep winning. Boringly. Which is how we do things around here.
Final assessment: Snoozefest of Champions.
Your faithful manager,
P.S. Sam has an excellent show coming up of amazing songs he wrote: the fourth annual Barely Legal Showtune Extravaganza. It’s happening on the Monday of our bye week, July 23. You can watch previews of, find more information about, and buy tickets for the show here: http://www.candgbarelylegal.com/. Be there — I definitely will be.
My fondest memory of Eddie Adler—one of many I will cherish—is from more than twenty years ago, on a beautiful June day in London (and if you watched any of the recent TV coverage of the Queen’s soggy Jubilee celebration, you know how rare those pretty June days in Britain can be).
It was a Sunday afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours walking through Hyde Park searching for the son of a friend of Eddie’s. He was supposed to be participating in one of several softball games American ex-pats were playing in the park’s expansive fields of green. We never found him but had a great time, just shooting the breeze. Eddie spoke of the time he and his family lived in London while he worked on a TV series; I recalled the brief period I had been a schoolboy in the UK, a naïve kid from upstate New York thrust into grown-up land and awestruck by the country’s history.
That was it, that’s all—just a pleasant walk on a nice day, but memorable. I was always improved in Eddie’s presence, as was anyone who ever had the pleasure of his company. He served four terms as the Writers Guild East’s president, a term as vice president and a remarkable 16 terms in all on the Guild council, a feat that puts him on the side of whatever angels watch over those writers with iron pants, unstinting patience and a devotion to this union and its members. These qualities Eddie had in abundance; the antidote to the aches and pains of union work was his abiding natural wit, kindness and ebullience of spirit.
Eddie was working as a New York City cabdriver, the latest in a string of odd jobs that had ranged from short-order cook to numbers runner when his novel, Notes from a Dark Street, was published in 1962. The attention the book received helped him get work as a TV writer. A native New Yorker—of the Brooklyn persuasion—he never made the full-time move to the West Coast, except occasionally to pitch and woo at the networks and studios (I suddenly remember being with him in LA once when he was working on a TV movie with James Garner).
Instead, he made his bones working on a number of series in the sixties and seventies, shot in New York, that used the city as character as much as backdrop: The Nurses, with Zena Bethune; the legendary East Side/West Side, produced by Arnold Perl and David Susskind, starring George C. Scott as an NYC social worker and Cicely Tyson; Hawk, featuring a young Burt Reynolds as an Native American detective in the Manhattan DA’s office (I’m not making that up); and N.Y.P.D., a series, also produced by Perl and Susskind, that was stark and honest about New York cops a quarter century before NYPD Blue hit the air.
In the eighties, among other projects, Eddie worked on Night Heat, a cop show in which Toronto stood in as a forlorn substitute for New York, and one of my old favorite escapist pleasures, The Equalizer, starring the dapper and seemingly implacable Edward Woodard as a former agent for a CIA-type service turned private detective doling out justice, protection and compassion. Just like in real life.
All these characters and story lines sprang from the imagination of a diminutive, bearded New Yorker with boundless energy, just the right amount of irascibility and a happy dedication to work, friends and especially family—he got such great joy from his two sons, Tony and Joe, and his remarkable wife, Elaine, a potter and force of nature all her own—Mother Earth to us all.
Together or singly, Eddie and Elaine were a delight. Once I forgot that my then wife and I had a dinner date with them. I was on deadline and it simply had slipped my mind. The phone rang. “Where the hell are you?” Eddie growled and after a couple of minutes of feigned indignation, accepted my wimpy excuse. A discount florist had opened in my neighborhood; the next day I sent over two dozen roses. Eddie and Elaine reacted to the slightly less-than-prime blossoms as if they were rubies. Never again did I forget the chance for a meal with them. Each was priceless, in every sense of the word.
The Adlers lived and rollicked in a narrow East Village townhouse, but Elaine died in 2003 and Eddie never fully recovered from the loss. His last few years were spent in Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania, memories shrouded in dementia. It was a privilege to know him and I will miss his love and camaraderie. To paraphrase what John O’Hara wrote upon hearing of the sudden passing of George Gershwin, Eddie Adler died on June 8, 2012, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.
By Alysha Westlake
One of the most original voices in the New Media branch of the Guild is Michael Cyril Creighton of Jack in a Box fame. Michael is always working on a new writing project, and it is always something interesting. This year, Jack in a Box was nominated for a WGA New Media Award, an important award that recognizes the emerging talent now producing on the Web. You may also have caught a hilarious glimpse of Michael as the snarky shop assistant on 30 Rock, selling Liz Lemon some “organic jeans” in Brooklyn (where else?). It’s a pleasure interviewing Michael, and here he answers some questions about his writing experiences so far.
How did you get involved with the Writers Guild?
I got a random email from the remarkable Ursula Lawrence, saying she saw my Web series Jack in a Box (which was near the end of its first season), and wanted to talk to me about the WGA. I thought it was spam, so I almost didn’t reply. Eventually we met for breakfast at a diner. After I listened to her for a bit, I said, “Yeah. But I don’t consider myself a writer.” And she said, “Do you write all of your episodes?” I paused and said, “Yeah. They aren’t improvised or anything. I write them.” She smiled and said, “You’re a writer.” Up until that point I had always identified myself as more of an actor who just wrote stuff for others and myself. Having someone like Ursula just state it so simply—“You’re a writer”—made me rethink things. Duh! I am an actor and a writer. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
What has your experience been like working in new media?
Pretty fantastic. I’ve learned so much. Historically, the Internet has been very good to me. So, when I decided it was time for me to write a series and create a vehicle for myself, it seemed to be the right place to experiment and learn about the writing/creating process. It’s been a bit like grad school, but with no teachers. Over the past three years, I feel like I’ve learned an invaluable amount about writing, creating and working with others.
Getting nominated for a WGA New Media Award must be incredibly rewarding. How does the process work?
It was such an incredible honor and a really nice surprise. I procrastinated on applying and did so right in the nick of time. Then I let it go. So when I got the email saying I had been nominated, I was really surprised and excited. Of course, the email came through right as I was going underground on the subway, so I had a good 20 minutes to obsess about it on my own and practice telling people. I think it’s wonderful that the WGA is recognizing New Media, and it was an honor to be nominated along side so many people whose work I admire. The awards ceremony was fantastic. Jimmy Fallon presented the New Media Award and said, “If we are going by applause, Creighton’s got it.” Then [he] opened up the envelope and simply said, “Nope.” I thought that was a great way to lose. My mom got her picture taken with Seth Meyers. Plenty of booze. Tiny burgers. Heaven.
Do you think being a writer/performer helps inform your writing?
Absolutely. I often approach my writing from an actor’s point of view, trying to figure out what dialogue feels most comfortable. There’s a lot of talking to myself out loud that happens. I try to contain that to my apartment so I don’t look too crazy at Starbucks. Also, I often write for specific actors and try to tailor the writing to their specific gifts and talents.
In writing your series, are there things you would change? Or has the process been pretty fluid?
I wouldn’t change a thing. The process has been very fluid. The good and bad thing about doing this as an independent project is that the only person setting deadlines for me is myself. I’ve announced that the current (fourth) season is my final season on the Web. I joke, however, that at the slow rate I’m writing and releasing the last four episodes, this final season will stretch into 2015.
Do you have different new media ideas in the pipeline, new projects or plans?
I’m still working on the final four episodes of Jack in a Box. They should start launching July-ish. In addition to that, I just wrote an episode of a new Web series created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair called High Maintenance. The show is about a weed delivery guy and the customers he comes in contact with. I’ll also be in the episode. It was a really interesting challenge to write myself into someone else’s series, since I’m so used to writing Jack. It’s a really great project, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with them when they asked. The series is planning to launch at the end of the summer. Other than that, working on some pilot ideas and thinking of new Web things I could write. I have some other acting opportunities coming up, including a new play by The Debate Society in October, called Blood Play.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing for new media?
The most rewarding part of this all has been getting to meet all the driven, talented and inspiring people in New York’s new media community, and getting to work with the people I’ve been able to work with during the run of Jack in a Box. Jim Turner, who shoots and edits the series, has been a real blessing. All the actors that have been part of the series blow my mind with their commitment and talent. They also happen to be some of the best people to be around, ever. Shooting episodes never feels like work. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most talented, funny people I know. So, for me, that’s very rewarding.