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All 25 episodes of ‘New Wave Theatre’ are online
05.26.2015
08:49 am

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Music
Television

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A generous and kind soul uploaded all 25 episodes of New Wave Theatre the incredible local TV show that extensively covered the Los Angeles punk scene. The show ran from January 1981 to March 1983, and was abruptly stopped in its tracks when its host, Peter Ivers, was found beaten to death in his apartment. Within a few months of its premiere, the crucial USA Network program that aired late at night on Fridays and Saturdays, Night Flight, provided a national showcase for the show.

The show was created and produced by David Jove, who also wrote the program with Billboard magazine editor Ed Ochs. Ivers’s murder is officially unsolved, but according to this page the prime suspect for the crime was Jove.
 

Peter Ivers
 
Ivers was a very interesting guy—among other things he wrote “In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song),” which appears in David Lynch’s 1977 movie Eraserhead and many years later was covered by the Pixies. Among the bands that appeared on New Wave Theatre are the Angry Samoans, Dead Kennedys, 45 Grave, Fear and The Plugz, X, and Circle Jerks.

In Josh Frank’s book In Heaven Everything is Fine, Ken Yas, a friend of David Jove, memorably called New Wave Theatre “Ed Sullivan on acid meets American Idol on cocaine.”

Here’s the series in its entirety. Enjoy it before someone yanks it off of YouTube!
 

 
Thank you Annie Zaleski!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
There’s a Roku channel just for cheesy old sex-ed and exploitation films
05.22.2015
05:39 am

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Amusing
Movies
Sex
Television

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When streaming players boast about their huge numbers of channels, I’m generally even less impressed than I am by the “wealth” of offerings on the grossly overpriced wasteland that is cable TV. I have absolutely no use for thousands of impossibly granular channels like The Christian Comedy Channel, Firewood Hoarders, NRA Women, and Cruise Addicts. Those are all real. But in their favor, I don’t have to pay $75 a month to not watch them.

But sometimes, that nanoscopic specificity does pay weirdness dividends. The Shout Factory channel proffered by the music/video label of the same name holds some treasures, as do the handful of channels that compile old cartoons that have passed into the public domain. And not so long ago, I ran across a channel, called Stop It Or You’ll Go Blind!, devoted exclusively to old sex ed films, with some “educational” exploitation thrown in. (Why is “Sex Ed-sploitation” not a term? It’s a thing, it needs a word…)
 

 

 
Unsurprisingly, a lot of these are a riot. There’s “Miracles in Birth,” a graphic depiction of live births shot in grainy black and white so blown-out it looks less like a miracle and more like outtakes from Begotten. There’s “Dance Little Children,” a creepy VD scare flick directed by Carnival of Souls auteur Herk Harvey, which teaches us all a valuable lesson about not letting slimy rich dudes boink us on the first date. The 1938 Sex Madness, Dwain Esper’s follow-up to Reefer Madness is streaming, as is the bizarre Test Tube Babies, a tale of swinging and sterility. And the ‘60s classic “Perversion for Profit” is there, the notorious and INSANE 30 minute anti-indecency screed in which L.A. newsreader/talk show host (and, later, NewsMax columnist *shudder*) George Putnam blames pornographers for everything from juvenile crime to child molestation. The brilliant thing about “P4P” is that if anyone actually held on to even half of the smut rags displayed for *ahem* viewer edification, they could be an eBay millionaire today.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Title sequence of ‘Twin Peaks’ recreated using nothing but paper
05.21.2015
09:13 am

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Art
Television

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As I write this, Showtime and David Lynch have been going back and forth on the possibility of new episodes of Twin Peaks, the strikingly original TV show that aired on ABC in 1990 and 1991, setting a new bar (that has never really been surpassed) for brazenly experimental programming in an utterly mainstream context. A month ago Lynch made it known that “not enough money was offered to do the script the way I felt it needed to be done.” However, Twin Peaks fans rejoiced when Lynch tweeted the following message last week:
 

 
A new web project called And The World Was Paper is dedicated to the task of recreating bits of famous video using nothing but artfully cut-up pieces of colorful paper (somewhat like South Park). There are only two videos up at this point, but weekly installments have been promised, with new episodes on the way “every other Monday.” One video re-creates the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the other is the Twin Peaks title sequence.

I must say, this is very nicely done. It took some creative positioning of my browser windows, but I was able to watch the cut-paper version and the real version side by side, and it’s uncanny how perfectly the homage matches the original.

It never occurred to me before how much of the title sequence is just footage of things happening in factories.
 

 
via The World’s Best Ever
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Banished from the airwaves: The absolute shittiest band to ever play the Letterman show
05.20.2015
04:36 pm

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Music
Television

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David Letterman’s last show is tonight and so I thought it would be a good time to post a musical highlight from the hundreds, if not thousands of bands that have performed on his show. I searched the ‘net for awhile and found plenty of memorable performance I could I have linked to for your enjoyment. But thanks to The Gothamist, I came across something altogether different than what I set out looking for: a band described—by one of its own members—as “the worst to ever air on the show.” We’re talking about Guns N’ Roses cover band… Mr. Brownstone.

Dave Godowsky (Izzy Stradlin in the group) writes quite candidly and hilariously of what it was like to make a complete fool of himself on late night TV on November 19th, 2008:

I remember taking a shot of whiskey while being escorted to perform on the stage of The Late Show with David Letterman, and a hair from my wig was stuck in my mouth. Having a hair stuck in your mouth is gross and annoying, but the combination of A) wig hair and B) an impending audience of millions can exacerbate that. I plugged in my guitar but no sound would come out of the amp, the production crew was scrambling. I looked up desperately and saw Paul Shaffer just staring at me, confused. In hindsight his confusion was probably less about my inability to turn on an amp and more about why the hell a Guns N’ Roses cover band was playing there.

You can read the rest of Godowksy’s foggy recollections of that historic night at The Gothamist. It’s a blast.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brownstone!
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
That time all those Avengers appeared on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’
05.20.2015
09:51 am

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Pop Culture
Television

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It’ll be hard for me to imagine life without David Letterman on the tube. He’s been on late night TV since 1982, and as someone who was a tween during that era I’ve been watching him since probably 1984 or so. In high school he was one of my main heroes, and a lot of what I think I know or appreciate about comedy can be traced back to obsessive late night viewings of Brother Theodore, Pee-wee Herman, Marv Albert, Chris Elliott, Harvey Pekar, Biff Henderson, et al. on the kooky public/secret clubhouse he had going on NBC for quite a while there. At the risk of editorializing, I have found Dave’s CBS show far less essential, to the point that I don’t even really care that much that he’s retiring; the turning point in that process may actually have been the institutionalization of the top ten list, which started out as just another random segment, just like viewer mail. The problem besetting his show post-1988, say, is the same syndrome that has happened to the rest of the late night talk spectrum, which is that watching ultra-prepped actors winkingly play beer pong with Jimmy Fallon (or whomever) has basically no relation to the truly unscripted, fairly snide, and attitudinally aggressive antics that used to occur around 1 a.m. most weeknights during the 1980s.

After Late Night with David Letterman had been around a year or two, a lot of savvier people began referencing it. It felt during this time like renegade entertainment, an unusual commodity that was obscurely about the entertainment industry if not quite of it, and therefore it became a kind of a trope, if you could work “David Letterman” into your story you added a slight buzz of disposable knowingness, much like referencing some of the guests he had on (Pee-wee etc.). In effect, Letterman became a kind of punchline for the smarter set. The idea of John McEnroe or Charlie Brown or Tootsie or Hulk Hogan visiting Letterman’s NBC was a joke in and of itself.

Case in point, issue 239 of the Avengers from Marvel, the January 1984 issue, which trumpeted on its cover, “THE AVENGERS ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN!” See? It was mildly ridiculous, as everything that appeared on Late Night was mildly ridiculous.

In the issue, aspiring actor Simon Williams (a.k.a. Wonder Man) gets booked on Late Night, whose producers request a larger cast of Avengers to appear. A few of the reserve Avengers join Wonder Man on the show, not knowing that serial pest Fabian Stankowicz seeks to sabotage their appearance by planting various booby-traps around the set. Eventually Letterman konks Stankowicz on the head with a giant doorknob.

Here are a few images from the issue—if you click on them, you’ll get to see a slightly larger version.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Joni Mitchell and CSNY play at Don Draper’s yoga retreat, 1969
05.18.2015
11:24 am

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Music
Television

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The climactic scene in last night’s Mad Men occurred at an unnamed (at least that I heard—a big deal is made in the episode that nobody in the narrative knows where it is, etc.) yoga retreat on the California coast. The year is 1970, and anyone who knows the area will recognize the terrain as Big Sur, while Don’s yoga retreat was clearly the Esalen Institute.

In the show the retreat is presented as a semi-joke (paunchy Upright Citizens Brigade Theater standout Brett Gelman is on hand to provide the requisite loser/poseur quotient), but its real-life model wasn’t, indeed isn’t, much like that. SFist usefully helps with some of the background of Big Sur and Esalen as well as of the episode. Last year Monterey County Weekly reported that the Mad Men crew had been spotted at Big Sur to get some footage. The institute was founded in 1962, the same year that Jack Kerouac published Big Sur, his novelistic treatment of the area.
 

 
The people who have visited Esalen over the years is a lot more “counterculture pantheon” than “Brett Gelman”—examples include Abraham Maslow, Buckminster Fuller, Ansel Adams, Ray Bradbury, Ken Kesey, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. One resident closely associated with Big Sur is Henry Miller, who famously lived there for a time. Of course, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is perfectly within his rights to gently make fun of the place, and truth be told, the retreat is presented as a prod for authentic change, even for the likes of a damaged soul like Don Draper. (Burnt out businessmen seeking to regroup were a mainstay of Esalen’s visitors at the time, this much, too, is historically accurate.)

Remarkably, you can still attend the Esalen Institute: It is still in existence as a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, and weekend workshops have a minimum price of $1,750, covering subjects from mindfulness to permaculture and ecological sustainability. Even more incredibly, if you can get a larger group together (like 25 people), you can experience the marvelous hot springs at the convenient slot of 1-3 a.m. at a much more affordable price (about $30 per person).

There was an annual music festival on the grounds of the Esalen Institute from 1964 to 1971—the 1969 concert was turned into a documentary movie called Celebration at Big Sur, which was released in 1971. The movie featured performances by CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, John Sebastian, and Mimi Fariña. You can watch it below.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video’: The man who made comedy dangerous
05.14.2015
01:31 pm

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Movies
Television

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“A six-inch steel spike..”

Michael O’Donoghue, AKA Mr. Mike, the demented head writer and performer from the “original cast” era of Saturday Night Live (back when it was simply known as Saturday Night) was the man who made comedy dangerous. His writing was feral, sharp, blasphemous, morbid, sardonic and taboo-breaking. It was O’Donoghue seated in a chair reading a newspaper who viewers first saw in the very first cold-opening of that long-running show. He was often seen on SNL doing imitations of famous showbiz personalities (nice-guy talk show host Mike Douglas, singer Tony Orlando) after they’d had six-inch metal spikes shoved into their eyes, and telling his creepy “Least Loved Bedtime Tales” (Sample title: “The Little Train That Died”).

Before SNL, O’Donoghue had a celebrated tenure at National Lampoon, where he co-wrote (with Tony Hendra) the classic Radio Dinner comedy album and published things like “The Vietnamese Baby Book” and “The Churchill Wit,” a portion from which is quoted below:

Churchill was known to drain a glass or two and, after one particularly convivial evening, he chanced to encounter Miss Bessie Braddock, a Socialist member of the House of Commons, who, upon seeing his condition, said, “Winston, you’re drunk.” Mustering all his dignity, Churchill drew himself up to his full height, cocked an eyebrow and rejoined, “Shove it up your ass, you ugly cunt.”

When the noted playwright George Bernard Shaw sent him two tickets to the opening night of his new play with a note that read: “Bring a friend, if you have one,” Churchill, not to be outdone, promptly wired back: “You and your play can go fuck yourselves.”

At an elegant dinner party, Lady Astor once leaned across the table to remark, “If you were my husband, Winston, I’d poison your coffee.”

“And if you were my wife, I’d beat the shit out of you,” came Churchill’s unhesitating retort.

You get the idea. I recall falling out of my chair laughing, when I first read this. In my defense, I was probably ten or eleven years old.
 

Mr. Mike and “friend”

In 1979 O’Donoghue directed Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (the title, logo and theme music—even the overall loose format—was meant to conjure up Prosperi and Jacopetti’s notorious Mondo Cane documentary). It was originally made for NBC to air as a “special” during one of Saturday Night‘s hiatuses, but when the network brass actually saw it they blanched and shelved it. Eventually it was licensed by New Line Cinema, who transferred it to 35mm film and added some “Mr. Bill” segments to pad out the running time for theatrical release of “the TV show you can’t see on TV!”

Admittedly, after hearing about this legendary film and wanting to see it for years, I saw Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video when it was released on VHS in the 80s and aside from a few very good laughs, I was generally pretty disappointed. Comedy often ages poorly, but in actual fact, I don’t really think Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video was all that funny to begin with. It’s interesting because of what it is and who is involved (Tom Schiller, O’Donoghue’s writing partner Mitch Glazer, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello, Gilda Radner, Carrie Fisher, Root Boy Slim, Margot Kidder, Teri Garr, Paul Shaffer, Debbie Harry). It’s an odd curio with some odd stuff in it (Dan Aykroyd probing his (actual) webbed toes with a screwdriver and declaring “I am proud to say that I am an actual genetic mutant”; an appearance by Klaus Nomi; Sid Vicious performing “My Way”; Jo Jo the Human Hot Plate, etc.) but it’s just not… that funny for the most part.

Nevertheless, take a gander at certainly one of the strangest things ever produced with the intention/assumption that a TV network would air it and try to imagine what NBC’s execs were thinking when they watched this for the first time.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Watch X-Files’ Scully and Mulder sing Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’
05.13.2015
12:01 pm

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Amusing
Movies
Television

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Here’s something I thought I’d never see: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny singing a duet of Neil Young’s “Helpless” at The Cutting Room in New York. This all went down last night. Apparently Duchovny just released his first solo album titled Hell Or Highwater. You learn something new every day, I guess. I haven’t researched the reviews, or heard it, so I can’t tell you if it’s any good or not. BUT that’s beside the point, IT’S DANA SCULLY AND FOX MULDER SINGING A NEIL YOUNG SONG!

And as every X-Files fan knows by now, the show is going to return to FOX as a six-episode event series which is set to premiere on Sunday, January 24, 2016. All is good in the world.

 
via AV Club

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Mr. Bean, the high-end action figure
05.13.2015
06:29 am

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Pop Culture
Television

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Mr. Bean figure
 
Here’s a little something that will likely make your day; an incredibly life-like, fully accessorized 1/4 scale version of actor Rowan Atkinson as master mumbler and chronic bumbler, Mr. Bean.
 
Mr Bean figure close up
 
Part of the HD Masterpiece Collection for Enterbay, Mr. Bean comes with many of his belongings that you will surely recognize from his television show. Among them are the steering wheel from “The Trouble with Mr. Bean” (season one, episode five), the white underpants from “Tee Off, Mr. Bean” (season one, episode twelve), an extra head for the figure fitted with the turkey from “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean” (season one, episode seven), and of course TEDDY. In my estimation, and perhaps yours, the only thing missing from this to-die-for collectable is Mr. Bean’s yellow 1976 Leyland Mini 1000.
 
Mr. Bean and Teddy figure
 
As you might imagine, you won’t find this fully-articulated version of Mr. Bean slumming around with other action figures at your local toy shop. Available through Enterbay’s online store (and other places such as eBay), the figure comes with a price tag that only serious collectors would consider throwing down for, a cool $422.
 
Mr. Bean steering wheel figure
 
More fantastic images that are so detailed it’s a bit uncanny, after the jump…
 

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Merrill Markoe: Unsung heroine of ‘Late Night with David Letterman’
05.12.2015
10:35 am

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Books
Television

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With the imminent retirement of the great David Letterman nigh upon us Dangerous Minds pal Mike Sacks, author of And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers and Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, the two best books ever published on the creative process of writing comedy, has generously allowed us to publish his extended interview with Late Night‘s original head writer, Merrill Markoe.

It was the Emmy award-winning Markoe, arguably as much as Letterman himself, who set the silly, ironic, smart and absurd tone of the show. This in-depth exploration of what made Late Night such amazing and precedent-shattering television during her tenure is an absolute pleasure to read.

Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Miami, and the San Francisco Bay area, Merrill Markoe spent her youth reading Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker, as well as watching W.C. Fields for his “bizarre word choices.” She attended Berkeley and, after receiving a Master’s in Arts in 1973, she tried teaching art at the University of Southern California for a year but found herself restless. Instead, she audited a few scriptwriting and filmmaking classes and, in 1977, landed a writing job for The New Laugh-In, sans Rowan and Martin. The show, to the surprise of nobody, was a disaster, even with (or because of) cast members such as Robin Williams and former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. (Not familiar with him? Rent the 1972 documentary Marjoe—please.)

When TV proved frustrating, Markoe tried her luck on the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles, mostly at The Comedy Store and the Improv, where she became friends with such promising (if still unknown) comics as Andy Kaufman and David Letterman. After a few wildly successful appearances on The Tonight Show, Letterman was given his own daytime talk show on NBC in 1980, and he brought in Markoe (whom he’d been dating since 1978) as his head writer. The show didn’t last long, partly because Letterman and Markoe’s humor didn’t translate to an early-morning crowd, and partly because they nearly burned the studio down (more on that later). Within four months, the show was canceled.

But, in 1982, NBC gave Letterman another chance, and, more important, a better time slot. Late Night with David Letterman—which came on just after The Tonight Show, hosted by Letterman’s idol, Johnny Carson—was a perfect fit, and, thanks largely to Markoe’s indispensable collaboration, it became a unique and inimitable comic creation.

Six years later, in 1988, Markoe abruptly left the show. As she’s written on her website, she’d “plumbed the depths of [her] ability to invent off-beat, comedic ideas for acerbic witty white male hosts in suits.”

Markoe moved back west, to Los Angeles, where she had little problem finding work. She wrote for TV shows as diverse as Newhart (1988), Moonlighting (1989) and Sex and the City (1999), and appeared as a writer/reporter on HBO’s Not Necessarily the News (1990) and Michael Moore’s political-satire TV Nation (1994). She also discovered a writing life outside of TV, contributing comedic essays and columns for Esquire, Glamour, People, Rolling Stone, Time, U.S. News & World Report, as well as The New York Times and the Huffington Post. She probably made the biggest impact, however, with her humor books, which have included such critical and fan favorites as What the Dogs Have Taught Me (1992), How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me! (1994), Merrill Markoe’s Guide to Love (1997), It’s My F—-ing Birthday (2002), The Psycho Ex Game (2004), Walking in Circles Before Lying Down (2006), Nose Down, Eyes Up (2008), Cool, Calm & Contentious: Essays (2011).


Mike Sacks: You once described yourself as “one of those 1960s art-student types.” Were you in any way a radical?

Merrill Markoe: I was certainly against the war in Vietnam. And I attended a Black Panther rally once—by myself, I might add. I was one of the few white people there. What I was doing there I cannot exactly explain, except that I attended almost every event that was within walking distance at the time. But, me being me, I always left early. I left every important cultural event of the sixties and seventies early. Name any one. Altamont? I left before the killing. I felt compelled to attend these events, but I never really liked big, angry crowds, or drugs, or the smell of patchouli. By the way, everything smelled like patchouli back then! Even sweaty, knife-wielding bikers who drank Ripple.

One of the few events I did not attend was Woodstock. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being a part of that big, happy, muddy, mellow community. I probably would have been standing off on the sidelines somewhere, in my beloved paint-splattered clothes, complaining about the weather and the sound system, and making snide remarks about all the embarrassing free-form naked dancing. Talk about a place that probably reeked of patchouli. No question I would have definitely left early.
 

 
So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that you felt like an outsider in the sixties?

I’m very consistent; I’ve felt like an outsider every single decade. Some of it is because I struggle to control my tendency toward contrarianism. If I know there is something I am supposed to be doing or saying or wearing, I feel compelled to resist—particularly with creative endeavors, like writing. If I see an obvious punch line or plotline driving toward me, I can’t help but make a sharp left turn into the unexpected. I don’t like to replicate what I’ve seen done before—I don’t like to give people what they expect. I think it’s my job to come up with a surprising angle or to add some personal twist.

You first met David Letterman when you were doing stand-up in Los Angeles in the late seventies. Would you say that one of his strengths as a stand-up, even at the beginning of his career, was the degree to which the audience felt a strong rapport with him—that they always felt they were in on the joke?

Yes, correct. He was always a crowd pleaser. Plus, he always had Johnny Carson in mind as his model. Dave always knew how to connect with an audience, even from the very beginning.

Both you and Letterman started in the trenches of showbiz. Can you tell me about the first TV show you worked on together?

Dave and I worked on a 1978 CBS variety show called Mary, starring Mary Tyler Moore and featuring Michael Keaton. I don’t know if it qualifies as the “trenches” of show business, but I do know it was canceled after three or four episodes, even though 60 Minutes was the lead-in and Mary Tyler Moore was America’s sweetheart. The show was an uncomfortable combination of old showbiz style variety, mixed with a miscalculated attempt to include some of that wacky, absurdist comic sensibility that the kids liked so much from that new program Saturday Night Live.

For example, the Mary show did a parody of the Village People song “Macho Man” that had Dave and Michael Keaton dressed in L.L.Bean catalog outfits, in a setting that was made to look like a scene from Deliverance. I forget where the comedy was supposed to be in all this. I do know the powers-that-be didn’t realize that “Macho Man” was a gay anthem. I also remember vividly that Dave was in real agony about this bit of levity.

What was the second TV show you both worked on?

Leave It to Dave. It was a 1978 pilot for Dave’s own talk show, which never actually made it to air.

From what I’ve read, this is a notorious show. The set resembled a pyramid, and Letterman sat on a throne.

Because this was at the very beginning of Dave’s talk show career, he was sort of afraid to assert his point of view. There were people he hired and put in charge who supposedly knew all about the right way to execute a talk show. Unfortunately, one of their goofy ideas was to have a pyramid-shape on the set that contained built-in benches covered with shag carpeting for Dave and his guests to sit on. No boring old-school desk and chairs for us! Better to look like the interviews were taking places at a “carpeteria” trade show at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.

The set was not even the worst idea that came down that particular pike. I remember that one of Dave’s managers wanted the guests to make their entrances by sliding down a chute and then landing on a sea of throw pillows. But even more vivid, is the memory of how little blood there was in Dave’s face when he was presenting the news to me. Somehow we succeeded in getting that idea shit-canned.

How did your next project, The David Letterman Show, come about? This morning show, a precursor to Late Night, was on NBC for only a short period in the summer and fall of 1980, but it became very influential with comedians and humor writers.

Around this time, Dave began appearing on The Tonight Show, and I was helping him come up with comedy material for those appearances.

Do you remember any of the jokes you wrote for him?

Here’s one: “The commercial for Alpo dog food boasts that Alpo is superior because it contains ‘All beef and not a speck of cereal.’ My dog spends his days going through the garbage and drinking out of the toilet. Something tells me he might not mind a speck of cereal.”

So Dave was getting a very good response from his Tonight Show appearances, and it didn’t take long for NBC to offer him his own morning talk show. Ninety minutes a day. Live. At 10:00 A.M. This prospect seemed less appealing to me than it did to Dave, but by now I was in over my head with regard to both of Freud’s two big areas: work and love. So, I just kept playing along.
 

 

Steve O’Donnell—a longtime writer for Letterman—once described the show’s staff as those who really liked television but also kind of hated television. Was this true for you?

Yes, absolutely. I was particularly sick of seeing everyone on television doing that bigger-than-life, fraudulent, full of shit television persona—which was mainly how the shows all worked then. I welcomed the idea of a host being caught having real reactions to odd situations.

A lot of the segments on the morning show later showed up on Late Night. Can you tell me how “Stupid Pet Tricks” began? Was it meant to be a one-time deal only?

One immediate task—when we were determining how to construct a daily format—was to create segments that could be repeated. Since there was a horizon of future shows spreading out in front of us that seemed to stretch into infinity, it seemed to call for free-form thinking. Dave and I had two dogs and we wanted to do something with animals besides just having the guy from the zoo bring on the pygmy marmosets. I remembered how in college my friends and I would be hanging around in the evenings, talking and drinking. One form of constant entertainment was to put socks on this one dog. Everyone I knew did some version of a silly thing like that with their pets, so we ran an ad to see if we could pull a segment together like that.

When it succeeded, we mutated that idea into “Stupid Human Tricks.” We also considered “Stupid Baby Tricks,” but pulled the plug because—based on what we were seeing in the other two categories—we were afraid it would encourage child endangerment.

Were you responsible for “Viewer Mail”?

More or less. When we started “Viewer Mail” on the morning show, originally the idea was meant as a kind of parody of something 60 Minutes was doing, where they’d show a mailbox and a magnified fragment of a letter. Their letters always commented on something of importance: “Regarding your piece on nuclear disarmament, I just wanted to say …”

I thought it would be funny to show the mail we were receiving, which was mostly pages full of scrawled non sequiturs from deranged people. By the time the show re-appeared at night, this had evolved into little sketches that played off the content.

Do any other particular moments stand out from the morning show?

It was pretty much nonstop bizarre particular moments. One highlight was when we decided to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of a couple from Long Island named Sam and Betty Kotinoff. We selected them from a group of people who wrote in and volunteered. Our plan was to show snippets of this big party throughout the regular broadcast, and we would check in with them to see how everything was going.

For music, we hired the Harve Mann Trio, a wedding band dressed in tuxes. We also hired a very flamboyant decorator and party planner to do the catering. He not only brought in ice sculptures, but he also staged a lovely finale, where synthetic rose petals would float down from the ceiling while all the revelers held sparklers and swayed in contented delight. So it came to pass that as Dave signed off, the rose petals floated down and met the sparklers and created a number of small fires. As the credits rolled, the show ended with the Kotinoff family stomping out flames, as stage hands rushed in with fire extinguishers. Wafting from behind the clouds of smoke was Harve Mann still singing his closing song, “Can’t Smile Without You.”

Dave and I were really mortified until we saw the tapes. Then we couldn’t stop laughing.

What did you hope to achieve with this morning show? Did you feel that it was time for a talk show that reflected your own sensibility?

Yeah, both Dave and I felt that way. But Dave had more respect and passion for the history of TV talk shows than I did. Besides his love for The Tonight Show, Dave’s favorite role model was always the old Steve Allen Westinghouse Show [1962-1964], which had elements of stunts, character pieces, and audience interaction. I liked some of Steve Allen’s work as well, such as when he would jump into a vat of Jell-O, or had himself covered with tea bags so he could be dunked up and down inside a giant aquarium by a crane to make an enormous container of tea.

But to be honest, I never much liked The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Dave used to say that Johnny Carson seemed like the hip uncle whom he wanted to please. But to me, that show was a place where they never booked any smart women. I couldn’t help but view it through the prism of my U.C. Berkeley Art School experiences, which boiled down to a simple “fuck that plastic showbiz shit.”

What smart women in particular were missing from The Tonight Show?

Any smart women, of any stripe. Writers, reporters, producers, filmmakers, artists, scientists, eccentrics. No comediennes ever appeared on that show besides Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. Certainly none of the comediennes my own age appeared on the show.

On The Tonight Show, women were either amazingly glamorous actresses or they were booked to create cleavage-related humor and flirt with Johnny. I guess there must have been exceptions I am not remembering—the opera singer Beverly Sills, for example, or Carol Burnett.

But, as a whole, there never seemed to be any cerebrally oriented female content. I thought of it as one more example of the old showbiz sensibility that I was so sick of. Johnny reminded me of Hef in Playboy After Dark. Dave could look at Johnny and see a guy with whom he could joke and communicate. I would only see the kind of guy who would want no part of me and my kind.

More Merrill Markoe after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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