William Link, 77, was asking the question. Link is one of, if not the most successful producer and writer in television history, having put, with his late partner Richard Levinson, 16 series on the air, including creating “Columbo,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Cosby Mysteries” and “Mannix.” They also created any number of important TV movies, including “The Execution of Private Slovik,” which launched Martin Sheen’s career, “That Certain Summer,” which was the first sympathetic portrayal of gay men on television, and the 1988 “Terrorist on Trial: The United States vs. Salim Ajami,” which was hauntingly prescient.
Ever wonder how the movie industry went from five-cent nickelodeons in New York to the glamour of Hollywood with red carpet premieres and the highest of artistic aspirations? Or why a certain pagoda-like Hollywood movie theater in whose courtyard rest footprints of actors is one of the most beloved and frequented tourist sites on the planet?
What does it mean to be a Jew in a Post-Zionist world?
With slight trepidation, the new year stands before us, calling us to dive in and embrace the fall.
Israel beyond the headlines, a country that has produced a world-class literature.
How did a nice Jewish girl from Santa Monica become a rock star?
Eighteen years ago, in "The Player," Tolkin introduced us to Griffin Mill, a studio executive who gets away with murder -- literally.
Marty Kaplan is often referred to as a "public intellectual." His current title is dean of the Annenberg School at USC and chairman of the Norman Lear Center. But Kaplan has led many lives -- molecular biologist, comedy writer, White House speechwriter, Disney exec, radio host. As Kaplan recently wrote me in an e-mail when I asked, "Which of those is you ?"
Scott Steindorff is a happy man. A successful movie and TV producer, his NBC series, "Las Vegas," just got picked up for another season; he won an Golden Globe for the HBO miniseries, "Empire Falls," starring Paul Newman, and produced the feature film of Philip Roth's "The Human Stain" with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. Upcoming on Steindorff's slate are adaptations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera," TC Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain," Michael Connolly's "The Lincoln Lawyer," "Penelope" starring Reese Witherspoon and remakes of the classic films "Ikiru" and "Rififi." All this and he's only been in the film business six years.
On Monday, Sept. 19, at 9 p.m., the WB will premiere "Just Legal." Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the current home-run king of TV, this is no "C.S.I." clone, but rather a one-hour drama with occasional comic moments that is about the beauty, the promise, the reality and the heartbreak that is the American legal system.
"Just Legal" stars Don Johnson as Grant H. Cooper, a demoralized attorney who operates out of a Venice office, a block from the circus-like boardwalk, and for whom the Santa Monica Courthouse is home base. Cooper is so down and out that he no longer argues cases, he just settles or pleads them out. Jay Baruchel (from "Million Dollar Baby") plays David "Skip" Ross, an idealistic young prodigy -- emphasis on the young -- he graduated college at 14, law school at 17 and having passed the bar at 18, he's now trying to get a job. No one will hire him, other than Cooper whom he meets while caddying for him in a golf game in which Cooper successfully hustles his opponent. Cooper promises to get Ross into court fast -- handling trials and showing him the way the real world really works. Will Cooper dash Ross' idealism? Will Ross manage to rekindle some of Cooper's former passion for the law? Of such questions is the pilot made.
By this point in the summer, I know that my devoted Tommywood readers are all wondering the same thing -- be they sitting by the pool at the Sociét? des Bains de Mer in Monte Carlo, on their yachts sailing off the coast of Turkey or schvitzing in their New York apartments or Los Angeles homes.
They all want to know: How is he going to come up with another column about Hungarians?
How does one create a literary community in Los Angeles?
A few weeks ago, the Getty Playhouse showcased a memorable special event: "Here's to Life," Kitty Carlisle Hart's cabaret-style one-woman show, accompanied by her musical director, David Lewis.
Hart, 94, performed for a little over an hour, reminiscing and singing songs from some of her late friends such as Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Cole Porter, presenting in one evening a short history of the American musical theater.
When I go out of town, I often take a novel or two with me, knowing that a plane ride remains one of the few places to get serious reading done. Recently, I read two novels, Seth Greenland's "The Bones" (Bloomsbury) and Bruce Bauman's "And the Word Was" (Other Press), which made strong impressions about why, every so often, you need to get out of town. Both novels concern characters who believe their lives are at a dead end, and who leave their homes for experiences that, in the end, allow them to return to a life less examined but worth living.
Spring is upon us. My allergies have been acting up for weeks. So it seems the right time to talk about cross-pollination, a subject that it is at the heart of important new exhibits in Los Angeles and New York.
The world lost one of its great comic artists last month. I am referring not to Johnny Carson, who was little known outside of the United States, but to Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon, 80, who, although little known in America, was beloved around the world.
Today, I am a nephew. Last weekend, the names of more than 3 million persons murdered in the Holocaust were posted on the Internet as part of a searchable database created by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The most memorable books I've read recently have been, ironically enough, three memoirs that stand out for their sensitivity, intelligence and literary quality.
I've spent the last several weeks listening to the recently released six-CD box set "Lenny Bruce: Let the Buyer Beware" (Shout Factory), an exhaustive and authoritative collection that gives the uninitiated and even the fan a sense of the thrill, the importance and the tragedy of being Lenny Bruce.
This is not your parent's primer. This is "Yiddish With Dick and Jane," a new parody by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman, who will be reading their work this Sunday, Sept. 19 at the Skirball Cultural Center.
I've been thinking a lot recently about French philosopher, journalist and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Levy (only in France can philosopher hyphenate with filmmaker).
We had lunch about six months ago. At the time, Levy's English-language edition of "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?"(Melville House), had just been published. The book had received a mixed response for its controversial thesis that Daniel Pearl was murdered because he was on the trail of a larger story, of connections between Pakistani security forces, Pakistan's nuclear establishment and Al Qaeda.
Among the allergens being released this June is a remake of "Around the World in 80 Days," the Jules Verne novel that launched a thousand travel articles. Perhaps Jackie Chan will inhabit the role of Passepartout in a fashion that surpasses the achievements of Cantinflas, "the world's greatest comedian," according to Charlie Chaplin, a person of no small ego or talent himself. That remains to be seen -- or not seen, as the case may be.
It's Sunday and I'm rushing over to my local comic book store, Hi De Ho, in Santa Monica to buy issue No. 1 of "The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist."
You've seen them around town: a poster of a grinning, gnarly Arnold Schwarzenegger with red eyes and the words, "Achtung, Baby," scrawled in German Gothic type across his forehead. It may have made you smile; you may have felt it was in bad taste. Perhaps a bit of both. In any event, you probably thought: There goes the poster guy again.
As I write this, it's 64 degrees in Santa Monica and Sub-Zero is just a brand of refrigerator I covet. On the East Coast, there is a record cold spell and everyone is paying rapt attention to the wind-chill factor.
Around this time of year, I'm often prone to recall Rod Serling, who was born on Christmas Day. I'm helped along by the fact that PBS ran their "American Masters" portrait of Serling over the New Year's weekend even as the Sci Fi Channel ran a "Twilight Zone" marathon. It makes me wonder: Where is Serling -- or today's Serling -- when you really need him?
I used to have this Thanksgiving Day ritual in New York: no matter what I was doing, or where I was going, I would find a way to be near a radio around 11:30 a.m., to tune in to WNEW-FM 102.7's broadcast of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," in its entirety, in all its musical and comedic glory.
This weekend the story of Los Angeles, and its future, is all about one building, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Critics have already hailed our new symphony hall as a triumph of design, determination and a marriage of form, function and acoustic feng shui. But more significantly, in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles is finally acknowledging Frank Gehry's central role in our culture. One building, as Gehry taught us with Bilbao, can change a city (even as the destruction of buildings, such as the World Trade Center, can change not only a city, but a nation -- even the world).
Reality TV is nothing new. Since the dawn of television, there have always been unscripted formats and game shows of one kind or another. However, the current incarnation of reality programming -- shows such as "Survivor," "The Bachelor," and "Fear Factor" -- may be the most durable and successful shows in the history of reality programming. What's more, reality TV is the most innovative area of current programming, far more creative than sitcoms, hour-long dramas, sports, news or movies and miniseries. In fact, it may be helpful to think of current reality shows as game shows or "event programming" much like the highly touted TV movies of the 1970s and '80s.
I learned all this and more when I attended a recent panel at The Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills called, "Keeping it Real: The Past, Present and Future of Reality Television."
"Mr. S, My Life With Frank Sinatra" by George Jacobs and William Stadiem is this summer's guilty pleasure. Jacobs was Frank Sinatra's valet from 1953 to 1968, and his memoirs are the excuse for a polished backstage tour of Sinatraland, a roller-coaster ride of the high life and the lowdown on almost every scandal, scoop, star, starlet, call girl and politician of the '40s '50s and '60s.
To understand something of the success of "The Producers," it helps to understand something of its history. There is probably no person on the planet who doesn't know the story of how this sensation of a musical came to pass, but let me quickly recap: In the early '60s, Mel Brooks writes the book for the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical "All American." Their last musical "Bye Bye Birdie" was a hit. "All American" was not. Brooks wonders: What if it was intentional? From that germ of an idea, and a character Brooks worked for briefly after World War II, came the movie, "The Producers."
It's 7:45 a.m. on a Friday morning, and the Koo Koo Roo on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills is almost full. I am here for traffic school. I ran a red light at the intersection of Robertson and Beverly boulevards, and the city of Beverly Hills has the photo to prove it.
When my friend Lawrence Karman, cameraman par excellence, invited me a few weeks ago to a screening of "BÃÂ¡nk BÃÂ¡n," the filmed version of the classic Hungarian nationalist opera, I accepted enthusiastically. Not because I'm a big fan of opera in general or Hungarian operas in particular, but rather because it would give Larry and I an opportunity to wax nostalgic about our favorite subject: Hungarians in Hollywood.