View My Stats

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Someone Else Who Didn't Want Paul Reiser.

That would be me.
In 1988.
Paul Reiser was currently co-starring in a sitcom called "My Two Dads".
This was a show I didn't watch.
But he was already well known as a stand-up comedian.
I thought he was a wonderful standup comedian.
He was also very good in the movie "Diner".

I was organizing a staged reading of my new play in Los Angeles.
Essentially, it was a backer's audition.
Larry Miller was going to do the male lead.
He offered up the idea of Paul Reiser participating in the reading as the second male lead.
This sounded like a swell idea.
Pretty much as a favor to Larry, Reiser agreed to do it sight unseen.
A few days before the reading took place, I met with Larry, Paul, and another actor who was going to participate at one of our places of residence.
Reiser didn't seem too keen at having to be there.
He didn't seem too keen at having to go over his scenes, of which he had two extended ones.
One in the first act, the other in the second act.
We began reading his two scenes.
That's when he really didn't seem too keen.
Nor did I.
He misread the material to the point that it was frighteningly unfunny.
It wasn't supposed to be.
It was supposed to be unfrighteningly funny.
It, in fact, was.

Everyone is different about how they rehearse.
It is legendary that Lee J. Cobb spent the first three weeks of rehearsal of "Death of a Salesman" just grunting.
But I didn't have three weeks.
I knew I had a good play, and I knew I was going to have to give Reiser line readings for it to seem that way, no matter how he would react to them.
I plunged into it.
He bristled, and said, "Oh, THAT'S how it's going to be".
But it wasn't.
After I gave him the line readings, he did it exactly as he had done it the first time.

"Oh, THAT'S how it's going to be".
That's also what Ellen Degeneres said to me when she auditioned for me a few weeks earlier for the same play and I had the same problem.
But there wasn't the same urgency.
I didn't feel obligated to cast her, and she certainly didn't feel obligated to want to do it.
She couldn't wait to get out of there.

Now, these are two people who later starred in their own very successful sitcoms.
And were very good in them.
They got people who knew how to write for them.
I could have written for them.
But in this instance, I hadn't.
The material already existed.
And they couldn't and/or wouldn't adapt.
The problem was mine, not theirs.
My material is very fragile.
If it isn't done a certain way, it stinks.
I'm sure that Reiser, after he read the scenes the first time, thought the material stunk.
And he was just hanging around to do this as a favor.
And he certainly wasn't going to accept line readings from a writer whose material he thought was shit.
So what was I supposed to do?
The reading was set for Sunday afternoon.
Reiser thought he was doing me a favor.
Larry thought he was doing me a favor.
I thought maybe there was a 20% chance Reiser would turn out to be
Lee J. Cobb.
Reiser has a lot of charm. Maybe he'll charm his way through it.
And I thought his name value would be worth something.
So I bit the bullet, crossed my fingers, and said, "Okay, see you Sunday".

Sunday arrived.
The first two scenes played very well.
Reiser was in the third scene, with the lead actress.
It went okay.
But it was a hard scene to louse up.
It was almost actor-proof.
But it wasn't as well received as the first two scenes.

It was the scene in the second act that I was worried about.
I knew THAT one wasn't actor-proof.
It was delicate.
Timing and likeability were everything.
We get to that scene.

It was exactly as he had done it in that one rehearsal.
There was no timing, wrong attitudes, and no likeability emanating
from Reiser.
We were in the crapper.

A close friend of mine, who had not read the play, whispered to me
"This scene isn't up to the other ones".
I whispered back "This is the best scene in the play.
It's not the scene. It's him."

We had two producers going into the afternoon.
After the reading, we only had one.
Pretty much because of that scene.
We were now like a Twin-Engine Cessna with only one engine.
But the other producer hung in there, and we got it on.
And we got an actor for the second male lead who listened to me, and was great.
And that same friend from the whispering at the reading, when that second scene was over on opening night,whispered to me "You're right.
It IS the best scene. It WAS him."

I'm just sayin'...........


My new book, "Mark Rothman's Essays", ones that were culled from the blog and are no longer there, along with a surprise bonus, is available for purchase.
Please e-mail me at for more info.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm Just Sayin'......

I came back from New York last week, expecting to find an episode of Leno on my Tivo where Paul Reiser was guesting.
I knew he was guesting because I did a search for Reiser when I heard he was going to have a new series.
And I set my Tivo for the series.
And it showed me he was going to be on Leno while I was gone.
But when I checked, the two episodes of the series were there, but no Leno.
As of last night, I hadn't seen any of it.
Then, late last night, I checked the Tivo, and there was the Leno episode.
A week late.
It was that night's Leno.
This Tivo thing is a genius.
Because I set the episode by way of a search, it was going to record Leno whenever Reiser was on it.
Which turned out to be this past Monday night.
I put it on, and go right past "Headlines" and the first guest, to get to Reiser, who I always thought was a great standup comic,and very good on "Mad About You", a show I enjoyed very much.
Which is why I was looking forward to his new series.

Reiser, certainly looking older, grayer, and puffier than I remember, immediately starts trading banter, hilarious banter, about how his
show was cancelled by NBC after two episodes.
This was news to me.
And apparently pretty fresh news to him.
This pretty much begged the question "Why was he bothering to appear on Leno at all?".
When you give it any thought, the answer is pretty simple.
It was to bellyache, albeit in an hilarious fashion, about being dumped after only two episodes by a network for which he had provided an
enormous hit series for many years.
It was couched in how he really didn't want to do another series to begin with.
How he was coaxed, cajoled, if you will, out of retirement, to do this new show.
And the network just gave him the hook after two outings.

He made light of the situation.
But you could see the pain oozing out of him.
How could it not?
So what if you once singlehandedly made a huge network hit?
So what if you are so comfortably retired that you never had to work again?
Talk about "Fuck You" money!

But he was coaxed.
And he's a pro.
And when you're a pro, and you put on the uniform, you swing for the fences.
And when you are thoroughly rejected by the critics, the network, and the audience, who turned out in drove (the singular of droves),
how can you help but be anything but devastated?
This was definitely a wounded man.

I then watched the two episodes that I had Tivoed.
They seemed to be attempting to aspire to Larry David's style with
"Curb Your Enthusiasm".
The first episode even had Larry David in a couple of scenes.
Those two scenes were very funny.
The others, as Reiser would put it, not so much.

The scenes with Larry David appeared to be improvised.
And the camera seemed static, as was required.

The other scenes all seemed heavily scripted, with all the characters talking in Reiser's rhythms.
Very quickly. As does Reiser.
This works for Reiser, who plays himself. A comedian.
A man who talks naturally in professional fast comedy rhythms.
His own.
It doesn't work for any of the other characters.
They are not comedians.
This removes a layer of reality that is needed. Desperately.
I'm just sayin'.......
And in all of those scenes, the camera jumps around all over the place.
And there are editing tricks that call way too much attention to themselves.

The second episode was more of the same, but more domestic, about his family, and with no Larry David.
This compounded the felony.

So the overall effect is that of a show that is occasionally very funny, outweighed by it's constant freneticism and artificiality.

I doubt that I would have lasted another week with it.
I've certainly seen worse shows than this, but the network was basically right to not want him anymore.

Tomorrow: The time I was in on the ground floor of "not wanting Paul Reiser".

Manana (It's good enough for me.)


My new book, "Mark Rothman's Essays", ones that were culled from the blog and are no longer there, along with a surprise bonus, is available for purchase.
Please e-mail me at for more info.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Report Card---"The Motherf**ker With The Hat".

I was in New York last week, and saw "The Motherf**ker With The Hat".
Chris Rock was in it.
That's why I saw it.
That's probably why everybody saw it.
There was a largely black audience.
Certainly larger than any show I've ever attended.
Since Chris Rock was the only black member of the cast, it probably accounts for the demographic breakdown.

It is about the drug culture, friendship, lying, cheating, and self-discovery.
It is very funny, and very dramatic.
It is a really good play.
It would probably be a really good play without Chris Rock.
But not as good.

On to the scoring:

Is it interesting?

It is relentlessly interesting.

Compelling, even?


Is it controversial? Do you think about it after you've seen it?

Yes, and quite often.

Is it funny?

Asked and answered.

Is it a story worth telling?

It is quite thought-provoking, and quite dynamically told.

Is it good storytelling?

For the most part. It doesn't end as well as it begins, which is always a bit of a letdown, but it moves like a bullet.

Is it good writing?

Extremely good dialogue.

Is it worth laying out 75 bucks for?

Very much so.

Is it well cast? Well played?, Well staged?

Here's where it gets interesting. Chris Rock is the third lead. But he has the star part.
The other actors are all great. But a certain amount of charisma is needed for Rock's part.
An understudy would be quite a comedown, and quite a disappointment.
You need someone who can take over the stage, and he does that.
I have a play which is usually very difficult to cast, because there is a ten o'clock character in it who only has one scene.
And he has to own the stage.
It's hard to find an actor who is that good who is willing to only appear in one scene, unless he is very lazy.
Many times, I successfully pressed myself into service as an actor when I wasn't able to find that one-scene actor.
And I certainly am that lazy.
But Chris Rock's role is far more prominent.
And he more than holds his own.
It was very smart to cast him, and very smart of him to take it on.
I've heard him being interviewed about how his biggest concern about the play is remembering his lines.
Unusual, because he has far less to do here than in one of his concerts, where (don't let him fool you) he is letter perfect.
The staging is fine, but the set design is a bit confusing.
Two of the sets are quite similar, and the first time you go from one to the other, you think it's the same set, but the character redecorated it.
This is even more confusing because there is a small table in the first scene, upon which the hat that belongs to the Motherf**ker sits.
And that table sits there regardless of which set we are in.
Is this artsy-fartsy symbolism? Or just sloppiness?
It doesn't work for me, regardless.
But this is a relatively small quibble.

Is it too long? Too short?

At an hour-forty, it seemed about right.
But you really didn't want it to end so soon, or so abruptly.

Is it believeable? Do you care about the characters?

Totally, and totally.

Is it predictable? Does it surprise you?

It's a little predictable early on, if you work at it, but there are quite a few surprises along the way.

Overall rating:

Judging by the movies he's done, it may be the best acting Chris Rock will ever do.


My new book, "Mark Rothman's Essays", ones that were culled from the blog and are no longer there, along with a surprise bonus, is available for purchase.
Please e-mail me at for more info.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Commercial Jingle And Pitch For "Mark Rothman's Essays" by James Durante.

"When I look back 'tru life I find
Lots of memories remain
Certain days stay in my mind
And keep runnin' 'tru my brain
I remember the day that Ederle swam the Channel, what a splash!
I remember the Wall Street Crash
Or when Winchell first shouted 'Flash'
But there's one day that I recall though it was years ago
All ma' life I will remember it I know........

I'll never forget the day I read a book.
It was contagious,
Seventy pages.
There were pictures here and there
So it wasn't hard to bear
The day----I read a book.

It's a shame I can't recall the name of the book
It wasn't a History
Because it didn't have no plot
It wasn't a Mystery
Because nobody there got shot
The day I read a book
I can't remember when
But one of these days I'm gonna do it again, yes sir.......
One of these days I'm gonna do it again!

Ahhh litt'rature!!!
There's nothin' like sittin' at home nights at the fireplace
With a pipe, a dog, and a good book at your feet.......
But if ya walk into my house, you'll see LOADS of books.
And believe me, they're not there just for appearance.
I press an awful lot of butterflies!!

My literary appetite is stupendious.
They don't write 'em quick enough for me.
The Book of the Month didn't come out fast enough for me,
So I read the Book of the Week.
The Book of the Week didn't come out fast enough for me,
So I read the Book of the Day.
THE Book of the Hour,
THE Book of the Minute,
But THAT wasn't even fast enough.
So far this week, I've read six books that haven't even been written yet!!

But I'm not confined to home readin'.
I once spent two weeks in the liberry.
I would've been outta there sooner, but I'd buried ma' nose in a book, and forgot which book I buried it in!
A dilemmia......

Why, on the first page of this book, they printed the author's name.
And right underneath it was his private phone number---
Copywright one nine three nine.
But I'm gonna send it back.
I've been dialing that number for four months, and nobody's answered!

While cruisin' thru the liberry,
I found the classic I was lookin' for.
It wasn't the Encyclopedia Britannia,
It wasn't "Forever Umbriago"
It was a book that was three thousand eight hundred and fifty seven pages thick.
And I'm glad I took it.
It fits perfectly under the short leg of my pool table!

It wasn't a History
Because it didn't have no plot
It wasn't a Mystery
Because nobody there got shot
The day I read a book
I can't remember when
But one of these days I'm gonna do it again, yes sir.......
One of these days I'm gonna do it again! "


If you care to hear Jimmy's rendition, go to YouTube, type in "Jimmy Durante, the day I read a book".
It was recorded in 1947, the year of my birth.
How prescient of him.
Although my book isn't 70 pages or 3857 pages either, for that matter.
It's about 250 pages.
Just right to fit under the leg of a kid's pool table.
And there are no pictures here and there, so it might be a little harder to bear.

Even so, if this doesn't interest you in "Mark Rothman's Essays", nothing will.
If it does, e-mail me at



Blog Archive

About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."