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Friday, November 11, 2011


Lou Ferrigno, Frank Orsatti
(Bill Bixby's Double)
And Manny Perry
"He’s a charming rogue, like Harry Lime in The Third Man," I told Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich.

"Yeah, yeah, like Harry Lime. The Third Man. Love it!" Freilich replied with marked enthusiasm.

"Matter of fact," Chris put in, "we’re even naming him Harry for those in the audience who might catch the reference."

"I love those kinds of insider touches," Freilich said. "Put it in."

We were discussing an episode in progress for The Incredible Hulk. Entitled, "The Lottery," it was originally scripted by the late Dan Ullman - a talented writer whose creds went back to the dawn of Television, or Time - whichever came first. The project had stalled out to the point that the people at the Hulk were getting ready to scrap it.

In a nutshell, here was the problem: (1) Everybody hated the story, no matter how many times Dan rewrote it. (2) On the other hand, scripts are expensive. You don’t throw them away lightly. (3) The Network wanted the damn story. Before the season started somebody told them they were going to do a Hulkout on a By God Yacht, which made them do whatever overexcited Suits do whilst wearing their pressed jeans. It also helped ensure a 22-episode pickup.

On the other hand, the Suits also hated the story as written. The guys in the Black Tower agreed with the Network, which they always did when the subject didn’t involve money from their vaults, which were as deep and well-protected as Jacky Benny’s.

Chris and I didn’t have the faintest idea what it was they hated. In our opinion, Dan had done a good job with the script, which had then been rewritten by him so many times that it was a veritable rainbow of many colored pages. (At each stage of a rewrite the changed pages are printed on different color paper.)

But the Hulk people told our agent they’d pay us full WGA boat to rewrite the sucker, so that is what we were in the process of doing. After puzzling over the matter for a couple of days, we took the problem - and a bare bones outline - to our producer/mentor Al Godfrey.

When we were done telling him about the assignment, he asked, "What the fuck did you guys do to piss off Freilich?"

"Nothing," I said, a little taken aback by his reaction.

"We didn’t even let on that we call him the EatAnter behind his back," Chris added, his face showing that he was also surprised.

"The EatAnter?" Godfrey wondered. "Like the comic strip character? How come?"

"Because he’s a fuckin' EatAnter," Chris replied with some heat.

Godfrey thought a minute, then nodded. "Fair enough," he allowed.

"Freilich said he told Nick Corea we were the perfect writers to fix it," I added.

Godfrey snorted his disbelief that Jeff was good-mouthing us to Corea. Then he asked, "Have you ever done a rewrite before?"

We both shrugged. "No," I admitted.

Chris added, "How hard could it be?"

Godfrey made with one of his patented you guys are numb nuts sighs. "You two have no idea how deep you have waded into it," he said. "First, there’s studio/network politics. A whole lot of people had to sign on to even buy the story.

"Now they hate it. They think it is unshootable. And if it was shot, it couldn't be aired. And if it was aired, the ratings would be lower than whale crap. So whose fault's that? Since nobody wants to take the blame, they’re all pointing at the writer. Nine times out of ten the writer’s the guy who gets it when Shit Creek jumps its banks.

"But Ulman's out of it now. He’s done his allotted rewrites, been paid, and he’s safe at home taking long, hot, shit cleansing showers. Besides, Dan’s at retirement age, so what the hell does he care?"

Godfrey gave us a pitying look. "Then you putzes come waltzing into the picture and they’ve got a brand new set of writers to blame. You are at the beginnings of your so-called careers and when they get through hating the script yet again, you guys are going to find out just how deep Shit Creek can get."

"It’s not the same story anymore," I said, trying to defend the indefensible. "We’re basically jacking up the title and putting a brand new script under it."

Godfrey thumped the outline with his knuckles. "It’s still about a conman, right?" We both said, right. "There’s your trouble," Godfrey said. "Suits hate conman stories. Which means they think the audience does too."

"There’s been lots of successful conman stories," I protested.

"Name one," Godfrey challenged.

"The Sting," Chris said. "Beaucoup bucks."

"That wasn’t a conman story," Godfrey said tiredly. "That was a buddy story starring the original buddy picture boys, Bobby Redford and Paul Newman."

"Give me a break," Chris said. "It’s a conman story," he insisted. "A con is the whole point of the movie."

"Hey," Godfrey said, raising his hands. "I agree. But that’s not how they see it. They’ll say it’s a buddy story and go fuck yourself."

"Okay," I said, rising to the bait. "What about Paper Moon?"

Godfrey shook his head. "That's a father/ daughter buddy movie. With a real father and daughter playing the parts. Ryan O’Neil and his kid, Tatum."

Chris jumped in. "What about the Third Man? That’s a god damned classic con man story if I ever saw one."

"No, it’s another buddy picture. With Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton as the star-crossed buddies. With a script by Graham Greene, which you guys might be someday, but not just yet."

"We’re patterning the guy Bixby helps after the Orson Welles conman," I put in hopefully. "You know, Harry Lime."

Godfrey raised an eyebrow. "Did you tell Freilich that?"

"Sure, we did. And he loved it."

"You mean, he actually knows who Harry Lime was?"


Godfrey snorted. He obviously thought this was bullshit of the first order.

"Back to our problem," I said. "Riddle us this: why do the Suits hate conmen stories so much?"

"It’s because the assholes are all grifters themselves," Godfrey said. "And being conmen, they don’t believe that they personally can be fooled. Or, if they could be conned, the guy would have to be a past master of the screw. God damned Charlie Ponzi incarnate."

I pointed at our outline. "That’s a pretty good con in there," I said. "And the guy’s backstory is that he is a conman genius, getting ready for his last, best score."

"They won’t see it like that," Godfrey said. "After they read the script and find out what the con is, they’ll say, "Knew it all along. Didn't fool me for a second. So how could it fool our hero, David Banner? We’re not paying you to make Bill Bixby look stupid."

"But the only reason they’ll figure it out," Chris said, "is that we tell them how it works in the script. The Reveal isn’t until the end."

Godfrey chuckled, saying, "Wise up, Chris. They’re fucking Suits. You can’t tell them anything that they don’t already know. And when they tell you they already knew it, they’ll look you straight in the eye and believe every precious word they're saying."

There was a long silence. Finally, I said, "Okay, Al. The Suits hate conmen stories. We got that loud and clear. But we are stuck with a conman story. So what the hell do we do?"

Godfrey thought for a minute. Picked up the outline. Flipped pages. Then thought some more.

Finally, he said, "Your bad guys are Southern mob types. The guest star pulls a master con on them, which backfires, and Bixby has to rescue him, because he owes the guy, right?"

We told him he was dead on. And that in the course of the rescue, Bixby Hulks out and busts up a zillion dollar yacht along with the baddies, which is why everyone signed on to this turkey in the first place.

Godfrey thought some more, then said, "What we have to do is make the bad guys personally loathsome to the Suits. Play on their prejudices so they’ll believe the marks are prime conman bait. Marks that the Suits would like to fuck themselves."

Chris started to speak, but Godfrey waved him down. Drumming his fingers. Thinking. Then, his face brightened. "Make them oil sheiks," he said. "Those assholes are running all over town buying shit up and pissing people off. And they are prime marks. All the studios are lining up to fuck them, giving them points on the gross profits - which will always be zero - for satchels of money."

"Perfect," I said. And it really was.

"You’re a fookin' genius, Al," Chris said in his best John Lennon imitation.

But before we left, Godfrey said, "Did you really pitch the Harry Lime business to Jeff?"

"Sure we did," Chris said.

"Bet you lunch at Mousso & Frank’s that he never saw the fucking movie," Godfrey said with a wolfish grin.

Thank the Wallet Gods we didn’t take the bet because, a few days later...

..."Who the hell is this Harry guy?" the EatAnter demanded. "I hate the son of a bitch."

"Well, fucking stop hating him, Jeff," Chris said. "You approved his ass."

"I never!"

"Hello? We told you we were going to pattern the conman after Harry Lime," I reminded him. "Orson Welles. The Third Man, remember?"

"But this guy is all British, with a British accent," Freilich protested.

"So was Orson Welles in the movie," I said.

"But I hate this guy you have here," he said.

Chris sighed, as the reality of Godfrey's prediction sank in. "Did you ever see fucking The Third Man, Jeff?" he asked.

"Of course, I did," Jeff bristled. "I told you, didn’t I?"

We glanced at each other. The EatAnter was speaking with a forked tongue as long as a whale's pizzle.

"Okay, Jeff, so what’s wrong with the guy having a British accent?" I said, shifting gears.

"People in this town hate the English," he said. "They always have and always will."

Chris was about to clock Jeff, but I signaled a wiser course. He sat back, crossed his arms and put his boots on Jeff’s desk. Jeff looked at them, but did not dare protest.

"Okay, no problem," I said. "We'll lose the British accent. Anything else?"

Mollified, Jeff continued. Gave us a few cursory notes, then sent us on our way.

But just before we hit the door he thawed enough to say, "Boys, the oil sheiks business is great. Everyone's going to hate their asses. Some asshole prince just bought a mansion on Sunset. You know, right where it curves? He put up some Greek statue replicas. Painted their pubes black. Everybody’s talking about it. You drive down Sunset to see your agent and there's all those black and hairy pubes."

Chris laughed. "We saw. Reminded us what dicks our agents are."

Jeff’s prediction was on the money. Everyone liked the new bad guys. Nick Corea gave the script a thumbs up. So did Kenny. And all the Suits from the Black Tower, as well as the Network. (Although the Studio, as usual, waited until the Network liked it, before they said they’d loved it all along.) The script was approved and by and by it was set to be shot.

Dissolve To: Several Weeks later. Chris and I were discussing the news. Seems that a bunch of crazy Muslim college kids had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Bearded guys in pickups - all armed to the mustache - showed up in droves and before you knew it, they were holding fifty three Americans hostage. They were demanding that President Carter send them the Shah of Iran - who was holed up at some hospital in the U.S. - for immediate trial and execution.

Chris said, "That’s what we get for sucking up to the Shah. He's an asshole. If Carter had any balls, he’d get somebody to Tweep the fucker. Give him a hot shot, or something, then say, 'Oh, oops. You can have him. But for burial purposes only.'"

"Thus avoiding the whole 'giving in to the terrorists issue," I said in agreement. "Sounds like a good twist in the next Sten."

Before we could explore the subject further, the phone rang. It was Nick Corea.

"Boys," he said, "we’ve got problems."

"With what?" we asked the speaker phone.

"The Lottery Script," he replied. "We’re supposed to start shooting Monday and the Iranians have fucked us."

Chris and I looked at each other. We got it. That’s the trouble with being ex-newsmen: when something happens you know immediately just how fucked you are. In this case, with the Shah and all, we were royally fucked. Literally. Because when the episode appeared with our Middle Eastern bad guys center-stage, it would look insensitive as shit. People would think we were trying to take advantage of the hostage situation to boost our ratings.

Never mind the Iranians were Persians and our bad guys were Arabs, which is not the same at all. Only maybe two people out of a hundred knew that, and both of them would still think it was a ratings stunt.

"How about we flip them from oil sheik sons of bitches to South American drug kingpin sons of bitches?" Chris said right off the bat. "They’re both criminally swarthy so you can maybe even use the same actors and stuntmen."

"Can you do the rewrite over the weekend?" Corea asked, meaning the drug kingpins switch was a done deal. "Keep as much of it the same as you can, because people have already scored the locations, the gags are set and the actors are already memorizing their lines."

"No problem," I said. "We’ll change the 'Allah Willings' to 'Mother Of God' and shit like that. And they can wear suits and ties instead of turbans and Galabeyas."

"Go, guys," Corea ordered.

So we got.

Another Dissolve To: The next week. Rewrite of rewritten script completed, approved and in the process of being shot.

As it happened, I lived practically across the street from the Marina Del Rey, where they were filming the yacht portion of the episode. After clearing it with Nick, we wandered over to the main channel of the Marina, where the leased yacht was berthed.

Marina Del Rey
It was just down from the Marina Yacht Club - close enough to stroll over for a toddy, but far enough away that when the scripted fiery explosion erupted, all would be safe from flying (Styrofoam prop) debris. Also the explosion wouldn’t be loud enough to harm the countless windows at the club, because a much bigger and scarier boom would be dubbed in later during post production.

The place was crawling with below the line talent. (People whose names on the End Credits Roll come after the actors, producers, directors and, ahem, writers.) There were weapons wranglers, explosive experts, sound boom and camera guys, continuity girls (who are often guys... it's an industry lingo title), make up people, fake blood people, hair people, costume people, electricians, set decorators, tech advisers, etc. They were running around everywhere between takes, then they’d all stand silent when the director’s assistant gave the word and the shoot would resume.

It was like having an on-off switch hooked to an ant’s nest.

There were also some people from the Army Corps Of Engineers, who oversaw the Marina waterways, and a lady from the LA County environmental office to watch over the effects of the explosion and so on. A couple of firetrucks and an LA County fire boat were also on hand.

Meanwhile, a semi-circle of cops on cop boats stood well off the yacht, controlling traffic. Letting boaters through between takes, stopping them when the shoot resumed. I used to fish off the rocks in that channel and usually the boat traffic was fairly light on a November weekday afternoon. But today it was crawling with rich lookie loos with teeny-weeny bikini entourages to catch the Hollywood action.

Cops were hard at work clearing them out of the way when the cameras were rolling, and heated words were being exchanged. One sheriff’s deputy I knew from my newspaper days said some yacht club members had set up a pool to bet on whose boat could get on film when the episode showed. It probably wasn’t true, but everybody got a laugh when I spread the word.

Finally, the big moment came. The idea was that Bixby would be locked into a compartment, chained to dangerous explosives, and just before the kaboom went kaboom, he’d Hulkout (it really was a verb on the show). Then he'd break the chains, smash through the compartment door, hammer the bad guys while dodging bullets, then leap off the boat and swim to safety before the above mentioned kaboom did its business.

Okay, everything was set. Chris and I repaired to the opposite bank of the channel so we could catch all the action. We heard the distant noise of the Hulk versus Drug Lords scuffle. Squibs went off, pocking prearranged bullet holes into the walls of the yacht as the bad guys opened up with blank-loaded automatic weapons. (They use Vaseline bullets to make the pock marks.)

Then we saw the Hulk rush onto the main deck. He posed nobly for a split second. We knew it was Manny, the black stunt double for Lou Ferrigno, but all we could see was a big damned guy painted green. It was a thrilling moment, even if you knew it was only movie magic.

Then the Hulk dived into the water and swam toward us. Pop! Pop! Pop! As the bad guys fired and, as usual, missed.

Then, just before he reached the safety of our shore, a big damned boat throttled out of nowhere and roared past the protective ring of cop boats.

It came straight at Manny. People were shouting holy shit, and look out Manny, and oh, my god, oh, my god, oh, my god.

At the last possible second, Manny/The Hulk dove for the bottom of the channel.

The boat swept by.

Beat, beat, how long can he hold his breath, and then another beat.

Finally, Manny's head burst to the surface. And amidst loud cheers, he swam for shore.

But there was still work to be done. The scene was reset. The director shouted orders. And then we got a very nice Kaboom. Debris rained down and the director shouted "Cut!" and then everybody applauded as Manny strolled up, draped in a robe and dripping green paint, but lookin’ good, babe, Lookin' good.

Take a peek at the episode one of these days and you’ll see what happened yourself. Put an eagle eye on the end sequence of The Lottery where the Hulk dives into the water. First you’ll see an oily green smudge, where the makeup paint came off. Then you’ll see a boat nearly nail the Hulk as he swims toward shore.

You got it. Even though it was accidental, they left the bit in of the boat that almost killed Manny.

After all, it was the best shot.

Wonder how much the Yacht Club pool paid off?



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?

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