“To hell with facts,” said Ken Kesey, “we need stories!” The most efficient means of social disclosure is a story. Stories find meaning in chaos.
No one survives in silence. We must hear more than the sound of our own voice. On vocal waves, we share, understand and learn.
“Trust the story,” says author James Robertson. The storyteller “may dissemble and deceive. The story can't: [it] can only ever be itself.”
“Forty-five minutes into his show, David Bowie walks offstage, direct to his limousine,” says Howard Lapides. “I’m left to clean up his mess. From that horror I learned to get everything on paper, including show times.”
Telling stories helps transcend time and space. Untold stories lead to the loss of collective memory, lessons gone, forever. It’s easier to remember, learn and understand than it is to recreate.
“Sally Jesse Raphael was a huge television talk show hit,” says Lapides. “Yet, Burt Dubrow, who created the ‘Sally’ show, wanted a backup. When ‘Sally’ wobbled, he had Jerry Springer in waiting. Nothing beats 20/20 vision looking forward.”
The teller of tales is central. He or she engages an audience, prodding them with ideas and words; cleverly arousing images. Storytellers force listeners to think, to imagine, for which there is no limit.
“From Jerry Kushnick, I learned a great lesson,” says Lapides. “‘You know what is cool about writers,’ said Kushnick, ‘they go away for months, there’s total silence, but cheques keep coming.’ Note to self: manage as many writers as possible because they produce royalties, money that never stops flowing.”
“A tale spinner’s goal,” says author John H Alexander, “is entertainment.” If someone speaks and no one hears, did she or he say anything? Storytelling needs an audience; this is how stories become deeply set in our psyche.
“There was a kid, Rodney Toombs, who learned to play bagpipes, as he grew up in Winnipeg. As a rebellious teenager, he left school and hit the road, finding his way into wrestling. His first match, at age 14, was against Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig. To grab attention, Toombs walked to the ring playing his bagpipes. Quick on his feet, the ring announcer introduced Toombs as, ‘Roddie the Piper’; the audience heard it as ‘Roddy Piper.’ Thus came one of the most uniquely enduring wrestling characters, ever, ‘Rowdy Roddy Piper.’”
Howard Lapides tells tales. He shares stories about showbiz, deep and rich, dripping vision and meaning. His stories preserve showbiz lore and coach beginners.
“His second stand-up set starts,” says Lapides, “As I listen, I recognize Mike MacDonald is doing all new material. Nothing held over from his first set. Most comedians are lucky if they have thirty minutes after a year. For his first show, ever, MacDonald has two complete 45-minute sets. Do you wonder why he’s such a huge star?”
Everyone tells tales. Some tell tales much better than do others. In this interview, master storyteller, Howard Lapides, shares showbiz stories, each as engaging and as it is enlightening.
* * * * *
Grub Street (GS) Mike MacDonald, the comedian, is why you manage talent today.
Howard Lapides (HL) Darn right! Flat-out, MacDonald gave me a career as a manager.
MacDonald calls me his manager. I call him a client. He works mostly in Canada. I don’t commission it. We talk as needed.
GS That seems a strange way to do show business. Managers are usually all over the client, holding their hand, spoon-feeding egos and so forth.
HL Maybe, but that’s how it works for MacDonald and me.
We talked, some, until he got sick. Now, we talk all the time. Right now, I am helping him put together his memoirs. There is a good chance Arnold Gosewich, who was president of Capital Records and then Macmillan Canada, will represent the MacDonald memoir.
GS I venture MacDonald has much to say.
HL Yes; the book is about his struggle to make it as a stand-up comedian. He is the comedian ear-marked from Canada. Every comedian from Canada, Howie Mandel, Jim Carey, Norm Macdonald, Jeremy Hotz and many more, look to Mike MacDonald, watch his moves and try to be as prolific as is he.
GS How did MacDonald discover you?
HL Yes, he discovered me. It was at Barrymore’s, a club on Bank Street, in Ottawa. When I worked for Bass Clef, in the late 1970s, we did large concerts, such as the “Eagles” or “Chicago.” We also did much smaller promotions at local clubs.
I made a deal with Barrymore’s. Bass Clef needed a place where baby bands could perform. We wanted to show new bands, get fan reaction and so forth.
From there, we’d try to develop a few bands into big contracts. Barrymore’s was the perfect setting for Bass Clef. At Barrymore’s, I was visible and known from the concerts, where I introduced the act after a sales pitch for the next show.
GS That’s a tricky art, working a huge crowd that wants the act, not what you have to say.
HL Yes; the trick was to say what needed to say without getting drowned out by boos and forced off the stage. The audience wants the act, not a commercial.
GS That’s a tricky act.
HL A high-wire challenge. I figured out a way to do it. I worked in the commercial and excited the audience for the show. Usually, my approach worked.
GS You’re easy to find at Barrymore’s and MacDonald approaches you.
HL Yes; he says, “Are you the guy from the concerts?” He meant from Bass Clef, the concert promoter. I said that was me.
“Do you ever need opening acts,” he asks. I tell him how most concert tours pre-package. Bass Clef doesn’t usually add acts to the package.
I wondered, out loud, why he asked about opening acts. “I’m a comedian,” he says, confidently. He tapped my latent interest.
Did I see your act at “Hiccups,” on Rideau Street, I asked. “No,” he said, “I haven’t gotten a job there yet.” I gave him my card, telling him to let me know when and where he’s going to work next.
GS Did you expect to hear from him?
HL Yes, I did. I hand out many cards; few calls result. Yet, for some reason, I expected Mike MacDonald to call. He was obviously ambitious.
He called. He was to work the Rotter’s Club, a couple of Fridays away. I made a note of the place and date. The club was new for me; this night was a double dip, Rotter’s and MacDonald.
GS Wasn’t Rotter’s a punk club?
HL Yes, the first punk club in Ottawa. My job was to find new clubs and take a look to see if there was some way we, Bass Clef, could make money. That Friday night I was checking out Rotter’s and MacDonald.
GS Rotter’s was punk, wasn’t it?
HL Yes, Rotter’s was high-end punk for the time; new and fresh. Of course, the music was relentless, non-stop. It was so loud, just boom, boom, booming away.
GS It baffles me how a comedian fits that setting.
HL Me, too; how does a comedian capture this room? The energy produced by the music, I thought, would overwhelm a stand-up routine. Capturing Rotter’s was a Herculean task, this kid wanted to try.
GS I wonder how MacDonald got a booking at Rotter’s.
HL Later, I learned he had partial ownership of the club.
GS Still, he had great confidence to try stand-up comedy in a punk club, ownership or not.
HL Anything is possible in show business. Someone introduces MacDonald. He steps out. He starts going. The material I heard before. I thought the borrowed material was to help him find his footing, his confidence. What he lifted from other comedians, he set up and delivered in a newish way.
GS This is not a 15-year-old Bill Hicks doing Woody Allan, word for word.
HL No, MacDonald found a way to spin and refresh what he borrowed. Then he goes into some new stuff. There’s a viewpoint breaking out. This is good, I thought.
GS Was this the first stand-up show for MacDonald?
HL Well, he told me he had performed at Brookfield High School, when he was a student. At Rotter’s, he goes for about forty-five minutes. He didn’t destroy the crowd, but he got much attention. In that room, I could hand out twenty dollar bills and not get as much audience attention as did MacDonald.
Afterward, he comes over to me. “What did you think,” he asks. I liked how he got and kept audience interest. He offset the music well. I thought he was on his away.
MacDonald says, “You should stay around. I am doing a second set.” Usually, and especially in those days, I would not hang around for a second set. I had other clubs to visit on a Friday night. This time I stayed.
The second stand-up set starts. MacDonald is doing all new material; nothing held over from his first set. Most comedians are lucky if they have thirty minutes after a year. For his first show, MacDonald has two complete 45-minute sets.
GS I read, somewhere, a good 15 minutes of stand-up can take a year to write.
HL Yes; after his second set, I say to MacDonald, “You did two different shows.” MacDonald says, “Aren’t you supposed to?” I said, “We need to talk.”
That was the beginning of my management career, thanks to Mike MacDonald.
GS When was his first show at Rotter’s?
HL I think MacDonald has it pegged at 1979
GS I understand MacDonald played a key role in an earlier event in your life.
HL So I am told. David Bowie played Ottawa on 15 June 1974 at the sold out Civic Centre. Forty-five minutes into his set, Bowie decides, for reasons unknown, to end the show.
Stunned, the audience mingles for a time. I guess they expected Bowie to return to the stage. He doesn’t, he left the stage and the building in one motion.
The audience slowly begins to move up the stairs, to the exits. Then, two guys, as a protest, start throwing chairs onto the stage. The exiting crowd turns, sees chairs flying through the air and decides to join the protest.
GS There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Bowie fans throwing chairs, mostly at the stage.
HL Exact numbers, I do not know, but it was wild. I went on stage, with a microphone, to tell the crowd Bowie was gone from the building. Chairs are flying around me.
GS Did a chair hit you?
HL No, I was lucky. I kept pleading for the protest to stop. It was hopeless.
GS Eventually, it stopped.
HL Sure, when the protesters tired.
GS How did Mike MacDonald fit into this event?
HL He threw the first chair.
GS Let’s move on. MacDonald became a big part of the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival in Montreal.
HL Yes; Gilbert Rozon started “Juste pour Rire,” the French-language festival, as a two-day event in 1983. When Andy Nulman joined the festival, in 1985, the English-language, “Just for Laughs,” began. MacDonald did the first English-language festival and twenty-two more as well as one French-language event.
After the first two years of “Just for Laughs,” I wait to hear about MacDonald for year three. In April, there was total silence; not a word about the July festival. I call Rozon.
A lawyer by training, Rozon built the festivals into to world-class events. He promotes with much élan. He has a large staff, but he remains the key piece in the success of the festivals.
When I talk with Rozon, he says he’s sure MacDonald is on “Just for Laughs.” He says to call Andy Nulman, who runs the English-language festival, to settle the deal for MacDonald. I did.
I ask Nulman, “What’s going on about MacDonald? Do we have an offer?”
Nulman says, “Well, you know, he did the first two years.”
“Yes,” I said. “Mike likes doing it. You sold out the English-language festival on his back in Canada. He should just keep doing it.”
Nulman says, “Well, I don’t know if we can do that.”
“Let me talk to Gilbert Rozon,” I say.
Nulman gets Rozon on the phone. He wants to know what’s going on. I tell him and ask, “The first year of English Mike did the festival; was it successful?”
Rozon says, “Yes.”
I ask, “Was the second year of the English festival Macdonald headlined successful?”
Rozon says, “Yes.”
I say, “It will not ever be successful, again, if you don’t involve Macdonald every year.”
GS That was a bold move.
HL I must do what I must do. Rozon overrides Nulman and says, “MacDonald can do as many ‘Just for Laugh’ festivals as he wants.
Mike started doing the festival every year and our deal was intact. He did twenty-four “Just for Laughs,” in all.
GS MacDonald holds the performance record at “Just for Laughs.”
HL No one will beat that record. MacDonald created his “Rock Star” piece, as the finale for his third year at “Just for Laughs.” The piece is about a kid, in his room, miming a rock star and his father catches him.
For the fourth year at “Just for Laughs,” Andy Nulman says, “Would MacDonald do the rock star piece, on stage, anyway he wants, with whatever pyrotechnics he wants. Whatever he needs, he has. However he imagines doing that piece, he can do it. He can have whatever support he needs to do the piece. We’ll finance it.”
GS That’s an exceptional offer.
HL Yes and MacDonald did it.
Another year, MacDonald, who speaks some French, did his “Bank Piece” for “Juste pour Rire.” Yes, this piece is mostly mime and it has much Anglo shading. Still, MacDonald pulled it off for a Francophone audience.
MacDonald hasn’t done the festival for a couple of years, due to health issues, but he’ll be back.
GS How is MacDonald doing?
HL Well, he had a liver transplant on 15 March 2013. He expects a slow recovery. The point is he’s on the road back to great health and the stage.
GS Ritch Shydner posted a great tribute to MacDonald, on Facebook.
HL Yes, what Shydner wrote about MacDonald was exceptional. Ritch writes about the first time he was hanging out, in Toronto, and met MacDonald. Just as MacDonald was to go on stage, he whispers into Ritch’s ear, “Calling all madmen.” Ritch and I, if we can find the time, want to collect Mike McDonald stories and compile it in a book called, “Calling All Madmen.”
GS Ritch Shydner also wrote about Mike and Bonnie getting married.
HL Yes, they married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, in 1990. They picked a chapel that was convenient. The fellow performing the ceremony was an inadvertent Elvis impersonator.
GS He was an inadvertent Elvis impersonator?
HL Yes, longish slicked back hair in a powder blue suit qua tuxedo, circa 1969. He was so pious and sincere.
GS The image is hilarious.
HL He starts the ceremony, holding a fill-in-the-blanks form, with the names Mike and Bonnie on it. “We’re gathered to join …,” he says. Then he takes a moment to look at the sheet containing their names. Shydner breaks up, laughing out loud. Then MacDonald can’t hold back; he’s laughing almost to the point of tears. I break up, too, and, finally, Bonnie.
The newlyweds were serenaded out of the chapel to the music of Elvis Presley; “Suspicious Minds,” to be exact. This made the foolish hilarity worse. Still, it must be a good way to marry, as Mike and Bonnie are together, today, stronger than ever.
Shydner will capture the moments better than I, when his book comes out, shortly.
GS Didn’t MacDonald introduce you to one of your childhood heroes?
HL Yes, the comedian, Alan King. Once, MacDonald and King were performing in Las Vegas at the same time, but different hotels. I’m there with MacDonald. After his show, he says let’s go see King at the Rivera.
We go back stage after the Rivera show. King greets MacDonald as a long lost buddy. He’s happy to meet me.
We talk. King covers many topics. What I remember most is a story about another comedian, Jack Carter. King says Carter worked large rooms, a thousand people, say. A brilliant comedian, Carter always got the audience in the palm of his hand, quickly.
Then Carter would notice some fellow, in the first or third row, who was sitting there, arms akimbo, not cracking a grin. Carter would focus on him, trying to get a rise from this stoic person, forgetting the rest of the audience. This ruined many shows for Carter.
GS That’s a great story, too often true.
HL Yes; hours later, after making a few rounds of other Vegas acts MacDonald knows, he goes off and I decide to go to bed. As I’m passing the hotel bar, in the Riviera, I notice a lone figure sitting in the middle of the long line of empty chairs. It's King.
I go over to him. It takes him a moment to place me. He invites me to sit, he refreshes his drink and I buy one.
We talk for a while about this and that. I mention to King how important he was to me as a youngster. He nods, knowingly.
I figure he’s complimented. He likely thought I was a want-to-be comedian who found his way into management. Then I tell him why he was my boyhood hero.
GS It’s an important story for you.
HL It is, very much so. My father sold aluminum siding, for a long time, in the 1950s. Often, his days were difficult. Always, my father dominated the household, when he was home; the household mood followed his mood.
If Alan King was appearing on television during the evening or a late-night talk show, it perked my father right up. When my father perked up, the heavy atmosphere in the house eased. I was oh-so glad to tell King about his significance in the life of my father and our household.
After I finished my story, King didn’t say anything for a few moments. He puts his glass on the bar and, standing up to leave, looked me right in the eyes.
GS Did he say your story made his day?
HL King says, straight to me, “I heard that story a thousand times.” Then he walks away.
GS How heroes can deflate those who worship them.
HL Right; never meet your heroes, unless you’re prepared for the worst.
GS MacDonald also led you to Pat Bullard, another talented Canadian comedian.
HL Well, in a way, I guess. MacDonald was working “Yuk Yuks,” in Toronto, as he always did. This was 1983. I was living in Buffalo, out of the business for a while. Sometimes, I would shoot up to Toronto to see MacDonald.
One night, this fellow takes the stage and destroys the audience. Mostly, he got my attention. My managerial urges surge.
I ask if he wants representation. He says yes. It was Pat Bullard.
GS He was one of your first four clients.
HL Yes, the first four were Canadians: MacDonald, Bullard, Norm Macdonald and Howard Busgang.
Bullard is tall and good-looking, he has a great presence. His comedic instinct works at lightning speed. In almost an instant, Bullard finds the raw material of an audience and sculpts it; he’s massively inventive.
GS It’s my guess Bullard wanted a talk show.
HL He’s a perfect fit for a television talk show. He looks good. He easily measures the audience. He takes command, subtly. He knows how to ask questions. He knows how to listen.
GS In 1994, you sold a Bullard talk show to Multimedia.
HL Yes, Sally Jesse Raphael, “Sally,” was strong for Multimedia, after Phil Donahue left. Burt Dubrow joined Multimedia as Vice president of programming, some years earlier; he created “Sally.” Always, though, Dubrow was looking for a backup for “Sally.”
The question Dubrow asked was, “What if a truck hits Sally Jesse Raphael?” She anchored the company. There was no back up.
Dubrow developed Jerry Springer as backup. When “Sally” began to fade, Springer took off. Dubrow actively sought another backup.
Bullard was a perfect fit. Dubrow wanted a younger, hipper television talk show host. I thought I knew Dubrow, some, from our college days, so I pushed Bullard to him.
GS Bullard gets the deal.
HL Yes, we pitched as we did any show. Jim Kellem, from the Agency for the Performing Arts (APA) joined us. We three, Kellem, Dubrow and I, put the deal together.
GS You knew Burt Dubrow, all those years ago, at college, in Boston?
HL Dubrow is one of those people who come into your life, but you don’t know when. It happens all the time, especially in show business. Always seemed he was around, somewhere; creating and producing a television show at Grahm College; creating and producing “Sally”; creating and producing “The Jerry Springer Show.”
I know people for twenty-five or thirty years. I couldn’t tell you, in a million years, how, where or when I met them. I’m talking about people that have become good friends.
Once, Dubrow and I tried to figure out when or how we met. It was surely in the late sixties, when we attended college, in Boston. I went to Emerson. Dubrow went to Grahm.
Grahm is the Back Bay area of Boston, as is Emerson. For a couple years, 1968 to 1970, roughly, we spent much time in a 10-block radius. We had busy lives; not much time to notice any one else.
At Emerson we had a television programme. At Grahm they had a television programme. As students, we put together shows, drawing audiences or participants from the other school.
Emerson and Grahm students hung out, a lot. I surely met Burt Dubrow. Neither of us recalls meeting, though.
I stayed at Emerson until I graduated, on the Dean’s List, in 1972. Dubrow ran off to join a circus, in 1970. His circus was the touring version of “The Howdy Doody Show,” which he ran for three or four years. After Emerson, I found a radio job in Canada.
GS It's an interesting coincidence how four A-list media players came out of one class at Grahm.
HL Yes; Dubrow, Paul Fusco, who created “Alf”; Andy Kaufman, the satirist, who left us way too soon, and Mark Summers, who currently hosts “Restaurant: Impossible,” on the Food Network.
GS Let’s get back to Bullard. Multimedia bought the Bullard show. It taped in New York City. Dubrow was Senior Vice-president of Programming for MultiMedia.
HL Right, but Dubrow couldn’t keep his hands-off the show. That’s the good news. Any time Dubrow has his hands on a show, the show has what it takes for big time success.
The “Pat Bullard Show” aired during 1995 and into the 1996 season. During that time, MultiMedia sold twice; once to Gannett, once to NBC Universal. It's difficult to focus on producing a hit show when the ownership changes, repeatedly. The library of Bullard shows lives, today, gathering dust, in a warehouse owned by Universal, which is now Comcast.
GS Didn’t Bullard go on to write for “Roseanne”?
HL Yes, he wrote for “Roseanne.” He’s an excellent writer; a fast mind. Throw an idea at Bullard and he writes three pages before you blink.
GS A great many top writers worked on “Roseanne.”
HL Yes, I think about three dozen writers keyboarded through the show. Matt Williams and Roseanne Barr were the core writers. Chuck Lorre, of “Dharma and Greg” and “Two and a Half Men,” among other shows, wrote and executive produced. As I recall Norm Macdonald, Tom Arnold and Steve Fromstein, who I think was a story editor, wrote on the show, as well as Pat Bullard and many others.
“Roseanne” made good writers, better. Most writers, on that show, got deals all over the place. The writing room for “Roseanne” was famous and now is legendary.
GS How did she, Roseanne, attract such great writers?
HL Barr was no stranger to good comedy. She’s a top talent; other talent gravitates to her. It’s a natural law.
GS Do you know how the show, “Roseanne,” came about?
HL Karen Haber, an excellent stand-up comedian, helped me understand that show. Haber worked mostly in the middle 1980s. She often played my comedy club, “Hiccups,” in Rochester, New York. I had the opportunity to talk with her, many times.
Heber was good friends with Roseanne. Naturally, we talked about Roseanne. How the show came about was easy to piece together.
Roseanne had done the “Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson,” the mecca for stand-up in those days, twice. Appearing on Carson, once, made Roseanne Barr someone to keep an eye on. Twice and her star was about to rise.
Haber said Roseanne was trying to put together a show. All the networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, were interested in Roseanne. She plowed through many show ideas, sitcoms, variety, even drama: Roseanne could cherry pick, if she wanted.
Roseanne had a strong sense of her character, domestic womanhood qua goddess. There were some difficulties carving out her niche and writing a pilot around such a character. Wisely, Roseanne knew she owned this niche and it had to be right, out of the gate; she was patient.
Necessarily, Roseanne had many tough decisions to make about quality and content. She prevailed against network demands, although, at this point, she was mostly an up-and-comer. Her single-minded toughness paid off.
Danny Jacobson, who worked several roles on “Roseanne,” finally pulled the show together. His writing and producing credits includes “Soap,” “My Sister Sam” and “Seinfeld”; he created “Mad About You.” Roseanne understood that Jacobson knew what he was doing.
The Jacobson formula is simple. Find a star that hasn’t worked much on a television sound-stage, say, Jerry Seinfeld or Roseanne, and put the best actors you can find around him or her. For Roseanne, those actors included John Goodman, Laurie Metcalfe and Sara Gilbert, among others.
Jacobson didn’t worry how well the centerpiece, say, Roseanne Barr, could act. The acting and comedy swirl around her. She does the jokes, which is what she does best.
GS What about writers?
HL Yes, add great writers, many great writers. Supposedly, Roseanne bought t-shirts inscribed with a number assigned to each writer. She was writer number one; Jacobson was two, Bullard was 26 and so forth.
GS The hard part was likely getting talent, actors and writers, to work for quality product and not only a pay cheque.
HL I think so and Bullard is a quality-seeking talent. After “Roseanne,” he moved to “Grace Under Fire” and “Reba,” starring Reba McEntire. He hosted “Love Connection” and “Card Sharks” as well as “Here Come the Newlyweds.” Bullard executive produces “Malibu Country,” the new Reba McEntire show.
GS A versatile talent.
HL Yes; his talk show was fun. Left adrift, in a sense, NBC Universal cancelled the “Pat Bullard Show” after 106 episodes. A great star and producer, such as Dubrow, can do only so much without much corporate interest or support.
GS Dubrow and Bullard seem a success waiting to happen.
HL That could be, we will see. What the Bullard show did was to get me to New York City, often. I spent much time working with Dubrow, on and around the show. By watching, I learned much about television, talk shows and producing.
As the buyer, the producer, Dubrow looked at me as a manager. Yes, I was on the talent side, the other side. I wasn’t the enemy, though, as is often the case.
Dubrow and I resolved the opposition. That’s when we started to get to know each other. Sure, Dubrow was the buyer, but he’s a great man and smart, better than most talent buyers.
He, Dubrow, sees the world through a 25-inch Cathode Ray Tube. He’s who I want on the television set, with my client; who I want producing. No one sees television as clearly, as well, as does Burt Dubrow.
GS We can see that several times a week, when HLN airs “Dr Drew On Call,” which Dubrow executive produces.
HL Yes; when the Pat Bullard Show was in production, I wanted to be around the show. I wanted to watch. I wanted to learn.
At the studio, I’d find the green room. I can find a craft service table, the food for the cast and crew, in the middle of Zimbabwe. Then I settled in to watch a television, with a live feed from the studio.
One day, I walk into the green room and sitting there, the only person in the room, is Frankie Valli, singer for the “Four Seasons.” He’s waiting to do Bullard.
GS Was Valli working as a single then?
HL I think so. Although I always talk with people waiting in green rooms, I usually go anonymous. If I introduce myself, they’re mostly gracious. Eventually, they ask what I do.
I tell them the truth. I manage comedians and create or produce television shows. They expect me to pitch them, but I usually don’t. No matter, the conversation trails off, sooner than later, after I reveal what I do.
It’s better to stay anonymous and have some great conversations. Still, the disk jockey (DJ) that I am at heart had to talk with Valli. I introduce myself to Valli.
He asks me what I do. I tell him I manage Pat Bullard. I threw caution to the wind.
Yes, he likes Bullard and his show. I entice him to talk about his work and career. What else am I going to talk to Frankie Valli about, given the chance?
Valli was open, a good man. He said, “I don’t have a manager.” The great Fred Lawrence, at ICM, the booking and management agency, used to take care of the “Four Seasons,” but now Valli was on his own. He asked for my card.
I am stunned. I have a card handy. I put it in his hand.
Then, I wonder, what do I say or do if Valli calls. What is my plan for him? What hasn’t he done? How do I take him forward, increase his revenue?
Back in Los Angeles, driving along Ventura Boulevard, an idea strikes me and my fear vanishes. I’d put musicians behind Frankie Valli and take the act to Broadway. Now, I’m hoping he calls, right now.
GS Did Valli call?
HL No, of course, he didn’t call. “Jersey Boys” appeared on Broadway, not long after my brainstorm. The rest is history.
GS Great minds think alike, “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons” did seven shows on Broadway, from 19 October to 27 October 2012.
HL I didn’t know. Here´s the point, though, as a manager I was preparing. If Valli called I needed to respond.
I had no idea, no vision of the shape or form, of how big “Jersey Boys” would become. I thought about putting a band on the Broadway stage and that was it. Still, I was happy within myself, my instinct to take it on Broadway was correct.
Some people may say I probably wrote that later, after “Jersey Boys” appeared. I didn’t. That was how I thought about taking Valli forward, at the time. I wanted to be able to get on a plane, fly to New York and discuss a plan.
GS Always come prepared.
HL Yes; as a manager, I must have a plan. Usually, Plan A doesn’t work, thus, Plan B must be cool. Problems usually pop up with Plan B, too.
Typically, we end with plan C. It´s like comedy: you don’t take the first idea, you take the third. If you are doing improvisational comedy, as, say, Ritch Shynder does, you run the first and second ideas through your mind, at lightning speed, dismissing both for the third idea that comes to you.
It's much the same in management. As you consider Plan A and B, you learn about the comedian or project. Plan C works because it's a result of learning.
GS Life arrives in threes. Did you have a Plan B or Plan C for Valli?
HL No, I did not, at that moment. Later, when we met, I’d have plans A-through-Z.
GS Talking about the Bullard show reminded me how wide open daytime talk is since Oprah left. Ellen DeGeneres is filling some of the void as is Katie Couric.
HL Well, Oprah does well with her digital and cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). It does especially well when it airs anything involving Oprah. I’m not sure about the success of other shows on OWN.
GS Can one host or talk show fill the void left by Oprah?
HL Oprah has an elusive magic. I don’t know how to define it. I don’t think Oprah can define it.
You can’t copy Oprah. Many tried. Everyone failed.
The audience ate it up, every single day. Oprah’s one of, if not the last, great television syndication success. Michael and Roger King, at King World Productions, did an incredible job selling Oprah, all those years.
In 1964, Charles King started as a syndicator of the “Little Rascals” movie shorts, filmed from the 1929 through 1938. Later, the company co-produced an animated version of “Rascals,” with Hanna Barbera. When Charles King passed, in 1973, his children, Roger, Michael, Diana, Richard and Karen, took over King World Productions. CBS now owns the company.
The Kings spotted Oprah in Baltimore, in the middle 1970s. Richard Sher hired her to co-anchor the WJZ-TV evening newscast. She also did local shows, such as “People are Talking,” and a game show, “Dialing for Dollars.”
Oprah moved to Chicago, in 1984, to host “AM Chicago,” on WLS-TV. In one month, she moved the show from last place to first place in the ratings. After two years, the show relaunched as the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” replacing Phil Donahue.
When the new Oprah show couldn’t cajole Don Johnson, then starring on “Miami Vice,” as the first guest, on the first show, Oprah decided to do what she did best, talk to ordinary people. Studs Terkel had a sixty-year career, on Chicago radio and television, interviewing ordinary people. Why not Oprah?
GS Her first show was about “How to Marry the Man or Woman of Your Choice,” a mainstay of talk radio
HL Yes; it seems some people and some shows are successful no matter what. Good timing and making the right decisions seems a given. Talent and luck will out.
Oprah is likely to stay on television, somehow, if only on OWN. No one show is going to fill the gap she left. Jeff Probst, host of “Survivor,” had a daytime talk show, which cancelled in the middle of March 2013. The producers are gang-shooting to finish up to complete the contract.
For now, it’s taking several shows and several hours to partially fill the void left by Oprah.
GS Steve Harvey entered daytime talk last September.
HL Yes; he’s finishing his first season, successfully; the surprise hit of daytime television. He’s renewed for a second season. He may stay for a few years.
GS Two or three weeks ago, the New York “Times” called him “one of the foremost entertainers” in the USA.
HL Steve is a marvelous comedian, great television personality. As Roseanne Barr is the goddess of domestic womanhood, Harvey is the king of offering the sensitive side of men. If that portrayal catches, his daytime talk show may have a few good years.
GS To work around the talk show schedule, Harvey will tape a full season of “Family Feud,” which he hosts, in April 2013. That’s 200 shows in one month.
HL Such tight scheduling is not uncommon. “Family Feud” runs itself. The host does the show in a rote way. Harvey has the skills. He can do 200 shows in a month without dropping a beat.
GS Didn’t you and Fred Silverman pitch a show to Harvey?
HL Yes; for years, Fred Silverman and I have a regular lunch. Mostly, we talk about television. Silverman knows television better than does anyone.
At one time or another, Silverman was the top television executive at CBS, ABC and NBC. The youngest network programming head, ever, to his first appointment. He stays on top of everything about television, to this day.
We, Silverman and I, talk about a great many show ideas. What might work, when, where and why? The speculation is fun and a great learning experience.
At one point, I thought variety talk, something akin to Letterman, would work at 10 pm. America was going to bed earlier, the networks were in decline, a variety talk show is far less expensive to produce than an hour of drama, say.
GS An hour of good television talk costs about one-fifth as much as does an hour of drama.
HL The only less expensive television content is reality, such as “Housewives of Los Angeles, say.
Silverman and I talked a great deal about the idea of variety talk television at 10 pm. The logic is good. The opportunities abound, but the only network to toe-test was NBC, seemingly without much thought.
GS It bombed.
HL Yes, it did; still, the idea is good and sound. Successful television is more than an idea, though. The star centres the show: he or she makes or breaks any show idea.
Silverman and I went back and forth on this for several weeks. Eventually, we decide Steve Harvey could make 10 pm variety talk work. His skills are incredible. He has a strong radio background. His time to break out was near. Harvey was the ideal centre for a late-evening variety talk show.
Silverman sent a letter to a lawyer, somewhere in Texas, who represents Harvey. We asked for a meeting. Silverman has top drawer credibility; if he writes, he has a serious, workable plan.
To respond to him is good business. Say yes. Say no. It doesn’t matter.
The lawyer ignored the letter.
Such a letter is the first step, no matter who’s involved, long-standing talent or newcomer. Ignoring the letter is poor form. The lack of tact reflects poorly on Harvey.
We tried another route. We contacted a fellow working with Harvey. He couldn’t believe the lawyer didn’t respond: it was embarrassing.
Our new contact for Steve Harvey invites us to see to see a live show at the Gibson Theater, in Los Angeles. Silverman and I go to the show, with our wives. Afterwards we go backstage.
Backstage is pandemonium. Harvey has a huge staff. What stood out most, perhaps, was how everyone was faultlessly dressed.
We meet a fellow, a former stand-up comedian, who, in a sense, manages Steve Harvey. I won’t mention his name. Silverman and I set up a meeting with the manager.
A few days later, Silverman and I pitch the show idea to the manager and most of the crew that surround Harvey. They buy into it. This is great.
Silverman says this is among his best meetings, ever. I say, “You’ve had 10,000 meetings and that was among the best.” He says, “Yes.”
The point, I guess, is all those present grasped a complicated idea. You just don’t move a talk show to 10 pm and expect America viewers to buy it lock, stock and barrel. Such a show needs a slow, steady come on: it takes time. We were confident everyone at the meeting understood and liked the idea.
We had a second meeting. Again, it went well. Still, no deal, yet, but we felt we’re on our way.
Then I received a call from the fellow who manages Steve Harvey. He says Harvey is doing a morning radio show. He’d like us to come to the studio tomorrow morning, at 7 am, to see the show.
Silverman came up through radio, as did I. We know what happens in radio. At first, I declined the invitation for both of us.
The manager says, “Steve wants you guys to come to the show.” If we don’t go, how will it affect the deal? Silverman doesn’t want to go. We go, despite what we think.
At 7 am, Silverman and I are sitting in a studio next to the one where Harvey is doing his show. We watch through the window. There’s nothing ground breaking: it’s Harvey, with his crew, doing a solid AM Drive show.
After 45 minutes, we’re steaming. Why are we here? As if he knows we’re wondering why we are there, the manager sticks his head into our side of the studio. “At the next break,” says the manager, “Steve wants you to come into the main studio.”
Next break, the door opens. Silverman and I go into on-air studio. There are usual hugs and handshakes.
The manager says, “Follow me.” He takes us into the bowels of the radio station to a small office, maybe four feet by four feet. We squish into this office.
The manager says, “We can’t do your show.”
I said, “I think a telephone call would send the message, well. Now that we’re here, tell us why”
The manager says, “We hear NBC has Bill Cosby lined up for a show. Fox has Cedric the Entertainer set for a show, too. Steve Harvey can’t be third.”
At first, I didn’t catch that he meant third Black comedian on network television. “Right,” said the manager, “You don’t understand the community.”
Then Silverman says, “I don’t pretend to understand the community. What I do understand is I don’t care if he is white, red, brown or yellow. Harvey is the guy. It has nothing to do with his profile.”
The manager says, “Frankly, you strike me as a borderline racist.”
GS That is unbelievable.
HL Then I pipe up, “I can’t take it. Sir,” I said, just for the record, “I think you just said the man who put ‘Roots’ on television is a borderline racist. We have to go.” We left and that was the end.
I want to be clear: Steve Harvey had nothing to do with what transpired in that room, as far as I know. He probably knew about the gist of the meeting. None of this had anything to do with Harvey. I run into Steve, once in a while and all is good. We, Fred Silverman and I, moved on.
GS That’s some story.
HL There’s more. I didn’t drop the idea of the ten o´clock show. Silverman and I talked about it a great deal. We still do. Fred loves to talk about late-evening and late-night television.
When the Leno and Conan fiasco hit NBC, Silverman e-mailed Mark Graboff and Ben Silverman, who were running NBC. Remember, Silverman is the only person to head programming at three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC: he knows what was going on. He wants to talk about Leno and O’Brien.
GS He wants to consult NBC on the Leno O’Brien dilemma.
HL Right; Silverman outlines why NBC should air Leno at 10 pm, week nights. The move would improve late-evening week night ratings. In that time slot, Leno would attract a good-sized audience, with much appeal to advertisers. It would save the cost of developing dramas for that time slot, which often fail. NBC could only make money and appear as the bold new leader of network television.
NBC makes the move. It flops, badly. Leno wants back to the “Tonight Show,” which Conan O’Brien has hosted for seven months.
NBC tries to resolve the mess by cutting the “Tonight Show” to a half hour and starting O’Brien at 12:05 am. Although Silverman backed moving Leno to 10 pm, he says to the New York “Times,” the new NBC plan is a “Mickey Mouse scheme.”
Gavin Polone, manager extraordinaire, handles Conan. He’s not buying the new start time for his client. Conan stays in the “Tonight Show,” at 11:35 pm, or he leaves NBC.
Polone, smart as a whip, always does a great job. I was certain Polone put a huge penalty clause in the “Tonight Show” contract for O’Brien. He did: O’Brien left NBC with $40 million dollars.
TMZ got hold of the original memo from Silverman urging the Leno move to 10 pm. TMZ also flogged the New York “Times” quote about a Mickey Mouse scheme. Of course, TMZ forgot to mention the e-mail was about moving Leno to 10 pm, but the “Times” quote was about moving Leno back to the “Tonight Show,” at 11:35 pm.
Further, Silverman never told NBC how to do the Leno move to 10 pm. His e-mail was why they should do it. The how entailed consulting.
GS What was the idea about moving Leno, successfully, into the 10 pm weekend night slot?
HL The key is always how you do something. NBC needed to phase Leno into the 10 pm slot, one night at a time; one more night each season, say. Yes, it would take four years, but it would work.
GS Was it four nights on the “Tonight Show,” and one night at ten o´clock?
HL No nights the “Tonight Show”; Conan handles that show. First season, Leno would work one night at 10 pm and maybe a few specials. Second season, he’d do two nights at 10 pm and a few specials and so forth.
GS Why do you think NBC jumped, hook, line and sinker, into Leno at 10 pm on weeknights?
HL I think the NBC contract with Leno was at a point where he could talk with other networks. The “Tonight Show starring Jay Leno” makes NBC as much as 16% of its annual profit. If Leno left for ABC, say, he’d take his act, his audience and one-sixth of the NBC profit, with him. NBC could not risk such a loss, when Conan looked like a long-term investment.
NBC had to deal, quickly. Leno got the “Tonight Show” back. O’Brien, who was rebuilding the “Tonight Show” audience slower than expected, received a cheque for $40 million dollars and a new show, on TBS, thanks to Gavin Polone.
NBC laid a colossal egg. It was a classic failure, with a host who knows how to give a good show. Now, no network will touch 10 pm for variety talk.
GS This wasn’t the first colossal gaff for NBC.
HL No; NBC launched television in 1939, calling it a “torch of hope in a troubled world.” Then NBC let all its top radio talent slip away to CBS. This gave CBS a huge lead in prime-time television viewers; it took NBC more than a generation to catch up.
GS You pitched an interesting pilot for the late Steve Landesberg, some years ago.
HL I did. He was a client of my late partner, Rick Bernstein. When Bernstein passed away, Landesberg stayed with me.
Landesberg was a wonderful man. Any day I was down, I’d call him. He’d make me laugh, out loud, and improve my mood.
He had a dry, understated sense of humour. Landesberg would say something, followed by a moment of silence before whoever heard his comment realized what they heard and started laughing. His portrayal of Detective Sargent Arthur Dietrich, on “Barney Miller,” was Landesberg as himself.
Landesberg was one of the few comedians that could make Johnny Carson laugh. Carson would go nuts. Steve passed away in 2010: it was a huge loss.
Somehow, I can’t recall exactly, we found a script for Landesberg. We decided to pitch the show to ABC-TV. We are me; Jim Kellem, at APA, the agent for Landesberg; Brandon Tartikoff and the writers, Stan Daniels and Alan Moskowitz. This was an all-star team pitching the show.
At age 32, Tartikoff was the youngest president of NBC entertainment; even younger than Fred Silverman when he took that job. Tartikoff developed “The Cosby Show,” “Miami Vice” and “Family Ties,” among many, many others. When Johnny Carson decided to retire from the “Tonight Show,” he told Tartikoff first.
The writers, Stan Daniels and Alan Moskowitz, were A-list. Daniels was one of the producers of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” Moskowitz wrote “Falcon Crest,” “Dragnet” and “Charles in Charge.” This pair is television writing royalty.
We schedule the pitch. The day before the pitch, we scheduled a staging. Staging is organizing and rehearsing the pitch.
Tartikoff doesn’t need to come to the staging. He´s heard every pitch and knows what he is doing. The rest of us work through it.
The plan is for me to open the pitch, introduce Landesberg, his agent and the writers. Then I turn it over to the writers. We work through the pitch a couple of times.
At 1 pm, the next day, we’re at ABC-TV, waiting to pitch Kelly Goode. She ran ABC-TV Entertainment, at the time. Tartikoff is late.
We can’t locate Tartikoff. There were no cell phones, in 1994, as we know cell phones in 2013. Some cars were hard-wire with phones; there were some clunky cell phones, the size of a small shoe box. Mostly, constant contact was not what it is today.
About 1:30 pm, Tartikoff, delayed by traffic, arrives. We march into the office, where we’ll pitch the show. We sit down.
I’m next to Tartikoff. He puts his hand on my knee, as if to say, “Don´t talk. I´ve got this one.” I could sense it.
He opens. “We’re pitching a comedy with Steve Landesberg. In a second, I can tell you why Steve has not been on television in a long time.” Tartikoff is using all my stuff from the staging he didn’t attend.
Tartikoff says, “I know you’re about to renew ‘Coach,’ at 9:00 pm on Wednesday. I also know you don’t have anything at 9:30, to follow ‘Coach.’ I know you’re looking for a strong companion; I have that companion show for you, right now.”
Tartikoff knows the landscape. He knows exactly what they need. He knows exactly where to put what they need. His pitch was perfect. I sat, silent, learning from a master player: what an opportunity.
Next, Tartikoff talks about why Landesberg has been absent from television. “Steve has not found anything sufficiently well written until this show came along,” says Tartikoff. At this point, that’s all that needs saying.
ABC Television bought “Best Defence,” as a television pilot; Lauren Graham, of “Parenthood” and “Gilmore Girls,” co-starred with Landesberg. I was executive producer, with Tartikoff, Daniels and Moskowitz. There I was, on the same line, in the credits, with Brandon Tartikoff.
GS I suspect “Best Defense” was about lawyers.
HL Yes, it takes place behind the scenes in the offices of a District Attorney and a Public Defender. Landesberg was the lead public defender, a cynic who had seen everything. Graham was the prosecutor. Clint Howard was the defendant.
GS ABC didn’t pick up the show.
HL No, for whatever reason, the television pilot, directed by Paul Block, aired once, in 1995, and that was it.
GS You give the impression working with Mike MacDonald and Steve Landesberg was mostly easy. Who can we talk about that was not as easy?
HL There are many, but Paula Abdul comes to mind, first. I managed Abdul for maybe 89 days. My stint with Abdul began shortly after she started on “American Idol.” She was an original judge on the show.
Let me first say she is most creative. She came to me with a package of incredible ideas aimed at moving her beyond talent into producing. That move and how she thought she could do it interested me most.
“American Idol” would reestablish her. Hollywood saw her as a “Lakers Girl,” who had a few hit records in the 1990s. “Idol” got a quick head of steam that seemed destined to grow. She wanted to take advantage.
GS Luck finds those who prepared.
HL At first, there was little interest in “Idol.” Two or three networks passed on the show before Mike Darnell bought it for Fox. I think everybody believed the show was good for one or two seasons, maybe three, with few prospects for much longer.
GS No one predicted the freight train it became and remains.
HL No; “Idol” obviously took hold fast. Abdul captured the hearts of the audience. She developed a sound character.
Abdul was the name on the show. Simon Cowell was a newcomer to the American audience. Randy Jackson, an exceptional musician who was part of “Journey,” for example, was unknown. At the time, Ryan Seacrest was almost unknown; so, too, co-host Brian Dunkleman.
Abdul hired me to manage her. She hired Billy Rieback to write for her. Rieback was a comedian from Montreal. He moved to New York City, in his late teens, to work the comedy clubs.
Rieback is fast. He can create and write on the spot. He thinks funny and is funny.
He made his way to Los Angeles. He hired on to a pilot called, “Hammer Time.” I think he, Rieback, was responsible for changing the name of the show to “Home Improvement,” which starred Tim Allen.
GS That’s a great opening.
HL First time on the set of “American Idol,” I run into Rieback. When he said he was writing for Abdul, her currency doubled for me. Smart woman, I thought, hiring a top writer to help mold her character on the show and, I guess, to build her future.
Rieback and Abdul worked on her character. Cowell was the aggressor. Whatever he said, Paula had a comeback ready.
GS This is why Abdul played off Cowell so well.
HL Yes; Abdul knows what to do and how to do it. She has a great ability to remember material and play it back. The key to the success of Cowell and Abdul was she could never be the aggressor. He had to attack her, in his way; she could not take the lead.
Abdul had a great ability to capture anything that Simon threw at her. Then she’d play America’s sweet heart victimized by Cowell. It worked, right out of the gate. The conflict made the show a hit from the beginning.
GS Did Abdul and Rieback coordinated this with Cowell?
HL Cowell is Cowell. I am not sure how much he had to say about it. This conflict, even if only partially worked up, gave “American Idol” a great start. No one expected the savvy start.
Rieback created a way for Abdul to work Cowell to her advantage. No one came off looking bad. Abdul won, Cowell didn’t lose.
For me, I came to know Rieback, well, that summer. Our friendship continues, today. He’s great, always makes me laugh and, sometimes, I can return the compliment.
GS I read he’s working a new project for Disney.
HL Bill Rieback is always working. He’s that good, that creative and that imaginative. He’s always out front.
GS Abdul is about to benefit from “American Idol” and you enter.
HL Yes; the idea was to sell the Paula Abdul brand. Make deals for new shows; make a zillion dollars for her. That was the goal. She seemed ready to go for it.
The first season of “Idol” airs. All is great or so it seems. In late September, maybe early October, as the second season approaches, Abdul calls me as I hit the ground in Toronto. I flew three thousand miles to attend the season premiere of the “Mike Bullard Show.” I’m already tired.
Abdul says she doesn’t want to return to “American Idol.” For the first season, Abdul earned little, even, sometimes, wearing her own cloths. Still, Fox was ready to make a good deal. She’s not sure.
Quickly, the call attracts a crowd. My associate, at the time, joins us as do a few of her people and our respective publicists and lawyers. I think her hairdresser was also on the call.
The call continues, as I move through Customs and into the limo, on my way to the Fairmont Royal York. We’re still talking as I arrive in downtown Toronto. In the hotel elevator, on the way to room, we’re talking. As I change to attend the season premiere of the “Mike Bullard Show,” we talk. Yes, Mike is the brother of Pat. In the limo, going to the CTV studios, we talk. Backstage, I’m still talking with Abdul and everybody else. The show aired and I spent the whole time on that phone call. The dressing room crowds, throngs are congratulating Bullard. I’m still on the phone with Abdul. The throng heads to Arnie Morton’s Steakhouse to celebrate. I wave, signaling I’d be along shortly. I’m still on the phone call. Finally, at 10:30 pm, the call ends after too many hours.
I’m exhausted and dazed. I wonder down Younge Street to the Royal York. I collapse on the bed.
A few minutes later, I wake up, startled. I’m supposed to be at Morton’s celebrating the premier of a new talk-show season with my client. I grab a cab.
Next time I saw my associate. I say, “That was some phone call, the other day.” He says, “Oh, that’s nothing. Last night I was grocery shopping and unwisely answered my phone. She kept me going for two hours. I never got out of frozen foods.”
GS What was the problem?
HL She thinks I let her down. She didn’t want to return to “American Idol,” for a second season. I had no chance to deal with Fox and “Idol” for her. She set her bar higher, much higher.
A few days later, I called my lawyer. I tell him I want out of the deal with Abdul. That was that.
GS My sense is she saw the first season as an investment. Then she doesn’t want to return. This does not make sense.
HL That’s exactly what she was doing. It exhausted me beyond belief. I don’t think we’d hit the bar she wanted. I was realistic in my dealings with Fox, on her behalf.
It was difficult. It took a whole summer. We’re making no money. At the point her investment was to pay off, she says no.
GS She’s taking all these hits: low pay; no wardrobe, paying a writer out of her pocket. Then she doesn’t want to cash out.
HL She’s a talented woman, who used every skill she had to make her business, herself, a success. We believed in that success, her future. She pushed so hard against her effort, our effort.
Maybe the slow-going frightened her. Maybe she thought it wouldn’t work. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I lost time, a chance to hunt-down other opportunities, but I learned. What I learned, maybe anew, was to know when the opportunity cost is too high and to move on. In retrospect, I think she knew she was going back for season two, but waiting for the deal to come through took a huge toll.
GS She did go back and until the end of the 2009 season.
HL Yes; I am happy for her.
GS Andrew Silverstein, I heard, was a bit difficult, too.
HL Ah, yes, he developed a character called Andrew Dice Clay. I’m not sure he was a comedian, first, but he found a character, a niche, that worked. Audiences liked the character.
When I promoted Sam Kinison in concert, among others, I promoted Clay in New York State. We made good money, but I never got to know him, well. Years later, I ran into Clay at the Internet show Tom Green hosted from his living room.
We, Clay and I, talked a bit. I guess I passed his test because he shared some of his new material with me. Clay had worked up a killer act. I asked what he wanted to do.
He wanted someone to get him an HBO special. From that he figured he could sell out Giant Stadium. I said, no one could assure that, but I still wanted to manage.
I didn’t fully buy into the stadium tour, but arenas, maybe. He did need to make changes to his character. The half gloves and leather, for example, had to go. If your father looked as does Clay when he’s twenty years old, it’s not a problem. If dad looks the same at age fifty, who’s going to pay top dollar to see him. Not many people, I reckoned.
He could keep the attitude, which sold, well. His look had to change. Clay didn’t buy into any changes, wanting to keep his character where he felt comfortable.
GS I can’t recall if he lived his dream to do his act in arenas and stadiums.
HL At his peak, Clay sold out Madison Square Garden on two consecutive nights.
GS Where does he perform, today?
HL I think he does Las Vegas, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. He had a reality show. Otherwise, I’m not sure what he does.
I don’t think Clay was ready or willing to hear what I had to say. He’s the decider. Advisers advise and Clay decides.
Clay is top talent, with much potential. An HBO special was a definite possibility, but he had to change, some, to get it.
GS When you moved to Los Angeles, in 1988, did anyone help you find a footing?
HL When I first came to Los Angeles, I ran into Bob Williams, whom I knew from New York City. He ran a company called Spotlite. It was the premier agency for stand-up comedians, in the 1980s.
Spotlite agents stood outside every talk show. They’d try to sign comedians who appeared on network shows. It was reminiscent of Albert Grossman stalking Greenwich Village, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, signing anyone he could to a management contract.
Williams introduced me to a bunch of people. I met Jerry Kushnick, a lawyer, through Williams. Kushnick managed Jimmie Walker, of “Good Times,” and Jay Leno as well as many other stand-up comedians, at the time.
GS It’s interesting you say, “Jimmie,” when most know Walker as “JJ,” from “Good Times.”
HL Yes and it is “Jimmie,” with the “ie,” not a “y.” As well, for the longest time, you couldn’t say “dyn-o-mite,” which was his signature word on “Good Times.” He became “Kid Dynamite,” which he tried to avoid for a long time. Walker wouldn’t speak the catchphrase, although that’s how the public knew him.
GS I saw Walker on Letterman, a while back; maybe about the time his book published, in June 2012. David Letterman tried to get him to say “Kid Dyn-o-amite,” even “Dynamite,” but he wouldn’t.
HL His audiences will yell it out. They do it for him. He doesn’t address it.
Walker isn’t dissing the audience by not using the catchphrase. After a show, Walker sits in the back of whatever room he’s working. He signs autographs for everyone.
GS It is an old school show of appreciation. It’s what most Country Music acts do.
HL Walker waits until the last person leaves. This is good business. It’s genuine Jimmie Walker.
GS A class act.
HL Walker never forgot the customer. The audience is the customer. He never forgets that.
GS Every hand he shakes is a forever fan.
HL Every hand he shakes is worth 250 hands. Every person there tells someone, who tells someone and it goes down the line. Gratefully signing every autography and shaking every hand, are small, but positive acts.
GS The numbers add up. Even if you do a bad show, shake 50 hands and re-write history.
HL Yes, you can erase a bad show with warmth and generosity.
In the early 1970s, Walker was a talk-show producer at WMCA-AM, in New York City. After work, he’d go to the Improv or another comedy club to perform a set. He had a day job and could afford to work these clubs, for no pay, to develop his act.
Now that the book is out, Walker embraces the dynamite nickname. If he didn’t, few would recognize his book for what it is, that is great. He wants to tell his story and he’s smart, so he embraces the catchphrase.
GS I understand why he didn’t care for “Kid Dyn-o-mite,” it was a character he portrayed, not himself. Still, it’s what the audience connects with and he must work around it.
HL Walker then earned a job warming up the audience for a sitcom that filmed in New York City. The show was “Calucci’s Department,” starring James Coco. The theme of the show was unemployment. The plot involved high-jinx in the State Unemployment Office.
GS I can’t imagine unemployment as funny.
HL Who knows, it is show business; someone at CBS thought the show would work. Walker got the audience going. Despite his best efforts, “Calucci’s Department” aired for two months, maybe.
After one of these warm up sessions, Pat Kirkland, of CBS, asked Walker if he had interest in doing a sitcom. He said sure and forgot about it. At the next taping, Kirkland brought Norman Lear, producer of the new sitcom.
Lear created and produced, “All in the Family,” which was going great guns on CBS. Lear wants to cast a spin off about a working class family that happens to be Black.
Lear sees Walker warming up the audience and says, “There’s JJ.” Suddenly, the hottest television producer is talking to Walker about shooting a sitcom in Los Angeles. Fifteen minutes ago, Walker was a struggling comedian, screening phone calls and cueing commercials at a radio station to pay the bills.
His friend, Ben Vereen, the dancer and actor, was on Broadway in “Pippin.” Walker asks Vereen what he should do. Vereen says, “Go see my lawyer.” Thus, Walker meets Jerry Kushnick, a lawyer based in New York City.
Kushnick seals the deal, with Lear, for Walker. They, Kushnick and Walker, head to Los Angeles. Walker now needs a stand-up act, worthy of his smash-hit sitcom, and he has money.
The money gives Walker a two or three year lead. He can buy stand-up material and polish it. When the “Tonight Show” calls, he’s ready.
Many of the top comedians, today, struggled in the middle 1970s. Walker paid them to write material, let them crash at his place and so forth. He helped Letterman and Letterman never forgot. He also helped Leno, Jeff Altman, Larry Witherspoon and many, many others.
GS That’s great.
HL Right, Walker was ahead of everyone, with “Good Times.” Still, he needed material. The writers needed experience and money.
Kushnick, now in Los Angeles, signs many, many stand-up comedians he meets because of Walker. Eventually, his whittles his client list down to Jay Leno. Kushnick built Leno.
Helen Gorman is an agent; at one point, she was with ICM. She hits it off with Kushnick. They marry and you have Helen Kushnick.
GS Bob Williams did you a favour, introducing you to Jerry Kushnick.
HL Yes, Kushnick and I hit it off. He let me come to the office and hang. I was a sponge. Soaking up everything, learning from what I heard and saw.
Kushnick talked to Leno, playing the bad guy to good guy Leno. That’s how they dealt with one another. Kushnick had the vision; he made the original “Tonight Show” deal for Leno as the only guest host.
I wanted some of this action. I would sit and watch Kushnick take phone calls and talk with clients. One time, pointing to the phone, he said, “I love talking on the phone, but I promise you´re going to hate that phone.”
I say, “What are you talking about? I love the phone. It’s my favourite stage. It is where I perform best.”
“Well,” said Kushnick, “you haven’t got ‘it,’ yet. It will come if you stay.”
I ask, “What is it about the ‘it’ call?”
“It usually comes between 11pm and 1 am,” says Kushnick. Your client is in melt down. When the phone rings, that is exactly what’s happening.
“You have to go to work, immediately. You have to know how talk them down off the ledge. You need to know who they are, where they come from and where they are going. To know someone, this well, you need to figure out where his or her pain comes from. Then you know from where they come.”
Kushnick stopped me dead. I learned a huge lesson. You can’t buy that knowledge.
GS It´s so true, isn’t it.
HL Yes, I didn’t want to hate the phone. Still, I learned to hate the phone.
Here’s another lesson learned from Kushnick. He always opened his own mail, not a secretary or assistant. He’d hold an envelope to his forehead, a la “Carnac, the Magnificent,” and say, “This is what I want.”
It was cheque for a writer and it is much money. “You know what is cool about writers,” said Kushnick, “they go away for a few months, there’s total silence from them, but the cheques keep coming.”
GS I think Helen Kushnick took over the business when Jerry passed away, in 1989.
HL Yes and my hanging out there came to a rapid end. I couldn’t hide it. I wanted a desk in that office in a big way.
Kushnick was 62 or 63 years old when he was counting his money and wondering what he was going to do with it. I was ready to do the grunt work. She wanted no part of me.
Helen got Jay Leno the “Tonight Show,” instead of Letterman, when Johnny Carson retired.
GS Twenty years later, Letterman and Leno still make snarky remarks about each other.
HL Strange as it seems and despite the bitterness that continues, today, no one lost that war, everyone won. The audience has more choice. A large chuck of the NBC and CBS yearly profit stems from late night.
GS After Leno assumes “The Tonight Show,” Helen butts heads with NBC.
HL Yes, after Leno took over the “Tonight Show,” on 25 May 1992, the ratings fell deeper and for longer than expected. By the middle of September, ratings continued to fall and most everyone expected the ratings to keep falling. As a stopgap, I guess, Helen blocked bookings, on Leno, for any celebrity who appeared on a competing show, especially Letterman.
GS A desperation move.
HL The fallout of that move was horrible. The lid came off when Helen supposedly blocked Travis Tritt and Tricia Yearwood from the “Tonight Show.” Their manager, Ken Kragen, a major music business player since the 1960s, took the canceled booking to top executives at NBC.
After some staffers on “The Tonight Show” complained about Helen abusing them, NBC fired her as executive producer. NBC seemingly banned her from its property. Leno severed his ties with her.
GS I think she passed.
HL Yes, in 1996, she was only fifty.
GS Helen Kushnick came off poorly in “The Late Night Wars,” the book and movie about the battle for “The Tonight Show.”
HL She was decent to me. Where Jerry passed, I sent flowers and a note. Helen returned a kind, memorable note. In the end, I will remember her with fondness because of that note.
I wanted a desk in that office. She didn’t want me around. That’s not a reason to lose sleep.
GS As you touched on “The Tonight Show,” can we talk about Freddie de Cordova, the long-time producer of the show?
HL Sure; Rick Bernstein introduced me to de Cordova. Early in my dealings with Bernstein, he managed Richard Jeni. At one point, it was Jeni picking Bernstein or me as his manager.
I was still on the East Coast when Jeni decided. He wanted somebody on the West Coast. Wisely, he chose Bernstein.
Jeni made the best choice, that’s the truth. Bernstein taught me so much, it's ridiculous. I won by meeting Bernstein.
In Los Angeles, one day, I popped into to see Bernstein. I noticed he had an extra office. Over lunch I asked, “What are you doing with that extra space?”
He said, “I store stuff in there.”
I said, “Do you want to turn it into money?”
He said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “I’m looking for a place to hang my hat.”
Bernstein and I became close. Then we became partners in that business. That’s why I’m where I am, today.
In 1991, Richard Jeni had his first appearance on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.” I was riding, with Bernstein, from Hollywood to the NBC studios in Burbank, for the Jeni show. I mentioned to Bernstein I met Johnny a couple of times; only, “Hi, how are you” and move on.
Carson was a huge deal. For thirty years, he was an irrefrangible force in entertainment; if Carson liked an act, it was a giant step toward success. Thus, even trading brief “Hellos,” with Carson was a major event.
Still, I had not met de Cordova, one of my heroes. He was executive producer of “The Tonight Show.” I wanted to know him.
Bernstein said, “You never met de Cordova? I’ll introduce you to him, but let me tell you about de Cordova. He has an exceptional sense of humor; dry. He’s the Maître D of ‘The Tonight Show.’”
Peter Lassally, now Executive Producer of the “The Late, Late Show,” handled the nuts and bolts of “The Tonight Show.” De Cordova made sure the trains ran on time. He made sure everyone did their job.
De Cordova oversaw creative, including booking guests. He was the one person who talked with Carson before every show. Weeknights, at 11:30 pm, as Carson was about to walk through the curtains, de Cordova handed him the show.
Earlier in his career, de Cordova produced and directed movies, stage shows and you name it. He directed the “Jack Benny Show,” “Burns and Allan,” “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Smothers Brothers Show,” among many, many others. He’s among the best and, to some extent, only known as producer of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.”
In 1970, de Cordova began directing “The Tonight Show” and soon became the producer. He told someone he was the chief traffic cop, talent scout, number-one fan and critic for the show. Around 1984, he became executive producer of “The Tonight Show.”
GS How had Bernstein met de Cordova?
HL Bernstein managed David Brenner, in the early 1970s, when “The Tonight Show” was still in New York City. Bernstein pushes, hard, landing Brenner a shot on the “The Tonight Show.” Brenner destroys; Carson loves him and asks him to join the panel to talk.
GS The call-over to join Carson and the other guests held colossal meaning.
HL That gesture signaled Carson thought the comedian was great. That meant many others, agents, managers, bookers, would also think the act was great. The bounce from an appearance on “The Tonight Show” was always huge; the bounce from a call-over was astounding.
A good set on Carson often lead to a call-back, in, say, two or three weeks. A call-over, to join Carson, meant a call-back was certain. Any comedian booked on “The Tonight Show” knew she or he had to have a second knock-out set ready for the call-back.
I had not fully realized the importance of having a second or third set ready before a first shot on Carson. Even the best comedians can’t create an A-quality set in two or three weeks, it takes months or years. Bernstein taught me not to accept a shot on Carson unless the comedian had at least a second A-quality set in the bag.
Brenner, of course, gets a call-back for three weeks. The day of the second shot, Bernstein leaves his office early, goes home to shower and get ready to go to “The Tonight Show.” A sudden urge to sit on the toilet hits him.
While he’s doing his business, he lights a cigarette. As he finishes, he casually tosses the lighted cigarette between his legs, expecting to hit the water in the bowl. He misses; the cigarette lands on his scrotum.
He goes into shock. The smoldering hair adds an unkind odour to the pain. Finally, the cigarette is gone, but he can’t walk.
This happened at 2 pm. Call-time for “The Tonight Show” is 4 pm. He won’t be able to go to the studio; he’s panicking.
At 4 pm, Bernstein calls the studio. Brenner is ready to go. “Where are you,” asks Brenner.
Bernstein said, “David, you’re not going to believe what happened.” He tells the story. “I’m way too embarrassed. Promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
At that point, he may as well have taken an advertisement in the New York “Times.” You can’t tell a comedian not to re-tell such a hilarious story or enrich it, a great deal. Brenner says he’ll handle the show and won’t tell anyone. Before the phone hits the cradle, Brenner is telling everyone in earshot about Bernstein.
Brenner does the show. He destroys, again, maybe more this time than the first time. He gets another call-back for, maybe, three months.
After the show, de Cordova hears the story, a widely and deeply enriched version. He thinks it’s the funniest thing he ever heard. He stores it for future reference.
Three months later, Brenner is back for his third shot on “The Tonight Show.” Bernstein, fully recovered, is with him. They talk with de Cordova for a while. As he’s about to leave them, de Cordova slowly turns from the door back to Bernstein. “By the way, Rick,” he says: “How are your balls?”
Bernstein tells me this story as we drive to Burbank. I’m about to meet de Cordova, with this story racing around my mind. As he’s leaving us, de Cordova slowly turns around and says, “Hey, Rick, how are your balls.”
GS That's a great story.
HL That was Fred de Cordova.
GS A graduate of Harvard Law School, I believe.
HL Yes and he described his parents as con artists.
GS He was unbelievable guy.
HL Freddie de Cordova had a different rapport with Carson. It’s well documented. Do you know about the falling out de Cordova and Carson had, in the middle of 1991?
GS I can’t recall.
HL Richard Carson, Ricky, the youngest son of Johnny, died in a one-car accident on 21 June 1991. A talented photographer, Ricky had been taking photographs as he drove along a steep embankment near Cayucos, California. His car roamed off the road, down the embankment.
On the first show after the accident, Carson praised Ricky, showing some of his photographs, while Stevie Ray Vaughan played “Riviera Paradise.” Carson tears up; it’s a major moment for late night television.
GS I remember the show, well.
HL Carson always left the kids out of his public life. As he said, on his last “Tonight Show,” he wasn’t the world’s greatest father or the worst. Still, he didn’t talk much about his kids; this was a significant departure for him. He finally gave a huge piece of himself to the audience.
It’s getting near the end of the show, time is running out. De Cordova gives Carson the wrap-up sign. Carson finished the show and called de Cordova over. Carson said, “You’re off the floor. You can stay as executive producer, but I don’t want to see you down here again; nobody gives me the wrap-up sign while I’m in the middle of talking about my son.”
De Cordova stayed with the show. About year later, Bernstein and I are with Richard Jeni when he does “The Tonight Show.” The atmosphere was different, Carson had announced his retirement and de Cordova was off the floor.
GS A ready, fire and aim Carson story.
HL I think there are a few more.
GS You have a great the-show-must-go-on story involving Henny Youngman, the comedian.
HL Yes; Pat Sajak, host of “Wheel of Fortune,” had a late-night talk show on CBS. Its short-run was from January 1989 to April 1990. At the time, Sajak hosted a daytime version of “Wheel,” on NBC, as well as the syndicated version that usually aired in the early evening, say, 7 pm.
GS I guess someone at CBS had the bright idea those who watched Sajak in the daytime or early evening would stay up to watch him at night.
HL More to the point, everybody knew Johnny Carson, in his middle sixties, was close to retiring from the “Tonight Show.” It was no secret there’d be a chance to hop on the late-night bandwagon as the new host found his footing.
CBS wanted to position a late-night talk show to grab some of the “Tonight Show” audience, when Carson left. Executives at ABC were surely thinking along similar lines. Even the lowest-ranked late-night talk show, on the main networks, makes a pile of money.
At this point, everybody expected David Letterman to slide into the “Tonight Show” from “Late Night.” There was no hint of the late-night war, over Letterman and Leno, which erupted when Carson retired. Leno was the permanent guest host of the “Tonight Show”; many thought he’d continue that role or move on, maybe to CBS.
GS Youngman appears on Sajak.
HL I was backstage, at the Sajak show, with a client, Norm Macdonald. That night, Henny Youngman was the main guest. He did all three parts of the Sajak show, which is unusual for late-night network talk shows; it spoke loudly to the status of Youngman.
Except for a few weeks, Youngman worked every day of his adult life; that’s 80 years or more. He started performing, about 1918, in speakeasies and, after prohibition, in clubs. As radio comedian, Youngman focused on guest appearances, as did W. C. Fields, rather than his own show; often, listeners heard him on two, three or more shows a week.
GS There are stories about his work ethic.
HL I’ve heard those legends. Youngman would go to a hotel hosting a few events, such as weddings. He’d move from event to event offering to perform for whatever wage he could get.
GS Thus, he was thus always working.
HL Youngman used a violin as a prop. People likely thought he’d serenade them. Did they get a surprise?
Although his generation of comedians focused on anecdotes and sketches, Youngman focused on one-liners. “For our 25th wedding anniversary,” he’d say, “my wife wanted to go somewhere she had never been. We spent the night in our kitchen.” Hokey, yes, but after a few of his one-liners the laughter built to a tearful peak.
Youngman knew my step-father, Lou Bronstein, well. Henny always asked about Lou. So, backstage at Sajak, we talked a bit, before it was time for him to go on.
Sajak introduces Youngman. He walks out, briskly, on to the six-inch riser, and sits down in the chair for guests. Youngman is eighty-something at this point, his energy was remarkable.
They talk. Then take a commercial break. They return and talk more. There are more commercials and more talk. Before the last break, Youngman says he’ll finish with a song. This is great television and the live audience eats it up; they applaud wildly.
When the show returns, viewers hear Youngman sing, “I Love an Audience,” seated in the guest chair. Viewers did not see what the editors removed. They didn’t see what happened during the break, what showed the depth of work ethic and dedication Youngman had.
GS What happened?
HL When Sajak comes back from the last commercial break, he says Youngman will sing. Youngman stands up and takes a step, but, on his second step, he misses the six-inch riser. In less than the blink of an eye, this eighty-year-old comedian falls flat on his face, on the studio floor.
The live audience gasps, stunned. The stage crew rush to Youngman. People are crying.
GS This is before the ubiquity of the cell phone.
HL Right; the accident stays in the studio. Someone, though, calls for paramedics. The studio fills with eerie urgency and silence.
Youngman says, “Help me up, please.” Everyone ignores him, as the rush intensifies to get him medical help. Repeatedly, he says, “Help me up.”
Finally, he’s helped up. He brushes off and returns to his seat on the riser. Youngman says to Sajak, “I’m going to finish with a song” and he does.
GS The show must go on and he had the presence of mind to re-start the segment.
HL Youngman took that show business adage to heart. He did a great job with the song. The live audience went wild at the end of his song, astonished by and grateful for his effort.
The fall, of course, doesn’t make it to air. The editors cut around the accident. Viewers see Youngman, post fall, saying now he’ll sing.
After the song, at-home viewers may have wondered why the live audience was insanely enthusiastic. At home, no one knew. In the studio, it was a remarkable experience.
GS Radio was your first love, now, on weekends, you’re work “True Crime Uncensored,” on “Outlaw Radio.”
HL Yes; I do the show, with Burl Barer. It airs at 2 pm, Pacific Time, that’s 5 pm on the east coast. Go to the web site, outlawradio.tv or mrcigar.com, choose a player from the list and enjoy.
I started doing the show with Donald Woldman, a well-known divorce lawyer. He coined the term, Palimony. Woldman had to leave the show, I can’t recall why. Burl Barer asked me to join him on “True Crime Uncensored.”
My knowledge of crime, true or not, is about zero. I’m here to do radio. I’ll work it out.
I started with Barer about 18 months ago. The show is great. It's always interesting and fun.
The guest line up is exceptional. True crime authors, such as Edgar Award winner, Harry N. Maclean; Corey Mitchell, Greg Olsen and Diane Fanning, among others, were on the show. Erin Moriarty of “48 Hours,” on CBS, was a guest as well as Lis Wiehl, the author and a legal analyst for Fox News; Paul LaRosa of the “Huffington Post” was a guest on “True Crime Uncensored.” Barer and I interview top homicide detectives, former FBI agents, United States Postal Inspectors, convicted criminals and ex-Mafiosi, now in witness protection.
Barer handles the nuts and bolts of the books. I handle the nuts and bolts of the author. Barer goes north, I go south.
I know enough about the books I can talk with the authors. I want to know what got them to a book or writing. What makes them tick and so forth, which I love doing.
GS I recall Burl Barer as a DJ.
HL Yes; he worked KJR-AM, in Seattle, and many other stations. Many top DJs, mainstays of radio, worked KJR-AM, including Larry Lujack, Bwana Johnny and Scotty Brink. Pat O’Day programmed KJR-AM to prominence. The station is a legend.
When radio began lurching toward the great black hole, Barer switched careers. He loved the ITC television mystery qua spy show, “The Saint.” Roger Moore is most widely known for portraying Simon Templar, “The Saint”; Ian Ogilvy portrayed Templar in “The Return of the Saint.”
GS Years ago, Vincent Price had much success portraying “The Saint,” on radio.
HL Yes; Barer wrote a book about “The Saint” that attracted much attention. Now he’s a successful writer, his publisher says, “What’s next?” Barer is a big fan of true crime, so that’s the direction he went and, recently, his twelfth book, “Body Count,” published.
GS What radio skills were hardest to resurrect?
HL A great part of doing “True Crime Uncensored” is forcing me to prepare. This was especially true in the beginning. I knew nothing.
I start fresh, Saturday morning, a few hours before the show airs. I block off a couple hours. I know nothing about the guest for that day; I must paint the picture.
I sit in my office, at home, and prep away. I have a ball. It’s radio days, all over again, prepping like mad for a show.
My goal is to have the guest say, “I never heard that question before.” I am happiest if she or he likes the question, too. It’s also great if the guest falls into the answer, without stalling or wondering what to say.
GS Is the guest live, in studio, or on the phone?
HL Guests are usually on the phone and sometimes in the studio. No matter, I prep before doing the interview. I find photographs of guests. I need to know what the man or woman, with whom I’m talking, looks like.
My prep digs as deeply as possible into the guest. I like a dark, dry sense of humour. Ultimately, though, “True Crime Uncensored” is about everyone having fun.
Barer and I finish at 3 pm. Then “Outlaw Radio,” hosted by Matt Alan, begins.
GS Is that “Magic Matt” of KISS-FM, in Los Angeles?
GS A high-energy DJ doing afternoon drive as if it were a morning show. He was great radio.
HL Right, again; he also worked Z100-FM, in New York City, and many, many stations between. I think he worked KJR-AM, in Seattle, and VH-1. These days, he voice tracks a show on SiriusXM. He has a magic act, too; thus, “Magic Matt.”
GS How does “Outlaw Radio” work?
HL There are many guests, such as Shawn Young, the actress. Ryan Stiles, a comedian who co-stared on the “Drew Cary Show” and has a recurring role on “Two and a Half Men,” comes by, too.
Everyone interrupts everybody; drinks and smokes. “Outlaw Radio” is a circus that “Magic Matt” manages, well. Did I mention Robert Hayes, the actor, is a regular guest, too? Shadoe Stevens, from the “Late, Late Show,” is always on “Outlaw Radio,” at least for the first couple of hours.
Chuck McCann comes by every couple of weeks, too.
What was that noise?
GS Dropped my headset when I genuflected.
HL I know you’re Roman Catholic, but why did you feel the need to genuflect?
GS I was overcome with religious fervor when you mentioned Chuck McCann.
HL Well, okay, if you say so. McCann is a remarkable talent. In the 1960s, he was writing, directing and performing hours of live television, children’s shows, every day on WPIX-TV and then WNEW-TV. At the same time, he was the sidekick to Clay Cole on his Saturday-night pop music television show.
GS By all metrics, McCann should have run out of steam in 1967?
HL Yes; he was doing more than twenty hours of live television a week. He did a few movies, such as “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” before discovering voice work for cartoons. He’s such a talented and nice man, fit and active at 78.
GS I hear he hangs out at the Playboy Mansion.
HL He once did.
GS Let’s get back to “Outlaw Radio.”
HL Prescott Niles, bass player for the “Knack,” is among us all the time. The late Andrew Gold and Bruce Garry used to come by, too.
The “After Show” starts at 6 pm and goes until those involved start playing poker. I usually leave and come back to claim my portion of the “After Show,” then grab someone, say, Chuck McCann and talk for as long as we can. This may sound trite, but I try to peel the onion.
We have had some remarkably fun shows. Sometimes the “After Show” goes until 1 am or 2 am. That’s from 3 pm the day before. It's every Saturday.
GS Listeners, all over the world, are recording the shows to their computers.
HL I hope listeners are recording the shows. I do know there are many listeners in London and “Outlaw Radio” is a morning show in the UK. We have many listeners in the Philippines and Japan that respond.
Tim Arango (2010), “NBC’s Slide to Troubled Nightly Punch Line,” in New York “Times” for 16 January.
Click here to read the first Grub Street Interview with Howard Lapides.
Click here for a list of all Grub Street Interviews.
Interview edited and condensed for publication.
dr george pollard is a Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth" as well as the Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment.
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