Extra Bored to Death


Last week I was an extra on the set of Jonathan Ames and HBO’s Bored to Death. Along with a cohort of other Brooklyn cartoonists — particularly Dean Haspiel — I got to play myself at a fictitious comic convention. It was easy to get into character. Just like a real comic convention, it was crowded, repetitive, and no one buys anything!

Although exhausting, it was altogether a fun experience. In addition to getting to hang with Dino for a couple of days (an all-to-rare occurrence nowadays), I got to banter with Ames and Jason Schwartzman, and ogle Zach Galifiniakis and Ted Danson. Look for the episode to premiere some time in September or October.

I can’t say I remember (or recognize) fellow cartoonist Gabby Schulz from the shoot, but he was set up behind me and must have kept to himself. He didn’t mention me either! But he wrote an excellent synopsis of the experience: http://www.gabbysplayhouse.com/?p=1124

P.S. Despite my joke above, in addition to getting paid as an extra, and for providing “set dressing” for the show, at the end of the shoot I ended up selling eight or nine copies of A.D. to members of the “Bored to Death” production staff. Three income streams from one event!

P.P.S. As is S.O.P., I did a (rather uninspired) sketch of the actors. Wonder Woman is a character created just for this episode. Particularly egregious is my "Ted Danson." Apologies to all involved.

Bored to Death

The day after “Earth 2100”


Well! That was pretty cool. The final show was a lot more "viewer-friendly" than the show I was originally brought on to write. For one thing, they integrated a lot more "solutions" into the "collapse" narrative, rather than saving them all for the end. They also soft-pedaled some of the more dire/horrifying peeks into the future. In the end, they pretty much changed every word of dialogue Sari & I wrote, while still keeping the basic storyline and "action sequences." Even so, other than the occasional cringe-inducing line of dialogue, we didn’t hate it; in fact, there were many instances where the new dialogue worked better than what we’d come up with. And the art and animation was stellar! Great work from Messers. Infurnari, O’Connor, Purvis, Hamilton, Bair, and the Guerilla FX crew.

And, yes, Lucy’s love interest was indeed named Josh. Truth be told, all the characters (including the hurricane which struck Miami) were named after people or their loved ones in the creative staff. They made me name Lucy’s hubby Josh, but it was a surprise that Infurnari, et al. actually drew him to look (vaguely) like me! I got a kick out of that. And of course it was satisfying to "die a hero."

I’ve yet to read any mainstream reviews of the show, though there has been some early blog reactions, most of them fairly negative. (One in particular felt that the comics element — big surprise — lowered the program’s overall IQ.) Early word is that the show drew in around 2.5 million viewers. Not bad, except that was fourth place in the network battles. Of course, we were up against an Obama interview and two shows with the word "Mental" in the title. (Note to self: maybe we should’ve named the show Mental 2100?) Also, seems the show has been bought by the History Channel, so expect to see reruns over there shortly enough.

All in all, a fun dip into the TV world. And it gave me and Sari an excuse to at least get a skeletal version of the Dojo Graphics website up.

Shooting “Kings” on Inauguration Day


Ironically, today, on Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency, they’re shooting exteriors for the TV show Kings across the street from my apartment. It’s an upcoming NBC show (debuting in March) starring Deadwood‘s excellent Ian McShane: "Based on the King David story. The series is set in the modern day metropolis of Shiloh, a city under siege where the fighting has gone on for too long and cost far too many lives." Sound familiar?

This is the second time Kings has shot over here; they also filmed exteriors last April. In my role as paparazzo, here are some pics of both days’ set-ups. I like they way they dressed the Museum as some kind of grand palace.

From last April 29. A rainy day. I like the butterfly motif banners.

Digitial TV Convert


I must be one of the few people left in the U.S. without cable or satellite TV. And despite the barrage of low-cost cable package offers that have been flooding my mailbox, I’m anxious to stay that way despite the looming February 17, 2009, changeover from analog to digital HD. For one thing, I can’t afford the extra $50 a month for cable, and for another, the last thing I need is the temptation to watch more television — baseball and basketball games are my weaknesses.

I happen to own a large-screen HD TV (the charity gift of our next-door neighbor, if you’re curious), but I was told that even my fancy Trinitron needed a converter due to it being more than three years old. So I recently picked up one of those converter boxes. (Looking up the digital conversion on the government FAQ, I had learned that most stations are already broadcasting in HD.) Hooking up the machine was nothing more than taking the line going from my TV antenna and connecting it to the converter box, and then connecting the box to my VCR (which is already hooked up to my TV). So in my case, that meant setting the channel on my VCR to 3 and using the remote that came with the converter box to change channels.

And it worked! The coolest thing about it is that every station now comes in crystal-clear, even stations like channel 9 and 11 that I haven’t received in years. As a bonus, a number of the big broadcast stations have multiple digital feeds. For instance, here in New York, NBC Channel 4 has three feeds, called 4.1, 4.2, and 4.4. Channel 4.1 is the basic local NBC affiliate program, but 4.2 shows local area weather, and 4.4 is some kind of "educational/informative" channel. The other major stations offer the same multi-feed packages. It’s basically like having cable — except for free!

If there’s one "drawback" to the conversion, it’s that the TV picture does seem a bit "computery" to me, almost as if you can see the images were made from pixels. There is a subtle distinction between the look of the image compared to the old analog reception. But after watching a little while, the perception faded, and I’m more than happy to exchange that slight disparity for the huge boost in clarity and selection.I really feel like I got away with something!

Now, I made the mistake of buying my machine before I got the $40 coupon the government is offering to help ease the transition, Don’t make the same error! But you only have until Wednesday to apply — that’s two short days. Go to the TV Converter Box Coupon Program website and apply now. It’s super-fast and easy: https://www.dtv2009.gov

A Boob Tube Boob


I grew up (I thought) in a non-TV household. My mom was against television—especially for kids— and as far as I knew, we didn’t own a set. (I found out years later my mom secretly kept a small black-and-white TV in the closet for emergencies and special circumstances, like news coverage of the Vietnam war, or Nixon’s resignation.) Anyway, despite having no TV of my own, I watched enough at friends’ houses, or during the one month every summer I got to visit my dad, that it wasn’t completely foreign to me. Even back then, I had some favorite shows, most of which were already in reruns. After all, my semi-forbidden TV viewing was very much catch-as-catch-can; I had no way to watch primetime shows on a regular basis.

For completeness’ sake (what other reason do I ever need?), I will document here the shows I watched regularly over the years. “Regularly” is the key word. I definitely had the TV on at  other times, just not so religiously that I became as intimately familiar with the shows as the ones listed here. So without further ado—and broken down by half-decades—is my TV history:

As I said, most of the shows here I caught at friends’ houses or the one month every summer I spent with my dad. My first love was Saturday morning cartoon shows like The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and the Tom & Jerry Show, and the semi-animated Shazam TV series. From there, I moved on to The Jetsons and The Flintstones. Sundays were not as fun for kids’ TV back then, but I always seemed to be up early enough to watch the wonky Christian stop-motion show Davey and Goliath.
During this summers with my dad, I was also a regular daytime watcher of The Munsters, The Addams Family, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, and even the game show The Price is Right (which I believe bridged the gap between the morning and early-afternoon reruns). I caught enough episodes of F Troop, Hogan’s Heroes, The Andy Griffith Show, and the Carol Burnett Show to be a fan of those shows too. Evening reruns I always caught were All In The Family, Adam-12, and Star Trek, ; and thanks to my dad, I got into baseball during this period, and started watching Yankees & Mets games with him many evenings as well. That means during the summer I was watching five or six hours of TV a day! The only primetime shows I developed any familiarity with were The Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Charlie’s Angels. And the late 70s was when I first started watching M*A*S*H, which is still my all-time favorite TV show.

My mom and I moved back East to New York in 1980, and by late 1981 I had moved in with my dad—partly because he allowed me to watch TV. With a set in my own room, this was my “golden age.” I still don’t know how I managed to read as many comics and science fiction novels as I did, let alone draw comics—and do my schoolwork! Not having a video game system helped, I guess.

Rerun staples of this period were M*A*S*H, Starsky & Hutch, Three’s Company, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, and The Honeymooners; while my primetime addictions included The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, Enos (!), The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Magnum P.I., T.J. Hooker, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, The Greatest American Hero, Cheers, Family Ties; and reruns of Three’s Company, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, Mork & Mindy, and of course M*A*S*H, which I was becoming obsessed with. Saturday Night Live was great during this period, and having a limited social life, I was usually home to watch it. I also had intense but ultimately unfulfilled dalliances with such short-lived series as Tales of the Gold Monkey (a blatant rip-off of the Indiana Jones films), Strike Force, V: The Series, and — I’m ashamed to admit it — AfterMASH. Oy.

During this time, Hill Street Blues was the first “grownup” show I got into. Every Thursday during the show, man_size  and I would breathlessly call each other up during commercial breaks to glory in the latest segment’s “fresh illyness” (a tradition we continued through subsequent shows like NYPD Blue and Lost!).

I became an avid baseball and football fan during this era, so I rarely missed Jets games on Sunday afternoons in the fall & winter, baseball games on Saturdays in the summer, or the seasonal shows Monday Night Baseball and Monday Night Football.

These were my college years and (thank god!) I had usually had better things to do than watch television. I had a tiny portable black-and-white set in my room which I usually watched M*A*S*H reruns on. Otherwise, shows I managed to watch on a semi-regular basis were Moonlighting, Miami Vice, SNL, Thirtysomething and, until it really fell off in its last couple of seasons, Hill Street.

Having moved back to New York after college, I tried to get out more, and “real life” mostly kept me away from the TV. I also didn’t have enough money to afford cable. All the same, I managed to catch repeats of M*A*S*H (of course), Cheers, and Hill Street; and I watched Twin Peaks, Monday Night Football, and The Simpsons in primetime. Then, after an eighteen-month hiatus traveling around the world with Sari (no TV!), I got into NYPD Blue, ER, Friends (I admit it), Mad About You (I know), and Seinfeld once we settled in Chicago. I also saw a lot of free Bulls and Cubs games on WGN.

Transitioning during this period from Chicago to San Francisco to Provincetown, Mass, the only reruns I regularly watched were The Simpsons, but I became a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also started watching Law & Order and kept my allegiance to NYPD Blue, ER, Friends, and Seinfeld. The Buffy spinoff series Angel debuted during this period, and I was a regular viewer of that show for two or three seasons.

Finally resettled back in New York, I severely curtailed my TV viewing. Now able to afford cable, ironically we decided we didn’t want it, and the network shows seemed to lose their allure. Due to lack of interest, I stopped watching NYPD Blue, ER, and Friends; though I happily discovered The West Wing, and stuck with Law & Order. I watched 24 for its first two seasons, before I got repelled by its gruesomeness and questionable politics. (And I admit to being the one person who actually saw the short-lived Friends spin-off show, Joey. For that, I sincerely apologize.) And I have been watching Lost from the first episode. I also eventually found out about the amazing HBO series Deadwood; and managed to catch that show on DVD.

Ironically still without cable, the shows I am most addicted to now are all non-network programs: Battlestar Galactica, Rome (now canceled), and The Sopranos, which I’m finally watching now that it’s over. To be fair, though, there are some good network shows: I still enjoy Lost, and I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights since day-one as well. (I also confess to watching the entire run of the thankfully canceled Aaron Sorkin show, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Lord, was that show a disaster.) I seem to have lost my interest in sitcoms, so even though at various times I’ve sampled The Office and 30 Rock, they just don’t do it for me. Shows that are intriguing to me but I have yet to really study are The Wire and Dexter, so a DVD acquisition may be in order…

Whew! Quite a compilation of mostly dreck and occasional brilliance. It’s interesting to look back on those periods and see how the shows reflected—and informed—my stage of life at the time. Like most people, I guess, I continually veered between desiring mindless entertainment and/or escapism, and then wanting something more meaty or intellectually challenging.

Although I’ve never considered myself a couch potato, there were clearly periods where I was addicted to the tube. All the same, I think my hours of TV watching pales in comparison to most other American kids of my generation. Still, I’ve often wondered if the fact that TV was so verboten early in my life made me need it to the point of obsession later on?

This is a question I have to ponder as I raise a child of my own. Already, Phoebe is automatically drawn to the bright colors and flashing images of the TV screen. So far, we’ve minimized her exposure to the tube, but eventually we’re going to have to deal with her active desire to watch it as well. One thing we can do is limit the available temptations by staying cable-less. But that’s not the final answer to the dilemma…

Happy Days


Last night I went to BAM and saw Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days , starring Fiona Shaw. When I was a kid, I loved Happy Days, but I had no idea it was set in the 1950s. Being only nine or ten, living in a Southern California hippie/surfer community, and having only limited access to TV, I thought Fonzie, Richie, Potsie, and the gang were just a typical high-spirited group of  teenagers. In my relative isolation from the rest of pop culture, I imagined “normal” surburban American teenagers wore cuffed jeans, rode old motorcycles, and hung out in diners run by middle-aged avuncular proprietors. It totally went over my head that the show “took place” during my parents’ adolescence.

Also, much as I liked the Fonz, it bothered me that he was clearly not age-appropriate. I could buy Ron Howard, Anson Williams, and Erin Moran as teenagers, but Henry Winkler’s lupine mug clearly belonged to that of a grown man. How come no one ever noticed that???