I'M GROSS AND perveted. I'm obsessed and deranged. I have existed for years but very little has changed. I am the slime from your video. Oozin' along on your living room floor. - Frank Zappa's "I'm the Slime."
The success of the "Saturday Night" show has brought me and the others on the show a lot of, as we say in the TV biz, offers to do prime-time "shots." Now prime time, like prime meat, is the richest time on TV - between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., forever, Sit-coms, cop shows, sitcoms, cop shows,"specials," "60-Minute" type documentaries, and the ever favorite, always sleazy, "made for TV movies."
Every year "pilots" are made. A pilot is a one-shot show tested on the air to see if it's worthy of at least 13 weeks of "programing" and if it "hits," you might have a chance of creating a "monster" like "All in the Family." Then everybody gets rich from the clones or spinoffs. (Look out Lennie and Squiggy.) You too can mine the TV gold mine unless, of course, you get, "killed" in the ratings.
Today, with the success of the "Saturday Night" show, TV comedy is changing. Right?
WRONG, "dead" wrong. "Saturday Night" is in what we call the Late Night Programming Division. You know, "Midnight Special," the "Tomorrow" show, the CBS Late Night Movie, "Kojak," "Good Morning, America" . . . or is it "Good Night, America?" (I'm not sure what's happening in what one cynic calls, "the video graveyard," meaning every other show but mine.)
But I can remember what it was like for me before I came to TV. I wouldn't do it for a million dollars.
Wait! Did you say a million dollars? That's right folks. Just sign here for seven years and , "maybe you can be another Peter Falk." Just think, just think. "Hollywood Squares," "Celebrity Sweep-stakes," Douglas, Griffin, Susskind and who knows, even (dare I say it?) Carson. Be famous!
TV, God I hate it! Why can't some TV show producers get it through their heads that some actors don't want to work for scale. It's not worth it, being uncomfortable for half an hour and embarrassed for weeks, no matter how good the demographics are. "Get all the TV exposure you can" is a lot of prattle. You can burn from the sun and you can burn from the media - just ask the superstar of rent-a-car, O.J. Simpson, Mr. Media burn-out.
BUT YOU SEE I've got what they call a bad attitude. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking television. It's my bread and money, my life - for now. I feel special. I mean, people always come up to me and say, "Hey man, I really dig your show. Keep it up." It makes me feel good inside, like a priest after his first confession.
Has the "Saturday Night" show changed TV? You think our innovations have filtered down to prime time? No. We can't break the iron wall built at 11 p.m. that says ACHTUNG: NEIN FUNNY JOKEPASSEN DAS CHECKPOINT, SHOOTEN SIE BRAINS OUT. We are the West Berlin of TV. We're a tropical island in a sea of video sludge.
HERE ARE some reasons why we're "different."
1. OUR SHOW IS LIVE, except for taped or filmed inserts, and the live portion is a natural rush almost like the one the old hippies used to get shooting crystal methedrine. But in our case, the high is induced by a mysterious red light that comes on above a camera. You've got one shot at it. It's a much better rush, and you don't crash for three days.
We have to write fast and by not rewriting and rewriting the piece we can save the essence of the writer's original intention. In other words, it's exciting. And I love it. They only other live things you see on television today are sports and assassinations.
2. WE TAKE RISKS. We stick our necks out and never fail. We can do that in late night because what little kids are watching our show at 12:30 a.m.? The little rug rats should be asleep.
3. WE'VE GOT THE TALENT. Talent, like water, seeks its own level. With the best writers, crew, network, producer and, of course, actors on a show, how can you miss?
4. PRIME TIME WON'T CHANGE. It will continue to graft ideas from existing hits. They want a Happy Days Barney Miller MASH Rhoda
On The Streets of San Francisco type of show. Ernie Kovacs tried to be an innovator on prime time; he lasted one season.
Now I've got nothing against other actors working on these shows. They have to make a living, they are "professionls." They'd do anything for money.
But I'm different. Most actors are sucked in to TV for fame, fortune and cheap publicity. Once they make it they end up with fame and cheap publicity. You see, there's this myth that TV actors make a lot of money.
"TV actors." What makes a TV actor different from an "actor"? You see, an actor plays to other actors, relates to them with an audience present or directly to people. A "TV actor" plays to cue cards and the camera, a cylindrical lens surrounded by metal. And in that lens, millions of people are watching that lens, millions of people are watching and enjoying my performance. Glass and metal people. If you can relate to your wall lamp and believe that people are in it somewhere, you are a TV actor. Get it?
But there's still hope if you can become a producer. There's where the real bread is. Hell, look how many TV actors became producers. Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, the great Don Adams, Desi Arnaz, Andy Griffith, Sheldon Leonard, Mary Tyler Moore, and David Birney, to name but a few. That's where there's Money - and Power.
I mean, you can act, produce, write, hire people, call your own shots, be your own boss, even fire yourself, hire others to do the work and sit by the pool at the Bev Hills hotel and order Tequila Sunrises with Richard Harris until you die.
I really love it when people smugly say, "sorry man, I don't watch TV. Only educational television." PBS. Public Broadcasting Station. Pay Back Situation. This is what we get for watching prime time, things like Sesame Street. Are those kids who watched it seven years ago really smarter? Upstairs Downer, the great British soap. And Monty Python, as if anyone here can understand their far out "British humor." And hours of great entertainment for our Spanish speaking "friends." Just as bad.
What about cable television, you ask?
The "wave of the future?" Except for better reception and sports scores it's a total failure. I'd rather watch commercial television. I mean really, I don't want to waste one minute of my day thinking about it.
I won't do prime time until the Pryors and the Wilders start calling the shots. You know that, but still turn to me and scream, "John Belushi, my God, why don't you do something. You're the hope of the future of television. Please help us."
No, get off my back, I've done enough. I've got better things to do, like walk down a country road, stop and smell the roses, then pull them out by their roots.
I mean, this is America and the TV gold mine is there for the asking, if I want it. But I don't.
I don't unless "they" offer me a million dollars.
Then, in the words of Steve Miller and Woody Allen, I'll "take the money and run."
See you on TV.