This Music Leaves Stains is the first book I’ve had published but it is far from the first book I’ve tried to get published, or thought about trying to get published. Here now, an annotated history of never realized JG2 works.
Untitled Dead Kennedys Biography (2002) – Stalled during the research period thanks to several factors (college course load, punk rock politics, my debilitating lack of experience). I covered the nuts and bolts of this failure for Crawdaddy! in a feature called “Give Me Convenience, Give Me Death, Just Tell Me Your Real Damn Name.” The most interesting aspect may be that I put a letter in the mail addressed “East Bay Ray, San Francisco” and it actually reached the correct guy. Your tax dollars at work.
Star Wars Ruined My Life (2005) – Ten chapter essay collection covering the weirder aspects of Star Wars fandom, including my own struggles with George Lucas’s intergalactic money printing machine (#firstworldproblems). Hired a literary agent but no publisher on Earth was interested. I didn’t have a “built-in audience,” which meant my blog statistics were not impressive enough to warrant anything. This era was the beginning of “co-opt every popular thing from the Internet to stave print’s death!” I’m sure my medium talent was also an issue (I know the manuscript lacked punch / direction). I absolutely cannot remember why but for some reason I e-mailed Jay Mohr about this book; he sent a very encouraging reply peppered with some of his theories on Boba Fett, which justified my struggle.
Untitled Oral History Of My Middle School Experience (2005) – An interesting twist on the adolescent memoir (I think): interview a bunch of people I grew up with to see how their worldview around that time differed from mine, turning the whole thing into an oral history with several narrative tracks. My lit agent loved this idea and really ramped me up about it, but then Star Wars Ruined My Life didn’t go anywhere. Representation cut me loose and without a cheerleader I cooled on the concept. Compiled about a chapter and a half, though, and several people I hadn’t spoken to since 1994 taught me a lot about where we grew up and life in general.
Untitled Field Guide To Discontinued Soft Drinks (2007-08) – New Coke, Pepsi AM, OK, DnL…I thought the world needed a comprehensive encyclopedia of every soda that’s ever fallen off the figurative / literal map. Unfortunately, the stories behind these drinks are all more or less the same (they failed because they were bad and nobody bought them), and when it came down to pitching this book few people understood what exactly what I was talking about. “Oh, like a coffee table book with pictures of the sodas?” No, a field guide. Like for birds. Maybe this idea is terminally flawed.
Untitled “Gong Show” Episode Guide (2006) – An excuse to track down average weirdos and hear about their experiences on the greatest televised competition of all-time. I think I concluded too many former “Gong Show” contestants / employees would be dead, and I also worried about the book’s marketability. Chuck Barris was hot in ’06, but how long would that last?
Untitled “Simpsons” History (2009) – At the time a lot of rumors were swirling about “The Simpsons” finally coming to an end. That didn’t happen, but I abandoned this idea mainly because I heard Morgan Spurlock was making a “Simpsons” documentary. Had I known his end product would be some gimmicky forty-five minute nonsense instead of the in-depth feature length “Simpsons” doc we deserve maybe I wouldn’t have jumped ship.
My Life Is A Screenplay! (2010) – The high school teacher who semi-successfully sued 20th Century Fox for plagiarizing his Christmas comedy script read my post about Jingle All The Way being a cursed property and e-mailed me with an offer to co-write a book about his life. I had just started work on This Music Leaves Stains so I had to turn him down. There also didn’t seem to be much else in his life aside from “I sued a movie studio and won but then they took the money back.” Also, that title. Woof.
Naturally I reserve the right to resurrect any of these properties at a future juncture. You never know when Chuck Barris might be hot again.
Between 1994 and 1997 basic cable was haunted by an irritable, potty-mouthed water fowl who really only got away with neglecting / abusing his family, friends, and co-workers because he was animated. Yet “Duckman” wasn’t just another zany post-“Ren & Stimpy” squiggle fest—razor sharp wit and touching pathos were expertly sewn into this outlandish world for nearly every one of the show’s half hour installments (and it was all brought to life by the amazing voice talents of Jason Alexander, Nancy Travis, and Gregg Berger, et al). Today “Duckman” is firmly enshrined in tv’s cult canon, a forbearer to the “Family Guys” and “American Dads” of the world, albeit far smarter and more roundly satisfying.
Duckman and his brood were all the creation of artist Everett Peck, a Californian if not by birth than at least by heart (he called me from a beach-side bar for this interview). Here now for JG2Land Peck looks back at his CableACE Award-winning series, the struggles within, and what if any shadow Howard the Duck cast on his beloved Erick Duckman.
JG2: Was there concern on your end with transforming Duckman from a comic book to a television series? Were you afraid of your vision becoming corrupted?
EVERETT PECK: Well, the funny thing is the comic and the show were developed simultaneously. The comic wasn’t published yet, and I was doing some unrelated freelance work for [the production company] Klasky Csupo. Gábor Csupo asked me, “Hey, do you have any ideas for shows?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been working on this comic…” They saw Duckman and liked it, so we entered into agreement to develop it. But yeah, there’s always a concern like that, though I kinda set the tone with the comic—all the basic relationships were already there, and all the characters, like Cornfeld and King Chicken, Bernice, et cetera. And I felt confident in Gábor. So we started pitching it to networks.
JG2: Whom besides USA did you pitch?
EP: We went to FOX—well, first we went to Paramount, and they really got on board with it. So with Paramount we went to USA, who were looking for an animated adult series, and we went to FOX, and at that time “The Simpsons”…was in like its second season. Everything was kinda up in the air in terms of prime time animation on television. No one was sure it would work. So we pitched to FOX and USA simultaneously. FOX offered us a two script deal; USA offered thirteen episodes on air, basically a full season. So we went for the sure thing. And I have to say, USA were very open to what we were doing or trying to do. We always intended “Duckman” to be an adult show. Y’know, “The Simpsons” has something for adults and it had something for kids, but we strictly wanted to be for adults. I’m not sure FOX would have let us do that.
JG2: Did you have any issues with Jason Alexander, the voice of Duckman, being on “Seinfeld” at the same time, or did the scheduling just always work out?
EP: Well, at that time even “Seinfeld” had only been going for a couple seasons. It wasn’t the mega hit it would become. So Jason Alexander was still basically an unknown guy. As “Seinfeld” became so popular, yeah, it got a little weird [laughs], but the thing about Jason is he has such great comic timing, he can land all your jokes, he can talk a mile a minute if that’s what you need—he worked out perfectly even when things were weird.
JG2: Were there any other “names” in the running for Duckman? I know you auditioned seventy-ish people.
EP: We did, but I intentionally sort of went for obscure people, like Matt [Groening] did for “The Simpsons.” I don’t think there were any other standouts.
JG2: Earlier you said USA didn’t really note your show very much, but I have to wonder, were they behind that bit in the third season where you had the cast of “Weird Science,” the show “Duckman” immediately followed or preceded, appear as King Chicken’s hostages?
EP: [Laughs] Yeah, that was a USA thing. That was one of the instances were they did meddle. We really—we being myself, Jeff Reno, and Ron Osborne, the two main “Duckman” writers—we were really resistant to that, although I should say we weren’t opposed to doing topical things. I didn’t want to make the show too topical. [That can] really date the show. I wanted to deal with more universal issues, like love, sex, competition.
JG2: What would you say was the hardest aspect of the entire “Duckman” production?
EP: I think one thing was, there was just a constant struggle keep the scripts short enough. We tried to do forty pages or under. Doing that made the animation production much easier. Sometimes we’d have finished animation we had to cut—the show had to be 22 minutes, and to accommodate that we’d have to cut out ten minutes sometimes. Most of the scenes cut dealt with visuals—dialogue always had priority above visuals. That said, I wanted “Duckman” to maintain a quality in terms of the look of the thing. And the animators, they did an awesome job, some of the visuals were fantastic.
JG2: Can you remember any specific tussles about cutting a visual?
EP: I remember a shot in one episode where Ajax is picking a flower on a hill, and it’s a complete 360 rotation where he screams, “NO!!” at the end; that was gonna be cut, but we fought and fought and they kept it in. That was early on in the show, though. By the last season everything went smoother, we really got the feel of it.
JG2: That’s interesting, because it seems like the later “Duckman” seasons would have been harder to handle, what with [Duckman’s long lost sister-in-law] Beverly showing up and other secondary characters like Ben Stein being fleshed out a little more. Doing those kinds of things didn’t upset the balance?
EP: No, I mean, what we always wanted to do was have kind of a world, a neighborhood where there were several characters that were reoccurring. The harder thing was a lot of times we’d have Duckman and his family go on locations, to Vietnam or whatever, so the animators would have to draw all new background scenes. I was in favor of the location stuff because it made for interesting shows, but the animators were angry, like, “We have to design 108 more backgrounds?” [laughs]
JG2: Weren’t there also some budgetary issues with USA?
EP: Sure, and that’s ultimately that’s why we were canceled. “Duckman” never got really high ratings. We got maybe a two share—that’s two million people. That was a good audience, but we were always sort of an underground show, and we were on an odd network. FOX, a lot of their programming supported “The Simpsons.” We didn’t really have that, and there wasn’t a culture at USA at the executive level that supported “Duckman” beyond three of four seasons.
JG2: Also, if I recall, “Duckman” was on at a weird time, like late Saturday nights.
EP: Yeah, and our lead in was, uh, wrestling or something, a sporting event, and sometimes the show didn’t start at the exact time. You know, all that stuff. USA did hire a publicity firm at one time who made some pretty cool posters and ads for us, but “Duckman” was just never was a show that had huge ratings, and our budgets reflected that. Our budgets were around $600,000 an episode. At that same time, “The Simpsons” were doing $1 million an episode. So we were already stretching to make “Duckman” look good. That was what I cared about—I wanted to make the show look as good as possible. And this was back when we were still doing animation on cells! That technology goes back to the 1920s!
JG2: So say “Duckman” doesn’t get canceled after season four. How much further could you have gone?
EP: I don’t know. I think when we were cancelled we were hitting our stride. Would we have had legs like “The Simpsons?” I don’t know that anyone else could go like that. I think we could have done another hundred episodes and kept it fresh. At its heart, “Duckman” was about a private detective, and you can go anywhere with that. And there was also his family, the family portion is pretty rich as well.
JG2: Well, you have to be proud as it stands—the show remains one of the best thing to come out of the 1990s.
EP: Oh yes, I am. I thought we did an amazing job with the thing. I still think it was the only story-oriented adult animated show ever. I mean, you see kinda weird things on Adult Swim, but we were really character driven.
JG2: That’s true. “Duckman” never relied on the fact it was a cartoon to find an out. The characters all dealt with their problems like real people, in between the zany jokes and sight gags.
EP: Yeah, I think we had a realistic emotional base for the characters. They had ups and downs, we would play them against themselves sometimes. I’m very proud of all that.
JG2: So how do you feel about Duckman’s forefather Howard the Duck? He’s really the only competition or measuring stuck that’s ever been in your field.
EP: You know, I don’t know that much about him. I never really followed him closely. I know the movie, and, uh, the technology at the time, there was more than what they could get across. [laughs] If they could have done it digitally…I don’t know. I thnk he’s an interesting character.
JG2: So Howard was never an albatross around Duckman’s neck?
EP: No. Duckman, you know, he’s a duck, but he’s really just a guy, a guy with a bill. Sure, he doesn’t wear clothes, but that’s just the cartoon convention. Daffy Duck never wore clothes.
JG2: I always thought Duckman didn’t wear clothes because he represented the show’s raw nerve, the “naked” emotion.
EP: Yes, exactly. [laughs]
Maggie Simpson’s animated adventure “The Longest Daycare,” screened before last year’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, has been nominated for an Academy Award. I didn’t see the thing until five minutes ago, and my reactions are thus: Thank Jeebus a cinematic “Simpsons” product of merit has come along to atone for that deflated mess in 2007 they called The Simpsons Movie. Let me also jam in the requisite complaint that “The Simpsons” tv show hasn’t been able to do anything with a fraction of this much soul since Dikembe Mutombo played for Atlanta.
Where is the soul, “Simpsons” brain trust? Where is the love? Must you give us irony in place of balls, balls in place of brains, and brains in place of soul? I used to think it was the lengthier commercial breaks that killed your show but that’s been disproven by about fifty different programs of similar time restraint since 2001.
P.S. I’m aware I’m screaming into an empty void and that if you line up all the complaints middle-aged Gen Xers have about “The Simpsons” they’d stretch from here to Eternia. I apologizing for adding to the problem.
Harry Morgan, the steely actor known for such memorable television roles as Detective Bill Gannon on “Dragnet” and Colonel Sherman T. Potter on “M*A*S*H,” died today at his Los Angeles home after a bought with pneumonia. He was 96.
A native of Detroit, Morgan (né Bratsberg) got his professional start in a 1937 production of Golden Boy by New York City’s Group Theater. The actor would go on to appear in hundreds of stage, film, and television productions, ranging from cowboy dramas like The Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon to lighter fare such as The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Cat From Outer Space.
There’s no question, though, that Harry Morgan’s stints on late ’60s detective show “Dragnet” (opposite the similarly no-nonsense Jack Webb) and ’70s Korean War dramedy “M*A*S*H” were his most famed. Morgan earned an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy in 1980 for his work on the wildly popular latter program, in which he portrayed crotchety commanding officer Sherman Tecumseh Potter. Following the conclusion of “M*A*S*H” in 1983, Morgan reprised the role of Potter for two seasons in the maligned spin-off series “AfterMASH.”
Harry Morgan continued acting into the ’90s, appearing on sitcoms such as “Grace Under Fire,” “Third Rock From The Sun,” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.” A 1995 episode of “The Simpsons” found Morgan visiting Springfield as his Bill Gannon character from “Dragnet” to investigate the alleged criminal activities of Homer Simpson’s mother. Morgan’s final film credit came in the 1999 Lance Larson short Crosswalk.
Harry Morgan was one of Hollywood’s most lovable curmudgeons, a gifted grump with a foghorn voice that cut its way into our hearts over the course of so many addictive performances. He will be missed many times over.
In searching for the quintessential Harry Morgan YouTube clip, I came across this humorous snippet wherein the actor discusses working with Elvis Presley on the 1966 musical Frankie & Johnny. Apparently, Morgan “never met a more polite kid” in his life, and his outstanding memory from the shoot concerned an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade the King of Rock n’ Roll from formality (“He called me ‘Mr. Morgan,’ and I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, Elvis, call me Harry!'”).
Hank Fucking Scorpio.
Bring that rascally mah’fucker back from the shadowy recesses of the Hammock District for one final battle royale with C. Montgomery Burns over the employment of Homer Jay. Do so and the last ten years of dubious programming will be forgiven. Thanks in advance from the embittered Globex Corporation stockholders of the world.
I pitched this article to the current list-happy version of Cracked about a month ago and they passed. Little too depressing, they said—at least I think that’s what they said; it was hard to hear through all my tears. Anywho, the darn thing came up in conversation recently and a few people expressed interest in reading it, so here it is, in all its first draft glory (pardon the numerous tense changes).
SIX REAL-LIFE DEATHS THAT ALTERED THE COURSE OF “SIMPSONS” HISTORY
By James Greene, Jr.
The hilarious, self-contained world of “The Simpsons” is a fictional entity whose popularity at times has eclipsed that of Jesus, oxygen, and Walter Mondale. Yet the continuity of Homer and Bart’s fake yellow world has been interrupted and altered on several occasions by real life, three-dimensional expirations. Consider now these six instances of human mortality that forever skewed the show that birthed Kent Brockman and Disco Stu.
1. RICHARD NIXON
THE SITUATION: In the episode “Two Bad Neighbors,” notorious one termer George H.W. Bush moves across the street from the Simpson clan. This naturally leads to some classic hi-jinks as Bart becomes Jay North to Bush’s Joseph Kearns (or Gale Gordon, depending on which version of Mr. Wilson you preferred on the old “Dennis the Menace” TV show). After a wild climax involving a fight in the sewer and a box of locusts, George and Barbara vacate their Springfield residence, setting the stage for the entry of another infamous Commander-in-Chief.
POST-MORTEM: According to the Season 7 DVD commentary, the original choice for Springfield’s second presidential resident was perennial “Simpsons” punching bad Richard Nixon. However, Nixon died during the production of “Two Bad Neighbors,” and in a rare show of restraint, the writers decided not to kick the disgraced politician while he was permanently down. Their next idea was Bob Dole, who was gearing up for a presidential run the same year “Neighbors” aired (1996). That didn’t seem like a good gamble, considering Dole didn’t have a shred of a chance against incumbent Slick Willy Clinton. Eventually, it dawned on them—who was the only living former prez at the time who’d even consider hanging out with Homer? Gerald R. Ford. Thus, Jerry was dropped in for a satisfying “Two Bad Neighbors” conclusion.
2. ANTHONY PERKINS
THE SITUATION: “Last Exit To Springfield,” often considered the BEST…EPISODE…EVER, centered around Homer’s attempts to unionize the workers at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. One of the bald guy’s major motivations for this was his daughter Lisa, who needed braces the family couldn’t afford without the company’s oft-neglected “DENNAL PLAN!” A key role in this story was that of Lisa’s evil, creepy dentist. Originally, the part was offered to Anthony Hopkins; he turned it down, as did Clint “I Work With Baboons But I Don’t Do Cartoons” Eastwood. So Matt Groening and crew called up the third bone-chillin’-est guy in Hollywood – Norman Bates.
POST-MORTEM: Psycho star Anthony Perkins gladly accepted the role as sadistic Dr. Wolfe. Sadly, Perkins expired from an AIDS-related death on September 12, 1992, before he could record a line of dialogue. Dr. Wolfe’s role was filled by jack of all “Simpsons” voices Hank Azaria (who probably endured severe psychological damage of his own during that infamous turn in 1998’s Godzilla).
3. HAING S. NGOR
THE SITUATION: Homer Simpson’s trophy case is noticeably barren in the bowling-themed episode “Team Homer.” In fact, the poor sap only has one trophy—an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor that he stole from The Killing Fields‘ Haing S. Ngor, scratching out Ngor’s name to carve in his own. As if living under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge wasn’t bad enough, now Haing S. had to deal with Mr. Plow swiping his Oscar.
POST-MORTEM: About a month after “Team Homer” aired in 1996, Haing S. Ngor was brutally murdered just outside his home in L.A.’s Chinatown area by alleged Khmer Rouge sympathizers. Refusing to let the actor’s memory be tarnished by Homer’s theft in subsequent reruns, “Simpsons” animators changed the Oscar in question to that of Don Ameche. Ameche, who won his statue for being all wrinkly and awesome in 1985’s Cocoon, had died in 1993 of prostate cancer. Thus, no one cared about fucking with his legacy.
4. DORIS GRAU
THE SITUATION: Doris Grau was the “Simpsons” script supervisor, but more people knew her as the gravely voice of Lunchlady Doris. Under the guise of Springfield Elementary’s number one tater tot slinger, Doris offered up such classic lines as “More testicles mean more iron!” and a non-plussed response to Groundskeeper Willie’s passionate demand that she “grease” him up.
POST-MORTEM: Doris Grau died from lung cancer (who could have guessed?) on December 30, 1995, a scant eight days before the aforementioned “Team Homer” aired. The episode was dedicated to her memory and the character of Lunchlady Doris was retired out of respect…until 2006, when “The Simpsons” was so desperate to be good again they let Tress MacNeille take a crack at Doris’s smokey voice. The idea that “Team Homer” is a cursed “Simpsons” episode has yet to gain momentum outside of my apartment complex, but hopefully this article will help spread that around.
5. THE PASSANGERS OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD
THE SITUATION: The Season 3 entry “Radio Bart” featured one of the most amazing musical sequences in the history of “The Simpsons”: Homer Simpsons singing the 1970s trucking hit “Convoy.” Here was one of the stupidest characters in animation history singing one of the stupidest songs in American history on one of the stupidest devices in global history (the Superstar Celebrity Microphone). Comically, it was pure win. Originally, though, Homer J. was slated to sing another Carter-era hit, “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.”
POST MORTEM: Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 hit seemed like perfect comic fodder for the Simpsons patriarch until creators learned of the unique royalty arrangement surrounding the song. Lightfoot had worked it out so that the surviving family members of those who perished aboard the titular bulk carrier (which sank in 1976 in Lake Superior) had to give their OK for the song to be used in any kind of media. With a death toll of 29, weaving through those associated with “Fitzgerald” seemed like a logistical nightmare. So the producers said, “Fuck it, let’s use that dumb-ass truck drivin’ song.”
6. PHIL HARTMAN
THE SITUATION: Seasoned “SNL” funnyman Phil Hartman first appeared in the Season 2 episode “Bart Gets Hit By A Car” as smarmy attorney Lionel Hutz. A classic recurring character was instantly born thanks to Phil’s talents, but he didn’t stop there. Three episodes later, Hartman debuted struggling has-been actor Troy McClure, possibly the most hilarious and iconic “Simpsons” character outside the central yellow family. Although we didn’t literally remember him from such films as Leper In The Backfield, Dial ‘M’ For Murderousness, and They Came To Burgle Carnagie Hall, we gladly pretended we did and never tired of learning Troy’s past accomplishments.
POST-MORTEM: In perhaps the most unexpected and sad Hollywood-related crime of the 1990s, Phil Hartman was shot to death by his mentally unstable wife Brynn (who shot herself the same day) on May 28, 1998. Troy McClure made his final tv appearance that September on the episode “Bart The Mother.” Fans were devastated, knowing they’d never again hear the chipper, syrupy tones of Springfield’s favorite fish-philandering thespian. Perhaps the greatest creative casualty here was the instant death of the much-talked about live action Troy McClure movie Phil Hartman was apparently very keen on doing. That certainly seemed to have more rich comedic possibilities than the live action Krusty the Clown vehicle Matt Groening came up with wherein Krusty lives in a house on stilts that’s constantly in danger of being destroyed by beavers (no lie).