Change the Best Friend to a Dog
One of the vexing aspects of a Hollywood career path is the arduous task of rationalizing or, at least, trying to live with, the baffling dichotomy of the development process. On the one hand, there's a phalanx of middle-management types - agents, production VPs, the occasional, ominously deemed "gatekeeper" - whose job it is to simply say no. Given the enormous volume of product (good, bad and often ugly), weeding out is a necessary evil, even if "No" means trading in a trendy Brentwood office for a local, laptop-strewn Starbucks. On the other hand, if you think the No is frustrating, just wait for the Yes...
As your TV pilot or blockbuster feature or little-engine-that-could Indie with heart ("but still dark, ya know...edgy!") makes its way up the chain, the baffling dichotomy emerges like a dorsal fin from the depths. The manager/publicist/development exec spends countless hours - brow furrowed, Blackberry chirping, bottled water close at hand - nitpicking every nook and cranny of the story, the characters, the "stakes," the conflict, the arc(s). And they justify their Thomas' English Muffin analyses by pointing to the literally millions of dollars riding on every little thing going "just so." This, actually, is not a problem. It's not even a necessary evil. It is a legitimate part of creating, one hopes, art, even if commerce trumps art every night in prime time. (See "According to Jim, comma, "Belushi's syndication checks," comma, "Shoot us now.") So, it's not the nitpicking that's tough to deal with. It's what comes next.
All the t's have been crossed, the i's dotted, story wrinkles ironed out, the "talent" secured. Those millions of dollars thoroughly hedged against and focus-grouped, the cameras are ready to roll. Then, out of nowhere, a network exec pushes up from his canvas-backed director's chair and throws all that caution to the wind with nine little words: "Can we change the best friend to a dog?" And no one bats an eye. (Except the pet wrangler, who's already thumbs-deep in his iPhone rolodex.) What had been a justifiably painstaking process, a legitimate, deliberative governing philosophy, gets suddenly benched for a hyper-hypocritical, breathlessly reckless, Rocky & Bullwinkle-style ADHD-fest: "Now here's something we hope you'll *really * like!"
How does this relate to football, you ask? Well, recently Out-Takes can't help but notice the helter-skelter, Hollywood-flavored hypocrisy that ROGER GOODELL is peddling to pre-game shows and drive-time radio audiences across the country. On the one hand, the NFL is taking every precaution, to the point of legislating itself toward two-hand touch, to protect its players and, by extension, its product. Fair enough. We like the product, just as we like our characters "root-able" (JIM & PAM on The Office); just as we like when story points "land," as in the final moments of The Sixth Sense or whatever we're sure never happens on According to Jim right after we frantically change the channel.
So the NFL cracks down on crack-back blocks, refines the rules on lunging at a quarterback's knees (cue Pittsburgh's "BERNARD POLLARD Fan Club" t-shirts) and outlaws spearing & head-hunting. (We call this "The RYAN CLARK Initiative.") Sure, these changes come with frustration - ticky-tack penalties, quips from old-timers about "putting skirts on QBs," yellow flagging ADALIUS THOMAS for "slinging" TRENT EDWARDS to the ground. (As far as Out-Takes is concerned, in big boy football this can't be a penalty, 'though by the letter of the law it surely was.) It's hard to say if the increasing emphasis on kid-gloves treatment is a reaction to the NFL's Six Million Dollar Man problem - "Bigger. Faster. Stronger." - or simply an example of league coffers trying to make it in a RODNEY HARRISON-free world. But one thing's for sure...
WE SHOULD PLAY 18 REGULAR SEASON GAMES! Yep, that's the meme being none-too-subtly pushed by Goodell & Company. Never mind the fact that the 16-game regular season is already a truly brutal slog, a war of attrition with bodies not just worn and torn but debilitated, with long-term ramifications. Never mind the hypocrisy of allegedly looking out for the Bradys and the Mannings and the, we guess, Favres while subjecting them to extra pounding in games that every September tells us "can't be simulated, speed- and violence-wise, in the pre-season." Nope, we'll just keep claiming that we're "really concerned about the level of play in exhibition football" and "listening to the fans - we hear you, fans!" - who expect "value for their hard-earned dollars!"
To quote MASH*'s COLONEL POTTER... "Horse-hockey." You want to help fans out while still protecting the players whose livelihoods line your pockets? How 'bout not making them pay full-price for pre-season games? How 'bout not bundling the exhibition contests into their season-ticket packages? How 'bout dollar-draft night to make up for, or obscure via beer-goggles, an inferior product? Gosh, those solutions are so complicated! How could they possibly work?!
Mr. Goodell, that NFL fans are at all times and in all ways "ready for some football" does not mean they are so vapid as to miss the fact that this is ONLY about money. They know. And it does not mean that they are unable to detect hypocrisy when they smell it. They can. Protecting moneymaker QBs, over-the-middle WELKERS and exposed highlight-reel HESTERS, even if it is a money issue, is okay with them. It makes sense, and...it makes cents. (Mom Out-Takes alert: "Ooh - clever!") But, please, stop telling us you're being careful on the one hand, while being reckless on the other. And don't change our best friend to a dog.
Post-script: Are we alone in thinking "horse hockey" sounds like an unbelievably awesome sport? Find a way to ice over the gridiron during pre-season halftimes, Mr. Goodell, and we'll pony up the full freight on tickets. (Outfit the horses with ice-skates and we'll pay double.)
~ Say this for REX RYAN's Swaggerlicious Jets, they look like a top-notch football team, if one begging for a little comeuppance by season's end. And as long as you back it up, you can talk all you want, BART SCOTT. Thing is, you'd better win a Super Bowl - and not the "
week two" kind. Otherwise, all the "best" this and "embarrass" that kind of blows up in your face, and you're left with nothing but the odd Gate D Concourse flasher, toplessly slurring her "Same Old Jets" chant as Fireman Ed fondles his BRUCE HARPER jersey, teary in the Giant shadows of a rental.
~ Few doubt JAY CUTLER's talent on the football field - in the same way that few doubt his frat boy petulance off of it. But it's getting harder to ignore the existential battle waging on either side of Captain Jägermeister's sneer-in-the-headlights look: A haloed, in-his-prime FAVRE, whispering gunslinger advice in one ear, and a pitchfork-wielding RYAN "Don't talk to me, all right?! KNOCK IT OFF!" LEAF pouting and shouting into the other. Our guess is that Cutler will ultimately gather himself enough to produce more like prime Favre than trainwreck Ryan. Our hope, though, is for a flame-out so intense that Youtube-users and Facebook-sharers will spontaneously combust.
~ Out-Takes doesn't employ an official statistician, part-time or otherwise, but according to our records "bedridden FDR" had more YAC (yards after catch) than BENJAMIN WATSON. Come on, Ben, step lively, keep your balance and break into the open field every once in awhile. Show 'em that Chasing Champ Bailey speed! But, ya know...toward the good guy's end zone.
~ Just when you thought BRETT FAVRE couldn't be more...let's just say "Favre-hole-ish," out comes the story of the New York Jets* getting fined for cheating on last year's Injury Reports. All because a guy who's not even on their team anymore still can't stop making excuses for failing to win the '08 AFC East, despite TOM BRADY's season-long absence and CHAD PENNINGTON's apparent inability to knock down stacked milk bottles at state fairs everywhere.
Far be it from us to defend the J-E-T-S and/or their ex-coach ERIC "Sure! I'll guest on the Sopranos without ever having done anything!" MANGENIUS, but good Lord, Brett, for years you were one of just a few good men. Now all we want to do is bow to Aaron Sorkin and go all Kiefer-with-a-crew-cut-on-you, and so...we will: "Brett Favre ended up a joke, and that is a tragedy. But he ended up a joke because he had no code; he ended up a joke because he had no honor. And God was watching."
~ Less than ten days ago, who'd've thunk that, of all the branches sprouting from The Belichick Tree - guys named MANGINI, PIOLI, SCHWARZ & WEIS, not to mention Bill himself - the best, steadiest perch would belong to...JOSH MCDANIELS? All that time fretting over the offense (Cutler & Marshall & Orton, oh my) and suddenly the Denver D looks stouter than Survivor: Samoa's latest, lying bully-villain, RUSSELL "Louie De Palma, Big Easy Edition" HANTZ.
~ Watching BYRON LEFTWICH wind up to throw even the shortest dump-off screen-pass last Sunday, Out-Takes was astounded to realize we could skim three pages of the latest, not-so-greatest PAT CONROY NOVEL (walk, don't run, to read South of Broad), before he managed to drill the ball into the ground at his receiver's feet. (Byron being Byron.) Looks to us as though Leftwich, who holds the distinction of being at once an ex-Jag and a current JAG, is not long for Tampa Bay's "offense," even if his iffy mechanics are nothing but.
~ Apparently, unless BILL BELICHICK begins carrying a tray of hors d'oeuvres * to his post-game handshake with Jets personnel, the media hysteria will swirl at least twice a year. ("Hey, good game. Thai chicken skewer?") Meanwhile, one wonders what the talking heads at *Newsday, WFAN and any number of MARSHALL FAULK-alikes would be saying had the Patriots pulled that bush league, "send out three former Jets, including the 3rd string QB, as our captains" stunt.
~ We're aware this is an NFL column, but USC losing to a crappy PAC-10 team early in the season is edging closer and closer to "look up déjà vu in the dictionary" status.
~ Now that easy target PLAXICO BURRESS has actually been put in prison, we'd like to take this opportunity to grow a conscience and not make fun of him. Out-Takes can't imagine being in the pen for even half an hour - How, for instance, could we ensure any mercurial wideouts with self-inflicted, waistband-specific injuries were held out of any given Sunday's fantasy lineups? - so the idea of 20 months in the big house is daunting to say the least. Here's hoping Plax gains some perspective, stays safe inside and comes out ready to produce for the Raiders or whoever.
~ One recent morning, Out-Takes punching bag (not on the Cutler/Favre/Swaggerliciousness level - call him a speed bag) VINCE YOUNG surprised TRENTON & TYLER MCNAIR, sons of the late STEVE MCNAIR, at their home. Seems their school sponsors a "Dear Dads Breakfast" at a local restaurant and Young took the time to make good on his promise to "always...be here for them, always." As he told the Tennesseean, "I am their big brother."
Obviously an unexpected pop-in and a few hours of surrogate parenting, jersey giveaways and autograph signing isn't even a speck on the horizon of a suddenly fatherless life, but it's a helluva nice start and, for Out-Takes, a nice way to finish, as well. Good on ya, VY. Go, Titans, kinda!
John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)"