Funny dialogue and theatre of the mind are at play in this radio spot for Miami’s NewsCenter 7 and their fraud-exposing team of reporters known as the Wastebusters. In it, a Miami businessman – Mr. Rippemoff – is not happy to hear from his assistant Dorothy that the Wastebusters are in his outer office. This is the kind of spot you don’t hear much anymore: a well acted and produced scene that’s more akin to what one of associates calls “adver-tainment.” It also helps to have clients who want it and appreciate it! (Bless ’em!) Turn up your speakers for…
:60 RADIO SCRIPT “MISTER RIPPEMOFF” For: NewsCenter 7 Wastebusters Writer: Walt Jaschek Producer: Paul Fey
SOUND FX: OFFICE INTERCOM BUZZES
DOROTHY THE ASSISTANT (voice over intercom): Mister Rippemoff?
MR. RIPPEMOFF: Yes, Dorothy?
DOROTHY: A reporter and crew from NewsCenter 7 Wastebusters is here to see you, sir.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: NewsCenter 7?
DOROTHY: Wastebusters. They expose mind-boggling wastes of taxpayers money right here in the Miami Valley.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: What do they want with me?
DOROTHY: They said you sold the government a ballpoint pen, sir.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: So?
DOROTHY: For a thousand dollars.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: Well, it came with refills.
DOROTHY: And a jar of paperclips for two thousand dollars.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: They were multi-colored paperclips.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: Red ones, blue ones…
DOROTHY: What should I tell the Wastebusters, sir?
MR. RIPPEMOFF: Do they have lights and cameras?
DOROTHY: And the ballpoint pen, sir.
MR. RIPPEMOFF: Tell them I went out my window, down my fire escape, then booked down the street, screaming like a madman.
DOROTHY: I don’t think they’ll believe that sir.
SOUND FX: FOOTSTEPS AND WINDOW OPENING
DOROTHY: Mister Rippemoff?
MR. RIPPEMOFF: (SCREAMING)
ANNOUNCER: NewsCenter 7 Wastebusters expose government waste right here in the Miami Valley. And see the Wastebusters in action.
SOUND FX: OUTSIDE TRAFFIC
MR. RIPPEMOFF: (STILL SCREAMING)
DOROTHY (yelling): You can’t escape them, sir! They’re the Wastebusters!
MR. RIPPEMOFF (running away): I know!
ANNOUNCER: NewsCenter 7 Wastebusters. Weeknights at 6. Coverage you can count on.
The stories, also archived here, were a creative stretch for me. Yeah, I’ve written content articles in the past – who can forget my piece on the magic powers of ginseng? But I’m known mostly for funny commercials, the scripts for which can be created on the back of a bar napkin. And often are.
These feature stories are work, dammit, and make me appreciate more the people who craft them all the time.
I’ve made a few unauthorized notes about my recent experiences trying to be competent in this unfamiliar form. If you’re a writer heading into these waters, you might find a tip-bit. (That’s a tidbit that’s also a tip.)
1. Know what to leave out.
Michelangelo is often credited with saying, in response to questions about his sculpting process, “You take a piece of marble and chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.” Oh. Okay. Got it. Well, that’s the article, folks! Thanks for reading.
But seriously, to help know what to leave out:
2. Become one with your transcripts.
“Transcripts” are in the news lately. They’re a thing, all right. The pubs for which I write are quick to provide transcribed text of recorded interviews. One such document recently came back at 16 single-spaced pages of 10-point type: about 12,000 words. The final story was to be 600 words, and of those, just half quotes. This means whittling the text down to 5% of itself. It’s like turning 50 Shades of Grey into one-half shade of grey. But:
3. Hang in there.
Some quotes shine on first scan. Just as often, something at the top of page 3 will connect with something at the bottom of page 15. So you have to decipher every word, no matter how inaccurately transcribed. (“Did he say ‘non-profit or ‘for profit?’ It says here, ‘Jimmy Buffet.’”) It’s a slog, but it’s necessary, so you’ll like it, saying, “Thank you, master, may I have another?”
4. Compress “The Origin Story.”
It’s human nature: everybody wants to tell their launch journey, i.e. “How We Got Here Through the Years.” But it’s good to cut these stories down to a critical mass, and certainly don’t lead with them. Though readers might like a little backstory, they really wanna know, “What’s in it for me now?” It’s like asking a friend if Macy’s still sells carpets, and the person answers by explaining in great detail how it used to be called Famous-Barr.
5. Learn to interrupt.
Seriously. Recently I was the off-camera interviewer in a big video shoot. Seldom have I had conversations with subjects as multiple cameras recorded and onlookers… looked on. In this case, I tossed the subject an opening softball. The person’s breathless answer lasted, according to a producer who timed it, almost 20 minutes. In a post-production meeting, I said, “I need to learn to interrupt.” My collaborators laughed, but it’s true: I need to learn to interrupt.
6. Have a back-up audio source.
Wonky but important tech tip: when you don’t have A/V support, you are your own production company. So have at least two devices on which to record. Before my most recent interview, I scored the Olympus VN-541PC Digital Voice Recorder. (Recommended.) Glad I did, because, as usual, the Voice Memos app on iPhone stopped recording mid-interview due to incoming calls. You’d think I’d go to Settings and fix this. Not sure I know how. Hence: two sources. Heck, make it three.
7. Check your politics at the door.
Hard but necessary, not just for interviews, but any kind of business interaction, as I’m sure all can relate. (How any person who works in a real office handles this these days is beyond me.) I bite my tongue continually, because I know no minds will be changed, or even budged, in casual conversation. But it creeps in. When a subject for a story missed his interview appointment, his assistant scrambled to contact him. “Not an emergency,” I said. “It’s not like this’ll be in tomorrow’s New York Times.”
“Good,” the assistant said with a wry smile. “Because then we couldn’t talk to you.”
It was a joke. I think. I smiled back. But I also think, “You want exposure for your endeavor, but wouldn’t talk to the freakin’ New York Times?“
We live in amazing times.
8. Choose your assignments wisely.
Easier said than done: you gotta make a living. For decades, in gratitude for opportunities, I clung to the axiom, “There are no boring subjects, only boring writers.” I’ve reconsidered. There are boring subjects. For example: I recently scrolled past a post linking to a published article, and for a half-second, thought, “I’d never read that.” Then I realized I wrote it.
I vow to be more careful, and to admit to editors, “I’m not right for this topic; it holds no interest for me.” I think they would appreciate that. Editors can’t read minds. They want a good fit. It’s another way you can:
9. Love your editors.
Bless them for their behind-the-scenes, often uncredited prep and leadership. I obey direction and appreciate sharp edits; the stories are always better for it. (This article could have used one!) But I also believe you should:
10. Love your readers.
So much of what I’m trying to do is simply keeping eyes moving down the page. Sometimes in my work I’m accused of being “funny” or “jokey” (or – ugh – “cute”,) but honest to God, I’m just trying to be interesting. That’s it. Interesting is the bar, and it will continue to be my mantra plodding forward. And in that regard:
If I got your eyes down this far down the page, I’m grateful.
Grab your gavels for a big birthday: the late Judge Wapner would have turned 100 this month. It’s true. November 19, 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Albert Wapner, legendary TV judge and pop culture icon.
Britannicareminds us of his significance: “Born November 15, 1919, in Los Angeles, California. Died February 26, 2017, in Los Angeles. American jurist and TV personality who presided (1981–93) over The People’s Court, an immensely popular syndicated TV show in which plaintiffs and defendants from California small claims court argued their cases and accepted the judge’s ruling.”
Back in the early 90s, Paul Fey and I were creating (as Paul & Walt Worldwide) a lot of radio and TV content for King World, the show’s syndicator. When we were tasked with finding a fresh approach for promoting it, I wrote the script (below) for “The Ballad of Judge Wapner,” a funny, 60-second radio commercial celebrating what fans loved about the show.
Here it is, voiced by the late Lance LeGault. It’s now captioned with lyrics, also posted beneath.
Lyrics by Walt Jaschek
MUSIC: COWBOY BALLAD-STYLE, UNDER
COWBOY: He sits in judgment He stands for the law Kinda looks like a hero And sounds like your Pa
BACK-UP SINGERS: WAPNER!
MUSIC: HARMONICA WAILS
COWBOY: He smiles and he laughs His voice tinged with gravel But the bad-guys just gasp When he bangs his big gavel
BACK-UP SINGERS: WAPNER!
COWBOY: Judge Wapner.
BACK-UP SINGERS: JUDGE WAPNER!
COWBOY: When neighbors brawl When lovers refute When suppliers and buyers and liars dispute Wapner won’t let those lawbooks get dusty Got a buddy named Doug And a sidekick named Rusty
BACK-UP SINGERS: RUSTY!
COWBOY: With Wapner.
BACK-UP SINGERS: JUDGE WAPNER!
COWBOY: Doesn’t do it from towers Doesn’t do it from steeples He does it in court A court called “People’s”
ANNOUNCER: Judge Wapner rules on “The People’s Court”
Comic smile of the week, at least for me: I accidentally learned Marvel Comic reprinted the X-Men parody I wrote – and Jim Lee drew! – in GenNext (an X-Men anthology book) #8. It originally appeared in What Th–? #5, a Marvel humor book from a decade earlier. Great to know! I was using the Google machine last week, and saw that I was listed as a writer on that book. “Ha! That’s a mistake,” I said. “I think I would know if I had anything in that issue.” But I ordered it, and what do you know: there we are, with better paper and better printing this time. Love it. You hang in there, writers, and the world offers up little gifts like this. I’m grateful.
This is writer Walt Jaschek’s introduction to the comic book Recycled Man: What Goes Around, published by Comicmood Studios, and available now on Amazon Kindle. The text introduction is titled, “When Endings Begin.” It’s about the impulse behind Walt’s creation of Recycled Man, and in particular about his power to “accelerate Karma.”
“What goes around, comes around.”
A somewhat world-weary, cigarette-smoking art director I worked with back in my ad agency days used to say that a lot.
He was right a lot.
He wasn’t talking metaphysically. More transactionally. If the flu is going around, you’re going to get the flu. (That was before the the shot. I am pro-shot.) If a client pays late, the agency is going to pay late. If somebody buys lunch with a counterfeit dollar, you’re going to get it as change.
He also used lean back, blow a smoke ring, and say, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” My younger self had to actively shrug that off. My carefully crafted optimism had to be shielded.
But he was right about that, too, in his way. We’re here for a blink, the challenges never stop, and if you don’t hone optimism and resilience, life will seem, as per Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
“Life’s a bitch and then you die” is snappier, I think.
All those quotes were on my mind when the notion of Recycled Man was born a few years ago, in a notebook, late at night.
My concept of Karma – as in, creating your ultimate fate through the arc of your daily behavior – was continuing to evolve. I kept seeing both good and bad behavior manifest fate indirectly, and over time. Thieves don’t necessarily get robbed in return, but check out prematurely. Robbed of time. The corrupt are called out, at least by history. The poor winner loses it all.
Eventually. But often the pace of Karmic repercussions can be glacial, as in glaciers, which we used to have.
My impulse for Recycled Man was that he could accelerate Karma. He could cut to the chase. See the nasty out the door.
This introductory story, in which he does just that, hints – not subtly – at a backstory I worked out in the very same notebook.
It is, I hope you’ll understand, a deliberate change-up for me: a toe-tip into (what I hope is) pulpy drama. That’s new for a writer whose work is typically more light-hearted. Or was.
But as Don Secrease started adding seer-your-retina color to Paul Daly’s evocative art, I knew we had to get a print and digital edition out there – partially to gauge reaction, partially to give our new publishing company, Comicmood, a jump-start. (Will the story continue? Oh yes, if engagement and sales warrant. Let us know what you think at comicmood.com.)
Filling out the issue: a new story I guest-wrote for Terranauts: 2020, an incarnation of the long-running team created by Paul and Don, and on loan for this appearance. “The Call of Cold, Dark Places” matches the book’s tone, I thought.
More Comicmood characters are in development — get ready, here they come —and I think they all have a certain Karma of their own. The unworthy will vanish quietly. (Or maybe not-so quietly. I’m a comics fan, too. I know how we are.) The worthy?
Oh sure, it was fun spending, with wife Randy, 10 nights and 12 days in an all-inclusive Club Med-style resort with free ice water and unlimited I.V. drips. Let’s call it a “hospital.”
And it’ll be odd to not be able to just pick up the phone and order French Toast and Baked Lay’s. (Knowing full well they will somehow instead deliver Baked Toast and French Lay’s.)
But somehow we will proceed without a full staff of registered nurses, hospitalists and friendly floor moppers.
Back here at Apt. 1-B, I will be the hospitalist and floor mopper for a while. There will be caregiving ahead, but don’t worry, I have two allies: extra-strength Excederin and extra-strength Chardonnay.
It was roughly on the 7th day of this journey that Randy took a positive turn. ‘Til then, my poor, sweet wife was fighting a tick-born infection and its side effects – “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever” isn’t just a John Denver song.
For days, she had but two modes: highly agitated alertness and a medicated, faraway fugue-state.
At about 10 a.m, I had just finished writing a long paragraph in my prayer journal. (Not a joke: I’ve been writing down prayers all my adult life, to good effect. I mean, I’m still here, right? And they’re still making Spider-Man movies?)
Anyway, at the end of the paragraph, I wrote the words, “Help me help this girl back.” I hit “save.”
Within two minutes, I heard her say, “I think I’m feeling better.”
Sure enough. She was smiling, sitting up in bed like Dorothy at the end of “Wizard of Oz.” (“And YOU were there! And YOU!”)
“Th… that’s good to hear,” I said, cautiously.
“In fact, I think I’ll get up and take a shower.” She hit the nurse call button.
“Eine gute idee.” (I’ve been talking German to her lately. Don’t ask me why.)
“Also, I’m starving.”
“Can you please go get me a Goodcents sandwich? I’ll have an 8-inch Italian on wheat, with Provolone, lettuce, oregano, and salt and pepper.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“And oil and vinegar.”
“You got it.”
“And Baked Lay’s.”
Again with the Baked Lay’s.
I’d like to say it was smooth sailing from there, but there were frustrating symptoms still to treat, such as a lingering headache: mine. (Just kidding.)
But today, a lovely Sunday, with the doctors in syzygy (“si-je-zee,” a term from my word-a-day calendar meaning celestial alignment) and souvenir shampoos in hand, home we were sent.
Your well-wishes and prayers helped do the trick, as well, and don’t think we don’t know it. So it is with great appreciation we toast you with… what else?