Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thanks and Stats

First off, though I already said this in the comments section of the previous post, thanks to everyone for the supportive thoughts.

And I didn't mean to say that I was leaving because of a lack of civility.

Laura had made an opening for me and, unwisely, I used it to jump.

Guilty as charged of conflating.

My exit has been planned. Though this blog is no SOPRANOS, I think planning an end into the start of something is always good. (Though I'm not making a case for closed endings.)

A year seems like enough. And I've said a lot.

So, today's post is about numbers.

So far, I've posted 180 times.

Generally this blog is visited by about 100 unique visitors a day - though yesterday the number was tripled.

About 30-35 visitors a day are return visitors - which is to say they haven't reset their browser in a while.

Lately, I've been getting a lot of traffic from Chicago. It's probably the best theatre city in this country, so it's not a suprise.

Weekends are slow. Obviously people are looking at this thing on company time. (YES!)

Here are the big numbers (over the past year):
Page Loads - 25,280
Unique VIsitors - 15,434
First Time Visitors - 10,687
Returning Visitors - 4,747

My biggest referrer has been Parabasis. But I got a lot of hits when Playgoer noted my recognition of our theatre communities woes in a real estate story about Mr. Spinella. Adam has also sent a few people my way.

I get a lot of hits from people looking for tips on spec TV scripts.

The theatre houses that have looked at this blog from time to time include Seattle Rep, South Coast and Playwrights Horizons.

I also get hits from Sony Pictures, Dimension, Disney and MGM.

Recently I got a hit from somebody looking to find out if a producer I've worked with is single. Yikes, huh?

Okay, that's enough of that.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Long Goodbye. Or soon anyway.

So, this morning I got up to an email and a post from Laura Axelrod (Gasp!) that she's going to stop writing about theatre on her blog. In essence, politely declaring she's done with the "theatrosphere".

I'm not sure exactly why, but she's alluded to the lack of civil discourse of late.

Certainly, this long drawn out war over ideas about groups versus individuals and plays in the regions versus plays in New York has been repetitve. We've had this discussion before. And we've had the development discussion before. And the discussion of color blind casting and, well, you get the picture. And there's been lots of cat pictures in between with shoutouts to all our favorite playhouses - SoHo Rep, Clubbed Thumb, etc.

On August 14 last year, I made my first post. It's coming up on a year and it's close to time for me to say goodbye as well.

My interest in blogging started with Adam Szymkowicz. Talented dude, to say the least. And great roommate. And fantastic advice giver. And all-around funny, smart guy.

The interest grew when Isaac published a speech from Eduardo Machado that basically said playwrights were being failed by the theatre world, among other things.

It was all interesting and new and I started to comment quite frequently on a few blogs. And I started reading more of them: George Hunka, Jason Grote, Playgoer, Mr. Excitement and Don Hall.

Then I moved from New York to Los Angeles. And because I thought it woud be interesting, I decided to blog about the transition, naively thinking that it would just take a year. And also thinking that I'd land a job quickly and get going without much else but a good portfolio of writing and an open mind.

Naturally, the process isn't over. I don't have a full time job (though I've been freelancing enough to keep the cupboards full) and it hasn't been as easy I'd thought or hoped it would be. But the one thing I moved for that was most important to get has come to pass - My wife and I are living under the same roof after two years of trying to make things work on two coasts.

PLUS, I've got some great things going that I didn't count on - namely, a boy on the way.

Over the last 11 and a half months, I've tried to talk about the generous people I've met here in LA, share the ways I've tried to get around the obstacles to percieved success (some of which live within) and add my voice to an interesting group of bloggers who are as afflicted as I am with theatre.

In other words, it's been a blog about my actual life, not simply theories about theatre.

Sometimes I've been shrill. Sorry.

Over the next few weeks, I'll continue blogging, but what I am saying is that I am very close to the end - an end that I felt was much overdue just a few days ago when I realized how repetitive I'd become myself lately (I posted a Joel Meyerwitz photo twice).

I plan on linking back to a few of my favorite posts - some by me, some by others. Offering a few stats. And putting the synopses of my plays up - as a final act of marketing (yes, George, marketing!). I'm sure there will be a list or two.

Here is my first swan song link - to a recent speech by Ed Sobel, Lit Manager at the one of the greatest theatres in our country, Steppenwolf.

Please take time from any theoretical postings about groups and individuals and arcane discussion of Greek and Latin roots for the word "radical" and read it. We could all learn something from it.

I'd sing a song, but my voice is just horrible.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


The other day I was talking to my mom on the phone and she said she was reading the New Harry Potter Book.

I asked how it was.

"It's good, you know. But Rowling can't write well."


"She's got these sentences that are just horrible."

So, you don't like it?

"No. She's very imaginative and she's got a great story so it really moves along. She's just not a very good writer."


"Or maybe it's the editor's fault."


Which got me thinking about my own transgressions in writing, many of which readers of this blog have witnessed.

As I look back at my writing here, I have to say I'm certainly glad I've done it, but I'm also appalled at some of my mistakes. And while I don't want to blame blogging for the state of my poor grammar and spelling, I must say, what happens here seems to be happening elsewhere and I don't like it.

In fact, the other day I wrote a note to my wife that went something like, "Please be they're."


She said she'd noticed this switching of "they're" and "there" a lot lately.

A recent post found mispellings of "commission" and dropped helping verbs and many double letters and plenty of dropped "d"s from "and" and lots of "it's" for "its" and vice versa.

Is it the blog form? Is it writing too fast? Being too quick to put a first draft down?

Does it even matter?

I see errors in other people's posts and wonder if it has any effect on the reader's willingness to keep reading. Depending on the blogger, the tenor of the post and the logic of the post, I don't let it change my own reading habits, but still.

Which is why I occasionally return to posts and correct them where I see they're poor written.

If only I could do that with some of my comments.

Of course, I could fire my editor. But he's already got enough problems finding work.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks about these things.

Great post from Patrick.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Days past....

Taken just after we got married when she did Belle's at Ashland. I've always thought it funny that we got together - an actress who's made her bones on classics and a playwright who complains constantly about the lack of opportunity in theatre for the living writer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

10: The Executive

Recently, I had lunch with a network executive (from one of the big three) who is a friend of a friend of an aquaintance.

It was not a long lunch, though it was clear that he'd read some of my blog and was very nice about it.

"What's it like to have done work that's been inducted into the NY Museum of Modern Art?" he asked.

I gave him my standard line: the best part about it is that if any of my kids (or my kid - who really knows) get in to Harvard I can always say, "So what? Until you're in MOMA, that's nothing." It was a quintessentially Irish answer and very, very Walsh. (I can hear my Dad in that quip.)

He confessed that while he'd received my play, my screenplay and my spec TV script, he hadn't read any of them. Which was cool with me because these days, I've yet to find anyone who really has the time to read. And that he was meeting me at all was a total fluke and more than generous on his part.

It was indeed a favor.

Then he asked what television I was watching. DEXTER, THE SOPRANOS (eventhough it's over), FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I said I'd enjoyed the first third of HEROES but that I'd fallen behind somewhere and that when I got back to it, it was so convoluted with so many stories I couldn't follow it. I said I had been peeking at the new JOHN FROM CINCINATTI which had been intriguing but that I was also having trouble following along. Finally, I noted the show DAMAGES which at the time was to start soon with Glenn Close. (I missed it, by the way, but am hoping to catch it on the rebroadcast this Sunday.) Finally, I mentioned THE TUDORS which for some reason hasn't hooked me the way it promised to.

He commented that at least some of the shows I was watching were still on and that he was tired of meeting writers who gushed about DEADWOOD.

I volunteered that I understood why people would mention it and that it certainly was a gushworthy show.

He asked why I'd written a MEDIUM spec. I told him why the DuBois family interested me - the focus on her job eventhough he's a Rocket Scientist, the way Allison's girls affected the flavor of the show, the way the whole family seemed to be a pretty good metaphor for the way most Americans are making ends meet. I made my way back to the beginning by saying that while I wasn't sure I loved the way the show was produced (they're always whispering), the scripts at the WGA were great reads from start to end.

I asked him what he looked for in new writers. He said, "I look for people who are interesting. People who don't just watch TV. When you come into my office, don't have the same conversation that everyone has. Talk about something different."

I knew what he meant, but since our conversatiion was already the same as everyone else's I didn't know what he meant at all.

Then he told me that writing quality would not be the factor in my finding a staff job. He said my biggest obstacle to getting into televsion would be that I'm a white male. Apparently, they already have a lot of those and then some.

This, I've heard before.

We chit-chatted a little more and then the check came. We split the bill and went our separate ways.

Nice guy. Though, when I reflect on the meeting, well, I have to say, I somehow don't think I'll be hearing from him again. But all in all, that's all right.

It was a nice thing for him to do - meeting me - a writer with a handful of plays, screenplays and more, looking for a break.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A year ago, I wasn't here.

We gave the MINI a bath tonight and then, like people who can't get off the associative logic train, went over to Target to buy a bathtub for the boy that we expect to be coming into out lives in just a matter of weeks (that would be two weeks).

Last night, I spent the evening frantically working up some theatre applications and looking over the plays I've been working on for the last year.

For some reason these actions all got me thinking about what I was doing last year at this time - and how, at that time, I probably could've only really predicted one of these two evenings: the one where I frantically worked up the theatre applications.

Why? Because that's what I KNOW how to do. It's the way I've been living for the last 6 years.

But last year, I certainly wouldn't have thought I was going to be here, in LA, washing a MINI and buying a baby bathtub.

Oh, no. Last year, this week, I was sitting in a Manhattan office being told by a very concerned HR person that I HAD TO DECIDE IF I WAS WORKING FOR THE AD AGENCY. OR NOT.

Okay, so it wasn't put in big capital letters. Or shouted at me.

But it was a kind of ultimatum that was asking me, I felt, to choose between being in NY without my wife, or being on the West Coast, with my wife, but without a job. Being pencil pushers, they were unwilling to see it any other way even though the split life had given them an advertising campaign that had gotten them more attention than they'd recieved in years for their creative work.

Obviously, I made the right choice.

Interestingly, the people who pushed me to leave were all pushed out themselves within 8 months and the agency that they were once part of is, itself, from what I hear, falling apart.

I do not mean to gloat. I've got plenty of things to work out and financial uncertainty is certainly not fun.

But, on the other hand, I took a risk - along with my wife - to try something different.

Others stayed where they were not realizing that that was just as risky a thing to do.

If not moreso.

Ah, the gut. Such a good thing to follow.

Second only to the heart.

For more on this subject, Don Hall has a few things to say. As you'd expect.

(By the way, that's my pregnant wife back there in the picture - she looks GOOD doesn't she?)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Does this mean I have to write about Derrida now?

I hope not.

Because if I did have to write about Derrida, I'd have to write in columns that compete for attention on the same page in long, maddeningly circular sentences that purposely defy comprehension as a way of refuting the silly idea that language can actually communicate anything to anyone.

Plus, I'd have to write in French. And my French is no good.

But I suppose that's just the kind of absurdities you have to put up with when you've been given a "Thinking Blogger" Award.

Thanks to E. Hunter Spreen for presenting me with this thing. The best part about it, of course, is that the logo I'm supposed to display (below) seems to depict an Alien having bowel problems.

Anyway, as a recipient, it's my "duty" to award five other bloggers who make me think.

The origin of this award is The Thinking Blog.

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (you have a choice of a silver version or a gold one).

Here are five blogs that make me think - Parabasis, Joshua James, my old roommate and still colleague, Adam Szymkowicz, Mr. Excitement, Don Hall and, a sixth, because 5 senses aren't enough either, Dave Tutin.

I'd pass it to Laura Axelrod, but she's already got one.

This is a picture of Derrida. Of course, he's smoking a pipe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My critical problem with theatre.

Over on Jaime's blog, there's a nice little write up of Beau Willimon's show at SPF. One of the things that Jaime marvels at is how much she liked a 90 minute, intermissionless two-hander. So used to being bored by this type of play (often called an "elevator play" since you get on with two characters and then stay in the same place with them until everyone exits), she was quite taken with Beau's writing (he's a Columbia grad) and how well it moved.

She prefers less naturalistic work, overall.

Later, in the comments section, she said when something's bad, she'd much rather be watching something that's bad but less realistic than something that's bad and realistic.

It got me thinking about how I approach theatre pieces and particularly work by others that may be very very different from an approach I might take.

I used to be quite adamant about what I wanted to see on stage.

I still can be.

However, as a student at Columbia, I was lucky enough to work side by side with 5 other very talented writers. The way Eduardo Machado and Kelly Stuart taught, sense memory exercises (based on Eduardo's work under Fornes) were done by all of us, every week. That is to say, in-class writing.

I balked at first - having had a lot of professional experience already as a writer I felt "writing in public" was a big waste. My reluctance wasn't helped by Eduardo's dictum that we were to type exactly what we'd written down each week and bring it to the following class. The work was then read out loud by the playwrights before the next in-class exercise was started.

One of the ideas behind the exercise was, of course, to just get us writing. Another was to get us to trust our first instincts in writing.

An unintentional side-effect of this program was to show me how many different ways there were to solve a problem that differed from the path I took. Not that there weren't weeks when I hated some of what I was hearing. But since we were discouraged from critiquing work in part due to its truly embryonic nature, I searched for ways to listen differently.

I found myself asking questions instead. Why were they doing that? What's happening underneath? What's the rhythm saying?

It lead to an openness that was useful when working under Anne Bogart where we were tasked with writing a short play a week and producing it the following week. Again, work was wet and fresh but this time we recieved a formal critique of the pieces every week. Yet Bogart herself created an atmosphere where questions were asked about how to discover the rules of a piece without overanalyzing it and trying to make it something it wasn't. And since I knew what kind of work Anne created, I also knew that there was plenty of work that she never would've made and that aesthetically rubbed her the wrong way, so that was a pretty amazing thing to be part of.

It's an openness that lead to more interesting conversation about the work and what it was than we currently get from the critics in most of the press where an aesthetic opinion is being pushed.

It's an openness to ideas and methods that, in the corporate world I got my chops from, is rare. In advertising, anyway, things "suck" or are "brilliant" immediately. Being curious is not always rewarded. Experimentalism is only considered worthwhile when it's funny or bought. Formulas (believe it or not) are generally frowned upon (though everything may end up there after battling clients and others, most creatives stay away from work they've already seen).

It's an openness that required understanding that you had an idea of what you thought theatre should be and setting it aside long enough to see what other people thought theatre should be. (Or any piece of art for that matter.)

Going to see shows in New York, I tried to apply this openness to seeing work. To be sure, it was harder to do in places where I was being charged more than $25 a ticket. For some reason once this financial barrier was crossed, a "prove to me this was worth it" visor came down over my eyes.

This "prove it to me" attitude could also strike if somehow the theatre - or the presentation of the theatre - made me feel like an outsider being taught what good theatre was supposed to be. (There were a few downtown theatre companies that I never felt welcome in, and so no matter how good or interesting the work was that they did, I was always wary of going to their shows.)

I discovered similar feelings could be stirred up by productions done in rep where I felt I was seeing technical skills but not much heart.

Occasionally, jealousy stepped in the way, too.

This weekend, however, I was asked by someone about a show I'd seen here in LA. They had recommended the show and then were amazed that I'd actually gone to see it. Maybe this is partly LA. But I know that it also had to do with the fact that the show was not of the same kind of professional standards that other shows might be. The troupe was mostly made up of non-actors. The writer had worked in the community over a year long commission to create the text.

My friend, the recommender, asked me, point blank, did I like the show?

Looking into his eyes, I saw he was not just really wondering, but also showing a little fear. Fear of being wrong for recommending the show. Fear of liking something.

I also was fearful of saying I liked something that wasn't perfect, but was interesting and heartfelt and worthwhile. A show that was introduced by an artistic director and managing director to the audience in a way that made me experience it that way, rather than the easier-to-do arms-folded-across-my-chest way.

Theatre is very hard to do well, under even the best circumstances. It's a difficult way of life and a hard choice to make as a way of life when everyone you know who went the way of law or technology or medicine is making 6 figures and buying nice coffee tables.

I'm not sure why we tend to make things harder for ourselves with ideas about what should be on stage and what shouldn't be. Or why we think its important to take stances against this kind of genre or that.

I was taught something early on in my advertising career that I've unfortunately not paid well enough attention to: When you don't like something, don't say anything about it. Let it go its own way.

An unusually sensitive piece of advice from an ad guy to a future theatre person.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Something else.

My blog is looking a little wordy lately. So, here's a picture, taken at the Getty. It's a Joel Meyerwitz photo.

Wordy post about wordy stuff to follow later.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Why we're still at war.

I usually stay away from direct political commentary on this blog. There's plenty of it elsewhere, and I often feel that I fall into the trap of provocative didacticism when I'm at the dinner table, so on a blog, where there's no one to curb my passions whatsoever, there could be real problems - especially when it comes to wiping the foam from my mouth.

However, I can't help but relate a conversation that I had with a close, close relative about the current war in Iraq. This relative is super well educated - a BA from one of those very expensive liberal arts schools on the East Coast that claim to teach you to think for life - and advanced degrees in writing and business to boot.

It started with taxes. I mentioned some rather recent large payments Heather and I had made to our Federal and state governments.

My relative jumped in and complained about the amount she had had to pay last year. $50,000.00 is what she said she'd forked over.

I said, "Oh, please. If that's what you paid, that means you made nearly $250,000 last year and you can afford to pay that amount. I mean, you made A LOT of money."

"But that's sooo much money to give the government. It's ridiculous," she said.

I repeated my lack of sympathy, but added that I had no objection to paying taxes. I belong to a society. That society needs money to operate. What I really obected to was the way our politicians spend our money. I added that I wished that we had a system whereby - whenever I voted - I could vote for how tax dollars were spent. Ie, I apportioned percentages in the voting booth instead of voting for people who I hoped would do it for me.

"For instance," I said, "The money we're spending on this war is just mind-boggling considering all the things here at home that need to be paid for. We're in effect pouring money into a foreign country when we have roads, schools, hospitals, alternative energy resources and other social infrastructure elements that are currently underfunded."

"But if we stop fighting that war," she said, "Those people will attack us here."

My reply: Put that money into security here and it might be even more effective than fighting a war that is also killing our sons and daughters and tearing families apart. Even if that means not putting it into roads, schools, etc, we'd be better off since it would be money spent here, adding to this country's overall wealth and well-being. Spending it over there is getting us nowhere. Besides, right now our presence there is making those people want to attack us. If we leave, no one know what's going to happen - especially not the current administration which has one of the worst track records of predicting behavior in that region going.

And, anyway, I added, their efforts in Iraq are side tracking the hunt for the real culprits of 9/11 - those people are in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Get them and you might really put a dent in the organization with the stated goal to attack us.

"What are you talking about," she interrupted, "Iraq was involved in 9/11."

My jaw fell off.

How many years has it been since the 9/11 Commission published its findings? How long has Keith Olberman been pointing out the truth? How many times do newspapers, magazines and internet sites have to report it? I mean, I've seen the polls that say a huge number of Americans believe this to be true, but I haven't met one of those Americans yet. (Turns out I'm related to one.)

I pointed out to my relative what the 9/11 Commission said - no link. I went on about it just a little too long, but I was clear. No one has ever shown a link between the events of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.

After a pause she said: "I really don't think about politics too deeply. I've got two kids and a job to hold down. All I know is that I had to pay the government $50,000.00 last year and that's ridiculous."

Friday, July 13, 2007

The furniture's paid for. The past is not.

It's been a while since I've reported on the money plight - and since the curtain looms on my year of blogging, I thought I should offer an update.

The short of it is, we're solvent.

In fact, due to the job in Denver which lasted from the beginning of May through the end of June (and still continues a little here in LA where I'm editing videos for them), we have even paid off our credit cards - about $10,000 altogether.

More importantly, we've been able to sock some dough away and pay for all the furniture we got in April and March, as well as a few other things.

I'm still not a staffer anywhere, but after Noodles arrives, we may have some time where I don't have to work on work work but can focus on a play, screenplay or TV pilot.

These are not gifts of theatre. (Mr Spinella can tell you more about that.)

But they don't come without cost - mainly that I'm not doing theatre right now the way I'd like. I felt this keenly today when putting together a submission. I read through the scene of a play I've never had time to really finish and liked the damn thing. It made me miss trying to figure out how to present work. (Despite the sounds I've made about making my own work, I'm still a ways from doing it.)

Still, there could be worse things. Only four months ago I was collecting unemployment between short stints and wondering how we were going to make it. Serious consideration was given to destroying a retirement fund.

And we have yet to make a real dent on our collective grad school debt - which, though we're making the monthly - still tops out at around $177,000. For those of you who add things up, that's about $1400 a month out the door in cash. (If the Republicans really wanted the country to grow, they'd forgive all school debts and put those Sallie Mae big shots out into the cold.)

The baby will cost $500 a month in insurance.

Lack of work will not be tolerated long.

But, in the meantime, we're paying taxes, eating watermelon in the evenings and drinking juice and coffee in the am, so it's not all bad.

Now, if I could just work out my screenplay....

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What's less interesting? The opening of Heroes? Or commercials on fast forward? Turns out they're equals.

The article below is a report on the desperate attempts by the networks to slow down their increasing irrelevance to advertisers.

Unfortunately the conclusion I take from the quote below (which links you to the NYT site - though I cut and pasted the whole article as well) is that NBC shows like "Heroes" may be increasingly irrelevant. Period.

After all, if the opening of "Heroes" creates as much excitement in a viewer as a commercial played on fast forward, what does it say about "Heroes"?

Just how uninteresting is that show?

(By the way, from what I read, the numbers went down for the show as it continued to play out. Why? My guess: Way too many story lines dragging out way too long for viewers to really care. This saddens me since I loved the series first few shows - the pilot was especially compelling.)

If networks want to prove that people watch commercials on their shows, they should insist that advertisers make commercials worth watching.

That means, relevant, pointed, thoughtful, interesting entertainment about what you offer or make .

Advertising creative departments have been suggesting this solution for years, but they are consistently denied by both clients who are fearful of making the bold simple dramatic statements they say they want in their advertising and media departments that insist repetition is more important than quality.

(Apple's 1984 shows just how blind this "repetition logic" is. It ran once. Yes, during a Super Bowl, but it only ran once. Whereas most of the other commercials that ran during that years Superbowl ran again, over and over, elsewhere, the commercial STILL talked about from that year was Apple's 1984. Repetition is NOT the best way to connect to a human being through advertising. Relevant entertainment is.)

Anyway, here's the article.

"...judging from the biological reactions, the test subjects were just as engaged while watching fast-forwarded advertisements as they were while viewing opening scenes from the NBC show “Heroes” at regular speed."


Engaging at Any Speed? Commercials Put to Test

Published: July 3, 2007
In new experiments for NBC, people are hooked up to sensors as they watch television, and researchers observe changes in their heart rate, palm sweat, eye movement and breathing patterns.

Alan Wurtzel of NBC Universal monitoring a method of testing commercials played at a fast-forward speed.

But the panelists are not watching just NBC programs. They are watching commercials — in fast-forward mode.

So far, the findings have been just what NBC hoped: judging from the biological reactions, the test subjects were just as engaged while watching fast-forwarded advertisements as they were while viewing opening scenes from the NBC show “Heroes” at regular speed.

And that conclusion — which is still preliminary — could have big implications for NBC and other networks as they negotiate rates for air time with advertisers. Although advertisers have steadfastly refused to pay the networks for viewers who fast-forward commercials, as more households buy digital video recorders like TiVo, the networks may one day argue that this system should change.

When it comes to fast-forward advertisements, “the assumption has always been that they have no economic value, that they have no communication value,” said Alan Wurtzel, president for research at NBC Universal. “But the fact of the matter is we’re learning that they are valuable.”

The thesis flies in the face of the assumption among advertisers that their ads have no effect when played at a high speed on a DVR. Over the last month, as advertising agencies and television networks negotiated billions of dollars in deals for commercials during next year’s season, executives who buy commercial time did not waver in their position that people who zap past the ads are of no value to them.

“Would we pay when they’re fast-forwarding? No,” said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director for national broadcast at MindShare North America, an agency in the WPP Group that buys advertisements. “You’ve created a message that in theory requires 15 seconds or 30 seconds to get that selling message across. On a high-speed DVR, 30 seconds gets pushed down to 1.5 seconds with no audio. It just wouldn’t work.”

For decades, advertisers have paid for advertisements based on how many people see them — or how many “impressions” an advertisement receives, in industry terms. Now that technology has reshaped people’s viewing habits, advertising executives are looking for other ways to quantify their audiences and gauge the impact of messages.

Some researchers said efforts like NBC’s to find alternative measurements are a step in the right direction.

“Whether people watch or not is not a useful measure of anything,” said Joe Plummer, chief research officer for the Advertising Research Foundation. “Exposure has very, very weak correlation with purchase intent and actual sales, whereas an engagement measure has high correlation and are closer to what really matters, which is brand growth and creating brand demand.”

Media executives have long discussed the potential of using physical reactions and brain scanning to track their messages, and advances in medical research in the past few years have made this more practical. NBC is working with Innerscope Research, a small company in Boston that uses wearable sensors to translate physical responses into what the company calls “emotional engagement.”

Panelists wear black-netted vests with tubes running out of them. Sensors on fingers measure sweat or “skin conductance,” as the researchers like to say. A monitor picks up on heartbeats, and an accelerometer tracks movement when panelists wiggle in their seats or chuckle. A respiratory band can tell if the abdomen and chest stop moving — noticing when someone holds their breath, for example, in a scene of suspense.

Innerscope has developed its own scale for engagement that combines the biometric factors that it tracks. On a scale of 1 to 100, a 50 is neutral, and above 60 is engaged. In Innerscope’s test for NBC, viewers of the first 20 seconds of live advertisements clocked in with a 66 engagement score and those fast-forwarding scored 68.

“People don’t turn off their emotional responses while they’re fast-forwarding,” said Carl Marci, the chief science officer of Innerscope. “People are obviously getting the information.”

Innerscope is working on a second study for NBC that will try to pin down which types of commercials generate the most engagement in fast-forward mode. Innerscope will monitor things like how often brands are shown during the advertisement, how quickly the camera cuts to new images, and whether audio is important in the storyline.

From there, NBC may be able to offer tips on how to make commercials stand out, even at rapid speeds.

“We can then go through our advertisers and help them optimize a commercial for fast-forwarding, while also not denigrating the quality while watched live,” Mr. Wurtzel said.

Millward Brown, an advertising research company in the WPP Group, has also studied physical responses to television commercials. The company found that people who have already seen an advertisement will tend to experience the same emotional response when seeing the same advertisement again in fast-forward mode.

Fast-forwarding should not scare advertisers because consumers are engaged to some degree, just by the act of pushing the button, said Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst for Millward Brown.

“We probably pay more attention to doing that than we do when watching a regular TV program,” Mr. Hollis said. “You’re sitting there saying, ‘when is the program coming back on?’ You are actually attending to it.”

But even if physiological measures become more accepted, media buyers said they do not see them replacing viewership ratings anytime soon.

“I can’t imagine the logistics of actually buying and selling commercial time based on physiological responses,” said Steve Sternberg, executive vice president of audience analysis for Magna Global, an agency that buys ads in the Interpublic Group. “We need data that is projectable.”

Mr. Wurtzel of NBC acknowledged it was early in the research process. But over time he hopes to expand bio-testing of commercials to the facilities NBC has used to test potential television programs in front of an audience. General Electric, the parent of NBC, has worked on security technology that can track people’s facial expressions and follow eye movements. He said he may also put that to use.

In time, he said, he hopes to shift NBC away from discussing advertisements based on eyeball counts to something incorporating physiological measures and engagement. But advertising executives said they plan to go only so far.

“I would say I’m not ready to jump on cost per perspiration,” said Mr. Maltby of MindShare.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What was my father's dream?

Before I was born.

Before I was even thought of.

My dad had a dream about how his life might be.

What was it?

He told me once that he liked drawing. Did he dream of being an artist?

His father did. But then the Great Depression happened and he came back to South Chicago after a year at Notre Dame to work in tin mills.

It turned out to be a good life. A life that included creating art. A life that was even enriched by it. In fact, when he began creating models of the floor process at the tin mill out of a purely aesthetic interest, he discovered a whole new way to complete the tin making process.

Even a stroke couldn't stop him from creating work. Despite severe paralysis later in life, he continued to work in pastel chalks that had an abstract vibrancy that earlier work never had.

What about my dad?

He's never talked about his itch for art, though I know it's in there from the way he attends opera and talks about movies. But still, what was it? That dream? Was it art?

Or was it something else? Was it the simpler, easier to express dream of a family and a house and a good retirement plan?

A relative who helped him get the mortgage for his first house told me once that when she asked him what his goals were, he replied he wanted to be a millionaire.

But that was after his first child, me.

I'm wondering about before that.

Before he was a young Naval officer in Hawaii married to a woman named Ursula who was going to be my mother.

What was his dream?


Did I and my brothers and sister make it better? Or worse? Or the diplomatic "different"?

After all, I'm not sure he ran around in the south Chicago streets saying, "Some day, when I grow up, I'm going to the father of a guy who writes for a precarious living."

Or maybe he did.

I'm going to be a dad in about a month. I'm wondering about all that. Not that there's really any real answer.

But still. Sometimes a question is worth asking just to look at the curving mark it leaves in the air.

I can tell my boy what my dream was and how it all changed and accelerated and everything - everything except whatever it was in my head to begin with. Which is how it always is - with, or without, kids.

Above, a photo from 1962, two years before I was born. My dad, William George, sits closest to us. Then my grandmother, Mary Kay, followed by my Aunt Jan and my namesake, Malachy (who is himself named after his uncle, Malachy Flanagan, who raised Mary Kay and her sister Helen after their father was killed in a boating accident.) Finally, my grandfather, William George - a painter, sculpter, dad of three, tin mill worker - several years before his stroke.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th

We spent the night at Dodger Stadium.

The boys in blue lost to the Braves, but there were fireworks afterwards.

I wore my Yankee cap.

These are probably all reasons some in the "theatrosphere" don't consider me a serious theatre person, can you believe?

The plane below flew overhead at taxpayer expense.

Below, Heather and her cousin Kathy at the Dan Flavin exhibit at LACMA earlier in the week.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A few words from Liviu Ciulei

I was rummaging around the house yesterday when I came across a few pieces of paper that my wife had pressed between the pages of our Riverside Shakespeare edition.

They were quotes from Liviu Ciulei during his tenure at the Guthrie. Heather got a copy of them from a stage manager when she worked with him at NYU (Heather played Nora in Ciulei's DOLL'S HOUSE and later was part of his NYU version of WOYZECK; she also played Celia in AS YOU LIKE IT when he directed it for THE ACTING COMPANY).

I thought they were worth posting.
Whatever you cut nobody can boo.

Words shouldn't be faster than the thought. Only the thought creates reality.

It is a very hard play and we have so very little time, so we must go very slowly.

Righteousness is in the jawbone.

To see the thoughts. THAT is the great spectacle of theatre.

Hamlet is a very difficult role - 5 acts, no pockets. What do you do with your hands?

Sometimes you have to create a little scandal to get what you want.

Take the holes out of the cheese.

We have to pay attention to the small logics. We have to help the audience.

The secret of good lighting is not to light the feet.

This moment is Turgenev, not Dostoyevsky.

I like what you do. You do it very well. Cut it.

You cry here. You cry there. Symmetrical crying, please.

But you can't stand there, like that. They'll fire me. At least they should.

Don't look - SEE.

You are just wasting your tongue.

Each line is a thousand shades of grey.

You'll meet a lot of directors who want to impose their own imagination on top of the play without regard for the logic of the play. Sometimes they are lucky and they get a good play. But rarely. The modern theatre has too many examples of such directors.

Muslin doesn't inspire me.

Acting means thinking with someone else's mind.

Those little things without importance which count enormously much.

I think it's time for another script intervention.

The shoes will tell me what to do.

Sometimes I'm wrong. If I'm not ever wrong, I'm not learning anything.

If you are talented but not intelligent, be a poet. If you are intelligent but not talented, be a playwright. If you are talented and intelligent, be a novelist. If you are not talented and not intelligent, be a critic.

And my favorite...

You see, they didn't have a television, so instead, they lived.

This is a production photo of Heather in THE GLASS MANAGERIE, the same season she played Ciulei's Celia. Also pictured is Danny Schwartz. (yes)