THE NECK OF THE FISH
The names have been eliminated to protect the guilty.
Some years ago, I was approached by a producer in San Francisco about coming on board as the Director of a TV Pilot called “Firehouse Chefs.” Good idea, I thought, and it still is a good idea. Firemen can always be seen going up and down the aisles shopping for food to cook for each other when they’re on duty and living at the firehouse.
The host of the show was a handsome middle-aged fireman who had appeared on several local TV stations sharing his recipes with the viewers. And he really did know how to cook. The producer arranged for us to shoot at the fire station where the San Francisco fire boat was docked. I had gone there and signed off on the location although it was near the Oakland Bay bridge and traffic noise would be a slight issue.
What I didn’t know is the Navy Blue Angel precision aerial team would be a sound issue…because the day of the shoot just happened to be Navy Day, a yearly occurence in the city of San Francisco, which meant that Navy jets were flying very low and very often near the firehouse where we were shooting with the host and guest fireman from the firehouse with the…fire boat. No. There was no fire boat. Midway through the shoot its engines came to life and it sailed away because, of course, it was Navy Day. But the guest fireman, a likeable chap, assured me the fireboat would return after it performed shooting water high into the air for the crowds of people assembled near the wharfs by San Francisco Bay.
The cooking show called for the main recipe to be barbecued filet of salmon. And what a beautiful speciman of salmon it was. As our genial fireman host was filleting the red beauty, and in my rush to get a clean take before all hell broke lose with the Blue Angels flying just a few feet above where we were shooting, the guest fireman, when describing how to hold the salmon for filleting it, uttered the words “neck of the fish…” It was undetected by me, and there was no way to change it without going back to re-shoot the segment in San Francisco, which our meager budget did not permit. The show wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. It didn’t sell. There was no Cooking Channel back then. But the “neck of the fish” lives on in my mind, and maybe millions of years from now, evolution will deem it necessary for some species indeed, to have necks.
THE SMELL OF THE WINE
Some years later, I came up with a concept for another cooking show, “Magic Stew.”Simple concept: the female host, a good cook, has a helper who is a magician . He can conjure up additional items the cook needs for her recipe. My agent found an investor and the magician. I cast the lead, the female host, a high energy gal who knew how to cook. There were several stipulations that came along with the money. The agent’s wife had to be the co-producer, and the agent had a friend who would supply the video cameras, monitors, grip and electrical equipment.
I kept calling for a rehearsal before the shoot but it never happened. The magician was getting nervous and so was I. Not only did the magic tricks have to be practiced but the chemistry between the two principals had to be worked out…or so I thought. But the days just kept ticking by, and the gal was unavailable. “Always working,” she said when I contacted her. I considered replacing her, but I didn’t. Big mistake.
The day of the shoot the two principals finally met. The gal was so-ooo high energy, she overwhelmed the host — and I couldn’t control her.
The video cameras didn’t have playback capabilities, or so I was told. I couldn’t review the takes. To make matters worse, my co-producer, who was supposed to watch the monitors, didn’t. I looked over at her and, low and behold, she was sleeping! Unfortunately, I couldn’t be inside the kitchen because it was in a private home and when filled with the talent, production people, and equipment, was suddenly very very small.
I had a food stylist who prepared the ingredients for dishes at a nearby house. There was a constant stream of food deliveries while the shoot was in progress. Occasionally we had to stop shooting because flights leaving Bob Hope Airport could be heard, so I had to juggle the takes between the food being prepared and available and distant airplane noise not interfering with the sound quality.
To finish off the meal a glass of wine was to be poured. The trick here was there was a bottle of white wine but red wine was the proper choice to accompany the meal. Of course the magician could change it from white to red, and he did. It was the smoothest trick in the entire show. But… as he sniffed the glass of instantaneous red wine, he said “Ah, the smell of wine…” You cannot say this on a show that professes to be about cooking. Even if the show had sold the host and the magician would have self-destructed, if I didn’t kill them first.