We watch... so you don't have to.

TeeVee Mailbag XXII: Star Struck

It's no secret that to go online is to wade hip-deep into a pool of opinions. Spend an evening or two slapping together a Web site, and in no time, you'll be sifting through virtual feedback, either singing your praises or damning you with the vitriol of a revival tent preacher. But every suggestion, no matter how crass or trivial, can help you build a better online destination. For that reason, it's incumbent upon every open-minded, responsible Web site that longs to improve upon itself to give due consideration to all reader feedback.

Sadly, the offices of TeeVee are staffed entirely by negligent, self- satisfied ne'er-do-wells, intolerant of opinions that don't precisely mirror our own. So we're not forced to do any of that responsibility bullcrap referenced above.

Most reader feedback, we promptly ignore. Others -- those well-thought-out, carefully constructed letters that concisely state a position point by point -- we'll read those, think about them for a bit, and then ignore them.

And letters that end in @aol.com or @webtv.net? Straight to the recycle bin.

But every now and again, our usually foolproof filter fails us. The kid in the mail room slips up. And we're forced to waste valuable minutes of our working day -- minutes that could be spent playing Quake -- sifting through e-mail from readers who have the temerity to actually acknowledge that we produce a Web site.

The feedback is tedious in its repetition: Could you review this show? What do you think of that show? Could you write more articles with long, rambling introductions that are apropos of nothing in the coming text? And the pornographic pictures that you hide throughout your archives -- could you make that a bit racier please?

Done and done.

Then, there are letters like this one from jaecol170, who titles his query "What the hell is this!"

Is this some kind of a joke?

Best goddamned e-mail we've ever gotten.

But there's one question we get over and over again, one we wish we had a dime for every time we hear it, so we could buy out Yahoo and be done with this damnable TV business.

"Hey, TeeVee," the letters always begin. "I love the site -- the wacky reviews, the insightful comedy, the witty and urbane remarks from the dapper gent who types up the Mailbags. But could you maybe include more celebrity interviews and profiles on my favorite TV stars?"

A fair question. Feting the TV world's best and brightest would certainly raise the profile of TeeVee. Readers would flock here, wags would toast the site, newspapers and periodicals would write long and flattering profiles about us -- all very important toward our stated goal of driving up the asking price for when Paul Allen inevitably buys us out. So we would gladly hop to it, but for one reason.

Celebrities scare the bejeezus out of us.

There are many, many reasons why being in the same room with the stars of stage and screen makes us twitch violently and sweat gravy. It's well known that many celebrities possess the power to cloud men's minds, turning them into virtual slaves, ready to do their bidding. We think this helps explain how Sharon Lawrence continues to find work. Secondly, celebrities are also known to be under the influence of booze and pills most of the time. And that makes them unpredictable. One minute, you're at a press junket, having an enjoyable chat with Robert Downey Jr. The next, he's grabbed hold of your leg and is humping away like a black lab in springtime. Also, a celebrity -- we think it was Billy Barty -- bit Boychuk as a child.

So you can understand our fear.

But if we had to pinpoint the reason why we shy away from the celebrity interview game, it would have to be this: We fear their just and righteous retribution.

Think about it. We've made a comfortable living for ourselves throwing critical stones at people with the express understanding that we'd have to never look them in the eye. Now imagine we're at some lavish Hollywood gala, stuffing our faces with canapés when all of a sudden, Jon Seda walks up to us and says, "Aren't you the bastards that keep making fun of my mumbling?"

How do you think that would make us feel? Embarrassed? Certainly. Chagrined? You bet. But most important, fearful that Jon Seda would punch us in the nose. And that Kirstie Alley, standing nearby, would do nothing to stop him, what on account of us making fun of her show so many times.

Maybe you think that ours is an irrational fear. And not long ago, we would have agreed with you. That is, until we got the letter... the letter from Dennis Boutsikaris.

Maybe you remember Mr. Boutsikaris and his fine work on Misery Loves Company. No? OK, how about The Jackie Thomas Show? He played the head writer, Jerry. Still drawing a blank? Um... Stat? Nurse? "Crocodile Dundee II?"

That's OK. We had to look all that up on the Internet Movie Database, too.

So Dennis Boutsikaris is an actor. Not a big-name actor, but a hard-working actor nevertheless. You don't keep coming back on ER in the recurring role of Dr. David Kotlowitz if you're some sort of hack, that's for sure.

Now just imagine how Dennis Boutsikaris must have felt when he was surfing the Web one day, looking for his name and he comes across this passage from our own Peter Ko.

The Secret Lives of Men (Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m.) explores the unspoken bond between guys who've screwed up everything they've ever touched. While this subject has been scrutinized before -- most notably in the seminal FOX sitcom Misery Loves Company, starring the incomparable Dennis Boutsikaris -- this promises to be the most penetrating, humorous look yet. Because if nothing else, history has taught us that ideas improve with time.

Just awful, that's how Dennis Boutsikaris felt. "I pour my blood and sweat into my craft," he no doubt said. "I put my all into TV movies like 'Survival on the Mountain' and 'Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story.' I even manage two guest shots on The Equalizer, first playing C.R. Heaton in the episode entitled 'In the Money' and later as Yorgi Kostov in the Time Present, Time Past episode. And what do I get for my troubles? Mockery. Mockery from some punk."

So you can understand why Dennis Boutsikaris felt compelled to send Pete an e-mail.


Just read your columns. I may be incomparable, but you're just a goddam genius. A genius who WRITES about Television.

Dennis Boutsikaris

We're pretty sure that letter is from the real McCoy. There's a lot of creepy stuff going on in cyberspace, but so far, federal authorities have yet to call our attention to a ring of imposters passing themselves off as the one-time star of movies such as "*batteries not included," "Boys on the Side," and "The Boy Who Cried Bitch."

Thus, convinced that we had a genuine e-mail from a genuinely perturbed Dennis Boutsikaris, we did what any responsible Web site publishers would do. We ignored him and hoped that he wouldn't use his awesome celebrity powers to find out our home addresses.

Unfortunately, this proved to be the wrong strategy. Because while it may be wise to let sleeping dogs lie, it's never a good idea to let spurned Boutsikarises simmer. A week later, Pete got a follow-up from the man who chilled our hearts as Richard Berkley in two episodes of Law & Order.

Mr. Ko

How come I haven't heard from you. You can fucking lacerate me in your little internet column but you don't want to write me back?? Am I just not up to your fucking genius?? I'm just sitting here, piece of television shit that I am, waiting for you honor me with a reply.

Dennis Boutsikaris

Wow. Playing scenes opposite Anthony Edwards turns a man mean.

But Dennis Boutsikaris isn't the only angry man in Hollywood. It wasn't long after we finished changing the office locks and petitioning for a restraining order that we got another hate-filled celebrity screed, this one from jeastin@shastamcnasty.com:

Greg Knauss really slammed Shasta McNasty writer/creator Jeff Eastin in his Oct. 11th review. Was Greg aware that this is the same Jeff Eastin who was just hired by James Cameron to write True Lies 2?

Consider this cryptic paragraph from Greg's review:

"To get an idea of just how bad Shasta McNasty is, visit the show's Web site. Series creator Jeff Eastin actually brags -- once you've slogged through his wacky 'fake' biography -- about the fact that he wrote 'a screenplay called 'Shadow Dancer,' a thriller based loosely on the Billy Joel song, 'The Stranger'..."

What exactly is the insult here? Is it that Mr. Eastin's script was called "Shadow Dancer" or that is was based on a Billy Joel song? Or, as I suspect, Mr. Knauss' brilliant ideas were rejected by the networks and he has a vendetta against anyone successful.

I would love to hear your explanation.

P.S. Shasta was also nominated for a People's Choice award for best new comedy. Perhaps TeeVee should consider hiring TV critics who actually reflect the views of real people.

We couldn't help noticing that the e-mail address -- jeastin@shastamcnasty.com -- is pretty similar to the name Jeff Eastin, the man who created Shasta McNasty. Granted, we're not too swift on the uptake -- after all, we don't get the subtle nuances and crafty leitmotifs one finds in a typical Shasta McNasty episode -- but we suspect that jeastin@shastamcnasty.com and Jeff Eastin are, in fact, the same guy.

If so, we're really curious as to why Jeff keeps referring to himself in the third person. Is that some sort of parody of the whole rap hip-hop scene, which he skewers so deliciously each week on Shasta?

But that's not what puzzles us the most about Jeff's letter. Nor is it the prideful reference to recognition from the People's Choice Awards -- the award show that makes the Golden Globes look legitimate and sought-after. And we're not at all put off by Jeff's inability to grasp the jab about using a Billy Joel song as the basis of a screenplay. It's just odd to hear someone cite Billy Joel as their creative muse when it comes to writing thrillers. It's like turning a KISS single into the plot for a complex geopolitical spy drama.

(Memo to Creative Control Dept.: Pitch UPN on spy drama based on "Love Gun," pronto.)

No, what has us in a dither about Jeff Eastin's e-mail is the tone of the letter itself. After all, Jeff's supposed to be the successful, secure one, right? He's the guy with the TV show, the job offers from James Cameron, the wheelbarrows full of People's Choice Award nominations, correct? He's the guy who goes to sleep at night on a big pile of money, courtesy of UPN. We're correct in this, right?

So why's he writing us? Why's he wasting his time on our penny-ante Web site, when it's clear our opinions don't carry much weight, and we're in the minority here anyway, and, goddammit, "The Stranger" is a great song to base a screenplay on? Why does Big Wheel At UPN Jeff Eastin give a tinker's cuss about little ol' TeeVee?

Just wondering.

But then, after a long walk and a refreshing glass of Tang, we decided we were being too hasty. We were rushing to judgment when we decided that Dennis Boutsikaris was dangerously unhinged and posed a threat to our well-being. We were jumping to conclusions when we dismissed Jeff Eastin as a thin-skinned blowhard, too dense to just take his blood money from UPN and run. No, Dennis Boutsikaris and Jeff Eastin are good men, decent men, men whose knowledge of the inner workings and tale tales of Hollywood could add an extra dimension to TeeVee.

Because our readers have questions -- questions that, sometimes, we don't know the answer to. A reader named Jeanne writes us to ask:

Who sings the theme song on Family Law and what is the name of it.

And we have to tell her, "Jeanne, we simply do not know, nor care."

But we bet Dennis Boutsikaris knows.

Then there's Akg2577, who asks us this poser about Punky Brewster:

I was wondering if you could give me some more detailed info on what she wore, I was planning on being her for Halloween.

It breaks our hearts to say that we have no earthly idea. But we're pretty sure that Jeff Eastin can make a few phone calls to his Hollywood friends, and just like that, Akg2577 looks so much like Punky Brewster, even George Gaynes can't tell the difference.

So that got us thinking: Wouldn't it be great if we could tap into the awesome brain power of a Dennis Boutsikaris, if we could somehow harness the daunting cognitive skills of a Jeff Eastin to answer our reader mail? Mind you, we haven't. We're a little afraid of talking to either of them, especially Dennis.

But that doesn't mean we can't pretend.

Sheryl Kemp read our musty old article about The Oprah Winfrey Show and opines:

I'm really ashmed to admit I took time to read such drivel ! What have you done to make the world a better place.

DENNIS BOUTSIKARIS: I can't speak for those TeeVee scamps, whose stock and trade appears to be vicious mockery, but I can tell you that I wholly support Oprah's message of self-improvement and efforts on behalf of literacy.

JEFF EASTIN: How did I make the world a better place? Three words: Shasta. Mc. Nasty.

Lizsparkes came across the opening sentence of Greg Knauss' "Go Away, All Ye Faithful" and was chagrined by Greg's use of a word that's frequently heard in high school locker rooms, rap albums and Martin Scorcese movies.

I was raised to not use that 4-letter word.

DENNIS BOUTSIKARIS: I, too, deplore the all-too-frequent use of obscenities like "fuck" and "shit." Unless, of course, those words are used in e-mails taking impertinent Internet columnists to task for their lack of a timely reply. Fucking bastards.

JEFF EASTIN: As the writing on Shasta McNasty proves, there are many words I was raised not to use.

BSBlover97 was very offended by Gregg Wrenn's pan of Odd Man Out.

I'm wrighting to you guys because I just read the article "odd man out" by Gregg Wrenn. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT!?? There is no poing of him bagging on that show! Why did he wright that? was it the money? or what? because Erik Von Detten is a GREAT actor and he is not deserved to be called "looks like he was the very last one to go when the Backstreet Boys made their final roster cutdown"! If you would be so kind as to explain why u guys let this guy bag on the show i would appreciate it.

You're probably thinking.... why do i care so much.... well i was surfing the net when i found that site....and i thought it was very mean of him to wright that.

As i said before he is a great actor and the show rules! But again that's my opinion but ALSO no need to be saying bad stuff

DENNIS BOUTSIKARIS: You're right, BSBlover97. There is no need to be saying bad stuff. What we need is a lot less bad stuff, and a lot more good stuff.

JEFF EASTIN: Would you like to be a writer for Shasta McNasty?

Our final letter comes from Charlie M., who read "The Tell-Tale Toothbrush" and came up with quite a corker:

My name is Charlie and I am currently attending Queen Elizabeth's Boys Sixth Form in Barnet, London, studying Design A'Level. I am doing a project all about the manufacturing and materials used to make toothbrushes. I would be very grateful if you could help me, by sending me any information you may have on the above areas.

DENNIS BOUTSIKARIS: Charlie, I'm an actor. I can tell you what Danny Aiello was really like on the set of "The Last Don." I can talk about the acting approaches I used to get into the character of Dr. Jerry Santana in the "Murder on the Thirteenth Floor" episode of Murder, She Wrote. But one thing I don't know much about is toothbrushes. Perhaps Ask Jeeves or another search engine might provide the information you're looking for. Good luck!

JEFF EASTIN: Toothbrushes... the British... that gives me a great idea for a sweeps episode!

You see? Celebrities have plenty to contribute. Dismiss them out of hand and you dismiss their thoughts, their ideas, their rich life experiences. Make cruel, off-hand remarks about them on your Web site, and you'll never get to learn from their insights or share their vast knowledge.

And, if you're really nice, they'll tell you about the miniseries they once wrote based on a Foghat album.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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