So, this is where I’m supposed to talk about me, eh? Well, good, because there were a lot of rumors swirling around back in the day! I was at one book signing when a fan came up and asked me to sign his book. As I was signing away, he said, “I’m a friend of John Doe!”
“I said, ‘John Doe!”
“Yes, I heard you.”
“He said the you and he started a bar fight in Memphis.”
“Well, that’s very interesting on two fronts. One, I don’t know any John Doe and two, I’ve never been in a bar fight in my life.”
The kid walked away disappointed. All kinds of stories like these surfaced as I traveled around this great and beautiful country. But I think it’s time to set the record straight: this is the TRUE story of Mr. Manly. Yes, it’s long which is like kryptonite to Internet sites so if that’s a problem for you then stop RIGHT HERE. I’m pretty much just doing it for me anyway!
1989 THE BEGINNING
My name is Colom Keating and I am the creator and the voice of the radio character, Mr. Manly. Please note that I said I am the creator of, and not the character himself. Unless I was making an appearance as Mr. Manly I always made certain to point this out. You see, I hate to shatter anyone’s illusions but I am not and never was the “real” Mr. Manly, meaning that the guy you heard on the radio was never flesh and blood. I am, however, the one and only provider of content for the radio show and I was most certainly the only person providing the voice of the character – 100%. It was probably the most fun I ever had in my life professionally – I cannot deny that! But to squelch any of the rumors about Mr. Manly and myself and to answer all of the questions about the guy, let me take you back to the beginning.
I was a professional stand-up comic and comedy stage actor in Austin, Texas back in February, 1989. Austin was and still is a very happening place for the creative scene. I was able to work full-time at my actor’s craft and I was making good money. I did stage, TV Commercials, film, voice-over, instructional videos, stand-up comedy on the professional comedy circuit and — radio.
One day a local classic rock station, Z-102 (KPEZ-FM) – now a Christian music station – called me up and asked me to come on air and have some playful bantering about with the two guys who did the morning drive-time show. I was happy to oblige. So, I show up to to the show and it was just one of those days when everything just clicked. I was on fire as a comic. I was cracking up the two DJs. I made the guy reading the news lose it at one point. We had callers calling in saying they were laughing themselves silly. As a comedian I really didn’t think much of it. You have your good shows and you have your bad shows and when you’re really on your game you have your great shows. This just happened to be one of my great shows.
Well, when we wrapped it up we shook hands and I walked out of the studio when the station’s program director stopped me on the way out and asked me to step into his office. I had no idea what this was about but I thought, sure, why not? We go into his office and he motions me to a chair facing his big program director’s desk and he closes the door. He sits at his desk and wanting to get right to the point he asks me, “Have you ever thought about a career in radio?” I told him that no, I had not. He then told me he was ready to offer me a job on the spot. At first I truly didn’t know what to say. Radio? I didn’t know the first thing about being a DJ but it surely sounded like a lot of fun not to mention steady income! So, I asked him what he had in mind. This was a Friday morning and he said he would call me that afternoon but he wanted me to start the next Monday. We talked about the pay, which I was happy with, agreed that I would have to leave time-to-time for my professional stand-up commitments, shook hands and that was it.
I walked out of his office and ran into the two DJs with whom I had just done the morning show. Being an idiot about such things at the time, I blurted out, “Hey! Your PD just offered me a job!”
The two just went ashen, looked at each other and one of them said, “I wonder which one of us just got fired?”
I realized right away that I had said something incredibly stupid and said something along the lines of oh, I’m sure he couldn’t possibly mean one of you, and then I left.
That afternoon I’m sitting at home when the PD calls me to tell me that I was starting Monday morning – 6:00 am. I told him that I assumed that I would be working with the two DJs I had been on-air with that morning and he said, “No, one of them was let go.” I felt horrible but I had been in show business long enough to know that you takes your breaks when you gets them. I had not intentionally done this and besides, the guy who I was replacing was obviously doing a bad job or they wouldn’t be letting him go. But here is where it gets worse. The PD then tells me that the two DJs, one of whom has just been told he’s out of a job, were to be MCs at a stand-up comedy contest at one of the local comedy clubs that night. He wanted me to go and MC with the guy I would be working on-air with – the guy who DIDN’T lose his job. (Note that I am not mentioning any names here.) So, feeling somewhat uncomfortable, to say the least, I go to the comedy club that night, a place then called the Laff Stop, to do the show. I walk into the main room and standing there is not only the DJ I would be working with but also THE ONE WHO HAD JUST BEEN FIRED! I walked up to him, apologizing the best I could and he was very gracious, telling me that this is just the way radio works. I appreciated his not punching me in the face which is what I was completely prepared for.
The comedy show was about to begin and the two DJs are introduced as the night’s MCs and they take the stage. The one I am replacing comes right out and says, “Well, seeing as how I got fired this morning, I’m not going to be doing the show tonight. Instead, I’m going to be introducing you to my replacement starting this coming Monday morning on Z102, Colom Keating!”
What the hell was I supposed to do? I went up on stage to applause with a strong undercurrent of confused murmurs. I shook the guy’s hand and he walked off the stage, out of the building and into the night. So there I was on stage in front of about 300 people to do a live comedy show with a guy who I not only basically didn’t know at all but who probably hated me as well. OK, this was going to be a fun night.
While one of the comedy contestants was doing his act, this guy, I’ll call him KC, took me aside offstage to tell me that the guy I had just happened to have “caused to lose his job” also had a son dying of cancer.
Can you feel the love in the room now?
We somehow managed to get the show done, I don’t know how and I told KC that I would be there Monday morning ready to work.
I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.
Over the weekend I had to go to the radio station to go live on the air to learn how to work the board. This was back when they were still playing LPs and CDs were just starting to come on the scene. I did an evening show with a lady DJ and it seemed to go well. She assured me that I had done nothing wrong, this is just the way radio works and I could rest assured that it would someday happen to me. OK, those were encouraging words for someone starting out in the business!
That next Monday morning I arrived at the station bright and early with my huge styrofoam cup of 7-11 coffee and a bran muffin, rested and ready to just jump right in it. That’s when KC and I found out that the PD had also hired a third person to join us, a sweet young lady I’ll call E. So it was me, KC and E, three people who knew absolutely nothing about each other, slapped together and told to be funny.
Oh, and by the way? That means right now.
In the entire history of this medium called radio, there were never three people more horribly matched together than the three of us. Somewhere I think I still have some of the air-check tapes. This was a train wreck from the very beginning. Sometimes there is good chemistry between people and sometimes there is bad chemistry between people and sometimes there is simply no chemistry whatsoever and this was one of those times. I remember telling my then girlfriend that this would not take long nor end well.
It didn’t take much time before I started dreading going to work. We would try to do comedy bits and they were just horrible. Listeners would call us and they were brutal. We fought with each other. One time, KC reached over and cut my mic off while we were live on the air. He once kicked a chair across the studio just as we went to break. E didn’t know what to say or do with either one of us. It was just a complete disaster right out the gate and I knew what was coming.
One Friday after we finished the show, I walked into the general manager’s office and told him I was leaving. He asked me why and I just looked at him and said, “You and I both know this isn’t working. It’s the worst radio I’ve ever heard and I want to quit before I get fired.” He smiled, shook my hand, told me I was right and said to keep in touch.
I found out later that he was fast friends with the first President Bush and that were were both huge Three Stooges fans. I wish I had known that at the time because so am I.
I hadn’t even bothered with telling either KC or E that I had left; I just wanted the hell out of there. That afternoon KC called me at home and said he couldn’t believe that I would do something so unprofessional as to leave without telling him. I told him that I had nothing to say to him and I wished him well.
So I went back to my happy actor’s life and I learned the next week that indeed, KC and E had been let go. Whew! I dodged a bullet on that one!
A couple of years later when Mr. Manly was riding high across America, I ran into KC at a stand-up gig I was doing. He hugged me and, referring to my success with Mr. Manly said, “We just didn’t think up the right kind of comedy until it was too late, huh!”
I just remember thinking, “We?”
I never saw E again and I have no idea where she ended up.
I had such a blessed life back in those days. Blessed because I was a full-time actor with a legendary Austin, Texas comedy troupe called Esther’s Follies. It started the same year Saturday Night Live did, 1975, and it’s still there today and going stronger than ever. I joined the group in May of 1987 and though it has gone through many variations, in 1989 when I started Mr. Manly, it was very much like SNL in that we did five, hour-and-a-half shows every week to mostly packed houses and the shows were a series of different comedy skits and musical numbers. It is truly an Austin institution and I was thrilled to be in the cast. I was really starting to “arrive” in Austin. I was getting recognized in restaurants and grocery stores. It was just another wonderful thing that was happening in my free-lance acting career.
It unfortunately also became the time when my marijuana use was getting out of control. Though I was never what was called a “wake and bake” meaning one who rolls out of bed in the morning and fires up a joint right away, I did become a chronic user at night. There was one time when there was literally zero food in the house but I had a big bag of weed in the fridge. I also starting mixing pot with alcohol which is a deadly combination because it made me a total zombie and I got nothing accomplished. Half of my brain cells are still floating in the sewers of Austin, Texas. My career was cruising along on auto pilot but I was doing nothing to advance it. But my days were wonderful and I was having a blast. I went up on stage high once and only once and I didn’t just do poorly – I BOMBED! One of the comics had passed me a joint of Hawaiian Maui Wowie and I was wasted. In fact, I bombed so badly that the club owner called my manager and said to never send me back again. After that I never went up on stage anything less than 100% stone cold sober. Not even after having so much as a beer. Ever. Once the show was over, however, it was Katie bar the door.
I knew it was time to man up.
I called the two DJs that had replaced the now-fired KC and E and, after assuring them that I was not in the least bit interested in taking their jobs, I asked if I could come down and introduce myself and they were happy to have me. I would go down every Thursday and do an hour with them. We’d tell jokes, take phone calls and give away Thursday night Esther’s Follies tickets to people who could answer trivia about the show. It went very well and quickly became a Thursday morning staple of their show. I started bringing along other cast members and it wasn’t long before we all began bringing in comedy bits that the DJs would record and play throughout the week. This was all done gratis but we were glad to do it. Not only were we having fun but it was also promoting Esther’s Follies.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I was doing all manner of work in show business back then. One of the jobs that fell my way was doing voice work for english language training tapes and I mean, it was for people who had just stepped off the boat. “Hello, how are you?” “Where is your house?” “My house is on the corner.” This sort of thing. It was great work working full days for $75 an hour. As I recall, the gig lasted about three weeks.
One week it was time to start thinking about what comedy bits I was going to take into the radio station that upcoming Thursday. Here I was, making english language training tapes. I wondered, is there someway I could use this?
Now let’s take a few steps back here. Some weeks earlier after an Esther’s show one night, I was walking down the sidewalk back to my car. Our shows ended around 11:30 at night so after closing up the theater it would be well past midnight. This was in the very popular Austin entertainment district called Sixth Street, a massive expanse of restaurants, bars and clubs many of which have live music. I was standing at an intersection waiting for the pedestrian crossing light to change when I heard some loud guys to my right whooping it up. I looked over to see two very attractive young ladies who were dressed to kill walking in the opposite pedestrian crossing in front of a pickup truck that was waiting for the light to change. In the cab of the pickup truck were three young men, all three in white t-shirts (I’ll never forget that) and they were yelling obscenities at the two hotties passing in front of them. Well, the women looked at them, said something to each other and burst into laughter as they walked away. This totally emasculated the three jerks in the pickup who, when the light changed, exited the scene in a rubber-burning, male-enhancing, peel out. A rancid haze hung in the air as they sped off into the night.
OK, got that?
Now back to the english language training tapes.
I was wondering how I could use this in a comedy bit. I recalled the above incident for some reason and it started coming together. I was making language tapes where people would have to repeat what I was saying. They also had a book – a manual – that they had to follow along in as they said the words. I started rolling it around in my head and the two elements came together.
How about a guy who teaches men to be “real men” how to be “manly” only they always get into a bunch of trouble when they follow his advice? They would need a training tool, the Manly Manual, to study and refer to so they could be sure to get it right. I was going to call it “Ask Professor Manly” but when I sat down to write my first script, I thought that Mr. Manly had a better sound to it. So I wrote my First Mr. Manly script along with three or four other skits. (One was about “watching” a chess match on the radio that I thought would be the real winner of the batch I was bringing in.) The first Mr. Manly skit was about how to pop your friends buttocks with a towel when in the locker room. It featured both the Manly and unManly method. We recorded it on February 4th, 1989. We laid it down on tape and I walked out of the studio and while I was happy with how my chess match bit turned out, I was quite surprised how much everyone was cracking up over my Mr. Manly bit. They kept playing it over and over and laughing themselves silly. One of them who laughed the most was my dear and now late friend, Joel who never laughed at anyone’s material.
I still have that original script that I had typed out on a device that back then we called a typewriter.
The very next day the DJs called me after their show ended and said that they had gotten tremendous response on that “Mr. Manly thing you did” and could I bring in another one next Thursday. Which I did. Then they asked for another one and another one and another one until we had about 35 episodes in the can. In fact it got to the point that all I would bring in for our Thursday morning recording sessions was Mr. Manly scripts.
In the early days I gave the character a very dry, unemotional reading. I was a huge fan of the George Paige nature programs and I borrowed slightly from his style of delivery. Before too long I made the character much more lively and animated. Some people didn’t like the new delivery but I felt the old way did not give the character much range and besides, I was having much more fun doing it the new way.
And lest there be any doubt, I LOVED doing Mr. Manly in the studio!
Around this time, I was sitting in one of my favorite Austin restaurants having a light meal before doing an Esther’s Follies show which was just a few doors down. I was happily sitting at my table reading my newspaper when one of the DJs, who I hadn’t noticed was in the room, came over to me, shook my hand and said, “Colom, I just want to thank you for your Mr. Manly bits. They’re going over great on our show!” I told him thanks, glad to do it, all that sort of thing and he leaves. After he was gone, a guy at a nearby table who had overheard our conversation came over to me and said, “Are you Mr. Manly on Z-102?” This being the first time I was ever asked this question I told him that yes, indeed, I was the guy, He shook my hand and said, “Can I have your autograph? No one at work is going to believe me when I tell them I met THE Mr. Manly!”
My autograph? My AUTOGRAPH? I had never had such a request in my life!
The next day I went down unannounced to talk to the DJs. I told them, “Look, I think I really have something here. How can I get this to someone who knows what to do with it?” They put me in contact with a syndicator in St. Louis, Missouri called Olympia who asked me to send them some samples of my work. Emails and mp3s didn’t exist in those dark days so I took about ten of my best episodes and transferred them to this substance we called reel-to-reel magnetic tape and sent it to them by FEDEX.
About two days later they called to ask me to sign with them. The money they offered was, for me at the time tremendous. We signed a deal, they set up payments for a recording studio in Austin and every two weeks I would go in with new episodes to record.
As I mentioned earlier, I recorded the first episode in February, 1989. By May of that year I was syndicated on some 110 station nationwide. It quickly shrank to about 80 when it was learned that the character was way too racy for some of the smaller markets.
Especially in the bible belt.
And the character took off like a shot. I knew I had something hot and I was going to ride it to the dock.
This was when I had another life-altering event take place. One night I was sitting at home, high as a kite and watching David Letterman. When the show ended I remember sitting there trying to remember what guests Dave had on his show that I had just spent an hour of my life watching and I couldn’t remember a one of them. I decided right then and there that would be the last night I would get high and flushed all my pot down the toilet when I went to bed.
My career and income immediately went straight up.
I started getting early morning calls from radio stations around the country to do what are called “phoners” live on the air where I would joke around as Mr. Manly with the on-air talent. I also started getting calls from newspapers asking for interviews. There was one interview with the Baltimore Sun that included a photo of a guy who had a vanity plate on his car which read, “Mr. Manly.” Things were going very well.
One day I called a radio station in Columbus, Ohio to talk to the morning guys. When I introduced myself to the young lady who answered the phone she said, “Oh, Mr. Manly! We’ve been making a fortune selling your t-shirts!”
This was something I found extremely fascinating. Especially since I didn’t even know that I was selling ANY t-shirts. I called my syndicator right away and demanded they put a stop to this effective yesterday!
The general manager of the station soon called me and after a gracious apology asked me if I would come up to Columbus to do a live appearance. I was somewhat cautious, what would we do? Well, we’d do the morning show live in a bar and we do do a “Manly Show.” OK, I was willing to do that. The date was set and off I went.
When I got there half of the radio station staff joined us at a dinner in a place called Germantown, as I recall. I was astonished that so many people from the station wanted to talk to me but I was also very flattered because some of them were very attractive women who I thought would hate me. This was my first time to realize that most women really understood the character. They knew exactly who was the brunt of all the Mr. Manly episodes. I was thrilled!
The next morning at 5:30 am, we arrived in the station van at some topless bar which sat in the middle of a large asphalt parking lot. There were hundreds of people milling about outside in the freezing cold as the place had not yet opened.
“Who are all these people,” I asked.
The appearance was a complete success. I was mobbed by people shaking my hand, hugging me and having their pictures taken with me. In other words, an experience like I had never had before. I had agreed to autograph cans of motor oil for one dollar each with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. My father had recently passed away from the disease and I thought it would be a good thing to do. I was astonished when they told me around 150 people had paid a dollar each for my autograph. (I later learned that the local chapter of the ACS said they wanted nothing to do at all with any monies brought forth by Mr. Manly so I had had them give it to their local Humane Society.) The one question I kept hearing over and over was, “When are you going to put out the Manly Manual?” Having no idea how to do that and having no plans to do so I stated boldly right then and there, on live radio, that it would be released before the end of the year. The crowd roared its approval.
What did I just do, I wondered to myself.
Back in Austin I got right down to the business of writing this thing called The Manly Manual. I had what now would be considered a very primitive computer, a MacIntosh SE-30 but I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world. I didn’t know what else to do and I didn’t have a lot of time to get it done so I just took a bunch of my radio scripts, all in upper case for easy reading in the studio and sent them off to a printing company who slapped them between two hard covers. Looking back, it was actually a pretty pathetic effort but man did it ever sell. I did my first book book signing with Z-102 at a junkyard in Austin. I sold every book I had which wasn’t many as the printer had only been able to send me about 100 advance copies. I still had plenty of people standing in line waiting for books when I ran out. The next place I went with the book was to WZZO-FM in Allentown, Pennsylvania where I blew through 500 books in less than an hour. Allentown was one of my favorite places to do appearances because the fans there were so very supportive. Here is where I do want to mention a couple of names: Bearman and Keith of WZZO-FM. Guys! You were the greatest! I’ll never forget you.
Before the appearance, I had mentioned to the station manager that I was a bit apprehensive about appearing before such a large crowd and taking in a great deal of cash and wondered if the would have some sort of security there. They said they would.
As I was sitting back stage before the appearance, a very young and attractive woman approached me and said, “Hi, Mr. Manly. I’m your security person.”
She looked like she weighed all of 105 pounds.
“You’re my security?”
So I was on my way, I knew the character would not last forever but I had to devote my full attention to it so I could collect on its full potential. I quit touring as a stand-up, quit my acting job at Esther’s Follies and threw myself full-bore into taking care of Mr. Manly. (I was still doing plenty of TV commercials and other acting jobs when I could.)
This is when my four-year nationwide tour began. I went from west to east and from north to south and even to Hawaii where I used to live years earlier. Big cities like Detroit, Kansas City, Des Moines, (God bless Des Moines and Lou!) Houston and smaller cities like Colorado Springs which was another one of my favorite places to appear. (Here’s a shout out to Mark!) Harrisburg, Pa., Baltimore, Fresno, I mean it was crazy fun. I even did an appearance in Billings, Montana where the light bulbs in my hotel room had been stolen by the room’s previous occupants. When I told the front desk clerk about it he just sighed and gave me a box of lightbulbs and explained that people there used them to make crack pipes.
With all of this traveling, American Airlines bumped me up to platinum status which meant I flew first class most everywhere I went.
Flying first class is very addictive.
I also started selling t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs (which I didn’t do for long because the luggage handlers kept breaking too many of them) and then I decided to bump it up and started selling CDs and THAT was my biggest seller ever! My first place to sell CDs was in Modesto, California, of all places. I think I took about 500 CDS and I sold every single one of them. Had anybody back then known I was going back to my hotel rooms with literally thousands of dollars in cash, I would be a dead man today. The first few times I made an appearance I would stack the money up on my hotel desk or bed and just sit there looking at it in disbelief. If my hotel didn’t have a front desk safe I would hide it in the ceiling. I actually did worry a great deal about being knocked off. Lord Almighty, if the Internet had been further along in its development in those days I would have made probably ten times more but it was still in its infancy so selling all this merchandise was done old school: Pick it up, thrown it on an airplane, fly there, toss it in the trunk of a rental car and do a live remote to sell it. The throngs were amazing.
Every now and then there would be a dud appearance and they always felt like being sucker punched in the stomach. A certain unnamed station in Syracuse, NY will forever be on my shit list. I got there, at my own expense, by the way, only to discover that they had done no promotion at all for the appearance. We showed up at a Border’s Bookstore which had no idea we were coming. I think I sold four CDs and three books to some people who just happened to be passing by. Maybe a couple of t-shirts, too. I was furious with the radio station and I later let their morning crew know exactly, in no uncertain terms whatsoever, how I felt. I can’t imagine why they immediately dropped my show. I understand that my show still lives in reruns in nearby Utica.
Life was beautiful and I was having the time of my life. This was when I was introduced to a beautiful young woman who in less than a year would become my wife. She jumped right in and went on the tours with me.
We were doing a live appearance at a packed theater in Allentown, Pa. when someone in the crowd shouted, “Hey, Mr. Manly! Now that you’re married you won’t be very manly anymore!”
The crowd laughed and applauded to which I replied, “Yeah? Well, about thirty minutes ago your MOM thought I was pretty fucking manly!” This was the only time my character used hard profanity because I was caught off guard but it brought the house down.
This was also the night Bearman referred to my lovely bride as Yoko Ono. The moniker stuck but she was a good sport and very happy to deal with it.
For two years in a row, I went to Ft. Wayne, Indiana to do a Muscular Dystrophy fundraiser with a little group called Hell’s Angels. It was extremely interesting and they were a great bunch of guys and gals. To be sure, they are their own sub-culture but if you play by their rules you’ll do fine. I never once felt threatened, They treated me like royalty and I even did a cross-city biker motorcade with them along with the classic rock group, Molly Hatchet.
After the show I was sitting in my hotel room watching a documentary about the rock group, The Who, when my wife calls me from Austin. She had just received a phone call from someone at CBS Television in Los Angeles. They had been given a copy of the Manly Manual and they wanted to option it for a sitcom. (“Option” means they give you money you get to keep while they try to put your project into production).
I was beyond flabbergasted. Had my silly little character really gotten this big? I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was flying around in a thousand different directions but it kept coming back to one thing:
Hollywood had come calling.
My wife and I flew to Los Angeles and signed the deal with CBS Entertainment. We were wined and dined and taken to a taping of a popular sitcom at the time called, “Dave’s World.” The guys directing and producing that were going to direct and produce my show. I met them and we all agreed we were going to have a great show.
Back to Austin we went where I announced to the world that Mr. Manly was going to be made into a sitcom for CBS!
I wish I had never done that. I was an idiot, too, because I had done this exact same thing before. Years earlier I had done a scene in a Disney movie for HBO called “Save the Dog” with the actress Cindy Williams who had co-starred with Penny Marshall in the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” This was during my brief stint as a DJ in Austin and I went live on the air telling the whole city of Austin that I was going to be in an HBO movie with Cindy Williams. In fact it airs next Thursday! I sat down to watch the movie at home with my then girlfriend.
My entire scene had been cut.
Man did I ever come off looking like a fool. At least I got my Screen Actor’s Guild card out of it.
So, after getting back from L.A. I decided I needed to write the second official Manly Manual. It was better than the first ones with little narratives before each script and it sold like crazy but on the back of the book I mentioned that Mr. Manly was in development with CBS-TV to be made into a sitcom and man, did people ever hold onto those words.
“Come see the next big TV star!” they would say.
CBS paid us for the option but nothing ever came of it. I would place mostly unanswered calls to my CBS contacts and when they did call they kept telling me that they were still trying to decide how to make the character work for them. I was feeling very frustrated.
One morning I was in the shower when my wife stuck her head in and said, “Let’s move to L.A.!” We discussed for for all of oh, I’d say twenty minutes and we agreed. California here we come! I called my CBS contact and told him we were coming. He said to please call him when we got there.
We spent three days driving there in two cars with what we called our “adopted” teenaged British daughter. (That’s a whole ‘nother story!) We arrived in Santa Monica at our apartment that my wife had previously flown out to rent and we collapsed into bed.
Later that week my CBS contact took us to a taping of another sitcom called, “Caroline in the City.” During a shooting break my contact, Glenn, turned to me.
“How much time do we have on our option contract with you?”
“About three weeks, Glenn, why?”
“Well, you’re free to start shopping it around. We’re not going to be doing anything with it.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. We had just come to Los Angeles and now we had nothing.
I looked up a pair of producers I had worked with on a Comedy Central project a few years earlier and I took my material to them. They loved it and within a few days they marched me across the street to Paramount Studios where we had a pitch meeting with a guy who was president of Paramount television production named GH. We had one hell of a meeting and the very next day my producer friends said GH at Paramount wanted to do a deal.
I was back on again.
I went to my producers’ office where they handed me a fifty-page contract. My wife and I were literally on our way to Yosemite National Park to celebrate her birthday so I took the contract with us. At Yosemite I took time off to read it and realized right away that I needed a lawyer.
I sent a copy to my lawyer brother-in-law, my lawyer nephew and one of his friends who was an entertainment attorney. All three said that if I signed that contract that Paramount would own the character Mr. Manly forever so I backed out of the deal. My producers were furious.
I didn’t care.
They stayed with me and we later optioned it to Columbia Tri-Star for a pretty good chunk of change but that studio just sat on it. I was calling my producers weekly and then daily asking what was going on. This was when I found out that they were not only going to meetings without me, they we also going to meetings without even telling me. It’s my project and I wanted to know what was happening with it. I was not a happy man and started looking around for someone to take it to when my contract with Columbia Tri-Star expired.
On one of those rare days when when it actually rained in Los Angeles, I decided out of nowhere to drop by and see a friend of mine to discuss the situation with him. After listening to me for a while he said, “You know, I know this lady named T and while I don’t know if she’ll take on your project, she might be able to put you in contact with someone who can.”
He gave me T’s number and I called her the next day. She agreed to meet with me. I went to her office and that where I met Capital T! She was a charming young lady who talked at 5,000 mph. In fact I kinda had trouble following her at times but I loved her energy. I told her my story, gave her my material and left.
The next day she called me.
“I’ve never done anything in television but I love this character and I’m going to take you on.”
The project was alive again.
Within a very short period of time she arranged a meeting at 20th Century Fox. We met with a woman named M and five or six of her hangers on. M was most certainly in charge of that meeting and I could feel her confidence and authority from across the table. She said right there on the spot, “I love the point of view of this character and we want to do a deal with you.”
Shoo-wee, momma! Here we go again! I called my producer friends from the Columbia Tri-Star deal and told them we were done. I had gone Hollywood on them and dropped them like a bad habit.
Later at another meeting at 20th Century Fox they told us the amount they were going to offer me. Let me just say that it was well into the six figures. T and I were beside ourselves, not to mention my wife when we told her later on. This allowed us to pay off a lot of accumulated debt.
We hired a lawyer, phone calls were made, demands were met or ignored, lines were drawn in the sand but we finally hammered out a deal and within a few weeks of that initial meeting we got our first big check.
My wife and I took our lawyer Scott, and T out for a celebratory dinner in Santa Monica. We were having a great time drinking champagne when my lawyer turned to me and said, “You just don’t know what odds you’re up against.”
“Yes, Scott, I do but can you just give me this one fucking night to celebrate?!”
He quietly smiled and nodded yes.
Next came a series of meetings with potential writers for the show to be hired as “show runners.” It was like going on a blind date. Fox would call and tell me that I was having lunch with so-and-so at some restaurant to see if we were going to be a match. I met several writers and they either didn’t get it or opted to go after bigger projects.
I finally met up with a guy named J who had been a writer for a sitcom called “Veronica’s Closet.” He seemed to get it and so back to 20th Century we went to have a meeting with M and her hangers on. She gave us our marching orders: Come back with a script that reflects the point of view of the character and so off J and I went to brainstorm together.
When we began to write together at my apartment in Santa Monica, it became obvious to me pretty much right away that J did not understand the character. In fact, he didn’t get it at all but he said he knew what he was doing and this is what M wanted.
So we pounded out a script and went back to 20th Century Fox to pitch it in a meeting with M and her minions. I was coming down with a cold at the time but I took some medicine and walked in. My manager, T, sat on my right. My writer, J, took center stage at the table and started to explain our script to a dead-silent room.
They all looked at him like he was speaking Chinese to a Japanese person when he stopped, looked at them and said, “Frankly, I was expecting a better response than this!”
I nearly moaned out loud. I knew that he had just blown it. T silently reached over and squeezed my hand signaling me to not say a word.
M sucked in a deep breath, daggers flying out of her eyes, “Look, get this through your head. I want a script that reflects the character’s point of view. Got it? Now go out and don’t come back until you have one!”
The shock of the meeting must’ve caused my immune system to melt down because by the time T and I got to my car I had broken into a cold sweat.
“That was a disaster,” I said to T and she agreed.
That night I went to a Rolling Stones concert with a friend and by then I had developed a full-fledged doozie of a cold. I was completely miserable and I actually couldn’t wait for the concert to end. I got home and fell into bed after taking some NyQuill.
The next morning my phone rang. It was my writer, J, telling me that he realized that he had blown the meeting the day before and he was pulling out of the project. On one hand I was relieved because he just didn’t get it but on the other hand I knew that I was now without a writer. Not long after that 20th Century called and said I was welcome to keep the money but they were dropping the project.
I countered, “Look, as long as you’re paying me, may I take a stab at this and try to write the script myself?”
They had refused to let me write the script myself because I had no Hollywood “creds.” I was just a dumbass from Austin to them.
They said sure, I could give it a shot so I immediately sat down for at least four weeks and worked on my idea for a Mr. Manly show and sent the script to M. She soon called and said she liked it and was kicking it upstairs. The next person up the chain-of-command also liked it and sent it to a woman who was the head of comedy programming for the Fox-TV Network. She called T and me in for a meeting. I was sitting next to this woman with my legs crossed when she reached over, put her hand on my ankle and said, “I loved your script!”
I was elated yet one more time.
“I’m going to give it to Doug Herzog and tell him that it’s a great project. He’ll read it over the weekend and we’ll call you Monday.”
Note that for the first time I’m giving a full name other than my own. Doug Herzog ran the entire Fox Network at the time and was known for putting shows like “Real Police Videos” and “Animals Gone Wild” and 30 minute, cut down versions of “Ally McBeal” into the Fox lineup.
Monday comes and goes without a call. I wait and wait and the Monday after that I got a call from T. Herzog liked the script but he just didn’t know what they would do with it so Fox was going to take a pass.
We were dead in the water again and I don’t mind telling you that I was crestfallen.
My wife and I went to the wine country in Napa Valley for three days to decide what to do next.
After trying to forget our misfortunes in Napa, we went back to Los Angeles where T convinced me to go on a series of pitch meetings with her to try and sell the project again. We marched up and down the hallways of network after network after production company after studio until we couldn’t take it anymore. I remember one meeting where I was pitching to a young woman in her mid-twenties. I could tell that she wasn’t hearing a word I was saying. She was probably thinking about her date later that night.
It was time to quit.
During this time, Mr. Manly was syndicated through a conglomerate called Premiere Radio. We had a pretty good relationship and at least the radio show was still doing well.
Or so I thought.
I was called into a meeting in Encino where Premier’s main office is and was told that I should be congratulated for having such a successful, long-running show but they were dropping it. They felt it had run its course.
That lady DJ who told me that one day it would happen to me was right.
So now the entire show was done. It had been a great ride.
So that’s where it all ends. Sort of.
In 2006, I realized that technology had come along that allowed me to write and record Mr. Manly episodes in my own home. I had a little studio built at my house, bought a new computer and audio editing software and started doing the show again but it was all for the love of doing it. I was only on about eight stations and I wasn’t making a dime. I just did it for fun but other events were taking over my life and on February 4th, 2011, exactly 21 years to the date of my first walking into a recording studio with a Mr. Manly script, I recorded my final episode.
People, however, refuse to let Mr. Manly go away entirely . I still get email asking for CDs and manuals and all the merchandise so I’m putting this up to see what happens. It’s all pretty much experimental at this point.
Let’s see what happens next!