Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, November 30, 2014


                                The ax man cometh…

After all the hard, bruising work of getting a television show up and running, the production has generally settled into a solid groove by November. With eight to ten shows in the can, the crew has bonded, the kinks that inevitably crop up early on have been smoothed out, and the day-to-day operations are rolling along like a well-oiled machine. But just as it starts to feel like a real show, when -- if there was any justice in this cruel, cruel world -- everybody should be able to relax just a bit, a dark shadow falls over everyone from the executive producers all the way down to the Production Assistants.  

Turkeys aren’t the only ones with good reason to worry as Thanksgiving approaches, because this is the time of year shows get cancelled.

Cable networks long ago broke with the traditional Fall season kickoff out of necessity.  Unable to compete head-to-head with the much bigger broadcast networks, they adopted the classic hit-'em-where-they-ain't strategy employed by underdogs since the beginning of time, launching their new shows whenever opportunity arose -- winter, spring, or summer.  Although the media has been blathering about the "year around schedule" for a while now, the mainstream broadcast networks still debut most of their new shows in the Fall, typically with an order of 12 episodes.  A new show able to draw decent ratings has a good chance of landing the “back nine,” adding up to a full season of 22 episodes.  But television has always been a business without mercy, and shows that can’t attract a large enough viewing audience don't get picked up.  

“Not getting picked up” might sound better than “cancelled,” but it means the same thing and hurts just as much. That's one big, cold lump of coal in your Christmas stocking.   

Occasionally a new show is such a bomb -- delivering horrendously bad numbers -- that the plug is pulled after only one or two episodes air, putting the entire crew out of work with the season well underway and every other show fully crewed-up. All they can do is file for unemployment, then scramble for whatever day-playing gigs might pop up until another show comes along.*  

It's brutal.

At the other end of the spectrum is a show that immediately catches fire as the season’s first big hit -- something like “Desperate Housewives” or “Glee.” The fortunate crew of such a show is guaranteed the back nine, and if ratings hold up through their sophomore season, maybe a nice five-to-eight year run.  But while the bombs and breakout hits get all the press, most new shows fall somewhere in the middle, with many hovering “on the bubble,” delivering viewer numbers that are neither terrible nor great. For them, the weeks leading up to the holidays are a slow ride up the escalator of anxiety.  

I have no idea what the internal machinations are like in the executive suites during this crucial period, but having been on the receiving end of the bad news more than a few times, I know what a blow it is to those who work below decks. That the call typically comes with the holiday season looming is particularly awkward.  It's hard to be thankful or feel the glow of Christmas cheer when your show just got cancelled and you'll be facing the New Year unemployed.

Still, the funding for those twelve episodes has usually been committed, so even if the dreaded thumbs-down call comes a week before Thanksgiving, there's another three or four episodes to shoot before Christmas. That means three or four more paychecks, plus the wrap week. It's not aways easy to bring a good attitude to the set every day once you learn the show is doomed, but that’s where you have to be a professional. You do your job the best you can until the gig is over because that's what you're paid to do. Besides, how you perform under such depressing circumstances will be noticed, so it's important to finish strong every time, no matter what.  

The ax has been falling all over Hollywood the past few weeks, and it dropped hard at my home lot, where a big broadcast network sit-com midway through its second season was abruptly cancelled shortly before what would be their final shoot night. Despite being directed by the legendary Jim Burrows (a man who usually gets whatever he wants**), The Millers won't even receive a goodbye kiss in the form of those last few episodes before the Christmas break -- that show is just gone. I imagine the lead actors will get paid off for the entire season thanks to their iron-clad SAG contracts, but the grip, electric, props and set dressing crews got hosed into the gutter and onto unemployment like yesterday’s garbage. Camera and sound crews only work two days per week on most multi-cam shows, and thus need a second show to make a decent income. Losing this show won’t leave those people totally unemployed, but most will be living on a very tight budget until the pilot season arrives late next winter. 

In essence, what they got from the network was a "Merry Christmas and fuck you very much" worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. 
But while most shows end with a resigned sigh, at least this crew got to exit with a bang. From what I hear, the cast went all out that night doing their final show in front of the live audience, cutting loose with some very blue, decidedly unscripted, and extremely funny ad-libs that had everyone on that sound stage howling -- a show the audience will never forget and the viewing public will never see. I'm sure the experience was cathartic for everyone involved and helped ease the sting at the moment, but as good as that must have felt, they still had to wake up the next morning knowing their show was dead and gone.  

I know some of that crew -- they're good people who are very good at their jobs -- and I hate to see this happen.  All is not all doom and gloom, however, and if the Gods of Hollywood taketh, so do they givith.  Many of the new shows did manage to land their back-nine pick-up, including this one -- which was welcome news for some good friends of mine.***  

My show is in no danger of getting the ax.  With only another seven or eight episodes needed to carry us over the finish line into syndication, there’s no way the cable network (tightwad, low-rent, cheap-ass mother-f******s that they are) is going to kill off the golden goose.  Besides, they don’t have to.  Having fulfilled its purpose in finally achieving syndication, our show will almost certainly expire of natural causes at the end of this season.

After that, who knows?  I still need to catch one more decent wave (or several smaller ones)  to surf my way out of Hollywood onto the sunny beach of retirement.  But juicers my age aren’t exactly in high demand -- or any demand, actually -- so there’s no guarantee of another wave rolling my way.  

Whatever. I'll drive off that bridge when I come to it.

Television remains an unstable business in the best of times, and for those of us who toil deep in the belly of the beast, life is akin to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, constantly hunting for the next woolly mammoth to kill and eat paying gig. After several lean years wandering through the day-playing wilderness, I was fortunate to get a cable show that kept chugging along over four seasons despite less-than-stellar numbers -- but that’s one of the few advantages working in cable has over the big-bucks, high-pressure world of broadcast television. Our viewer numbers would have gotten us the hook a week into Season One on a broadcast network, but cable shows don’t need eight million pairs of eyeballs per week just to survive. They can get by on less -- a lot less -- so although working lower down the food chain of television has some serious drawbacks, it isn’t all bad.  

As it turns out, the sharp blade of the Hollywood ax cuts both ways -- and during this Thanksgiving week, that’s what I’m thankful for. 

* Generally a mid-season replacement that will shoot from ten to twelve episodes, or a lower-paying cable show with the same basic schedule.

** Here's a little story about how that works

*** Congratulations, Bryan, Kevin and the boyz -- you earned it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Such a Deal

  Two for the price of one is great when it comes to hot dogs, but TV shows?  Not so much

I was going to lead off today's post with a familiar photo of a blank billboard (if you've been around here long enough, you know the one I mean) signifying that I've got nothing… but then I got to thinking about the past five days, and that as much as I like the notion of getting two hot dogs for the price of one, I'm not so fond of having to make two television shows for the same deal.

The cable network I'm currently slaving for thought it was a great idea, though, and for good reason: they only had to pay for one episode this past week while we delivered two. The normal multi-camera show schedule is one episode every five days --  but even though we made two complete episodes in that same span of time, our paychecks next Thursday will reflect only five days of work.

Which means the network got the hot dogs while the crew got the shaft.

The new CEO of the network doubtless considers this a win/win -- a radical increase in "productivity" that will please the shareholders, who will then be more likely to let him keep his highly-paid job. For the crew, it was just another old fashioned ass-fucking worthy of the Bad Old Days before the advent of labor unions.  Unfortunately, there's nothing in any of our collective bargaining agreements to deal with this kind of situation.

Granted, we'll get paid for three 12 hour days instead of the usual two, so an additional four hours of overtime will pad my next paycheck, but the net savings to our corporate overlords amounts to forty hours of straight time plus four hours of overtime for each the full-time crew.*

Any way you look at it, that's one hell of a deal for the suits.

It wasn't so great for the writers, though, who had to deliver 44 minutes of scripted comedy by Friday rather than the usual 22 -- or the actors, who had to learn and perform the scripts for two complete shows rather than one.  As a result, many cue cards were employed, something I haven't seen on a sit-com for a very long time.

And here I thought having to make one-and-a-third episodes per week was bad…

We pretty much got our asses kicked, and although it's not particularly hard to kick my aging butt these days, the rest of the crew was feeling it too. There wasn't much time for anything but work and recovery from work, which is why I was thinking about using that blank billboard photo again today.

Still, the week wasn't all bad.  I received an e-mail notification that a revised version of an old post called Stunts has been accepted for publication by a small literary magazine up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not that anybody will mistake The West Marin Review for the much older and vastly more influential Paris Review, mind you, but I'm happy to strike some sparks beyond the hermetic hothouse of the film and television industry. Besides, it's one of only fifteen prose pieces selected from a hundred and twenty-five submissions, and that feels pretty good.

There's no money involved, of course.  It's just a pat on the head, which -- along with five bucks -- will buy me a small cup of Starbuck's finest, but that's better than the proverbial sharp stick in the eye. And after the beating meted out at work last week, I'll take any little ray of sunshine I can find.

*  Grip and electric.  Set dressing and props are full-time as well, but I have no idea what their usual hours/overtime/money situation is.  This week was good for camera and sound, who enjoyed three full days instead of their usual two, and God only knows what kind of deal the people in production got.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The View from Europe

                            "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
                            A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

A reader who goes by the moniker "McFrog" recently left a comment with the provocative heading, "Post this if you dare…"  

It's not my habit to respond to dares, but I thought the rest of you might be interested in what McFrog had to say. If you manage to plow through his post -- and my response --  feel free to toss your two cents into the comment pot. 

"As a European subjected to a daily onslaught of American entertainment output I have a few observations. While much of American output is good and ground breaking far too much of it is afflicted with some or all of the following traits:

The voices. Predominantly young women with high, strangled voices speaking too quickly. The words get chewed up somewhere between the larynx and the nasal passages making them sound unpleasant and unintelligible. Listen to the greats like Bette Davis, Helen Hunt, Meryl Streep and learn how to speak. It’s not difficult.

The scriptwriting. Lazy, unresearched and formulaic. The word ‘need’ constantly misused. You don’t ‘need’ this or that or the other. You would like, want, desire but not ‘need’ everything. Cars do not go out of control when the brakes fail. Take the foot off the accelerator, pull on the parking brake and you will stop – not go faster. Basic physics.

The Irish Catholic. Always a favourite. Catholics make up fewer than 24% of the American population so how come in almost every film and television programme we get treated to the priest and a lot of people crossing themselves? Lazy scriptwriting.

And now for the biggy: every conflict, every situation is resolved by violence. Guns or better yet, an enormous black gun, is the problem solver. Mr. Freud might have a word or two to say on that subject. Is this how life really is in America? No. So why show it like that? Lazy scriptwriting with bad grammar, bad English and just plain old bad writing. And just so you lazy, unintelligent scriptwriters understand it, a human cannot outrun a bullet – ever. And, bullets do pass through car doors. Please stop writing this drivel.

Look at ‘House’, ‘As Good As It Gets’, ‘House of Cards’ and dozens of other products. Excellent examples of good scriptwriting, good production and great talent. It can be done.

What causes these ailments? American colleges and acting schools are failing the students of these schools. The training is poor in some areas and clearly woefully inadequate in others leaving students ill equipped to do the job. But worse, the decision makers are afraid of the money men. Whatever is fast, easy and cheap is the order of the day. Is that really how such an important part of the U.S. economy should be run?

America, before it is too late, get-your-house-in-order and stop the drivel. Please."

Oh, McFrog, where to begin?  You'd best settle into a nice comfortable chair, because this could take a while.
Yours is a howl of pain from the television wasteland.  Although I can’t speak to the vocal deficiencies of American actresses (I haven’t noticed a preponderance of “high strangled voices,” but apparently we’re not watching the same shows), I do have some thoughts on the other issues you raise.
That doesn’t mean I’m right about any of what follows, mind you, but trying to parse right from wrong is pointless when it comes to matters of opinion, because opinions really are like assholes: we’ve all got one. These are just my personal views -- your mileage may vary.

First, remember the old maxim that "90% of everything is crap." This holds true in much of life, and certainly describes the output of the American film and television industry. If anything, the percentage of crap is higher when it comes to Hollywood.
I have no idea what’s being piped into Europe from the New World these days, but I’ll bet the bulk of what appears on our televisions in the U.S. is considerably worse in all the aspects you mention... unless, of course, you too are subjected to crap like “Duck Dynasty,” “Storage Wars,” or anything involving the odious Kardashian clan. And that's in primetime -- daytime television in America has always been a barren desert devoid of intelligent life. 

American television suffers from the curse of the broadcast networks, which are owned lock, stock, and barrel by huge, soulless corporations that labor under tighter content restrictions than their more nimble free-range cable competition. Broadcast networks produce a vast quantity of mediocre programming designed to appeal to the widest possible viewer base, and thus maximize their advertising revenue. For that reason alone, expecting a broadcast network to produce something as brilliant as “Breaking Bad,” "The Wire," or "The Sopranos" is an exercise in futility.  

You may as pray for a chicken to give birth to a live elephant. 

Then again, broadcast network television (BNT) rarely comes up with anything so vile as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  If the very best of American television comes from cable networks these days, so does the very worst.  Meanwhile, BNT walks the middle road, rarely approaching the giddy highs or bottom-of-the-barrel lows routinely reached by cable networks. 
1)  Lazy, badly-written, formulaic screenplays?  Check.
2)  Cars going out of control on screen when the brakes fail?  Check.
3)  Humans able to outrun and/or dodge bullets? Check.
4)  Car doors that stop all forms of deadly ordinance -- including machine-gun fire -- thus protecting the humans crouched behind them? Check.
I’ve got a few more for you. Nearly everyone on a BNT show is ridiculously attractive -- the women stunningly sexy babes, the men ruggedly handsome (yet sensitive) hunks -- with an occasional skinny tech-nerd or fat schlub thrown in for comic relief.  Even the bad guys look the part, gleaming with the dark burnished glow of evil. And how about cars and helicopters that invariably explode when they crash?  On one of the many shows I did that involved a helicopter, the pilot stood up at the morning crew safety meeting to explain that real life is not like the movies, and if his chopper were to fall from the sky, the likelihood of any explosion was remote.
I found it interesting that he had to remind a crew of Hollywood professionals of this, but maybe we're all prisoners of our collective assumptions.

Then there's the use of music in the typical BNT one-hour drama, where the soundtrack is almost invariably too loud, overly intrusive, and all too often telegraphs whatever is about to happen on screen -- or worse, strives to manipulate our emotions about what we're watching at the moment, because the writing, dialog, acting, and visuals aren't doing the job. Producers use music as lipstick on a pig in their effort to fool the viewers into thinking they're watching something decent.  It never works.

A prime example is NBC's popular The Blacklist.  After reading positive reviews by critics I respect, I tuned in the pilot episode, and although it exhibited fewer of the standard BNT maladies, the thundering, ham-fisted soundtrack killed the show for me. James Spader was good, as usual, and the story was serviceable, but all those too-beautiful people and the godawful music ruined it.  I didn't go back for more.

BNT comes at the viewer like a sledgehammer, offering very little subtlety, sophistication or respect for the intelligence of the audience.  

You're dead right about the excessive violence in the American media. The usual excuse  trotted out is that our nearly four hundred year national history is so steeped in violence that we've developed a collective cultural taste for it -- and we do have a bloody past.  Having killed vast numbers of Native Americans to steal their land, our ancestors then started a war with Mexico to "liberate" the southwest and west coast, vastly increasing the territorial reach of the United States.  We then entered into the American Civil War and slaughtered more than six hundred thousand of our fellow countrymen. The legends of the Old West subsequently emerged during a rough-and-tumble era when competing groups -- sheepherders vs. cattlemen, outlaws vs. settlers, miners vs. claim-jumpers -- settled their differences with six-guns in the absence of strong law enforcement.   

The long and bloody expanse of American history gave rise to the myths that formed our modern cultural foundation, and those myths still feed directly into the echo chamber of movies and television. Now we're caught in a self-perpetuating cycle where the more violence we see on screen (movies, television, and video games), the more we accept it as normal behavior.  

Or so the argument goes, anyway.  Whether it actually holds water, I have no idea, but I'm not sure the "why" of our violent media even matters anymore.  What counts is that violence sells, so it's no surprise to find so much of it in our popular entertainment. 

What puzzles me is that the history of Europe is vastly longer and considerably more blood-soaked, but your cinematic offerings don't celebrate violence with anything like the orgiastic glee of American movies and television. Why?

I can't explain it. You tell me, McFrog.

Anyway... back to your litany of cinematic ailments.  American colleges and acting schools aren't “failing the students” (our elementary and high schools are, but that's another story), but the decisions in Hollywood are made by committees of money men: corporate drones who run the film and television industry with no clue as to what constitutes a truly good movie or television show. Their only goal is to make money for the shareholders -- succeed at that, and the corporate hack gets to keep his job. Fail, and he's out the door. Given that the upper echelon of Hollywood is a fear-based culture, it’s no wonder the industry mainstream remains pathalogically averse to taking creative chances.  
The wrong people are in charge, that's all -- thus the endless parade of formulaic dreck on television, and comic book/super-hero/“Transformers” crap in theaters.  
Is this any way to run such “an important part of the US economy?”  Probably not, but don’t hold your breath hoping the situation will change anytime soon.  Some critics are convinced that broadcast television as we know it is doomed to crumble any day now, but the ramifications remain unclear.  There's no reason to assume that the fragmentation or collapse of what once was a monopoly for the Big Three founding-father networks will result in better television.
Remember the words of the legendary promoter P.T. Barnum:  “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American Public.”  Proof of that can be found every night on the Toob in the form of "Reality Television."  Should the great ship of BNT hit the economic rocks and sink, don’t expect a sudden burst of cinematic creativity to bubble up from the wreckage.  Things could even get worse -- more live sports on the Toob, more “reality television,” more talk shows, and more garbage like “Big Brother.”  

And if this is a harbinger of what might be coming to our television screens, prepare to run screaming into the night... 

Whatever happens, you can count on the drivel continuing to emerge from Hollywood into the foreseeable future.  There will be no getting our house in order.  The self-serving, myopic corporate roots of American TV will see to that.

But do not despair, McFrog. You can shield yourself from further viewing trauma by choosing with care.  When it comes to episodic dramas, keep an eye on the cable offerings and ignore anything produced by an American broadcast television network. There are occasional exceptions, but the last worthy broadcast network episodic I saw was a terrific LAPD drama called Southland.* Although NBC deserves kudos for green-lighting the show in the first place, then producing  a half-seasons worth of episodes before and after the WGA-strike shortened 2008 season, they freaked out and cancelled the show before it had a chance to win over an audience.**
But at least NBC had the good sense to sell the show cheap to TNT, which (operating on a much lower budget) kept the core cast together and completed a good run of five excellent seasons
It's possible BNT will come up with another decent show someday -- even a blind pig stumbles across an acorn from time to time --  but you can't go wrong sticking to cable networks when watching American dramas.***  And if for whatever reason you haven’t yet seen all of “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” or “Breaking Bad,” you’re in for a treat.  Yes, big black guns will appear in those shows from time to time, but always for a reason. 

I’ll say it again:  90% of everything is crap, and there's no reason to expect that will ever change.  If you're continually disappointed in what's on in theaters or on the Toob, turn the damned thing off and pick up a book.

You’ll be a better man for it.

* For more on the story of Southland, click here.

** This was back during the Jeff Zucker years, when he was busy running NBC into a ditch. 

*** Comedies are something else altogether.  With occasional exceptions (Monty Python being a prime example), drama tends to translate across cultural borders more easily than comedy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Thirteen

                           To Live and Drive in LA

After a recent crew dinner (production feeds us before the audience show), I retired to the “smoking lounge” behind the stage for a while -- three chairs and an ashtray up against a wall just outside the back door.  It’s more than thirty years since I quit smoking, but the lounge is a nice place to relax and talk.  Besides, I don’t mind an occasional whiff of cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke.  
Maybe it reminds me of my youth, long departed and never to be seen again as I plummet into the dark abyss of extremely late middle-age...
Eventually a familiar subject arose -- the daily commute -- and the carping began as we compared the relative difficulty of our respective drives to and from work.
Being that she lives way the fuck out in Palmdale -- a parched, scorpion-infested desert community north of Los  Angeles -- our Best Boy won the prize for the longest commute with a daily round-trip in excess of a hundred miles.  It's far enough that when we work late with an early call the next morning, she'll often spend the night in town rather than settle for a scant four of five hours of sleep at home.  The Gaffer resides in the Santa Clarita area -- half as far as Palmdale, but still a ways from the studio.  My fellow juicer lives well south and east of downtown Los Angeles, which means he never has a good day going to and from work. 
Compared to them, I have no complaints at all.  My apartment in Hollywood -- crappy little Hell-hole that it is -- is a mere six mile jaunt over Laurel Canyon to the studio. Rush hour slows things down a bit, but in all but the worst traffic, I'm rarely on the road more than twenty minutes either way.  
And that's in my car -- the ride is even quicker on the motorcycle.  
The dimmer operator lives in his own special commuter hell on the West Side of Los Angeles. Venice is lovely by the sea, and not particularly far from the studio -- maybe twelve miles as the crow flies -- but a crow has the gift of wings, and thus doesn’t have to climb in a car to traverse the infamous 405 (AKA: the  “San Diego Freeway”), one of the most crowded stretches of asphalt in the nation.  As so many thousands of miserable commuters can attest, rush hour on the 405 is a clusterfuck of terminal gridlock -- a slow-motion automotive nightmare from which there is no escape.  When we have an 8:00 a.m. call, then wrap at 5:30, our dimmer op has to grip the steering wheel for at least an hour and a half during that twenty mile drive... each way.
That’s three hours+ in a car just to get to work and back -- an ugly drive indeed.
As insane as this sounds, such commutes are fairly routine in Southern California.  Public transportation here is a cruel joke, and rarely works for those of us in the film industry who toil such irregular and unpredictable hours.  Besides, there are no train or subway routes between the Valley and the West Side, and if our dimmer op were to use LA's bus service, his commute time would double -- at least.  
At one point during this group bleat, he admitted that he'd seriously considered moving to the Valley just to cut that commute time.  
“But if I did that, this show will end and the next one would probably be at Sony,” he mused -- Sony Studios being a mere hop, skip, and jump from his apartment. 
That’s the way it usually works -- if there’s a studio down the block, you’ll rarely get a call there.  When your phone rings with a job call, you can bet it'll take you to the far side of town. 
Does our Gaffer ever get a job at the studios out near Santa Clarita? No. Does my fellow juicer get calls to work at Raliegh Studios in Manhattan Beach, which would be a nice easy drive for him?  Of course not.  I live less than three miles from Paramount, but it’s been more than ten years since I got a call to work there.*  The dimmer op did have a gig at Sony on a pilot we did five years ago -- but that was only a three week job, and he hasn't been back since.  Instead, he’s been making the brutal commute to and from the Valley, day after day, week after week, season after season.
The Gods of Hollywood are cruel deities indeed, taking great pleasure in testing us, pushing us, and making our lives ever more difficult.
It's not just below-the-liners who suffer, either.  As Rob Long noted in a recent Martini Shot commentary, there’s no winning this battle for anybody in the business, from grips to actors. The Gods of Hollywood can always find a way to make you pay -- and should you try to escape,  they'll come after you.
Resistance is futile
In other news, the votes are in. No, I’m not talking about yesterday’s dog-and-pony-show exercise in electoral futility politics, but the question posed in last weeks JFTHOI post: should the white-print-on-black-background color scheme be changed to something easier on the eyes?  
The electoral consensus:  “We like it this way, so leave it as is.”  Not that any pundit would call this a “wave election,” mind you -- the turnout being represented by five readers and one fellow industry blogger who took the time to respond (and I thank every one of you who made your voice heard) --  but with only one dissenting vote, the winner is clear.
For the time being, the blog will remain as it’s been.  
Which, truth be told, is a relief -- now I won’t have to spin my wheels trying to decide exactly how far to go in modifying the visual format.  I work hard on set and at this keyboard, but deep down I’m one lazy bastard when left to my own devices.  Besides, one of those six voters had a useful suggestion for anyone suffering eye-strain with the current layout.  As something of a digiliterate, I’d never heard of “Evernote,” but apparently it will convert whatever web page you’re viewing to a more user-friendly format. 
As the reader put it: “You can right-click the page, (then) click “clearly” and it gives you a nice clean sidebar and other distraction-free reader, with black and off-white text by default.”
Wikipedia has some information on Evernote, but you might as well go straight to the source.
Those who read this blog on their computers can cut-and-paste any of these posts into a word processing file (MS Word or Pages work equally well), which will convert the page back to the familiar black-text-on-white background.  I don't suppose that would help readers who visit here via smart phones, but maybe that's where something like Evernote would prove useful.
It's your choice -- and hey, aren't elections and Freedom of Choice what America is all about?

* I did land a cheap-ass Disney show a while back at what once was the old Zoetrope Studios  (now the Hollywood Center Studios) a mile-and-a-half from my apartment -- within easy bicycle range -- but this remains the proverbial exception that proves the rule...