Mad Men, Letterman, Rupert Jee and Me...

May 21st, 2015

Late Show signI stopped watching David Letterman's Late Show regularly a long time ago when he seemed to be falling back on stale bits and spending most of the show on digressive grumblings that went nowhere. He wasn't the quick-witted, anything-goes sardonic young host I grew up with while living in NYC as a bachelor in my mid-20s during the go-go 1980s. By "go-go," I mean there was lots of drinking and copious amounts of cocaine in the bars, jazz joints and after hours clubs I frequented from the Village to the Upper West Side. Bruce Willis, who I knew from Montclair State College, was still bartending at Cafe Central in 1985 -- the year I pulled a geographic and moved to Hawaii, in part, to avoid the fate of people like John Belushi and others who were part of that scene.

Generally speaking, I'm not the nostalgic type who likes to post a bunch of old photos on Facebook and tag people I hung out with way back when. Yet it's hard for me not to reflect on the passing of the Mad Men television series and Letterman show because of personal connections to both that remind me how far I've come or gone, literally thousands of miles away, and how old I am. Aging sucks -- unless you consider the alternative. Just surviving long enough to grow into a crusty, cynical curmudgeon like Dave, can be considered a success in itself. It's like that old song, "I'm Still Here" from Follies: Good times and bum times, I've seen them all.

The other day I had a business meeting with a former New Yorker and during our chat, this younger woman asked how old I was to compare notes about our respective time frames in the Big Apple. I hesitated, thought about fudging by saying "I'm in my 50s" or "mid-50s," then shrugged and admitted: "Fifty-eight. I'm old." Ugh. Why did I feel like I had to apologize for not being young any more?

She appeared to be caught off guard. Her New York and mine were decades apart. She only knew the Disney-tized Times Square version. My NYC was dirty, dangerous, dying from the AIDS epidemic, yet still retaining some of Don Draper's Mad Men business trappings from the 60s and 70s. I even interviewed at Grey Advertising, one of the biggest agencies in the world, rivaling the agency that swallowed up Don's firm. At the time, I was news editor of my college paper and a friend's dad at Grey introduced me to their head copywriter -- a woman, just like Peggy on Mad Men! She looked over sample commercials I wrote, liked a couple, suggested I write more, then get back to her after she returned from vacation. But I needed a job fast, so I never followed up with her and wound up stumbling down other career paths.

After I moved to Manhattan in the early 80s, I got a marketing job in publishing down in the Greenwich Village area. I ducked into a jazz club to get out of the rain one summer evening, and that's where I met musicians from the Late Show band and Saturday Night Live orchestra. It was named Seventh Avenue South and was owned by the Brecker Brothers, well-known jazz musicians in their own right. It became my pau hana hangout, where I held court with Hiram Bullock, the original Letterman band shoeless guitarist (played with David Sanborn often too); Sammy Figueroa, a percussionist (the conga player on David Bowie's "Let's Dance"); Will Lee, still playing bass with the Late Show band; Paul Shaffer would pop in; Jaco Pastorius, the late great electric bass player with Weather Report was a regular... plus a host of other young actors, musicians, artists and riffraff. Hiram told me how Belushi was at his place one night, found a box containing all of Hiram's tax info and receipts, and proceeded to throw them out the window. A few months later, Belushi would OD.

I also befriended David Murray of the World Saxophone Quartet, who I learned was related to Walter Murray -- the UH football receiver, best remembered for dropping a pass that would have given the 'Bows their first victory over vaunted nemesis, BYU. As it happened, on my final night in New York before getting on the long flight to Honolulu, a co-worker scored tickets to the Late Night show as a going away gift for me. I had always wanted to see it live, so it was a big deal. However, David Murray also offered to put me on his guest list for a gig he was doing with another jazz legend, Ron Carter, at the Lush Life that same night. I opted for the Lush Life instead of Dave. Sigh. That was New York in a nutshell -- too many choices, too much to do in too little time.

It's strange how things come full circle. Three years later, I was married, had gone through rehab for alcoholism, got sober and started growing up at the age of 31. That's when I began writing screenplays based on my wild nights in NYC and 28-day stay at Castle's treatment center in Kailua. Eventually, I would get to meet staff writers for Mad Men, who were doing a UH screenwriting workshop. They had worked on the Baywatch Hawaii series, along with former Star-Bulletin columnist, Charlie Memminger. He got that short-lived TV staff job as a result of winning the Maui Writers Conference screenwriting contest -- the same one I came in second place for a script that was set in NYC a year before 9/11 would change the skyline forever.

Me and Rupert JeeIn 2006, my wife and I stopped by the Late Show theater to see if we could get tickets but none were available. We did get to meet Rupert Jee, the Hello Deli owner and frequent guest on Letterman (often put in amusing, uncomfortable situations when Dave would fit him with an earpiece and instruct Rupert to do odd things to unsuspecting parties outside the theater).

I'm still searching for that illusive first big script sale. Heck, I'd settle for a small low budget straight-to-video deal. I used to snicker at shows like Baywatch Hawaii, but now that I'm older, wiser and less full of myself, I realize what it takes to be a professional screenwriter no matter what you or I may think of the quality of the show itself. The Mad Men writers I mentioned had gotten to know Matt Weiner long before he achieved critical acclaim with his series about a Manhattan advertising agency, and the characters we watched grow up (or not) before our eyes. Most don't know what a hard sell it was for the creator of that series to get it on the air. It's really an inspiring story for any writer, artist or entrepreneur. You can read the Fast Company piece by clicking here.

The last night I spent in New York, I remember coming back to my apartment on 14th Street, still intoxicated and high from the Lush Life show. Down on the corner, there was a lone sax player I could hear through the open window, blowing sad, sweet notes -- a serenade for no one in particular. But in my heart, I believed he was playing his song for me. I miss the city... I'll miss Mad Men and Dave too.

Hello Deli sign


For daily viewing times of my Career Changers TV show, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel... including commercials written and produced by this former NYC mad man.



Commercial Interruptions

May 14th, 2015

Before the advent of DVRs, VCRs, and remote controls -- or "the clicker" as my wife still refers to it -- people had few TV programs to choose from, and would sit through commercials rather than get up and change the channel. Fast forward to modern viewing habits, and it's evident technology has not only altered the way we watch television -- it's physically transformed us into couch potatoes. Speaking of which, I found this interesting bit of etymology:

"Very few words have a birthday so precise, and so precisely known, as couch potato. It was on July 15, 1976, we are told, that couch potato came into being, uttered by Tom Iacino of Pasadena, California, during a telephone conversation. He was a member of a Southern California group humorously opposing the fads of exercise and healthy diet in favor of vegetating before the TV and eating junk food (1973). Because their lives centered on television--the boob tube (1966)--they called themselves boob tubers. Iacino apparently took the brilliant next step and substituted potato as a synonym for tuber. Thinking of where that potato sits to watch the tube, he came up with couch potato."

I digress though, which is typical of channel surfers with short attention spans who are loathe to sit through commercial interruptions while plopped down in front of our bigger and bigger high def widescreen TVs. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not pretentious about my television preferences or an anti-TV snob like some people I know, who equate television with lowest common denominator forms of entertainment. In fact, I'd say some of the best writing in the past decade can be found on today's flatscreen TVs.

But I don't like wasting time on commercials that are trying to sell me something I don't need for problems I don't have. So, like a lot of people, I DVR nearly everything and press the >> button to speed through the 3-4 minute commercial breaks on most network programs. As a local TV producer this puts me at odds with myself, since I rely on advertisers to keep my Career Changers  TV show on the air. To get around the problem of channel jumpers, I've tried to be more creative.

Instead of running a lot of short-form commercials (15 to 30 seconds) I run longer info-tainment style segments that are paid for by sponsors, but tell interesting stories about the companies, organizations, or people behind that business. When we do run conventional advertising, I limit my breaks to no more than two 30-second spots or a single minute-long commercial to reduce the likelihood of viewers switching channels. With other network programs, I can basically watch most of two shows in the same half hour because they pack so many commercials into each break. Which is bad for the advertisers who pay for those time slots. The ad sales people tell clients they'll be running the spot dozens of times in a short period -- what they don't say is that commercial is going to be buried in a string of 7 to 8 other ad messages that probably have no relevance whatsoever to the client's target market.

I'm not sure when 30-second spots became the norm, but I decided to go old school on new commercials I produced for Waimea Valley and Remington College, two of my long-time show sponsors. For them, I did one-minute commercials because I felt the extra time would help sell the upcoming Summer Concert Series at Waimea Valley (here's a link -- great summer line-up and great deal!) and the new Remington campaign features Augie T, so we wanted to take advantage of his comedic talents. What's more, Augie has a talent for connecting with local folks, so I wanted to let him interact with actual students (which was a lot of fun too).

Here's one of the Augie T commercials that showcases his comedy skills, while this one displays a more serious side of Augie.

So, let me ask you: How long are you willing to watch commercials before changing channels? Or do you DVR most of your programs too?


For daily viewing times -- subject to change due to high school sports lately -- please visit www. CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel, now closing in on one million total views... which is great for our paid sponsors, and another way conventional television viewing has changed!

Help for Hawaii Immigrants

May 6th, 2015

Think about this for a moment: let's say you moved here as a child, lived all your life in Hawaii or on the mainland, worked hard in school and had the same goals and dreams as most American kids. Then you discover that you can't get a driver's license or a Social Security number, so you can't apply for legitimate jobs or college. All because your parents are undocumented immigrants and you have no legal papers through no fault of your own.

That's the present day situation for thousands of young people in Hawaii. For many of them, their parents actually were here legally on visas that expired. They came from Tonga, Western Samoa, the Philippines, Southeast Asia. Some are from Africa, Mexico, Central and South America. Talk to any of them though, and you'll hear they share a common origin story: their parents came to the U.S. seeking a better life for their children.

The sad irony is the children are being penalized by politicians who have blocked efforts to reform immigration policies, so these young adults who could be contributing to our society -- and be paying their fair share of income taxes -- are reduced to working menial labor jobs for cash under the table. Instead of going to college, they are cleaning houses or building rock walls until their bodies break down and they can't do it any longer. They can't get insurance to cover their medical bills when they have health problems. They cannot do simple everyday things you or your kids take for granted, let alone pursue the American Dream.

So why should you care? That's easy to answer. If undocumented immigrants and their children are given legal permission (even temporarily) to live here, they can improve their circumstances and be an asset to our economy -- not the burden that some anti-immigrant voices claim they are. More importantly though, these are decent, hard-working human beings who deserve better. It's the morally right thing to do.

Thankfully, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action on immigration by President Obama, which became effective in 2012, does give temporary legal permission to stay in the U.S. for certain undocumented youth if they meet the guidelines and apply for DACA. The program has successfully signed up many grantees on the Mainland. However, it's been slow to catch on in Hawaii thus far.

To get the word out on DACA, the Hawaii Community Foundation is funding a statewide outreach program being undertaken by the Pacific Gateway Center, Aloha DREAM Team, Child & Family Service, Hawaii Appleseed Center, Maui Economic Opportunity, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, and Susannah Wesley Community Center.

As part of that joint non-profit group effort, I was asked to produce a video about DACA so you can meet some of these young people and hear a little of their personal stories. I'll be producing another piece to show an extended interview with immigration attorney John R. Egan,, who provided interesting background and analysis of the DACA executive action that I couldn't fit into the first segment.

Here's a link to the video, which will be airing on my Career Changers TV show beginning Thurs., May 7 at a special 3:30 PM time to accommodate the high school baseball tournament schedule tomorrow on OC16.

While the original DACA action gives hope to thousands of "illegal" immigrants who live in fear of deportation every day, you should know something else that is extremely disheartening: when President Obama tried to extend DACA in 2014 so it would cover more children of immigrants and some parents for a longer period (three years instead of two), Republicans in Texas went to court to block it... and succeeded in getting an injunction. An appeal has been filed, but no one knows how long it will take to get a ruling. In the meantime, the original DACA eligibility guidelines are still in place.

For more info on DACA eligibility requirements, please visit the Pacific Gateway Center website. You can also "Like" the DACA for Hawaii Dream Kids Facebook page. Please share it with anyone you know who may benefit from this important program. Mahalo!

Friends of the Library Job Opening

May 5th, 2015

The Friends of the Library of Hawaii is looking to hire an Office Associate ASAP. My wife, Isabel Figel, is the Friends Program Director so she asked me to share this job posting with Star-Advertiser readers:

Responsible for office administration including phone calls, bookkeeping, record keeping/filing, volunteer program coordination, support of board committees, assistance with fundraising and other FLH events. QuickBooks experience and record keeping including posting transactions, deposits & process approved check requests for signature, maintain the fixed asset register. Special Requirements: Occasional need to work flexible hours and able to lift 30 pounds.

Friends of the Library of Hawai‘i is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support and promote Hawai‘i’s 50 public libraries (click here for their website link). Please send resume to

They do terrific work to support all 5o Hawaii public libraries and promote literacy in the islands. If you or someone you know is a book lover, who enjoys working with a diverse group of folks, this might just be the job for you. You can mail me ( or the above Friends address for a more detailed job description.

The new May episode of Career Changers TV will premiere on Thursday at 3:30 PM instead of our normal 7:30 PM time slot due to live high school sports. I'll be posting more about that once our website is updated for the May show!

In the meantime, you can check out segments from past and current episodes on the Career Changers TV YouTube Channel... now at 961,924 total views. Hmm, maybe I should give a prize to the One Millionth Viewer!



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Mother's Day Gift Ideas

May 1st, 2015

Looking for a special Mother's Day gift? We just shot a segment about the latest additions to the Martin & MacArthur koa accessories line, and their new Las Vegas locations. Besides the beautiful handbags, jewelry, rings and watches for women, they've added sleek leather bags for men. Which makes a lot of sense from a marketing perspective when you consider that M&M is very men-friendly because guys like wood products. There's a masculine feeling to koa... strong, yet warm and earthy. I think that's one reason their koa watches have been so popular as men's gifts.

In my interview with Michael Tam, President and CEO of Martin & MacArthur, we talked about his long-term growth strategy and how the Vegas stores fit into the plan. Back when Michael bought the company in 2008, the economy was in a deep recession -- seemingly a bad time to expand a business, right? Wrong. He used the weakness in the retail market to negotiate favorable leases and secure more locations in luxury resorts. In fact, although their Ala Moana store may be tops in customer traffic and volume out of the 12 stores in Hawaii and two in Vegas, some of their highest dollar sales have come at the Neighbor Island resorts where celebs have vacation homes and furnish them with expensive koa furniture.

Every time I talk to Michael, I come away impressed with how well thought out everything is in regards to their products and marketing approach, right down to where their print ads get placed in the Star-Advertiser or upscale magazines. I think he's also been smart to use video on social media, which we produce for him as part of the Career Changers TV show. Many of the people who "Like" those segments on YouTube are actually Mainland visitors, who follow M&M online because owning something from their store makes them feel connected to Hawaii.

Also, that feeling explains why Las Vegas was such a natural stepping stone into the Mainland market. Of course, we all know how popular the "Ninth Island" is with locals. And due to economic realities, many residents have moved there over the past few years. But the recession hit Vegas hard too, so it was a bit of a gamble for Michael to open two stores in a city where people used to spend most of their money in casinos. That trend has changed though, and more folks are going to fine restaurants, expensive shows, and buying designer fashions.

He says most of the retail staff they've hired for the Vegas stores have a personal connection to Hawaii -- either they used to live in the islands or have vacationed here. That's important to him. Michael genuinely believes his employees must be able to share their passion for Hawaii and koa, in order to represent the Martin & MacArthur brand.

Here's the video link to the new segment. Mother's Day is just a week away, but you can get an early jump on Father's Day too if you visit one of their stores this weekend!


The May episode of Career Changers TV will premiere on Thurs., May 7 on Oceanic Cable Channel 12/high def 1012. For daily viewing times, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Keep your eyes open for the new Augie T commercials we did for Remington College that will be airing on TV soon -- they're fun!


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