August 31:  Short Letter Day

Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of the Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set of a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years:

Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC, and I thought you’d like to see this article from the current issue of People Magazine.

Jerry will be appearing in concert in New York City at Town Hall on Saturday, September 10. If any of you will be in New York at that time I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for you and your guests.

When the show ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter. Below are four important guidelines for a successful letter.

The Four S’s of Business Letters:

Keep it Short

Cut needless words, needless information, stale phrases, and redundant statements.

Keep it Simple

Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple, and use a conversational style.

Keep it Strong

Answer the reader’s question in the first paragraph, and explain why you’re writing. Use concrete words and examples, and stick to the subject.

Keep it Sincere

Answer promptly, be friendly in tone, and try to write as if you were talking to your reader (3).

Today’s Challenge: Short, Simple, Strong, and Sincere Snail Mail
What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation.  Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:   egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it. It’s too high. It’s in no-man’s land. You look like you live with your mother. –First line from the first episode of Seinfeld and the last line from the last episode. In both cases Jerry is speaking to George.

1- Jerry Seinfeld.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

  1. Business Letter Writing – Business Letter Writing Checklist

 

August 30:  Top 10 Day

Today is the anniversary of the The Late Show with David Letterman which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993 and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of the The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Latenightdllogo.pngMany aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy”: people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that become the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, or -person-on-the-street interviews (1).

Letterman’s best known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “decalogue.”  This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments.  The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.

Of course Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses. The very first list, for example, featured TOP TEN WORDS THAT RHYME WITH “PEAS”:

  1. Heats
  2. Rice
  3. Moss
  4. Ties
  5. Needs
  6. Lens
  7. Ice
  8. Nurse
  9. Leaks
  10. Meats

While this was probably not the funniest top ten list, it is interesting to note that the Top Ten began on a poetic note.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS
What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? Below are some of the list topics from David Letterman’s first book of Top Ten Lists. Select one of the topics, or create your own topic.  Then, complete your list. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

  1. Top Ten Ways Life Would Be Better If Dogs Ran The World
  2. Top Ten Ways To Pronounce “Bologna”
  3. Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas
  4. Top Ten Prom Themes
  5. Top Ten Questions Science Cannot Answer
  6. Top Ten Things We As Americans Can Be Proud Of
  7. Top Ten Interview Questions Asked Miss America Contestants
  8. Top Ten Reasons To Vote
  9. Top Ten Reasons Why TV Is Better Than Books
  10. Top Ten Rejected Provisions of The U.S. Constitution

Quotation of The Day:  Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today?
1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War.
2) Advising the President.
3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin. -David Letterman

1 – LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN. The Museum of Broadcast Communications

2 – Letterman, David and the Late Night with David Letterman Writers. The Late Night With David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.

 

August 29:  Akeelah and the Bee Day

Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

Akeelah and the Bee film.jpgThe film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Prize Winning Bees

Below are eight of winning word for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:

chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color

logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs

succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another

prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic

autochthonous:  2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed

appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.  (1, 2)

Today’s Challenge:  To Bee or Not to Bee
Should schools still hold spelling bees?  What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them?  Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action.  In the course of your argument address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Spelling Bees are useless and unnecessary competitions. Before Microsoft Word and Google, Spelling Bees had value, but now they are all superflewus. -Jarod Kintz

1 – http://spellingbee.com/champions-and-their-winning-words