It's time to play the music ...
"Please be good."
With the new Muppets movie opening today, that's all I can think. For the sake of my childhood, my heart, my memories please be good.
You see, like many people, I love the Muppets. Not like the Muppets. Not fondly remember the Muppets. Love the Muppets. Love them.
So I desperately want this Muppets movie to be great. I am optimistic about it. I am a fan of Jason Segel, who wrote and stars in the movie. Thought "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" -- which he also wrote -- was terrific. I have friends who saw the movie in a sneak preview and they have all come back with positive reviews, so I'm excited. As you read this, I'm probably at a showing with my 7-year-old stepson.
Last week, I wrote a column about regret and listed many of the things I regret about my life. There was one that I left out, on purpose, because I knew I was writing about the Muppets this week.
My biggest regret from my Hollywood screenwriting days is that the new "Muppet Show" never happened.
You see, in 2002, when my writing partner Eric Abrams and I heard that Fox had made a deal with The Jim Henson company to do a new, prime-time version of "The Muppet Show," I went nuts. Had to have it. I called my agent. Called every friend I had that knew the development executive in charge of the project. Begged. Pleaded. Anything to get a meeting. We weren't the biggest names. We knew that. But we were the most passionate, and all we wanted was a chance.
We eventually got a meeting. We pitched our hearts out. We showed our passion. We discussed how we would update the Muppets while maintaining the core of their character that we all loved. We brought up obscure Muppets. We did everything short of wearing felt and putting a hand up ourselves. And in one of the happiest memories from my career in show business, we were hired to recreate "The Muppet Show" for Fox. When we turned in the script, it was very well received. No notes from the network, which is almost unheard of. All the way it went, up to the very top of the company, until it got to the very top. And then, Fox's Grand Poobah passed.
The executive (non-writing) producers of the show met with him and asked why. Could he give notes, could the guys take another swing at it, something? Everyone else loves this script, they said. G.P. agreed. He thought it was very funny. So what was the problem, they asked. "Well, I'm just not sure the Muppets will work on Fox."
Think about that. They made a deal with The Henson Studio for the Muppets. Not a cheap deal, either. They then hired us to write a script. It's not like we wrote a sketch show and then cast the Muppets in it. They're MUPPETS. They are what they are. Sometimes that happens, when a really good script turns out wrong with poor casting. No. In this case, we started with the Muppets. A known quantity.
But in the end, the takeaway was, basically, "Really like the script. Does it have to be the Muppets?"
It was among my most disappointing moments ever in show business. And the start of me realizing I had to get the hell out. I love my new life and career. I don't miss show business at all. But I tell you what: If I somehow got another chance to go back and do something with The Muppets, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
Less than 50 people probably got to see the script we wrote for the new version of "The Muppet Show," and I'm proud of the work Eric and I did on it. So, on the day when Jason Segel successfully revives the Muppets in a major motion picture, I've decided that if I'm ever gonna share at least part of this, this is the time.
So, the show was, just like the classic, original Muppet show, a sketch comedy and musical show with the Muppets interacting with celebrity cameos. Rereading the script this week for the first time in almost 10 years, some of the references are clearly dated; During a "Jackass" parody, Pepe the Prawn waterskis over a ramp to leap over a Muppet shark. We cut to Statler and Waldorf. Statler: "Three minutes into the show and they've already jumped the shark." Waldorf: "I'm surprised it took them this long." Statler/Waldorf: "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha." But overall, I don't know, I still liked it.
We had one running gag throughout the script -- Kermit's attempt to do a scene from "King Lear" -- which I've strewn throughout this column. Otherwise, it was modern sketches involving all the Muppets, including my personal favorite Muppet, Sam the Eagle. I'll post a couple of them on my Facebook page if you're interested in reading them.
The script opened up on the Jackass parody (basically, Muppets getting the stuffing beaten out of them in stupid ways), then the classic opening with a contemporary twist and then.
INT. MUPPET SHOW STAGE
KERMIT comes out in front of the red curtain to applause. He is dressed in Shakespearean garb as KING LEAR.
KERMIT: Hi everybody and welcome to "The Muppet Show!" We have a great show tonight and to start things off on a cultural high note, I'm pleased to present a scene from Shakespeare's great family tragedy, "King Lear."
ANGLE ON: The audience applauding.
BACK TO: Stage. Curtains open, revealing a bare bones stage with a scrim of a castle. Fog wafts out on the stage.
KERMIT (as "Lear"): 'Tis strange that they should so depart from home and not send back my messenger.
The GENTLEMAN (from the play) enters. It's a HUMAN HAND. It "talks" like the gesture for someone who won't shut up.
THE HAND (as "The Gentleman"): The night before there was no purpose in them of this remove.
KERMIT: What the ?
THE HAND: Psst. The line is "Mak'st thou shame thy pastime?"
SCOOTER enters wearing a headset and holding a clipboard.
SCOOTER: Yes, m'lord?
KERMIT: Do you see something wrong here?
SCOOTER (looks around): Well, the castle's more Bavarian than Danish, but otherwise
KERMIT: This is a hand! I'm acting against a hand!
THE HAND: Come on, give me a chance.
SCOOTER: I think you're being shortsighted. Look at his range.
As Scooter ticks it off, the hand acts it out.
SCOOTER: Angry (the hand makes a fist.) Hopeful. (The fist crosses its fingers). Does magic. (The fist closes and opens quickly, revealing a bouquet of flowers.)
KERMIT: We're trying to do something of quality and you're sticking me with a hand?
SCOOTER: But this is all we could afford.
KERMIT: Scooter, people expect a lot more from us. I don't care how you do it but please find us the money so I have a proper scene partner.
THE HAND: Proper scene partner? You're a frog.
KERMIT: Well, you're a What am I doing? I'm arguing with a hand.
SCOOTER: What do you want me to do about the hand?
KERMIT: Fire it!
Kermit storms off. The hand is about to give Kermit "the finger" but Scooter blocks it in the nick of time and we CUT TO:
Week 12 Guys I Love
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: An obvious name, but I was recently asked if I would start Cam Newton over Matthew Stafford this week. Matthew Stafford, off a five-touchdown game, at home, against the 31st-ranked pass defense? And I said, Cam against the Colts? Yeah, I would start him over Stafford. That's love, my friends.
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: You know that scene in "Knocked Up," when the people at E tell Katherine Heigl, "We know you're pregnant. Stop trying to hide it"? Well, at this point we all know I'm pregnant with Michael Vick, so what the hell. A week after I make the big regret column about him would be just perfect timing for him to go nuts. New England's defense played better last week, but Vick ain't Tyler Palko. If he's active, I'm starting him.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: Averaging more than 15 fantasy points a game at home, he's thrown for 667 yards the last two weeks and no team allows more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings actually have a decent run defense, meaning the Falcons' game plan might well be to throw a little more in this game to begin with.
Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos: Going on five straight weeks that Tebow has made this list. Also the same number of times he's made me look good. San Diego has phoned this season in and they can't stop the run regardless. The Chargers are 28th in total points allowed. In related news, all you Chargers fans are more than welcome to join me and my fellow Redskins fans in our "Norv coached our team" group therapy session. We meet every Wednesday at 4:30 and offer workshops in "Lowering expectations." "How to deal with a slow start" and "Outcoached in the second half: 100 different ways to express your frustration depending on whether you are in public or private, with close friends or work acquaintances, and your level of intoxication." A word to the wise: Sign up early for "Getting less out of more: How to squander talent." It fills up quickly!
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: As a wise frog once said, it's not easy being (without) Green, but even if A.J. doesn't play, I still like Dalton in slightly deeper leagues. Much will be made of the Browns' "No. 1 pass defense." But look closer: The Browns have faced a ton of subpar quarterbacks and their run defense has been so bad that teams haven't needed to throw that much against them. And while I think Cincy will run effectively against the Browns (you'll never guess who's coming up in the running backs section), I also like Dalton for a very safe double-digit game, just like he's had for seven consecutive weeks.
If you're desperate: I mentioned Christian Ponder in this space last week and he ended up with 17 points. Even without Adrian Peterson to distract the Falcons, they give up more than 15 fantasy points a game to opposing quarterbacks, so I'm confident Ponder will get his. Always scary starting someone you haven't seen play, but with Andre Johnson back, two weeks to prepare and Jacksonville concentrating on stopping Arian Foster and Ben Tate, I think Matt Leinart has a solid game.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: The most famous Muppets song is, most likely, "Rainbow Connection," or "It Ain't Easy Being Green." "Mahna Mahna" is always a crowd favorite and I'll always jam out to anything by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. But for my money, the best song they've ever done is a duet with Kermit and Rowlf the Dog called "I hope that something better comes along." In it, Kermit and Rowlf lament their troubles with women. "You can't live with them, you can't live without 'em, there's something irresistible-ish about them, we grin and bear it because the nights are long, I hope that something better comes along."
That's Chris Johnson. He drives us nuts. We can't live with him. But, based on where we drafted him, it's likely we can't live without. There's something irresistible-ish about him facing a Tampa Bay run defense that has allowed 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns to opposing running backs since the 49ers game, in which Gerald McCoy got injured in the first quarter. We grin and bear it because the waiver wire is thin, so we're starting CJ this week, but please let something better come along.
Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals: As hinted at in Dalton's write-up: Benson racked up 123 total yards the last time he faced Cleveland and the Browns haven't gotten a lot better against the run since Week 1. In fact, since their bye week (Week 5), they've given up 895 rushing yards in six games, most in the NFL.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers: See? All it took to get him going was putting him on my Hate list last week! You're welcome, America. You're welcome.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Had 109 total yards last week and double-digit fantasy points in three of his past five games, and he's becoming more of a factor in the red zone. Over the past five games, Stewart has nine touches to Cam's 11 and against the Colts, who allow the most red zone touchdowns of any team in the NFL, Stewart should be a solid low-end No. 2 or high-end flex play this week.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos: Riding their three-game win streak, the Broncos are running the ball over 70 percent of the time, averaging more than 200 rushing yards on more than 40 rushes a game. McGahee is now fully healthy and the Chargers are 23rd in the NFL against the run. Why not stop by our Norv-I-Nar entitled "Innovative ways to lose at home to a divisional opponent"? Punch and pie.
If you're desperate: Donald Brown hasn't looked terrible recently, averaging seven fantasy points a game over his last five. Assuming Joseph Addai is out, Carolina's 30th-ranked run defense could help make Brown a usable flex play this week. DeAngelo Williams looked good last week, and while there are only two teams worse against the run than Carolina, the Colts are one of them. Finally, C.J. Spiller will get the majority of work against the Jets and has big-play ability. The Jets have allowed three TD runs of 20-plus yards this season, third most in the NFL.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: I've long said "The Muppet Movie" (the original one) is the greatest movie ever made until the pig shows up. Never been a huge Miss Piggy fan. Have to think Greg Jennings owners feel the same way about Jordy Nelson. We discussed this on the podcast, but since the Packers' bye week, Jordy Nelson has 16 receptions, 291 yards, five touchdowns and only one fewer target than Greg Jennings in three games. Jennings has 11 for 84 and two scores in that same time frame. I ranked Nelson ahead of Jennings this week.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: Harvin has 20 touches, 164 total yards and a score (plus 16 pass targets) in the two games since his bye. I'm expecting Peterson to miss this game, which means Harvin will be the Vikes' dynamic playmaker. Against the Falcons (tied for the seventh-most fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts), I like him quite a bit this week.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: You know what's fun off of a bye week? Getting the Chiefs.
Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers: Bit of a gut call here since he did nothing last week, but I feel Champ Bailey will be all over fantasy "Whac-A-Mole" Vincent Jackson (see the Hate list), throwing more looks Brown's way.
If you're desperate: Seems like Torrey Smith is more feast than famine these days and the 49ers (tied for eighth-most touchdown passes of 20-plus yards allowed) can be beaten deep on occasion. The Raiders' wideouts are a bit like Shanahan's running backs, but if I'm picking a guy, it's Denarius Moore. Bad game last week, but based on the number of targets he got, I'm sticking by Damian Williams for at least one more week. I'm not expecting Jeremy Maclin back, so Riley Cooper could be in for another nice day against the Patriots in a shootout.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Averaging more than eight fantasy points a game the last five, the middle of the field should be open for Celek as New England focuses on stopping the deep ball to DeSean Jackson.
Jake Ballard, TE, Giants: Assuming his elbow is OK, he still got a lot of targets last week (seven, tied for second on the team) and the Saints are tied for fifth in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends.
If you're desperate: Jared Cook had five catches for 51 yards last week and it's not like the Buccaneers are all that against tight ends, either. Jacob Tamme had six catches for 75 in his first start last game and assuming Dallas Clark is still out, he has a nice matchup with the Panthers.
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST: Somehow, still available in more than 30 percent of leagues, Cincy's D is averaging more than 10 fantasy points a game at home this year. And, as you may have heard, they are playing the Browns.
Denver Broncos D/ST: You know whom I miss? Lew Zealand. You know, the Muppet who threw the boomerang fish? That dude is a genius. That has nothing to do with anything, just like the fact that since Tebow took over, the Broncos' defense is averaging nine points a game. Sure, Bailey got healthy, Von Miller is playing out of his mind and Philip Rivers does have 21 turnovers this season, but none of that is as interesting as Leslie Uggams trying to sing while fish fly by her head.
So, before we get to the hate, I wanted to show the second of the Kermit sketches we did. After that first one, sketches involving Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle and Eminem and an X Games parody with Gonzo were among my favorites. I realize this is long, but whatever, it's Thanksgiving. Be thankful I'm not completely phoning it in.
INT. BACKSTAGE WINGS -- KING LEAR
KERMIT is wearing a much more elaborate Elizabethan robe and crown than he wore the previous time. SCOOTER approaches.
KERMIT: Scooter, this costume is fantastic. And the scenery is very impressive. Good job.
SCOOTER: Thanks, Kermit.
KERMIT: How did you find the money?
SCOOTER: Don't worry about it. That's my job. You're the talent. Now go out there and have fun.
INT. MUPPET SHOW STAGE -- CONTINUOUS
The scenery is much nicer than the last time. KERMIT enters.
KERMIT (As "Lear"): 'Tis strange that they should so depart from home and not send back my messenger.
The GENTLEMAN enters. It's a Muppet version of a COLA CAN. Complete with arms, legs and a face. It's voiced by Kelsey Grammer.
COLA CAN: "The night before there was no purpose in them of this remove."
KERMIT: What the? Cut! Scooter!
SCOOTER: Yes Kermit?
KERMIT: This is a cola can.
COLA CAN:Hey, I studied at Julliard. I act, sing and dance. I'm a triple threat.
From off stage the Can is thrown a top hat and cane. The Can puts on the hat and does his best Gene Kelly.
SCOOTER: Isn't he great?
KERMIT: No, he is not great. How could you do this?
SCOOTER: It was the only way we could afford the costumes and scenery. And if you could work the words "caffeine-free" or "new vanilla flavor" into a soliloquy, that would be great.
KERMIT: You know what else would be great? If we didn't have product placement in Shakespeare!
Kermit storms off.
COLA CAN (calling after): Come one. Give a can a chance!
SCOOTER: Kermit, wait.
Scooter follows after him. The can looks around, takes a beat and then
COLA CAN: Finally, my big break.
The Can whips off the top hat.
THE CAN (continuing, as "Lear"): And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life? Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?
The Can dies an overdramatic death, the final beat being the Can on the ground, springing a leak. From the side of the stage, Kermit reacts and as cola continues to burst out we
Week 12 Guys I Hate
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Just 250 yards the last time he faced Denver, I've already mentioned the 21 turnovers, no Marcus McNeill has really hurt the offensive line (only eight teams have allowed more sacks than San Diego) and Von Miller is playing out of his mind. Bailey is now healthy, the Broncos' defense is playing well (since the bye, QBs are averaging just 13 points a game against them). I think Rivers will be all right, but with so many other quality QBs available, I have him outside my top 10.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: So I've just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out if there was a Wacko for Flacco/Fozzie Bear/Wocka Wocka joke to be made. Came up empty. Just like I think Flacco owners will. Averaging just 12 fantasy points a game at home this year, there's not a ton of upside, and against the 49ers, there's definitely some downside. Have him outside my top 15.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Single digits in the past four games he's played, and Denver has allowed only one rushing touchdown to an opposing running back all year. Tolbert steals some passing down work and then, of course, Norv. Norv! NOOOOOOORV! When you've been in our group for six months, you get a free T-shirt that reads: "Can't spell Norv without a No!"
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots: Law Firm could be OK as a flex this week, but I have him outside my top 20 and here's why: The Eagles are actually playing (gasp) good run defense. The past two games, they gave up just 2.5 yards per carry to the Giants and Cardinals. Green-Ellis hasn't had a 100-yard game or scored since Week 5. With Danny Woodhead (and Shane Vereen!) getting work, Law Firm is a flex play at best this week.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: I'm not expecting Adrian Peterson to play in this game, but even still, I don't love Gerhart even as anything other than a low-end flex fill-in. The Falcons have the second-best run defense in the NFL and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this year, and Gerhart just seems like "a guy" to me, you know? Nothing really special as an NFL runner.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: At home this season, the Saints have allowed just one touchdown to an opposing running back. Jacobs looked terrible last week, and New Orleans has had two weeks to prep for this game. I don't think Bradshaw plays in this game, but I don't care.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs: The Miss Piggy of fantasy running backs.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: You sensing a theme yet? Just three for 34 the last time he faced Denver, I have him outside my top 10 this week.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: My podcast co-host Nate Ravitz described Tyler Palko throwing as what it looks like when a right-handed person tries to throw lefty. Thought that was a perfect description. And if somehow Kyle Orton starts, he's been there three days. Three. Against Ike Taylor and with a hot mess at QB, I want no part of Bowe if I can help it.
Stevie Johnson, WR, Bills: Why so serious, Stevie? Because we drafted you high, that's why.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Simply put, Vernon needs to score to be effective for fantasy. He's not a huge part of the offense these days, which runs through Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree. There's been six games this year in which Davis hasn't scored a touchdown. In those games, he's averaging just 42 yards and barely more than three fantasy points a game. The Ravens haven't allowed an opposing tight end to score a touchdown all year and Ray Lewis should be back for this game. It all boils down to whether you think Davis scores. I don't.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: As much as I like Cam in this game, Olsen has just four total fantasy points in his past two games. The Colts don't do a lot of things well this year, but they do defend the tight end well, allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Chargers D/ST: If Norv were a Muppet, he'd be Dr. Honeydew. His teams are Beaker.
Green Bay Packers D/ST: Green Bay does get a lot of interceptions and Stafford's been known to throw them, so I could see some positive things here. But I also expect this game to be a shootout, and since you can get negative points in standard ESPN scoring, I have the Pack outside my top 10 this week.
That's all I have this week. Happy Thanksgiving to you. I'm thankful for many things, including an audience that indulges me in such things as printing a 9-year-old Muppets sketch. Here's one more, the end of the Kermit/Lear trilogy. Good luck in Week 12!
INT. BACKSTAGE WINGS -- DAY
KERMIT is wearing his ROYAL ROBE and CROWN and pacing. SCOOTER approaches.
SCOOTER: OK, Kermit, this time I've ironed out all the wrinkles.
KERMIT: There's no hand? No cola can? We have someone legitimate to play "The Gentleman"?
ANGLE ON: SAM THE EAGLE, who's off to the side also dressed in Shakespearean garb. He bows to Kermit.
KERMIT (continuing): Thank you, Scooter. You know how much Shakespeare means to me
SCOOTER: Say no more, boss. You just want to see it done right.
MATTHEW PERRY enters DRESSED EXACTLY like Kermit as KING LEAR
MATTHEW PERRY: Hi, Kermit. (Extending hand) I'm Matthew Perry.
KERMIT: I know who you are! What are you doing here?
MATTHEW PERRY: You know, just doing a little "King Lear."
KERMIT: Why do you want to do Shakespeare?
SCOOTER: Allow me. Matthew's been on on "Friends" for nine years. He's one of the most popular actors on the most popular show in the country, and yet, has he ever won an Emmy?
MATTHEW PERRY: No.
SCOOTER: It just makes me so mad.
MATTHEW PERRY: So when Scooter called and asked, I jumped at it. I figure if I do some Shakespeare, I'll show everyone my range.
KERMIT: But I want to show everyone my range.
MATTHEW PERRY: You're a frog that can walk and talk. After that, aren't you just showing off?
Sam walks over.
SAM THE EAGLE: Mr. Perry, I'm Sam the Eagle. I rather enjoyed "The Whole Nine Yards." (Beat.) Amanda Peet. I'm not made of wood, people!
Kermit looks at Sam. Sam quickly exits.
MATTHEW PERRY: Hey, listen, if this is a problem, Kermit, I'll back off.
KERMIT: Wow, I really apprec-
SCOOTER (interrupting): Actually, Kermit, the only way the network would approve the budget is if a big star like Matthew is in it. But maybe Matthew can get you a guest spot on "Friends."
Behind Kermit, Matthew is waving his hands as if to say, "No way."
SCOOTER (continuing; sotto): I'm sorry, I just figured you had Jean-Claude Van Damme on, so
MATTHEW PERRY: Yeah, he won a raffle.
SCOOTER: Oh. (Beat.) You know, I think I have a way for you both to play King Lear.
FLIP TO: INT STAGE -- LATER
Matthew Perry is mid-scene.
MATTHEW PERRY (as "Lear"): 'Tis strange that they should so depart from home and not send back my messenger.
In the left-hand corner, Kermit appears in a circle DOING KING LEAR IN SIGN LANGUAGE. After a beat the HAND from earlier crowds the circle, signing along with Kermit. Kermit pushes it away and continues performing King Lear.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks the Matthew Perry reference is the biggest clue that the script is dated. If we were doing it today, it'd probably feature Ashton Kutcher. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend
Fantasy Football Week 12
Jordy Nelson has surpassed Greg Jennings as the highest-scoring Packers wide receiver.
Fantasy Football Tools• Backfield Chart | Week 12 Projections
Week 12 Rankings
• Harris: The Hard Count
• Berry: Love/Hate for Week 12
• IDP Rankings for Week 12
• Daube: Cruz a top-five WR
• Carpenter: Gridiron Challenge preview
• Cockcroft: Consistency ratings
• Harris: Top Week 12 free agents
• Harris: Instant Impressions from Week 11
Bell Injury Blog
• Week 12 sneaky pickups
• Fred Jackson injury reaction
• Football Outsiders: Top matchups
• Top 100 flex (RB/WR/TE) rankings
• 2011 ranks update: Riding the hot hand
• Pass Plays: Alex Smith, Carson Palmer
• Four Downs: Kevin Smith returns
Fantasy Focus Video
Fantasy Focus Podcast
• Monday 11 a.m. ET: AJ Mass
• Tuesday 3 p.m. ET: Stephania Bell
• Wed. 11 a.m. ET: Tristan H. Cockcroft
• Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET: Eric Karabell
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no chats scheduled for Thursday or Friday.