By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Greetings from Hollywood, where we're just nine days away from the launch of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," the fledgling ABC late night show that has taken over my life.

Man Show
Jimmy isn't dumb! You think he would do this without Carolla?

I'm not even sure where to begin. We have three test shows under our belt. I finished my first "shoot" and wrapped my first "piece." I met the cute Mom from "The Gilmore Girls," as well as Ben Stein, Kathy Griffin and the Armenian Comedian. I spent an inordinate amount of time brainstorming with Adam Carolla, who's some sort of comedy savant -- just when your brain's getting fried, he's still throwing fastballs and saying things like, "And another thing about cults ... have you ever noticed that they're an elaborate ruse for guys to get women?" And I've ingested so much caffeine, my prostate just filed a lawsuit against me.

Why the late hours? As you know, if this show tanks, Jimmy will be relegated to "Celebrity Mole 2," and I'll be applying for an intern job on the "George Lopez Show." Things actually look OK so far, except for that one nagging problem where, um, we can't get any guests. Apparently, we need some of those.

On the bright side, we finished those test shows, the talk show equivalent of NFL exhibition games. The first one was utterly forgettable, as Jimmy was battling a chest cold and had to be talked out of hanging himself in his dressing room after the show. The second one was thoroughly entertaining; the ABC exec on hand was positively giddy afterward, although the ecstacy we slipped in her drink probably helped. And the third one was even better.

Believe me, I would love to get into a more frequent column schedule for Page 2; once the show starts, I should be able to settle into a routine and finally shed the Chad Pennington "Wait a second, I'm supposed to be the Next Joe Montana, why can't I stop throwing these passes 20 feet over people's heads?" Face. Things reached a low point last week at 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, when I came home from work, tried to take my contact lens out after I had already taken them out, then spent the next 10 seconds clawing at my eyeballs like Oedipus. Not good times.

Fortunately, I had some time to string together random thoughts from the past week, although I still haven't had time to write a coherent column with a beginning and an ending (of course, some would claim I never had that ability). Just bear with me through these next few weeks, at least until I develop a healthy coke problem and get back on my feet.

Without further ado ...

The Moochie Norris Celebriduck must protect the 'fro when it hits the water.

  • Right now I'm sitting at my desk, staring at a Moochie Norris Celebriduck that the Rockets sent me. Have you seen this things? The whole bobblehead phenomenon was at least somewhat understandable ... a little annoying, a little overboard, but understandable. I even own three bobbleheads of Moochie, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, proudly displayed on my desk at home, even if the Paul Pierce doll makes him look a little like Crackhead Bob. They're fun, I guess. But whose idea was it to stick a duck beak on an athlete's head, then give them a duck's body? The Celebriduck inventor had to be stoned, right?

    (And seeing Moochie Norris' head and hair with a duck beak ... you just can't prepare emotionally for something like that. The whole thing just feels contrived, even more contrived then sticking seven washed-up celebrities in a camera-filled house and hoping they don't get along. Then again, if someone sent me a Corey Feldman Celebriduck, it would be the highlight of my week. I'm really confused.)

  • As if I don't already have enough to worry about, there's new Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who's like that buddy in your group who spends three hours talking to girls and never seals the deal. You know that guy, right? One of my college roommates went through this funk once -- when he would bring a girl back to his room, we'd walk by two hours later and the door would be open, he would still be flipping through his high school yearbook with her, and she would be sitting there with a "Can you just make a move on me? Could you do that?" look on her face. Finally we'd see her in the hallway, dousing herself with gasoline and looking for matches. We ended up chipping in and buying him Rick Aguilera for Christmas that year, just so he could finally close the deal with someone.

    Back to young Theo ... he made some nice B-level moves this winter (Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Jeremy Giambi), but lost out on every big target: Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeff Kent, Jose Contreras and now Bartolo Colon. Now spring training is less than a month away, and unless they somehow land Javier Vazquez, we're looking at someone like Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers as Boston's new No. 3 starter. I think I just threw up in my mouth. Meanwhile, Theo's boss (Larry Lucchino) started a ludicrous feud with George Steinbrenner, which was so dumb and shortsighted that I can't even believe it's happening.

    (Great guy to make mad -- Steinbrenner, someone with endless reservoirs of cash and no conscience whatsoever. Certainly someone you want to make into an enemy. For Lucchino's next brainstorm, he should wear all blue and walking through Compton with a "I HATE SUGE KNIGHT" cap on.)

  • During a quick scroll through my e-mails last weekend, I noticed that readers kept sending me variations of the same question: "Is Joel Hodgson really one of the writers on Jimmy's show? The man is a genius!"

    Joel Hodgson
    If you don't think Joel is funny, then you're probably dead.

    Yep, it's true. Joel is aboard. To be honest, he might have been funny on TV, but he's a total jerk in real life. It's a real shame. And yes, I'm kidding. Right now, Joel is the odds-on-favorite to replace my Dad for this year's running NBA Draft Diary. ... I mean, if I have to replace someone like my Dad, it might as well be with the guy who created "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Seems like a fair trade. Although I can't imagine Joel ever coming up with a line like, "That suit has no buttons."

    Actually, Joel doesn't even have the most impressive résumé on the staff -- our head writer (Steve O'Donnell) was Letterman's head writer through the '80s and early-'90s. We made him tell so many stories about the Letterman show, he doesn't even say "When I worked on Letterman ..." anymore, he just says "Orange," and we know what he means. The rest of the 11-person writing staff is headlined by the infamous Rick Rosner, who's currently suing ABC over a botched "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" appearance (maybe my favorite co-worker of all time). We even have a female writer, Maureen Driscoll, who's dealt with so much flatuence and raunchy humor over the past two months, the Lifetime Channel is working on a TV-movie about her called "Laughing On The Outside, Recoiling On the Inside." And then there's me, who has no résumé whatsoever. It's quite a crew.

  • One other e-mail topic needs to be addressed: I screwed up in the two-part "Swingers" column -- Trent and Sue were playing "NHL '93," not the far inferior and much more disappointing "NHL '95." I got my years screwed up. Hey, it happens. As an added wrinkle, the Hall of Fame Video Game I described was "NHL '94," which was shown at the end of the scene for the closeup of Wayne Gretzky's head bleeding.

  • Speaking of fighting, here's my favorite 2003 incident so far: Nolan Richardson III resigning after threatening an assistant with a gun. The best part was his rationale -- he claimed that the assistant first hit him with a bag holding a chain, so "I went (back to my car) to get my crowbar, but I saw my gun and grabbed it instead." That has to be the quote of the year. He must have left his machete and his stun gun in his office. Should the Trail Blazers hire him right away, or should they wait a few weeks?

  • Two Internet recommendations for you, both courtesy of readers:

    A. The Drobber (Sonics forward Peja Drobjnak) finally has his own web page on Words can't do this justice; I won't even try. Just trust me.

    B. A Missouri writer named Greg Hall compiled the funniest 2002 quotes from former NFL star Neil Smith, who did postgame analysis for Chiefs games and apparently broke just about every UCR record imaginable. If you click on this page and scroll down to the 1/6/03 entry, you'll get all the Neil quotes. I can't recommend this highly enough. Couldn't they release these clips on DVD or something?

    L.A. rain
    "I don't think the heavy stuff is going to come down for a while."

  • My favorite thing about L.A.: Every time it rains, it's the lead local news story. I'm not kidding. You know when there's a blizzard or a hurricane on the East Coast, and they send a reporter out to interview people about the storm? That's what happens here when it rains. You'll see some intrepid reporter standing on a sidewalk, wearing one of those dopey raincoats, looking like he's filming "Twister 2," and he's asking people questions like "What do you think about the rain?" It's unbelievable.

    One other note about the news here: Back in Boston, you would watch stories like "Man shot in Roxbury" or "Truck turns over on I-95, delaying traffic for four hours." Here in L.A., the lead stories are things like "Dismembered woman found in highway ditch." I'm telling you, the Los Angeles area should be made into its own country -- they should just spin it off from America entirely. It should be like Mexico. They could even use different currency and everything.

  • One more L.A. observation: They have a franchise called Johnny Rocket's out here, these throwback diners to the '50s, where calories don't matter and you can order a bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and a large vanilla shake without the waitress looking cross-eyed at you. But here's the weird thing -- the waiters and waitresses are freakishly friendly, like they've been brainwashed or something. They're the nicest people on the planet. I'm not kidding. You really have to see them in action; it's like you entered Pleasantville. It's like the anti-Friendly's. Anyway, something's fishy about the whole thing. Nobody could be that friendly, you know? I think the CIA should start monitoring all the Johnny Rocket franchises, just in case.

  • I realized this week that we're nearly halfway though the NBA season and I haven't even written an NBA column yet. Totally inexcusable. Amare Stoudamire demands two columns by himself. Can you ever remember two more unique rookies than Stoudamire and Yao Ming playing in the same season? Two once-a-generation players -- the Next Bill Walton and the Next Moses Malone -- and they came out of the same draft? Good God Almighty! What about Denver passing up Stoudamire not once but twice, both times for teenage forward projects? I could write 10,000 words about this. Two more weeks and we'll delve into this stuff in detail, I promise.

    Tony Danza
    Tony Danza as Italian Ice at the People's Choice Awards ... there are no words to describe this.

  • I've been enjoying Week 2 of January's Reality TV Extravaganza, most specifically: A) Emmanuel Lewis' incessant cackling on "The Surreal Life" (he's clearly insane); B) Joe Millionaire admitting he picked one of his five finalists simply because "She's hot"; C) Stephen Baldwin coming off like he was mentally challenged on "Celebrity Mole"; D) the pregnant contestant crying because they wouldn't let her hang upside down on "Road Rules/Real World Battle of the Sexes" (good times); E) the wildly stiff host of "Joe Millionaire," Alex McLeod, who makes the Fembots seem personable; and F) every scene with Corey Feldman.

    With all of that said, Ahmad Rashad's involvement in "Celebrity Mole" takes the cake, maybe the biggest mistep by a broadcaster since Michaels and Costas agreed to appear in "BASEketball." Right around the first 10 minutes of Episode 2, as Kathy Griffin was swearing at Stephen Baldwin, Ahmad gave birth to a new face: The Ahmad Rashad "As soon as we find out who the mole is, I'm firing my agent" Face. Watching Ahmad go down in flames is like seeing Tony Danza rapping as Italian Ice at the People's Choice Awards, a once-in-a-lifetime event and something which, frankly, I'm still not ready to discuss.

  • One other theory on these reality-TV shows, something I was mulling over this week: Back in the late-'70s and early-'80s, Hollywood created shows like "The Love Boat," "Battle of the Network Stars" and "Fantasy Island," just so C-list celebs like Florence Henderson, Scott Baio and Vic Tayback had a place to pick up a few extra paychecks. Now we have shows like "The Surreal Life" and "Celebrity Mole" filling that void. When you think about it, if you put Kathy Griffin in a time machine and sent her back to 1979, she's probably putting moves on Gopher. And if you yanked Robert Conrad out of 1979 and brought him here, he's definitely trying to outwit Michael Boatman on "Celebrity Mole" within a matter of weeks. it's an interesting phenomenon: The evolution of the C-list celebrity.

  • I'm letting Adam Carolla write this paragraph, since he's in the office right now: "All right, here's my sports beef ... I don't like the hockey goalies who keep these water bottles on top of the net. Takes away from the game. First off, this doesn't exist in any other sport, where you get to hit the field with a beverage. People argue that you could become dehydrated, but when's the last time you became dehydrated standing motionless on a block of ice? It also opens the door to guys bringing snacks out there, that's next. They'll be bringing Chex Mix out there, or trail mix ... you could open a Pandora's Box. And does anyone ever test that water for steroids or amphetimines?"

    (Imagine these tangents for six consecutive hours a day ... that's what it's like when Adam's shows up in the office. Nobody gets anything done. The man is a comedy menace.)

    Surreal Life
    In the late 1970s, Emmanuel Lewis, Corey Feldman and M.C. Hammer would have been on "The Love Boat." Today, it's reality TV.

  • Strangest subplot of 2003: Jim Nantz getting credited for spearheading this whole "NFL might change its overtime rules" thing. Are you kidding me? Everyone hates the current overtime system. The logical move would be for both teams to get one possession, no matter what, and there really isn't another solution that could work. Now media people are suddenly calling this Jim Nantz's idea? The team that wins the coin toss has a huge advantage, so we might need to rectify this. Oh, you think so, doctor? Is anyone else outraged by this?

    Hey, I have an idea ... the White Stripes could probably use a bass player. When they finally get one -- and for God's sake, please, let it happen at some point -- does this make me a visionary under the Nantz Corollary? Or was I lucky enough to have this forum so I could state something painfully obvious and pretend I was reinventing the wheel? Hmmmmm.

    On to my NFL playoff picks

    That brings us to this week's games. You remember last week's putrid performance -- a gnarly 1-3 record, along with my Super Bowl pick (the Jets) going down in flames. Searching through the bandwagon wreckage this week, I realized that the Jets weren't the only team fitting my "Hot team down the stretch" formula; I should have pulled my head out of my own rear end long enough to realize that the Raiders (7-1) and Titans (7-1) were right there as well. Anyway, I need to run the table (both championship games, plus the Super Bowl) in order to avoid my first losing playoff record in this column's history (six years and counting). A daunting task.

    Rich Gannon
    Better make your vacation plans Tennessee.

    Shouldn't the Raiders (7-point favorites) handle the Titans? Tennessee can't seem to play well for more than spurts at a time; I didn't like how they kept letting Pittsburgh into that game last week (good teams don't let that happen). And the Raiders keep chugging along, even if Pennington's collapse probably earned him "MVP of the Game" honors last Sunday. I've been resisting the Raiders all season, but they won me over in that second half against the Jets, just a veteran team taking care of business, aided by an opposing young QB who was mysteriously inhabited by the ghost of Heath Shuler. With all of that said, I think the Raiders win, but Tennessee covers, marking the fourth time that happened this month. This game just looks too easy on paper.

    My prediction: Oakland 30, Tennessee 27.

    As for the NFC game, I like the Bucs to somehow cover against the Eagles ... for about five minutes. Are you kidding me? A rabid, semi-insane Philly crowd. Freezing cold. The inevitable Brad Johnson injury, coupled with the inevitable Mike Alstott backbreaking fumble. Keyshawn getting the yips. And if that isn't enough, I can't think of a worse come-from-behind team than the Bucs. If they don't jump out early, thet're D-U-N done. My prediction: Philly 20, Tampa 10.

    That's right, add me to the list of people picking a Raiders-Eagles Super Bowl. They can't possibly station enough policemen in San Diego for Super Bowl Week. It's almost enough to make me feel glad that I'm not going. Almost.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live, premiering Super Bowl Sunday on ABC.


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