After more than a decade of torturing readers with depressing news and turgid prose, today I'm begging you to torture yourselves — for the children's sake.
Please, do it for the kindergartners, who've been packed into a classroom with harried teachers barely able to remember their names. And for middle-schoolers, who'll be sent home because their teachers can't be paid for a full year. And especially for budding musicians faced with the prospect that their band teachers will be thrown out on the streets to seek another job.
To save these children, I beg that you encourage CBS to air a new sitcom pilot. It stars a Hollywood veteran who specializes in portraying capering imbeciles. Watching it will hurt. But if the show doesn't air and succeed — deserving schoolchildren might be shortchanged.
Let me explain.
During the past decade, comedian Rob Schneider has given around $2 million to music programs in Pacifica, where he grew up. A recent career slump has made the actor a little more tight-fisted, and the small coastal town near San Francisco is feeling the effects.
“The last couple of years have been very difficult in Hollywood in getting movies made, and in getting good-paying positions for Rob,” says John Bentley, a consultant for the Rob Schneider Music Foundation, which since the late 1990s has provided the main source of funding for Pacifica School District's band programs. Last year Schneider wrote to the foundation saying “he could not be responsible for the programs any longer,” Bentley told me.
To keep music programs going, Pacifica School District Superintendent Wendy Tukloff pulled federal stimulus money that had been intended for use reducing kindergartners' class size and eliminating furlough days for teachers. The stimulus cash will make up for the loss this coming year. But after that, there will be no funding to draw from.
There's hope for Schneider's career, however: if people who care about children shower CBS with Schneider-adoring mail. The TV network, eager to make up for lost Two and a Half Men audiences, has ordered a sitcom pilot executive-produced by Erik and Kim Tannenbaum, the geniuses behind the recently canceled Charlie Sheen vehicle. It's to be co-produced, co-written by, and starring Rob Schneider, with production credits also going to his brother, John, who serves as Rob's manager.
A CBS spokesman said the comedy is patterned after the home life of Schneider, who has Mexican-American in-laws. If the history of this sort of thing is any guide, discomfiting, ethnic-themed family turmoil and pratfalls will ensue. It might be tortuous. But I beg you to beg for it, then watch the show, whether you like it or not. For the children's sake.
Growing up in the 1970s, Schneider played trombone in the school band. Bentley, now retired, was his band instructor. Bentley recalls Schneider as a cutup. So the teachers assigned a jazz arrangement by Spike Jones, the satirical 1950s bandleader. Schneider's role: goofy sound effects for Jones' madcap version of “Cocktails for Two.”
“He was a student who had his growing pains getting into adulthood,” Bentley says. “And now his comedy involves covering up some of those growing pains.”
In the late 1980s, budget cuts led the school district to cancel the band. A parents' group, which included Schneider's own mom and dad, was established to try to revive it. Bentley says that when Schneider became a successful comedian and movie star, his father suggested he fund their group.
So a dozen years ago Schneider began donating around $160,000 annually, enough to pay the salaries of two band teachers. The school paid about 10 percent of the band's expenses, with Schneider kicking in the remaining money, creating “probably the best program Pacifica ever had,” Bentley says.
The idea was for the band to eventually find money from other sources. But that never happened. Fortunately for young saxophonists and trumpeters, the band program's early period coincided with the success of Schneider vehicles such as Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and The Hot Chick.
For parents, this created an ironic situation in which their children's cultural elevation was dependent on no-brow films. “They're terrible, terrible movies,” said the father of a star horn player in an off-the-record conversation. “But we all really appreciate what he's done for students.”
Schneider's most recent solo starring movie role was in 2007's Big Stan, which reportedly lost money.
I'd be the last to blame him for breaking the bad news last fall to the foundation, saying he could no longer afford to foot the sizable bill. In spite of his career troubles, Schneider is still contributing what he can. He emceed a charity auction for the music program last fall, raising more than $50,000. And he recently arranged for the donation of a new Nissan Cube, which the foundation is raffling off to help pay this year's bills.
Last Thursday, John Schneider was scheduled to meet with foundation supporters. Bentley said they'd discuss creating a new nonprofit funded from sources other than just Rob Schneider. Bentley relayed a message to the Schneiders requesting an interview; I hadn't heard back by press time.
But if enough SF Weekly readers write to CBS at 51 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019-6188, begging the network to include the yet-to-be-filmed pilot for its spring schedule to be announced May 18; and then, if enough people watch the show despite the pain it will surely cause, perhaps Schneider will find himself flush again. Maybe with enough extra money to resume sponsoring his alma mater's band program.
Message to CBS: What about the children? Won't somebody please think of the children?