Thursday, February 16, 2006

Entertainment Odds and Ends for February

Not surprisingly, the #1 show ratings-wise for the first week of February was the Super Bowl. This annual advertising cash cow was on ABC and was watched by a whopping 90.7 million viewers! This was the highest rating in 10 years. The postgame coverage was #2 for the week garnering 59.8 million viewers. Following the postgame, the ratings dropped to 37.9 million viewers for the 3rd rated show for the week, ABC's Grey's Anatomy. Inexplicably, the alphabet network's Dancing with the Stars has been a big hit, finishing in 10th and 12th place. Fox's American Idol continues to be a rating juggernaut, attracting 30 million viewers on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. CBS's dramas continue to do well, including CSI, CSI:Miami, CSI:NY, Without a Trace, Numbers, Close to Home and Criminal Minds. The new Jenna Elfman comedy, Courting Alex has done well, finishing in 17th place. Successful sitcoms seem to be so rare these days.

CBS must be desperate for programming. On Valentine's Day they aired The Price is Right in primetime followed by a Dr. Phil special that was basically a one hour infomercial for his new book. How does someone like him have time to be so prolific with his books? One has to wonder if he has a ghost writer to help him out.

Perhaps due to the advent of Tivo, and people skipping over commercials, there seems to be more product placement these days. The worst offender I have seen has to be Yes Dear, Wednesday nights on CBS. During a recent episode, I tallied five verbal and/or visual incidents of brand name mentions. It's like the story is written around the products, and the show has gone downhill quickly. I prefer the show which is on before it, Still Standing, which stars Jamie Gertz. When I see her, I still think of her role in the great 1980s film Less Than Zero, which was based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel. It also starred Robert Downey Jr. as a spoiled kid who gets caught up in the world of drug addiction. Talk about life imitating art! Ellis also did American Psycho, which was made into a brilliant but disturbing movie with Christian Bale. Maybe Yes Dear will get cancelled to make room for a new sitcom being promoted on CBS. It's called The New Adventures of Old Christine. It starts in March and it stars Julia Louis Dreyfuss, an SNL alum best known for playing Elaine on Seinfeld. Since Seinfeld, she tried a sitcom on NBC called Watching Ellie, which was a disappointment. She has appeared a few times on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the HBO comedy created by and starring Seifeld creator Larry David. Some say there is a Seinfeld curse since the characters from that show have not been able to duplicate their sitcom success. Michael Richards (Kramer), tried a sitcom which was ultimately cancelled. Jason Alexander (George) had tried shows on ABC (Bob Patterson) and CBS (Listen Up) that were taken off the air. Jerry Seinfeld has returned to his roots of stand up comedy since leaving television. He documented his return to stand up in the movie Comedian. I'm sure that none of the Seinfeld alumni are hurting for money, due to residuals from reruns, but nevertheless, I'm sure they would like to have hit shows once again.

Many celebrities write autobiographies, especially in their later years, and some can be quite lucrative. Jerry Lewis put out a book called "Dean and Me, a Love Story" which I reviewed in an earlier blog entry. That tome has sold 90,000 copies. Another one I enjoyed was "Between You and Me", by 60 Minutes icon Mike Wallace. That book has sold 64,000 copies. Alan Alda has written a book called "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" which has sold 116,000 copies. Even more successful has been "700 Sundays", written by Billy Crystal. This has sold 174,000 copies, and the story about Billy and his father has been made into a Broadway show starring the comedian and perennial Oscar host.

*Source information for some material:Entertainment Weekly magazine

Friday, February 10, 2006

Musical Timekeeper for a Generation

If you're a fan of great drumming and/or big band-style jazz, check out the "Buddy Rich Collector's Edition" DVD. It's a 2 DVD set that includes two programs recorded in April of 1985 on King Street in San Francisco. The first is called the "Channel 1 Suite" and the second is "The Lost West Side Story Tapes." Taped 2 years before the drumming icon's death, they were his last recorded performances. Buddy was 67 at the time, and had undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery two years previous. His doctors told him not to perform anymore, but he ignored their pleas. In 1990, a fire swept through the studio where the programs were recorded and it was thought that the master video tapes were destroyed. Ten years later the tapes were discovered and were able to be restored. The latest video and audio technology of the day was incorporated into the high quality project. The lighting director won an Emmy award and the set design had an art deco look that resembled a classy jazz club. Four channel surround sound was recorded by a 12 foot by 4 foot array of microphones attached to a 200 pound plexiglass field. Two half circle domes made of plexiglass were placed above Buddy's drum kit. Each contained a pressure zone microphone (pzm). The director was a musician himself and the music was marked to correspond with the camera shots. There was a camera mounted below Buddy's snare drum looking up to show a unique perspective of the percussion virtuoso at work. It was a first class production with Buddy involved in all aspects.

The discs contain vignettes with interviews with the producer, audio engineer, and Buddy's daughter and wife. Audio commentaries are by drummers Steve Smith and Dave Weckl. One segment reveals that Buddy's grandson Nick is a drummer in a rock band. An interesting profile is included that features Joey DeNoia, Buddy's longtime assistant which shows the softer side of Buddy. Tracks on the DVD include Machine, Best Coast, One O' Clock Jump, Norwegian Wood, and others. There is lots of behind-the-scenes footage and a booklet with photos of Buddy.

Buddy Rich and Johnny Carson were good friends and they each admired one another. Buddy gave Johnny a drum set that was a replica of his own. Rich would appear on the Tonight Show four times per year and the DVD set includes a visit from 1976. Buddy was on the show that night with Don Rickles and Buddy's daughter Cathy, who is a singer, made an appearance too. In 1973 Buddy had spinal surgery and Johnny and Ed McMahon paid him a visit in the hospital. The pair performed an X-rated Carnac bit that left Buddy in stitches. Buddy also was friends with Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. Buddy and Jerry appeared together in the film "Visit to a Small Planet" where Jerry portrayed an alien. Ironically, Buddy was a UFO buff and took his belief in extra terrestrials seriously.

Buddy lived from 1917 to 1987 and amazingly he never read music. He could listen to a piece once and play along with it flawlessly the second time hearing it. He was a musical pioneer and this DVD set is a must have for people who love great music. Fans of Rich should check out the CD entitled "Burning for Buddy." It has today's greatest drummers performing in a tribute to the man known as "Mr. Drums." It was produced by Neil Peart, the great drummer for the Canadian power rock trio Rush.