Friday, December 19, 2014

Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy

I recently finished the book by Steve Martin called "Born Standing Up". He is an excellent writer and a deep thinker.

Early in his career he honed his performing skills at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. He has never been a traditional stand up comic. He mixes absurd humor with magic, juggling, making balloon animals and playing the banjo when he performs. In the 1960s and 1970s he made appearances on daytime talk shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore and more. He became a writer on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show. A fellow writer on that groundbreaking show was Rob Reiner. Later Steve would work with Rob's father, Carl Reiner, who directed The Jerk. Steve enjoyed being a comedy writer but had a desire to be a performer. He moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico at age 28 and he wanted to escape the crazy environment of Los Angeles. He began to tour the nation extensively and he battled loneliness and dealt with panic attacks. By the mid 1970s he had appeared on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show many times but was still not satisfied with his career.

In 1976 his big break came when Lorne Michaels asked him to host Saturday Night Live. Steve jumped at the chance since he saw the show as being on the cutting edge of comedy, just like his material. He enjoyed working with the cast, including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray and more. He released 2 albums and both were enormous hits, the first selling over 1 million copies, and the second one sold more than 2 million. From 1979-1981 he was booked solid to perform in the biggest venues in America. He was at the peak of his career, but was unhappy since he was isolated and alone. The success he had desired had a negative side effect, the loss of privacy. Like most people, Martin craved the approval of his parents. His mother was very proud of his accomplishments. His dad, on the other hand, had one comment after seeing his film The Jerk. He said "He's no Charlie Chaplin". By the early 1980s he was done with standup. He transitioned into films since he grew tired of the traveling.

The book ended too abruptly but it is a good summary of Steve's early career. Maybe he will do a sequel, covering his film career.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Today in Television History, November 6

1965 - The Rolling Stones appeared on "Shindig!" This was a TV show that featured popular music and young people dancing. Other similar shows over the years included "Hullaballoo", "American Bandstand" with Dick Clark and "Soul Train" with Don Cornelius. This type of show was the subject of the John Waters film "Hairspray".

1967 - Phil Donahue began a TV talk show in Dayton, OH. The show, "Donahue," was on the air for 29 years. Many feel that Donahue's show was an important precursor to Oprah Winfrey's long running show. Phil Donahue is married to actress Marlo Thomas, whose father, Danny Thomas, founded the St. Jude's Children's Cancer Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

2001 - The FOX TV show "24" aired for the first time, starring Keifer Sutherland.

2004 - The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh re-opened. One of the main attractions was the expanded 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.' The iconic children's show was taped at WQED-TV in Pittsburgh. Actor Michael Keaton was once a stagehand on the show. Mr. Rogers was earned degrees in music and theology. In an interview with CNN in his later years, Rogers stated, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."

*Information from:

Monday, September 08, 2014

Family Affair: Triumph and Tragedy

Family Affair was a hit sitcom that aired on CBS from 1966-1971. It starred Brian Keith as Bill Davis, a wealthy man living in Manhattan. Sebastian Cabot played his distinguished English butler. Bill's brother and sister-in-law were killed in a car accident so he raised his 2 nieces and nephew. The kids moved in with him into his New York high rise apartment. The kids were the 6-year-old twins Buffy and Jody, played by Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker respectively. The 15-year-old niece was Cissy, played by Kathy Garver. The show lasted for 138 episodes. It was created by Don Fedderson, known for being the man behind My Three Sons. Family Affair was nominated for many Emmy awards, but never won. Many stars guested on the show such as Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), Vic Tayback (Alice), Jamie Farr (MASH), Leif Garrett and more.

Anissa Jones, who played the little girl, Buffy, was known for always having her doll with her. The doll was named Mrs. Beasley and the toy company Mattel turned it into a best selling product. Anissa had trouble overcoming her role as the twin girl with the doll. She auditioned for the role of Iris in the film Taxi Driver. This part eventually went to Jodie Foster. She tried out for the role of Reagan in The Exorcist, which went to Linda Blair. Jones' parents went through a tough divorce in 1965 and there was a custody battle over the kids. As a teen, she got into drugs and shoplifting. On her 18th birthday she got control of $180,000 from a trust fund that was her money from her acting career. Sadly, in 1976 at age 18, Anissa Jones died of a drug overdose. The medical examiner found cocaine, PCP, Quaaludes and Seconal in her system. Her brother died of a drug overdose in 1984 at age 24.

Tragedy once again struck the cast of Family Affair in 1997 when Brian Keith died of a self inflicted gunshot wound.

* Some information from and

Friday, September 05, 2014

CBS Sunday Morning: TV the Way it Should Be

There is a lot of trash on TV these days. But there are still a few gems. On the air since 1979, CBS Sunday Morning has survived for 35 years while other shows have fallen by the wayside. It's truly a magazine show, with a mix of news, human interest stories and plenty of entertainment. This show recognizes the importance of the arts and how they enrich our lives. Many of the stories look at actors, musicians, painters, dancers, writers and the like. Their collection of correspondents is impressive and they include Mo Rocca, Steve Hartman, Bill Geist, Tracy Smith, Serena Altschul, David Edelstein (film), and commentary by Ben Stein, Nancy Giles and Faith Salie. The distinctive trumpet theme which opens the show was a version by Doc Severinsen for many years. Now it is a recording by Wynton Marsalis. The show is 90 minutes in length so they can delve into subjects in detail, unlike most network shows. From 1979 to 1994, the show was hosted by Charles Kuralt. For the past 20 years the host has been Charles Osgood. Every week the show ends with a nature scene which has no music, no bells and whistles, just a restful segment with the natural sounds of the outdoors.

* Some information from

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Mike Douglas: Daytime Talk Titan

I recently bought a DVD looking back on the career of Mike Douglas called "Moments and Memories". From 1962-1982 his daytime talk show aired in syndication. In his 90 minute show he had 5,000 programs with 50,000 guests. Like Johnny Carson, he was someone who really listened to his guests and based his questions off the responses of the guests. Too many interviewers are glued to their notes rather than engaging in a conversation. He wanted his guests to shine even though the show bared his name. Stars on the retrospective mentioned how he did not have an ego that was out of control like many TV personalities.

A Navy man during the World War II era, Mike had a big break as a singer in 1945 on a radio show hosted by the singer/film actress Ginny Simms. She sang with Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald and also appeared in a film with Abbott and Costello. Mike joined the Kay Kyser Orchestra as a singer. In 1950, Douglas was the singing voice of Prince Charming in the film "Cinderella". In 1966 he had a top 10 hit with the song "The Man in My Little Girl's Life".

From 1961-1965, his daytime talk show was based out of Cleveland, Ohio. From 1965-1978, the show's home was Philadelphia. For the final 4 years of the show, 1978-1982, the show was based out of Los Angeles. In 1967 the show was syndicated to 171 TV markets and was watched by 6 million viewers. Musical icons such as The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Kiss, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and more appeared on the show. One unique aspect of the show was the fact that Douglas was joined by a celebrity co-host. Over the years they included stars such as John Lennon, Jackie Gleason, Brooke Shields, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Red Buttons, Billy Crystal and more. Bill Cosby stated that he was "discovered" by Mike Douglas.

Mike Douglas died at age 86 in 2006 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

* Some information from

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letterman Salutes His Old Friend Robin Williams

Last week Letterman was on vacation, airing reruns. Monday night, David Letterman had a nice tribute to his friend , the late Robin Williams. The two had known each other 38 years, since the 1970s when they were struggling comedians in Los Angeles. Dave recalled how he and other comedians were floored by Robin's talent, and it was evident back in the 1970s that he was a cut above the rest. At the legendary Comedy Store in those days, Letterman's contemporaries were comics like Jimmie Walker, Jay Leno, Tom Dreesen, Elaine Boosler and more. Letterman had a nice sequence of clips from Robin's many appearances on the show over the years. Watch a clip from last night's show here.

From working as a TV weatherman in his hometown of Indianapolis to his current CBS late night show, David Letterman has had a varied career, spanning almost 45 years. In the 1970s he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a stand up comic. He landed bit parts "The Gong Show", "Password", "Hollywood Squares", and a variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore. Dave also had a small part on Robin's show "Mork and Mindy". He acknowledged that he was not much of an actor and it he needed a job so Robin helped him out. The second photo above shows Dave on Robin's show (nice leisure suit and medallion)! He became a regular guest host for Johnny Carson starting in 1979. He moved to New York and had many years of success on NBC with his late night show (1982-1993) and his current CBS show which he has hosted since 1993. See 15 of his career highlights in this article from the Hollywood Reporter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Swing and a Miss for Mary

Mary Tyler Moore was incredibly successful with her roles on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She had an outstanding role in the film Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford. But, in 1978 she launched a variety show on CBS, called simply Mary, that only aired for 3 episodes. Variety shows were all the rage in the 1970s with the successes of programs like Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and The Carol Burnett Show. The crazy thing is that Mary's show had a cast that included Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and David Letterman. There is a You Tube clip of the cast singing and dancing. From the look on Letterman's face, it makes me think he was embarrassed to be involved in the show. Before having his own TV shows for NBC, (his morning show then his late night show), Dave worked in Los Angeles as a stand up comedian and actor. In 1979 he was in an episode of Mork and Mindy.

Watch the cringe-worthy clip of the variety show here.

* Some information from, and

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tears of a Clown: Rest in Peace Robin Williams

Robin Williams ended his own life yesterday. Many people have talked about how he was a caring, generous, giving person. He helped up-and-coming young comedians, performed overseas for the troops and raised millions through the Comic Relief concerts. We all know about his incredible talent to make people laugh, but his dramatic roles are just as impressive. He studied at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. He was classmates with Christopher Reeve. Most first saw him on Happy Days playing the alien Mork from Ork. Then he had his own sitcom, Mork and Mindy (1978-1982). He idolized Jonathan Winters, who appeared on Mork and Mindy many times. The two were cut from the same cloth, masters of the absurd improvisational humor.

The news reports have said that he battled mental illness for years and also struggled with substance abuse. Something like this event shows that people never know what others are battling in their brains. Depression is devastating and those who do not know about it have no way of understanding it. Here's a guy who seemingly had it all, from money, to fame from a successful career, to a wife and kids, but the depression makes it hard to see the good things in life. It is a merciless adversary.

Johnny Carson was known as a master when it came to judging comedic talent. He gave big breaks to Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, Drew Carey and many others. When Johnny stepped down in 1992 after 30 years as the king of late night, he could have anyone as his final guests. It would be a supreme honor for anyone in entertainment to be the last guests. Johnny chose Bette Midler and Robin Williams.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Like Father Like Son: The Reiners

Last night on PBS, Tavis Smiley's guests were Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner. Both of these men have been immensely successful in show business and it was nice to see their mutual admiration for one another. They pointed out how the Reiner family didn't even own a TV in the early days of Carl Reiner's groundbreaking program, "Your Show of Shows" (1950-1954). The show featured Sid Caesar and it had a star-studded lineup of writers including Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart ("MASH") and more. The show acted as the blueprint for all comedy TV shows that would follow.

Later, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks teamed up to do their comedy skit "The 2000 Year Old Man" and are close friends still to this day. Carl Reiner would eventually create the iconic show "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-1966). By the way, Johnny Carson was considered for the title role before it was given to Van Dyke. Carl also worked as a film director on such classics as "Oh God" with George Burns and several Steve Martin projects including "The Jerk", "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and "The Man with Two Brains".

Rob Reiner was destined to follow in his dad's footsteps and he had success as an actor and a director. He will always be known for his role as "Meathead" in the classic CBS sitcom "All in the Family" led by the legendary producer Norman Lear. Before that role he had appeared in TV shows such as "That Girl", "Gomer Pyle USMC" and "The Beverly Hillbillies". On the Tavis Smiley interview program, the elder Reiner spoke of his admiration for his son's work, from his TV roles to his film directing jobs on such works as "The Princess Bride" and "This is Spinal Tap". Rob also directed "When Harry Met Sally", "The Bucket List" and "A Few Good Men". The younger Reiner was asked about if it was hard to make it in show biz being the son of a legend. He said it made it easier to get a foot-in-the-door, but once you are in, you better do a good job, or else you will be fired.

*Some information from

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Billy Crystal is "Still Foolin' 'Em"

Fans of show biz will want to check out Billy Crystal's book "Still Foolin' 'Em". It talks about his career in entertainment. He started out as a stand up who became known for his impressions. Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali were 2 of his favorite people to impersonate. He became friends with both. He appeared on Cosell's show called Saturday Night Live. It was a short-lived variety show on ABC. The sketch comedy show on NBC we all know as Saturday Night Live was originally just called Saturday Night. When Cosell's show went off the air, the NBC show was changed to Saturday Night Live. Crystal was a cast member on Saturday Night Live, known for his character of Fernando and his catchphrase "You look marvelous". He did SNL with his good friends Martin Short and Christopher Guest. Crystal talks in the book about his days working on the TV show "Soap". Billy is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. He became friends with his baseball hero, Mickey Mantle. He teamed up with his friend, actor/director Rob Reiner from "All in the Family" and they did "When Harry Met Sally". Billy worked with Reiner's Castle Rock productions on the film "City Slickers". Billy resurrected his career when he hosted the Oscars many times. He did the voice of Mike in the Pixar films "Monsters Inc." and "Monsters University". Crystal's one man show on Broadway was called "700 Sundays". His father died at a young age and Billy had 700 Sundays with him. This book is an excellent account of a man who has spent his career doing what he loves.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TV Spin-offs: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It may seem like a no-brainer. Take a popular show and make a spin-off show out of it featuring one or more of the characters. Some work out well, (think Laverne and Shirley or The Jeffersons) and some are flops (like Joanie Loves Chachi or The Bradys), lasting only a few episodes. Here are some notable spin-offs, listed after the original show the were based upon. How many do you remember?

All in the Family...The Jeffersons...Archie Bunker's Place...Maude
Several spin-offs emerged from the groundbreaking All in the Family, produced by TV titan Norman Lear.

Happy Days...Joanie Loves Chachi...Laverne and Shirley...Mork and Mindy
Laverne and Shirley also lived in Milwaukee, like the Cunningham family. Mork (Robin Williams) had appeared on Happy Days. Happy Days' Ron Howard and Laverne and Shirley's Cindy Williams appeared together in the film American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas.

Cheers...Frasier...The Tortellis
Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) had a long running sitcom after Cheers ended, playing a Seattle radio talk show host. The Tortellis, featuring Nick and Loretta Tortelli, was short-lived and failed to attract an audience.

Three's Company...Three's a Crowd...The Ropers
After the end of Three's Company, Jack Tripper (John Ritter) had a show called Three's a Crowd. Mr. and Mrs. Roper (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) had their own spin off.

Diff'rent Strokes...The Facts of Life
Mrs. Garrett from Diff'rent Strokes went on to supervise the girls at the boarding school in The Facts of Life. Both shows enjoyed many successful seasons.

The Cosby Show...A Different World
A Different World was a spin-off created for Lisa Bonet as she left the Huxtable family and went off to college.

The show MASH was such a smash hit, garnering record setting ratings for its final episode. After MASH featured only 3 of the original MASH cast members, and it was a ratings disappointment that was quickly cancelled.

The Golden Girls...Empty Nest...The Golden Palace
The Golden Girls was a smash, Empty Nest lasted for a few years. The Golden Palace had the original ladies from Golden Girls except for Bea Arthur. It did not fare well.

The Danny Thomas Show...The Andy Griffith Show...Gomer Pyle, USMC...Mayberry RFD
These were shows from the early days of television that featured much loved characters. Of course little Opie from Andy Griffith was Ron Howard, who went on to star in Happy Days, which spawned several spin-offs.

Perfect Strangers...Family Matters
Some may not recall that characters from Family Matters had appeared in Perfect Strangers.

The Tracey Ullman Show...The Simpsons
The Simpsons animated shorts, created by Matt Groening, appeared on Tracey Ullman's comedy show, in the early days of the Fox network.

Friends was a smash hit for NBC and it was a big break for Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and more. Joey was a short lived show and a disappointment for Matt LeBlanc who hoped for a continuation of the Friends magic.

That 70's Show...That 80's Show
That 70's Show, big hit with Ashton Kutcher, Laura Prepon, Mila Kunis and more. That 80's show, one decade later, much worse in the ratings.

The Brady Bunch...The Bradys
The Bradys took a more serious tone but it did not last long, and people had seen enough of this family.

Mary Tyler Moore...Rhoda...Lou Grant
People loved the character of Mary Richards played by Mary Tyler Moore. Valerie Harper had her own show as Rhoda. Ed Asner reprised his role as the crusty newsman Lou Grant.

Beavis and Butt-Head...Daria
Daria was a spin-off featuring a dour yet unquestionably more mature friend of Beavis and Butt-Head.

Jackass...Viva La Bam
Skateboarding pro Bam Margera had his own show where he would play wacky stunts on his family members. The Jackass guys would appear on his show regularly.

Family Guy...The Cleveland Show
Cleveland Brown became the focus of his own show, separate from Family Guy's Griffin family.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Live from New York it's...Howard Cosell?

I was listening to Billy Crystal's book on tape called "Still Foolin' 'Em" and he mentioned that he had worked on a show called Saturday Night Live. We know he worked on the NBC sketch comedy show that started in the 1970s with legendary comics like John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Crystal was known for playing Fernando Lamas ("You look mahvelous") and Sammy Davis Jr. But, he was not referring to that show. He was talking about an ABC variety show hosted by sportscaster Howard Cosell. Maybe the creators of the show figured that Cosell's popularity as a sportscaster could transfer to success as a variety show host. This show only lasted 18 episodes from September of 1975 to January of 1976. It aired from 8 pm to 9 pm and it had a cast of comics that included Bill Murray, his brother Brian Doyle-Murray and Christopher Guest. They were called the "primetime players". The show was ripped apart by critics. TV Guide called it one of the worst shows of all time. The first episode had some strong guests including Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka and John Denver. It originated from New York's Ed Sullivan Theatre at 53rd and Broadway, which would later become the home of Late Show with David Letterman in 1993.

In 1977, after the departure of Cosell's show, the NBC sketch show changed its name to Saturday Night Live from simply Saturday Night. Now we know the meaning of the SNL cast being called the "not ready for primetime players". I had wondered why the say "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night".

Read more abut this show here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CBS Television City in 1953

1953 CBS Television City shows, and the studios from which they originated;

THE RED SKELTON SHOW 31 (Johnny Carson's big break came on the Red Skelton show. Carson was a writer on the show. Red was injured, and Johnny filled in for him. Red predicted a bright future for the young Carson).

Information from Eyes Of A Generation Facebook page.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

"Chef" is a Film Feast for Foodies

The star/writer/director of the new film Chef is Jon Favreau. This could be called food porn for its beautiful culinary photography, so it's a perfect film for foodies. It has an all-star cast including Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and more. I get the impression that this work was a labor of love for Favreau, like his breakout film that he wrote, Swingers, from 1996. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef who works in a restaurant that is owned by Dustin Hoffman. His ex-wife is played by Sofia Vergara and they have a son together, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Chef Casper wants to be creative with his food and take chances but his boss wants him to appeal to the masses. The chef gets poor reviews from a food blogger played by Oliver Platt who feels like the chef should be creative and not cater to the lowest common denominator. Chefs graduate from culinary arts school, and it really is an art to create excellent food. Anyone who has watched Food Network knows that the visual element of food is important. It's like film or TV or music, one can take chances or look to appeal to the masses. Those who appeal to a wide audience may have more monetary success, but the critics will not like them. The chef ends up leaving his job and starting his own business in Miami, the El Jefe Cuban food truck. He drives the truck cross country with his son and his friend Martin, played by John Leguizamo. The trip is a way for Carl to bond with his son Percy, who teaches him about the power of Twitter to promote the business. This film will not be a blockbuster that makes hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is a fine work based on a good story with likable characters. As of June 1, the gross box office total is $6.9 million. A good film does not need special effects, sex or violence. According to, the approval rating is 88% from critics and 90% from audiences.

Information from and

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Simpsons/Family Guy Crossover is Coming

Do you like The Simpsons? Do you like Family Guy? They will have a crossover episode this September. It will be cool to see Bart and Stewie together, and Homer and Peter hanging out at the bar drinking some beers. How will Brian get along with Santa's Little Helper? Will Marge and Lois like each other? Some might say that a crossover has already been happening since Family Guy borrows so much of their comedy from The Simpsons. Seth MacFarlane has built an empire to rival that of Simpsons creator Matt Groening. He has created Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Prior to Family Guy, MacFarlane was a writer for animated shows like Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory. Read about the crossover episode here.

*Some information from

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Car Chasers on CNBC

Some people think of CNBC as nothing but a finance channel with stock market coverage 24/7. But, they are branching out now with some reality shows. The Profit has a business expert giving advice to struggling entrepreneurs to turn around their enterprises. Money Talks looks at a sports betting agent in Las Vegas. The Car Chasers is about a Lubbock, Texas business called Flat 12 Gallery that buys and sells unique cars. Jeff Allen owns the shop and he is assisted by Meg, who handles the money, and Perry and Eric, who renovate the cars. Jeff's dad, "Roundman" is also a car dealer and he is on the show once in awhile too. It's a good show, especially if you like classic cars. Find out more here.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Classic Film Review: The Graduate (1967)

Back in 1967, Dustin Hoffman was not a well known actor. His big break was a film directed by Mike Nichols, "The Graduate". His resume to that point had included a few TV roles. It is amazing to think about the iconic roles he had in the years after "The Graduate". His most popular films include "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), "All the President's Men" (1976), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "Tootsie" (1982), "Rain Man" (1988), and many more.

In "The Graduate" Dustin Hoffman played Ben Braddock, a recent college graduate who is unsure about his future. He is seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), and older woman who is the wife of his father's business partner. Later he falls for her daughter, Elaine, played by Katharine Ross. Ben's dad is played by William Daniels, who later played Dr. Mark Craig, from the TV drama St. Elsewhere. Ben's dad is like Dr. Craig in that they both are cranky guys expect only the best from others. Another actor in the movie known later for his TV role is Norman Fell. He rents a room to Ben in Berkeley, California when he is tracking down Elaine, Mrs. Robinson's daughter. Fell later played Mr. Roper on "Three's Company". Ben feels overwhelmed by his life since his parents put pressure on him to decide what to do about his future. A famous scene has Ben given advice by a friend of the family regarding his career. He tells Ben to work in plastics. The soundtrack is provided by Simon and Garfunkel, featuring songs such as "Scarborough Fair" and "Mrs. Robinson".

This is an excellent film about family pressures, temptations, and young love. Water seems to be a common theme in the film. The movie has Ben peering into an aquarium, putting on a scuba diving exhibition for family friends, and floating on an air mattress in the family's pool. Maybe Ben longs for the peace and quiet that exists under the water.

**Some information from

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Classic Film Review: West Side Story

A local theatre is showing classic films on the big screen for just $4, so I decided to go and see "West Side Story". This musical was made in 1961 and the music is by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics are by Steven Sondheim. The choreography is by Jerome Robbins. No wonder this is considered a classic. It is a gem of a film with incredible performances. The film has the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, 2 New York street gangs. Tension arises when Tony and Maria fall in love since she is Latino and he is not. The screen is packed with talented singers, dancers and actors. It is a film with moments of romance, suspense, glee and sadness. Surprisingly, most of the cast from this film did not go on to be well known with the exception of Natalie Wood (Maria) and Rita Moreno (Anita). It's a love story between Tony and Maria, but it's also about street gangs in New York, whites vs. Puerto Ricans, cops vs. society, interracial relationships, and youth in rebellion. The movie featured many songs which are well known still today, over 50 years later. The soundtrack includes "I Feel Pretty", "America", "There's a Place for Us", "Something's Coming", "Tonight" and more. The soundtrack spent 54 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard album charts. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, do it. Watching it is a delight.

**Some information from and

Monday, April 07, 2014

Tech Guru Kim Komando's Radio Show is a Winner

If you want to learn more about computers, TVs, digital cameras, and all things tech, check out Kim Komando's radio show. Her show airs on the weekends, and she has lots of down-to-earth advice. She takes calls from listeners and she has a long history of working with computers. Go to her website here to get information from "America's Digital Goddess". There you can listen to the show, listen to a podcast, find a station near you that carries the show, find topics discussed on the show and connect via social media. She writes a weekly column about technology for USA Today. The show is based out of Phoenix, and it has become the most popular weekend radio show in the nation. She has hosted her radio show for 20 years. She started the West Star radio network. The network is based out of a 6,000 square foot building. There are plans to quadruple the size of the building. The show is great since it gives good advice on things like how to avoid computer viruses, the pros and cons of different tablets, laptops and desktop computers, getting the most out of your smartphone, how to choose the best HDTV or digital camera, and much more. This past weekend she talked about how to bank online securely, and places to never use your debit card.

Friday, April 04, 2014

David Letterman Announces His Retirement

After working in late night TV since 1982, David Letterman announced yesterday that he will retire from CBS in 2015. Dave hosted the "Late Night with David Letterman" show on NBC from 1982-1993. After the debacle with Carson leaving and Leno stepping in, Dave went to CBS to host "Late Show with David Letterman" starting in 1993. His hero Johnny Carson worked in late night TV for 30 years, from 1962-1992. So, I wondered if Letterman would step down in 2012, which would have been his 30th year in late night.

The conversation will invariably now turn to the question of who will be Letterman's replacement. Unlike Johnny Carson, Letterman has not had guest hosts who step in when he is gone. With Carson, we were able to see people audition to replace Johnny. Leno and Letterman and many others stepped in for Johnny when he was off so we saw how they would do as hosts. When Leno left, Fallon and Meyers had been lined up in advance to take over the late night NBC shows. They had no talk show experience but they had both worked as Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchors. I wonder if in his last year, Letterman may have some guest hosts.

I think that these people will be discussed as possible replacements for Letterman.

Conan O'Brien
He really got a raw deal with NBC and he's now with TBS. I'd love to see him get the position since he's a top notch interviewer and he has a comic creativity that few others have.

Jay Leno
This is a long shot since he has already hosted for many years on NBC and he's not a young guy, but I wonder if CBS may consider him anyway. He might want to just stick to his stand up and tinkering with his cars.

Jon Stewart
He is a funny guy, but would he want to leave his deal at Comedy Central where he is already making a lot of money and he is in his element?

Stephen Colbert
He is so good with his Colbert Report, so he would probably be considered by CBS, but I don't know if he would want to do a mass appeal show. Plus he would be himself, not doing a character.

Chelsea Handler
She is leaving her show on E! so CBS might want to go with a female host. She is a good stand up and she has interviewed a lot of people on her show.

Craig Ferguson
Often a network will take the 12:35 am host and put them in at the 11:35 pm slot. His humor is too absurd for 11:35, and I often wonder how he stays on the air, with his same bits every night. Hopefully CBS does not do the thing that NBC did with moving Jimmy Fallon to an hour earlier.

Probably the most likely person would be someone not mentioned here. Someone out of left field may get it. CBS may want a young person to battle the young audience being attracted by Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. When Letterman moved to CBS in 1993, NBC plucked a name out of nowhere to replace him at 12:35, and that was Conan O'Brien. CBS may find a comedy writer or a comedian that none of us would expect.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Ron Bennington: Entertainment Interviewer Extraordinaire

Celebrity interviewers are a dime a dozen. But, not many do it well. Many do not truly listen to the responses of the person they are interviewing. So many interviewers are only thinking about what their next question will be. Johnny Carson was a top notch interviewer since he really listened and would not go by his notes, rather he would let his next question come from the response to the previous question.

Ron Bennington from Sirius/XM is one of the best celebrity interviewers working today. He does not get the attention he deserves. Satellite radio is not heard by that many people, so many do not hear Bennington's interviews. But, luckily they can be heard for free online. He hosts "The Ron and Fez Show" on Sirius/XM's "Raw Dog" channel. He also has a show called "Ron Bennington Interviews". He talks with various actors, musicians, directors, and others from the world of entertainment. He has talked with people like Willem DaFoe, Oliver Stone, John Lithgow, Jessica Lange, Mayim Bialik, Robert Randolph and many more. His other show is called "Unmasked". That show is dedicated to talking with comedians. He has chatted with comics such as Todd Barry, David Steinberg, Jane Lynch, Tim Conway, Lisa Kudrow and many more. You can listen to these interviews here.

Ron does a fantastic job with these interviews since he is passionate about movies, TV, music and all things entertainment. He knows how to talk to comedians since he is a former comedian himself. He owned a comedy club in the 1980's in Clearwater, Florida. He has worked in radio for almost 30 years, first as the co-host of Tampa, Florida's "Ron and Ron Show" with Ron Diaz. In Florida he met Fez Whatley and they have worked together in Florida, Washington D.C. and at their current gig in New York City. Find out about "The Ron and Fez Show" at this link.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Career of Jazz Artist Jack Sheldon

Generation X people will no doubt remember the Saturday morning "Schoolhouse Rock" animated segments from the 1970's. Two of the most popular cartoons were "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill". The voice on those was provided by Jack Sheldon. He has voiced spoofs of those characters for "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy". He is also the voice of the character Louie the Lightning Bug. Many may not know about the life of Sheldon, who is much more than just the "Schoolhouse Rock" guy. He is a respected jazz trumpet player/singer. At 82 years old, he lives in the Hollywood Hills and still performs in jazz clubs as a singer/trumpet player. He was Merv Griffin's sidekick/trumpet player for his long running daytime talk show.

Sheldon has dabbled in the world of acting, appearing as the star of the 1966 TV show "Run Buddy Run". He also appeared in the 1976 film "Freaky Friday". He was in the 1991 film "For the Boys" with Bette Midler and James Caan. He had roles in legendary TV series such as "Adam 12", "Petticoat Junction" and "Dragnet".

He has played trumpet on many TV soundtracks such as "Moonlighting", "The Munsters" and "In the Heat of the Night". He played trumpet on many film soundtracks including "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

In 2008 a documentary was released about his life called "Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon". The film talked about his struggles with substance abuse and his turbulent life. It featured appearances by Billy Crystal, Clint Eastwood, Dom DeLuise and Sheldon's former boss, Merv Griffin.

He suffered a stroke in 2011 and needed to learn to play his trumpet with his left hand. Read about his return to performing in November of 2013 here.

Some information from

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sierra Boggess: The New Queen of Broadway

Sierra Boggess is an amazing talent who is taking Broadway by storm. Her Broadway credits include playing Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", Christine in "Phantom of the Opera" and Fantine in "Les Miserables". She has also appeared in "Master Class" and the Phantom sequel, "Love Never Dies". She has received high acclaim for her portrayal in Phantom, following in the footsteps of actresses who have played the role in the past such as Sarah Brightman and Emmy Rossum. Andrew Lloyd Webber himself called her the best Christine. Check out her rendition of "Think of Me" from Phantom here. She has an angelic voice with a lyrical purity that is seldom found today. Her voice has a strength behind it, yet she can sound delicate at the same time. This is how the voice should be used as an instrument. She was perfectly cast to play Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" since the tone of her voice is perfect for a Disney production. Sierra is engaged to her former co-star from "Love Never Dies".

Starting May 12, Boggess will star in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway in the Majestic Theatre with Norm Lewis. This will be a landmark moment since Lewis will be the first African-American to play the Phantom in the Broadway production. Find out more here. Fans of musical theatre can expect a bright future ahead for the incredibly talented Sierra Boggess.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wynton Marsalis Joins the Cast of "60 Minutes"

The CBS news magazine show "60 Minutes" has covered important news stories, dating back to its inception in 1968. TV Guide ranked it as the 6th best TV program in history. The list of correspondents reads like a who's who of broadcast journalism legends; Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Andy Rooney, Ed Bradley, Walter Cronkite and more. In addition to their hard news stories, the program has also profiled giants from the world of entertainment.

This Sunday, tune in for the inaugural story by their new culture correspondent, jazz trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis. He profiles jazz pianist Marcus Roberts. Overcoming the obstacle of going blind at age 5, Roberts studied music at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He now is a jazz professor at Florida State University. Roberts, like Marsalis, has become an authority on the history of jazz. The pair travel back to Roberts' former school to perform for the students. Roberts has an inspirational message to the students. Watch an excerpt here. Marsalis should be a good addition to the show. He has been a tireless cheerleader for the genre of jazz. Growing up in New Orleans, Marsalis is part of a highly musical family, and since the 1980s he has impressed audiences around the world with his performances. He has been a contributor for "CBS Sunday Morning" and PBS jazz specials.

Some information from

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Grossing Films for US Box Office

Which director is behind the most successful film of all time in US box office numbers? George Lucas? Steven Spielberg? Martin Scorsese? Peter Jackson? Jerry Bruckheimer? None of the above. Actually, one director holds the #1 and #2 spots for the most successful films, together grossing $1.4 billion! Here is the list, from, as of 3/24/14.

1. Avatar 2009 $760.5 million
2. Titanic 1997 $658.6 million
3. The Avengers 2012 $623.2 million
4. The Dark Knight 2008 $533.3 million
5. Star Wars Episode I 1999 $474.5 million
6. Star Wars 1977 $460.9 million
7. The Dark Knight Rises 2012 $448.1 million
8. Shrek 2 2004 $436.4 million
9. E.T. 1982 $434.9 million
10. The Hunger Games 2013 $424.5 million

With the top 2 films, James Cameron has a significant amount of power in the film industry. Avatar made full use of 3D technology which was new at the time, and Titanic attracted males, females and people of all ages. Cameron found that his films attracted audiences that saw the movies multiple times.

This list looks at American box office numbers only. Adding in worldwide box office, many of these films are grossing around $1 billion. Action/adventure and fantasy films are popular overseas, so those usually have the highest worldwide gross. American humor does not usually translate well overseas, so those films that do well in America, may have low box office numbers abroad.

Steven Spielberg's films have been amazingly successful, with many finishing high on the list. E.T. is #9, Jurassic Park is #17, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is #36, Jaws is #72, Raiders of the Lost Ark is #87.

The list is dominated by many mega film franchises such as Star Wars, Batman, Iron Man, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, Spiderman and many animated movies from Pixar.

View the full list here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Remembering a Game Show Classic: "Match Game"

There's a good show about the game show "Match Game" that was uploaded to You Tube. It's called "The Real Match Game Story, Behind the Blank". This popular show aired from 1973-1982. A key to its success was the host, Gene Rayburn (1917-1999). He had worked in the early days of television as an announcer for Steve Allen's Tonight Show in the 1950s. Known as a game show host, he also acted in Broadway shows and appeared on TV shows such as "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island".

There was a version of "Match Game" hosted by Rayburn in the 1960s, but the 1970s version was more successful and well known. The version from the 1960s featured appearances by Rod Serling, Florence Henderson and Betty White. "Match Game" had a group of 6 celebrities and 2 contestants. The contestants needed to match the answer given by the celebrities. Some of the celebrities became popular recurring characters on the show, known for their wit and charisma. Between 1973 and 1982, Rayburn hosted 225 episodes. Popular celebrities on the show included Brett Somers (102 episodes), Charles Nelson Reilly (66 episodes) and Richard Dawson (93 episodes). Dawson had gained notoriety for starring in the sitcom about WWII prisoners of war, "Hogan's Heroes". As time rolled on he got tired of doing the "Match Game" and left for greener pastures. He hosted his own game show with much success, "Family Feud". The show on You Tube says that Dawson was popular with contestants, but his fellow celebrities on "Match Game" felt just the opposite. The show on You Tube is interesting since it talks about the ups and down of the show in the ratings, the fights with the network over content, and the behind-the-scenes trivia. Many attribute the success of the show to its funny questions, written largely by Mad Magazine writer Dick DeBartolo.

Later versions of the show were tried but they did not have the success of Rayburn's show. Gene Rayburn had a hard time adjusting to life after the show left the air since it was a big part of his life. For anyone who is a fan of game shows or TV history, check out the show here.

Some information from

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Roth Show

If you're a fan of David Lee Roth and/or Van Halen, check out his You Tube program, The Roth Show. Most shows are 30 -45 minutes and they feature "Diamond Dave" talking about whatever is on his mind. He discusses his formative years growing up in New York and California. He discusses his brief radio career as the replacement for Howard Stern. He talks about Japan, where he has spent a lot of time, and how it differs from the United States. He talks about the making of various Van Halen songs and videos. Dave loves to talk (about himself especially) so this show is not for everyone, but no doubt he has lived an interesting life. He is very proud of his uncle Manny who owns a New York City haven for entertainers, Cafe Wha? When Van Halen released their most recent album a couple years ago, the guys performed in the venue which was popular in the 1960's with beatnik poets, comedians and musicians. Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond performed there early in their careers. Check out the show here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alan Thicke Returns to Television

Remember the sitcom "Growing Pains" (1985-1992)? The show featured Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Joanna Kerns and even some appearances by Leonardo DiCaprio. The dad was a psychiatrist who worked from home named Jason Seaver. The patriarch of the show was played by Canadian actor Alan Thicke. On April 16, he is returning to television in a reality show for TV Guide network called "Unusually Thicke". Back in 1983-1984, he had his own late night syndicated talk show called "Thicke of the Night". Find out more about that show here. Alan's son Robin will most likely turn up on the reality show. Last year Robin Thicke's hit song "Blurred Lines" took the country by storm. "Unusually Thicke" will have appearances by Alan's celebrity friends such as David Hasselhoff, John Stamos, Bill Maher and Bob Saget.

Information from and

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Movie Review: "Say Anything..." (1989)

Writer/director Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything..." was released 25 years ago. A generation later, it's romantic themes still resonate today. This was Crowe's directorial debut, having written "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "The Wild Life" previously. He would go on to write and direct "Singles", "Jerry Maguire" and the autobiographical "Almost Famous". This film is often grouped in with all the other teen comedies of the 1980's, but it is much more than just a high school film about puppy love. Actually, the movie does not contain any scenes in a high school. This is a film about love, relationships, betrayal and heartbreak.

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) has recently graduated from a Seattle high school. His plans for the future are unknown. His passion is kickboxing, which he calls "the sport of the future". He knows that one thing he wants to do is have a date with Diane Court (Ione Skye). Diane is the valedictorian, who has been awarded a prestigious college fellowship to study in England. He has a scene with two of his female friends, Corey (Lili Taylor) and D.C. (Amy Brooks). They tell Lloyd that he is wasting his time since Diane is "a brain, trapped in the body of a game show hostess." The thing that is likeable about Lloyd Dobler is his unwavering optimism. A friend at a party asked how he got a date with Diane. His response? "I asked her out". Lloyd lives in the moment. He is not troubled by anxieties about future plans. This is endearing to many, but those qualities make him seem like a slacker in the eyes of Jim Court (John Mahoney), Diane's father, who only wants the best for his daughter.

What does Diane see in Lloyd? The answer is quite simple. He makes her laugh, he's a gentleman and she likes spending time with him. On their first date, she was impressed when he steered her around walking through some broken glass in a convenience store parking lot. They go to a party together. He does not smother her, demanding her attention at all times, but yet he checks up on her now and then. She feels safe with him.

Like any Cameron Crowe film, music plays a key part in the movie. Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" is played when Diane and Lloyd first make love in the back of a car. Later it is played on his boombox as he holds it over his head outside her window.

Diane is close with her father. Her parents are divorced and she does not see her mother very much. He father pushes her to succeed. He was over the moon when she was awarded a fellowship to study in England. They have a relationship where they can say anything to one another. He buys her nice gifts, like a car as a graduation gift. It is revealed that Jim Court is under investigation by the I.R.S. for mishandling of funds at the nursing home that he manages. Diane is shattered at the thought of her father as a criminal who stole from the elderly. He justifies it as helping him to provide a good life for her. The #1 man in Diane's life shifts from her father to Lloyd. Under pressure from her dad, she breaks up with Lloyd and later regrets it. She visits him at his kickboxing gym and tells him "If I hurt you again, I'll die. I love you."

This film was praised by critics, especially the influential Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert who gave it two thumbs up. Ebert gave it 4 stars, his highest rating, calling it one of the best films of the year. He described it as "a miracle." This movie has a simple story but the superb acting and chemistry of the cast make it special. Along with "Almost Famous" this is Cameron Crowe's best work. Those in Generation X have a special place in their hearts for this film along with the teen comedies by John Hughes.


Lloyd Dobler.....John Cusack
Diane Court.....Ione Skye
James Court.....John Mahoney
Constance Dobler.....Joan Cusack (uncredited)
Corey.....Lili Taylor
D.C......Amy Brooks
Mark.....Jeremy Piven
Mrs. Evans.....Bebe Neuwirth
Vahlere.....Eric Stoltz


Ione Skye, who played Diane, is known for other films such as "Wayne's World" and "River's Edge." She appeared in TV shows such as "Arrested Development" and "Private Practice." She has dated Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who provided a song for the soundtrack. She was married to Adam Horovitz, known as "Ad Rock" from Beastie Boys. She is currently married to musician Ben Lee. She was born in London in 1970. She is a graduate of Hollywood High School.

Lloyd's friend D.C. (Amy Brooks) is the daughter of the film's executive producer, James L. Brooks.

Jeremy Piven played one of the guys that hangs out at the Gas'N Sip convenience store. Lloyd went to talk to them about girls after Diane broke up with him.

Two actors with connections to Kelsey Grammer's character of Frasier Crane were in the film. They included John Mahoney who played Frasier's dad, and Bebe Neuwirth, who played Frasier's wife Lilith.

John Cusack's real life sister, Joan Cusack, played his sister in the film. But, her role was uncredited.

The guy fighting Lloyd Dobler in the ring was Don "The Dragon" Wilson, an acclaimed kickboxer himself.

Jim Court was so overjoyed when Diane won the fellowship to England, he sang a Steely Dan song in the car ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number").

Actor Eric Stoltz had a small role in the film, and was also a production assistant on set.

The cost for using Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" was about $250,000 in 1989.

Instead of John Cusack, the role of Lloyd Dobler could have ended up being portrayed by Christian Slater, Robert Downey Jr. or Kirk Cameron.

Instead of Ione Skye, the role of Diane Court could have gone to Jennifer Connelly or Elisabeth Shue.

The gym used in this film was the same one used in "The Karate Kid."

Some information from and the book "You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes and Their Impact on a Generation" by Susannah Gora, 2010 by Crown Publishers, New York.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Showbiz Trivia: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

As a 15-year-old kid in 1973, Cameron Crowe had an article he wrote about the band Poco published in Rolling Stone magazine. He later interviewed and toured with rock icons such as Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Neil Young and The Eagles.

The 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on a book by Cameron Crowe. At age 22, Crowe spent two semesters undercover as a student at a San Diego high school to research the topic of life as a teenager. His book was adapted into a screenplay. While working on music for the film, Crowe met his wife, Nancy Wilson from the group Heart. Crowe's three passions are music, writing, and film. He knew that the movie needed to have music as a key player to set the mood for the different scenes. The soundtrack included songs by Jackson Browne, The Cars, The Go-Go's, Billy Squier, Sammy Hagar and more. The film had a young cast that included Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage (credited as Nicolas Coppola), Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold and more. Sean Penn, as surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, followed the method acting technique of remaining in character for every minute of the shoot. He insisted on being called Spicoli at all times. The film was mostly shot at an upscale mall in Sherman Oaks, California.

Robert Romanus, who played Mike Damone in the film, talked about how Fast Times holds up over time, unlike some other 1980s movies. He said it was a slice-of-life, showing what it was like in the late 1970s/early 1980s for teens in California. He compared it to American Graffiti, since both films give the viewer a look at life as a teenager.

Information from the book "You Couldn't Ignore Me if you Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and their Impact on a Generation" by Susannah Gora, published by Crown Publishers, New York, 2010.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

ABC Hits all the Right Notes with Nashville

ABC's prime time drama Nashville is now in its second season. Fans of country music especially should check this out. Lots of great music and good story lines make it an entertaining show. It stars Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as the veteran country superstar Rayna James. Hayden Panittiere, best known for her role in NBC's Heroes, plays Juliette Barnes, the young rival of Rayna James. Rayna finds she needs to ally with Juliette to revive her fading career. Other prominent characters are Clare Bowen as Scarlett O'Connor, Eric Close as Teddy Conrad and Charles Esten as Deacon Clayborne. The show is really shot in Nashville, Music City USA. It gives the viewer a look at what it is like to try and make it in the country music industry. There is plenty of backstabbing, drama, alcohol/drug abuse, political wheeling-and-dealing, and fine music too. ABC has followed the cue of the Fox program Glee, in that they make their original music from the show available for purchase. It only makes sense to have a second revenue stream. Social media is a part of their promotion strategy, and the #Nashville hashtag can be seen in the lower left corner of the screen throughout the episodes.

Watch full episodes and clips from the show here.

Preview and purchase music from the show here.

Information from imdb.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Late Shift: Leno vs. Letterman

Late night TV has been in the news recently. Leno is out, Fallon is in, and Seth Meyers has taken over Jimmy's old time slot. Plus, a book about Johnny Carson was released recently by his former lawyer/manager, Henry Bushkin. Viewers of Johnny's Tonight Show may remember him mentioning his manager, "Bombastic Bushkin".

In 1996, an HBO made-for-TV movie was released about the Letterman/Leno fiasco in the wake of Carson leaving his show. Leno was played by Daniel Roebuck in a fake prosthetic chin. John Michael Higgins played Letterman, complete with double-breasted suits paired with tennis shoes and chomping on a cigar. Letterman made fun of the movie on his show since the guy who played him had red hair. Dave also was puzzled by a scene that had the character in his backyard throwing baseballs at an archery target. Rich Little played Johnny Carson in the film. Little does a good Carson impression, but something seemed off about his performance. For one thing, Little has a different body type than Carson. But, with any film based on real people, comparisons will be made. Kathy Bates seemed to be right on the money with her portrayal of Leno's caustic manager, Helen Kushnick. This film also starred Ed Begley Jr. and Bob Balaban as network executives and Treat Williams as Letterman's powerful agent Michael Ovitz.

Putting aside the questionable acting by some of the participants, this is a good film to check out if you have an interest in the behind-the-scenes aspects of wheeling and dealing in the television industry. It was based on a book by late night TV expert Bill Carter. According to the movie, a prime reason behind Leno taking over for Carson had to do with the hardball tactics by Leno's obnoxious manager, Helen Kushnick. The film showed Letterman as a tortured soul who beat himself up after the shows by viewing tapes and criticizing his performance. By 1990, NBC was looking to replace Carson and Kushnick planted an article in the New York Post saying that NBC wants Carson out and Leno would be his replacement. Letterman really wanted to be Johnny's successor but when it appeared it was not going to happen, he considered deals with ABC, Fox and CBS. ABC would not give him an 11:35 pm show since they were committed to airing Nightline at that time. Fox was just a new network in the early 1990s and it was unknown if they would have a future. For an 11:35 pm show on a major network, CBS was the best bet. CBS had courted Leno, giving him a motorcycle. NBC head of programming Bob Wright really wanted NBC to keep Letterman, whether he had the 11:35 pm show or not. When Leno took over Johnny's show in 1992, Kushnick was his executive producer. She refused to let Jay acknowledge Johnny Carson on his first episode. Helen's brash attitude and underhanded tactics became a problem and NBC told Leno that if she was not fired, he would lose The Tonight Show and Letterman would take over. Leno felt an allegiance to Helen since she had helped him build his career for years, but he needed to keep his job. She ended up leaving show business and suing the publisher of the book The Late Shift. Carson was contacted by Dave for advice on what to do. Johnny said that in light of NBC's treatment of him, he said he would walk away and work elsewhere. That's what Dave did, going to CBS where he had an 11:35 pm show that was successful, although he usually lost to Leno in the ratings. CBS pays Dave well, plus his company, Worldwide Pants, owns the shows.

One thing that was not addressed by the movie is whether or not Johnny had a say in who he thought should replace him. You'd think that NBC would have that as a factor in making their decision, but maybe not.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Frank Zappa: Avant-Garde Musician

Great art is all about taking chances. Some art fails, some art succeeds, but those who take big chances are to be applauded. Avant-garde artists are experimental or innovative, pushing the boundaries of the status quo. Few musical artists have taken chances like Frank Zappa. His music is hard to categorize: jazz, rock, classical, blues, psychedelic, fusion, with a healthy dose of satire and humor thrown in. He only lived for 52 years, from 1940 to 1993, dying from prostate cancer complications. But, during those years he released 62 albums and 35 were released after his death. His first release was "Freak Out!" in 1966. He had 2 gold records in the US during his life, "Over-Nite Sensation" (1973) and "Apostrophe" (1974). His best known singles include "Valley Girl", "Peaches En Regalia" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow". He has no formal training in music and attended community college briefly but dropped out. He liked music of all genres, not confining him to narrow choices. Zappa made music on his own terms, doing what pleased him, not looking for mass appeal. Paul McCartney said that Zappa influenced him to make "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band". Countless musicians were influenced by Zappa's seemingly endless creativity. Rolling Stone magazine named Zappa as the 71st best artist of all time. The same magazine voted him as the 22nd best guitarist of all time. Guitar Player magazine devoted an issue to him in 1992. Here's a quote from Rolling Stone's Illustrated History of Rock and Roll:

"Frank Zappa was one of the first to try tearing down the barriers between rock, jazz, and classical music. In the late Sixties his Mothers of Invention would slip from Stravinsky's "Petroushka" into The Dovells' "Bristol Stomp" before breaking down into saxophone squeals inspired by Albert Ayler."

In 1985, Zappa gained media attention for his testimony before the US Senate regarding the actions of the PMRC (Parent's Music Resource Center). The PRMC was against music which contained sexual or satanic content. Zappa saw this as the road to censorship, and claimed that musicians have the right to make whatever music they want. The following is an excerpt from Zappa's testimony:

"The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation ... The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?"

In 1987, Zappa received a Grammy award for his album "Jazz from Hell". Like many unique artists, Zappa's work was more appreciated in Europe than in the United States. A bust of Zappa's likeness is in Lithuania as well as in Germany. Berlin named a street after him. He was truly a renaissance man, composing, producing, and performing music, directing films and music videos, and designing album covers. In 1995 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a political figure, fighting for freedom and the abolition of censorship. Zappa's significant impact in the world of music will always be remembered.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fallon Kicks Off His Tonight Show with Humility and Humor

Last night's premiere episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon got off to a good start. 11.3 million people watched his inaugural show, probably boosted by the Olympic viewership. Musical group The Roots and announcer Steve Higgins remained on board from the old show as Fallon's new show was broadcast from Studio 6B. The show started with an opening sequence directed by Spike Lee showing shots of The Big Apple. The Tonight Show has not been based out of New York since 1972 when Johnny Carson departed for Burbank, California. Fallon obviously knows he has some big shoes to fill, hosting such a legendary show. He acknowledged the previous hosts; Allen, Paar, Carson, Leno and O'Brien. His parents were in the audience cheering him on. He mentioned how as a kid, he begged his parents to let him stay up late to watch Johnny Carson. He had a tongue-in-cheek reference to the changing hosts as he said "I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host... for now". I don't think he takes anything for granted, and he knows the pressure is on to deliver. Will Smith joined Fallon for a funny skit about the history of hip-hop dancing. There were brief cameos by many celebrities including Robert DeNiro, Joan Rivers, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Steven Colbert. The appearance by Joan Rivers was a big deal since she had been banned from The Tonight Show for almost 30 years. Carson banned her after finding out she was going to host a rival show on Fox in the mid-1980s. Leno had continued the ban during his 22-year tenure.

Musical guests U2 performed in a stunning setting, 70 stories high atop Rockefeller Center at sunset, in midtown Manhattan (above). Members of the Rutgers marching band drumline backed up the Irish supergroup. The performance by U2 was amazing from a technical standpoint, with sweeping shots of the musicians with the gorgeous New York skyline in the background. Later the group joined Fallon in studio for an interview and a second song.

The social media audience that Fallon has built up will be a key to his success. He has legions of Twitter followers (11.6 million on his personal page), and it is clear that he and his staff know the power of internet marketing to get people to see his comedy. This is not Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. The landscape of TV is highly fragmented and there are more choices for viewers than ever before. 11.3 million viewers would not be big for Carson, but the world has changed so much since the days of the 3 broadcast networks being the primary sources for entertainment. These days, one has to gauge success not only by broadcast television numbers, but by the show's impact in cyberspace. With the widespread use of DVRs, people are deciding when to watch the show, and many do not watch it at 11:35 pm. Also, people are sometimes watching only part of the show, not the whole thing. The bit that Fallon did with Will Smith has "gone viral" with many people watching that clip online. Just 2 days after it aired on TV, the You Tube clip of this has been viewed over 4.3 million times.

At 39 years old, Fallon can appeal to generation X, generation Y and millenials. The question is, will NBC put pressure on him to appeal to an even wider audience and tone down some of his comedy bits he did at 12:35? Leno and Letterman have been criticized for not being edgy and striving to reach mass audiences. Letterman's show at 11:35 is different from his show was at 12:35. Only time will tell with Fallon, but I think he will be just fine, bringing some energy and creativity to a storied TV franchise that has needed it for years.

The late night lineup on NBC is now controlled by one man, longtime Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. He is the producer for The Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers and SNL. So, one person is in charge of 11.5 hours per week of network TV for the first time ever.

Late night fans will want to check out my website. It covers all the late night hosts over the years. It's the ultimate database of late night television history. This site has 6 pages dedicated to the king of late night, Johnny Carson. 3 pages cover the career of David Letterman. It has information about TV pioneers like Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder and more. The site covers the many short lived late night shows such as those from Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, and many more. Current talk show hosts are profiled, including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson and more. You can access it here.