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.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Fiftieth Anniversary for Fab Four

February 9, 1964: The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Beatlemania is born. There were 50,000 requests for the 728 seats in the theatre. 73 million people watch the show that night. Music experts say that once every generation, an iconic group/performer comes along that changes the landscape of the industry. Elvis did it, Michael Jackson did it, and The Beatles did it. On Sunday, CBS celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' performance. The Ed Sullivan Theatre, at 53rd and Broadway in Manhattan, is now used for Late Show with David Letterman. Sunday at 8:00 pm eastern, CBS will air "The Night that Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles". David Letterman will interview the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Various musical guests will pay tribute to the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The marquee of Letterman's theatre has been covered to match the one from 50 years ago, when the venue was called CBS Studio 50.

Information from

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Google Maps Street View Hollywood Tour

Google maps is amazing, especially the street view feature. Pick a city anywhere in the world and you can go there via cyberspace. I was "exploring" Hollywood and took some screenshots of some landmarks. Here's the famous Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard where you can see the hand prints and footprints of some of the biggest celebrities in the cement.

Next is an overhead view of Hollywood and Highland, where the red carpet is installed for the Academy Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theatre.

Next is a street view image of the Hard Rock Cafe and the Kodak Theatre.

Across from the Kodak Theatre is the venue where Jimmy Kimmel does his late night show.

Next I traveled to Sunset Boulevard to find the legendary club where some of the biggest comics have performed, The Comedy Store. Notice the KNBC-TV van out front.

Finally here's the famous Whiskey A-Go-Go club where bands like Van Halen have performed. Elton John was discovered here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Late Night TV Changes Lead to NBC Lay Offs

As the changing of the guard takes place at The Tonight Show, NBC lays off the 164 employees who work for Jay Leno. The show is moving back to New York, and Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show starts on Monday, February 17. The show has not been based out of New York since 1972. The 164 employees are encouraged to apply for other positions with NBC. Fallon's inaugural guests will be Will Smith and U2. He will get paid $12 million per year, while Leno made $15 million. Ironically, the highest paid late night host is on basic cable. Jon Stewart makes $25-$30 million per year hosting Comedy Central's The Daily Show, according to TV Guide. Seth Meyers' late night show will premiere the night of February 24, after Fallon's program. His first guest will be fellow Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler. NBC has a legacy for the 12:35 am time slot dating back to the 1970's and Seth Meyers will become the fifth person to host a show in that time period. The 12:35 am time slot on NBC has been occupied by Tom Snyder (The Tomorrow Show), Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Information from

NPR's Fresh Air: Showbiz Radio

Fans of movies, television, music, entertainment and culture owe it to themselves to check out "Fresh Air" from NPR, National Public Radio. This show covers all of those topics and more through in-depth, insightful interviews by host Terry Gross. She has hosted the Peabody award-winning program since 1975. The show originates from WHYY radio in Philadelphia. "Fresh Air" features intimate interviews, and music, television and movie reviews from various contributors. 4.5 million people hear this show every week and it airs on 450 NPR affiliates. This show airs Monday through Friday, check your local listings for times.

Information from

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

End of an Era for NBC Burbank

The legendary NBC studios at 3000 West Alameda Ave. in Burbank will be vacated with the end of the Jay Leno era for the Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show will be based out of New York. Also, the Los Angeles owned and operated NBC affiliate, KNBC-TV 4 is moving to the Universal lot due to the merger between NBC and Universal. KNBC has operated out of Burbank since 1962. Click here for a look at the new set for KNBC. You can watch a short video tour of the Burbank building here. The NBC building was the home of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show from 1972-1992, Days of Our Lives, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and many other shows over the years. It is truly one of the iconic facilities in the world of broadcasting. Above are photos from the walls of NBC studios that show the various celebrities who worked in the building.

Information from the 2 links above plus the Facebook page, "Eyes of a Generation"

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Spike Jonze's Film "Her" is Thought Provoking and Engaging

"Her" was written and directed by Spike Jonze. It has been said that the best artists are not afraid to take chances. A failure is not truly a failure if an artist takes risks and makes art they believe in. No one can say that Jonze does not take chances. People first niticed his creative flair when he made music videos for some of the biggest music stars. He directed the video "Buddy Holly" for Weezer. That video incorporated scenes from the classic TV show "Happy Days". He directed "Sabotage" for Beastie Boys. That video had the 3 rappers posing as 1970's-era cops. He also directed videos for Bjork, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and more. He directed the films "Being John Malkovich" and "Where the Wild Things Are", based on the children's book by Maurice Sendak. His latest film is "Her" which has been nominated for 5 Oscars.

This movie stars Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore), Scarlet Johansson (Samantha, the operating system, voice only), and Amy Adams (Amy). This takes place in future Los Angeles. It's not too far in the future since their technology is not that different from what we have now. The film is about technology and how we utilize it in our lives. Theodore is lonely, going through a divorce and looking for female companionship. He buys a new operating system for his computer. One can choose a male or female voice for the system. Theodore chooses a female voice and it is the voice of Scarlet Johansson. The operating system is named Samantha. This operating system is not like what we use today. The future operating system has a personality and actually discusses things with the user. Theodore likes the companionship and not surprisingly, falls for Samantha. But this gets complicated. How can one have a true relationship with an operating system that is not flesh and blood?

This movie will make you think about technology. Things like social media sites, cell phones, tablets, laptops, and the internet in general give us a certain amount of entertainment and convenience as far as getting things done. But they also have made us depend on technology to the degree that we do not have as many personal, one-on-one, face-to-face interactions. Some people work from home, some never set foot in a bank since they can do everything online, some do not call others, they only e-mail or text. How many people on your Facebook friends list are true friends that you actually see on a regular basis? How many of them are people you have not seen in 10, 15 or 20 years? How many times have you seen someone at an event who is too occupied by taking pictures, taking videos or spending time on their cell phone to pay attention to the event? What do you value more, talking to someone in person or talking via e-mail or on a social media site? Some get obsessed with a virtual world since in a virtual world of video games or websites we are protected, we can't get hurt. Technology has led us to crave the attention and approval of others. People want others to notice their Facebook posts or tweets. People are less private than they used to be, often sharing everything online. Technology is not going away. There is no turning back. We are in too deep. Our technology has brought us together in certain ways, but I think it has also split us apart and it has isolated us in many respects.

Information from