Sunday, September 13, 2015

Woody Allen's Musical

In 1996, Woody Allen released his film called Everyone Says I Love You. It is his only musical that he has made to date. The actors were not told that it was a musical until after signing their contracts. The title comes from a song in the 1932 film by the Marx Brothers called Horse Feathers. Woody is a fan of Groucho and his brothers, and there are references to them multiple times in the film. At one point there is a party where the guests wear Groucho eyebrows and mustaches and carry fake cigars.

The cast is truly star-studded. For this film, Woody Allen signed Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn, Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts and more. Many actors want to work with Allen due to his long career as a master writer/director and actor. He is admired by many for his work and creative vision. The total budget for the film was just $20 million, peanuts by Hollywood standards. The cast must have worked for a lower salary than they are accostomed to with this modest budget. One young star in the film was a 15 year old Natalie Portman. At this point, this was just her fifth film. She had already worked with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Heat. The same year that Everyone Says I Love You was released, her film Beautiful Girls hit theatres. That was another impressive cast, starring the likes of Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Rosie O'Donnell, Uma Thurman and Michael Rappaport.

There is a reason that this movie felt like an old school Fred Astaire style musical from the golden days of Hollywood. Many of the songs date from the Depression era, if not earlier. A few of them include these.

Just You, Just Me-1929
Everyone Says I Love You-1932
My Baby Just Cares for Me-1930
I'm Through with Love-1931
Cuddle Up a Little Closer-1908

Music has always played a key role in Allen's work. Many of his films have a classic jazz soundtrack. For his film Manhattan, the music of George Gershwin was featured extensively. He used Rhapsody in Blue for his opening credit sequence which featured black and white scenes of Manhattan, wrapping up with an unforgettable fireworks scene. Everyone Says I Love You is filled with gorgeous songs. Some are toe-tappers and some are slow and thoughtful, but it is masterful the way they are intertwined within the storyline. The movie features singing and dancing scenes, and all actors performed their own singing with the exception of one, Drew Barrymore.

The story is peppered with scenes of melancholy and mirth. It is a family story, about upper class New Yorkers who struggle with relationships. Woody Allen's character falls for Julia Roberts' character. Drew Barrymore has ups and downs in her romantic life. Some scenes in the film were shot overseas, in Paris and Venice. This was a departure for Allen since it was his first film in over 20 years to be shot outside New York. But, in his future work, Allen would shoot many films in Europe.

Woody Allen's personal life has been tabloid fodder for years. I certainly do not endorse the choices he has made. He is an odd fellow but a brilliant artist nonetheless. This film is one of his best, up there with Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and more. It is a light, feel good movie with songs that you will find yourself humming. Check it out, especially if you enjoy musicals.

* Some information from

Monday, September 07, 2015

Show Biz Wiz Quiz!

It's quiz time. Find the answers to these questions by looking at my last 10 blog entries.

1. What jazz vocalist/trumpet player hails from British Columbia, Canada and is receiving rave reviews for her work?

2. Which "Rat Pack" member started performing in Vaudeville theatres in 1929 performing with his father and uncle?

3. Who is the comedy legend that filled in for Johnny Carson 87 times as guest host of the NBC Tonight Show?

4. Between 1946 and 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed regularly at what legendary New York City nightclub?

5. What groundbreaking situation comedy set the record for the highest Nielsen rating (67.3) in 1952-53?

6. Which late night TV host retired in May, after 33 years hosting his own show?

7. Who is the Canadian actor who has starred in the TV shows Family Ties and Spin City?

8. Which multi-talented Hollywood performer wrote 2 books about his life, called "Why Me" and "Yes I Can"?

9. What Harvard-educated actor starred in the films The World According to Garp, Terms of Endearment and Footloose?

10. Canadian entertainers Martin Short and Paul Shaffer met in the 1970s while working on a Toronto production of which musical?


1. Bria Skonberg

2. Sammy Davis Jr.

3. Bob Newhart

4. The Copacabana

5. I Love Lucy

6. David Letterman

7. Michael J. Fox

8. Sammy Davis Jr.

9. John Lithgow

10. Godspell

How did you do? Leave a comment below. Also, feel free to let me know about what topics you would like to see covered on this blog.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Bob Newhart: The Master of Dry, Subtle Humor

Comedy legend Bob Newhart just turned 86 years old. There are very few showbiz personalities of his generation that are still around. Some that come to mind are Jerry Lewis and Don Rickles. For over 50 years, Newhart has been a beloved star of television, film and standup comedy. He has always had a calm demeanor, and he delivers his jokes with a quiet subtlety. He is not an over-the-top wacky goofball comic like Jerry Lewis or Martin Short. He can say a lot with just a few words and a deadpan expression on his face. In this way he is similar to one of his idols, Jack Benny. He is known as a clean comedian who does not find it necessary to resort to using profanity. He has released 10 comedy albums. Some may not be surprised that before hitting it big in comedy, he worked as an accountant. He has the analytical, serious personality of one who would work well with numbers.

One odd fact is that he starred in 3 different TV shows that bore his name. Okay, technically 4 shows, but the details on the first show, from 1961-62, are sketchy. IMDB says that he appeared in 8 episodes. But, there are writing credits for 15-18 episodes. The premiere of each show after that was 10 years apart.

In 1972 he launched The Bob Newhart Show (142 episodes). He played a Chicago psychologist named Bob Hartley. The subject matter made for fertile comedy material, focusing on his odd patients and their psychological struggles. This show was a big break for co-stars Suzanne Pleshette and Marcia Wallace.

In 1982 he starred in Newhart (184 episodes). He played the owner of an Inn in Vermont named Dick Louden. His co-stars included Mary Frann, Peter Scolari (who did Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks) and Tom Poston. Some may recall the quirky trio of Larry, Daryl and Daryl.

In 1992 he starred in Bob (33 episodes), where he played Bob McKay, a cartoonist. This was the shortest lived of his TV shows that bore his name. Various celebrities appeared on the show such as Betty White, Tom Poston, Lisa Kudrow and Steven Wright.

He was a favorite guest of Johnny Carson on his NBC Tonight Show. Newhart was Johnny's frequent guest host, filling in for Johnny a staggering 87 times. After Jack Paar left the show in 1962, Newhart was considered as his replacement, but the job went to Carson. Groucho Marx and Jackie Gleason were also in the running to host the iconic late night show.

In the 1960s Newhart appeared on shows hosted by some of entertainment's biggest stars. He appeared on shows hosted by Judy Garland, The Smothers Brothers, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason. He appeared on Dean Martin's show 24 times.

In more recent years he has appeared on a variety of TV shows including The Simpsons, Murphy Brown, Saturday Night Live, ER, NCIS, The Big Bang Theory and Hot in Cleveland.

Newhart has been married to his wife Ginny since 1963, and they have four children.

* Some information from

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Very Funny Man, I Must Say

My recent spree of reading biographies has included reading about: Steve Martin, Dick Van Dyke, Rob Lowe, Michael J. Fox, Tina Fey, Sammy Davis Jr. and John Lithgow. My next book to tackle was the autobiography of an entertainer who comes from our neighbors to the north...Canada.

One of my favorite Canadian entertainers has to be Martin Short. Others in that group would include the progressive rock band Rush, Michael J. Fox and Paul Shaffer. Short's autobiography is called "I Must Say: The Life of a Humble Comedy Legend". The title comes from his catchphrase as the nerdy, Pat Sajak-obsessed geek Ed Grimley. He is good friends with fellow canuck Paul Shaffer, former bandleader and sidekick of David Letterman. Shaffer and Short worked together in the 1970's during a Toronto production of the musical Godspell. Marty Short was obsessed with show biz from a young age. When others were listening to the Beatles in the 1960s, he listened to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and watched the films of Jerry Lewis. He had an Irish Catholic dad who drank a lot. His father was an executive at a steel company. His mom worked as a musician in an orchestra.

From 1981 to 1984, Martin Short was part of the cast of SCTV, a Canadian sketch comedy show. The program was a starting point for many comedians such as Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, and more. On SCTV, Short created some of the characters that went on to feature when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

Here are some of Short's projects over the years.

1976-1977 The David Steinberg Show (10 episodes)
1979-1980 The Associates (13 episodes)
1980-1981 I'm a Big Girl Now (14 episodes)
1981-1984 SCTV (33 episodes)
1986 Three Amigos
1987 Innerspace
1988 The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley (13 episodes)
1991 Father of the Bride
1994 The Martin Short Show (3 episodes)
1995 Father of the Bride 2
1996 Mars Attacks
1999-2000 The Martin Short Show (63 episodes)
2002 Curb Your Enthusiasm (1 episode)
2001-2003 Primetime Glick (30 episodes)
2010 Damages (13 episodes)
2011 Weeds (3 episodes)
1984-2013 Saturday Night Live (21 episodes, 1984-85 for most appearances, some also in 2005, 2006, 2013)
2010-2013 The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That (Voice, 61 episodes)
2011-2012 How I met Your Mother (3 episodes)
2014-2015 Mullaney (13 episodes)

He is known for his odd, wacky, over-the-top characters from SNL such as Ed Grimley, Jackie Rogers Jr., Nathan Thurm and Irving Cohen. He found the SNL job to be highly stressful due to the tight schedule and the live performances. He was used to SCTV, which was not live. He only had a one year contract for SNL, and he almost left part of the way through the season. He was successful, but it was not a good fit.

After the failure of his 2nd version of The Martin Short Show he wanted a character that he could hide behind. His solution was to play the grossly obese celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick. Primetime Glick lasted from 2001-2003 on Comedy Central. His wife Dixie on the show was played by fellow SNL alum Jan Hooks. His bandleader was played by Michael McKean from Spinal Tap and Laverne and Shirley. His character was named Adrian Van Voorhees and he played the harp. The show featured Jiminy interviewing celebrities such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O'Brien and Eugene Levy. Short would sometimes perform as other characters in skits within the show, like he did on SCTV and SNL. He would sometimes play an elderly woman who would sit in the audience of the show. Her name was Miss Gathercole and she was obviously based on Bette Davis during her final years. In the book, Short recalled a time on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where he was on the same show as Davis. Eugene Levy has said that the Glick character is Short's greatest creation. Jiminy is a glutton, a lusty, clueless, self absorbed oaf. He refers to obscure celebrities from the glory years of show biz such as Sal Mineo from Rebel without a Cause.

The final segment of the book discusses Short's wife Nancy and her cancer battle, which sadly took her life in 2010. The two had met during the 1970s when both of them were doing the musical Godspell in Toronto. The two were married in 1980 and had 3 children. Before meeting Nancy, Martin had dated SNL star Gilda Radner. The book summarized the close bond between Martin and his wife.

These days, Martin Short takes on various roles in films, TV and on Broadway. He also tours and performs live shows with good friend Steve Martin.

* Some information from

Friday, July 24, 2015

At the Copa...

When I recently read the book "Dean and Me: A Love Story" by Jerry Lewis, I noticed that spoke highly of their days performing at New York's Copacabana Club. Between 1946 and 1956, no one was bigger in show business than Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Their final performance together was at the club in 1956.

In May of 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. broke all attendance records at the club.

The club opened in 1940 in Manhattan, at 10 East 60th Street. Although his name was not on the lease, a partner in the club was powerful mob boss Frank Costello. It remained at the 60th Street location for over 50 years. In 1992, it moved to 57th Street. In 2001, it moved to 34th Street. Since 2011, the Copa has been located in Times Square on 47th Street.

The 1978 song "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow reignited interest in the club. A 1947 film of the same name starred Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda. It has been a setting for many well known more recent films, such as Good Fellas, Raging Bull, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Carlito's Way.

Many famous recordings were taped there such as "Sam Cooke at the Copa" and "The Supremes at the Copa".

*Some information from

Monday, July 20, 2015

John Lithgow: "Drama: An Actor's Education"

Many people know the actor John Lithgow from his role as Dick Solomon in the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001). But, he released a book called "Drama: An Actor's Education" which chronicles his life in television, film and live theatre.

He was born to an actress mother and a theatre director/producer father. His family moved frequently as he grew up and John worked for his father on various live theatre productions. At one point his father worked for Princeton University.

When he first started his college career, Lithgow wanted to be an artist. He was excited to meet his artistic hero Norman Rockwell. Lithgow graduated from Harvard and studied theatre abroad in London.

When he was drafted for the Vietnam war, he dodged the draft by utilizing his acting skills. He pretended to have psychological problems and did not serve. He compared it to a scene from the film Alice's Restaurant. To this day, he still feels guilty about avoiding his military service.

In the 1970s he appeared in many Broadway shows, but few musicals. He said that the two worlds of musical theatre and the world of non-musical plays were separate. He had an affair with one of his co-stars, Liv Ullman. She was the muse of iconic film director Ingmar Bergman. During this period he met an unknown teenage actress whom everyone knew was bound for greatness, Meryl Streep.

His career highlights include; All That Jazz (1979), The World According to Garp (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Footloose (1984), The Pelican Brief (1993), 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001, 139 episodes), Shrek (2001), and Dexter (2009, 12 episodes).

Lithgow has been nominated for two Academy Awards. He has won two Golden Globes and five primetime Emmy Awards. He has been nominated for three Grammy Awards. He has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

His autobiography is beautifully written, with many interesting stories about his life in show business. My only complaint with the book is that sometimes Lithgow comes off as a bit pompous and self-righteous. I think that he is an intellectual snob. But, he did graduate from Harvard after all.

*Some information from

Friday, July 03, 2015

Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob

A book's title is an important tool to attract the interest of potential readers. But, when a title is deceptive, readers feel slighted. That is how I felt after reading Matt Birkbeck's book "Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob". I have always had an interest in the mega stars that were members of the legendary bunch of entertainers known as The Rat Pack. The group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

I expected this book to be all about the life and times of Sammy Davis Jr. I knew that he was a man of many talents, famous for his singing, dancing, acting, his impressions and his overall charisma. I had assumed that the book would tell behind-the-scenes stories about his many experiences in television, film, recording albums and performing all over the world. There is so much that could be covered about a life such as his.

Instead it was a book primarily about his financial indiscretions and how he left his family to clean up the mess he left behind after his death in 1990. Sammy made a lot of money, estimated to be $50 million over his career in show biz. But he also spent a lot, through his gambling, substance abuse, his divorces and his lavish lifestyle. He was known for his extensive collection of jewelry, his fancy homes and cars. He invested in some ill-advised business deals that ended up costing him millions. So, the book was largely about how his wife Altovise Davis tried to figure out how to repay Sammy's enormous debts to the IRS, which totalled $10 million. Everything was liquidated and it still was not enough.

Sammy wrote 2 books about his life himself, one called "Yes I Can" and one called "Why Me?" So, hopefully those will be more up my alley, with plenty of show biz stories.

For a much better book about old school entertainers, check out "Dean and Me: A Love Story" by Jerry Lewis. That book is filled with fascinating stories about Jerry and his deep friendship with Dean Martin. I would also recommend the book "Johnny Carson" by his longtime lawyer/manager/friend Henry Bushkin.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bria Skonberg: A New, Vibrant Addition to the World of Jazz

Music festivals are a perfect way to discover new talent. A few years ago I noticed the contagious, unique and exciting sound of the Southern Rock group that opened for the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd at Lansing's Common Ground Festival. The group was Blackberry Smoke and I have been a fan ever since.

The musical genre of jazz is appreciated by small numbers of fans in North America. This music is much more popular in Europe or Asia. The good thing about this is that North Americans can attend jazz festivals and performances for a low price.

This past weekend I attended the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in East Lansing, Michigan. Admission is free and one can enjoy 2 days of excellent jazz performances. As the home of Michigan State University, this town has developed into an area that attracts some top-notch jazz artists. One key factor for this is the school's jazz department, and their impressive faculty. The jazz faculty at MSU is comprised of seasoned veterans who have appeared with some of the top performers at some of the world's most hallowed venues. Due to their connections, they are able to attract the biggest names in jazz to work as artists-in-residence and clinicians at the university. Find out more about them here.

I had heard about a trumpet player performing at the festival. As a brass player myself, I decided to take in her show. Trumpet player/singer/songwriter Bria Skonberg took the stage with her band at the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival and captivated the crowd. Her versatility is what was impressive. With the appearance of a Nordic supermodel and a bubbly, playful personality to match, she turns heads. However, it is her old-school way of singing mixed with her confident trumpet playing that makes for a Big Easy gumbo that is a feast for the ears. She has an appreciation for the past, but yet keeps a foot in the present as well. She has mentioned Louis Armstrong and Anita O'Day as 2 of her influences. Hailing originally from British Columbia, Canada she has lived in the Big Apple since 2010. At age 31, she has appeared at over 50 jazz festivals around the globe.

The Wall Street Journal exclaimed the she is "poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation." She plays New Orleans jazz like the Louis Armstrong disciple that has made her unique. She is an award-winning artist who has been lauded by DownBeat magazine. She played with filmmaker/clarinet player Woody Allen in his Dixieland jazz band at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.

Her albums include "Fresh", "So is the Day" and "Into your Own". She put her own interpretation on the 1996 pop single "Lovefool" by The Cardigans. She performs the classic "Come On A-My House" with a style that matches the original by Rosemary Clooney. She performs some of her singles such as "Won't You Come Out and Play" and "Wear and Tear" with a sense of mischief and whimsy that will captivate anyone who appreciates the work of a fine artist. She takes a standard like "Tea for Two" and transforms it into a piece that sports a contemporary flair.

She is a fan of standup comedy, and sees the similarity between the struggle of a comic and that of a jazz musician. She is working on putting the routines of the legendary George Carlin to music.

Here's what one critic said of this impressive new artist.

“Bria Skonberg’s new CD is like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room…She has a voice that is pure and almost little girl in quality except on bluesey items where she displays some of the authority of Dinah Washington…This is a totally fun album and very contagious. There is never a dull moment…most of all there is the bright, inquisitive talents and spirit of Bria Skonberg who promises to be a mighty musical force.”
- Marcia Hillman, New York Jazz Record

Samples of her music, You Tube links, photos and other press materials can be found here.

*Some information from, and Lansing City Pulse from June 17, 2015.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Highest Rated TV Shows

Nielsen Media Research has tracked the numbers for radio audiences since 1947. They have tracked television audiences since 1950. Here are some of the #1 broadcast television shows over the years.

1950-51 Texaco Star Theatre
61.6 rating, NBC, starred Milton Berle, known as "Mr. Television".

1952-53 I Love Lucy
67.3 rating (the highest in history), CBS, starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

1960-61 Gunsmoke
37.3, CBS, starred James Arness.

1970-71 Marcus Welby, MD
29.6, ABC, starred Robert Young and James Brolin.

1980-81 Dallas
34.5, CBS, starred Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Victoria Principal and more.

1990-91 Cheers
21.3, NBC, starred Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Kelsey Grammer and more.
This show was a key part of NBC's "Must See TV" lineup which also included shows like The Cosby Show and Family Ties.

2000-01 Survivor: The Australian Outback
17.4, CBS, starring Jeff Probst.
This was a monster hit in the reality genre, which continues to be popular to this day.

2010-11 American Idol
14.5, Fox, starring Simon Cowell.
Actually, from the 2005-06 season to the 2010-11 season, American Idol was the #1 show on broadcast television.

2014-15 Sunday Night Football
14.8, NBC, starring commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

TV is not the novelty that it once was. In the early days of television there was no competition from cable TV, broadcast was the only option. Today the broadcast TV landscape is facing serious competition. Many get their entertainment from cable channels, You Tube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or other streaming services. Over time, the broadcast numbers will continue to shrink more and more. A rating of 15 is impressive by today's standards, but 25 years ago, it would not be a strong number. Broadcast outlets are shifting more emphasis to the internet as the habits of consumers change.

*Information from

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sammy Davis Jr.---Short in Stature, but a Showbiz Giant

A few days ago I watched the David Letterman 5th year anniversary show from 1987. This was Dave's NBC 12:35 am show that followed Johnny Carson. One of his guests was Sammy Davis Jr. I realized that this was only 3 years prior to Sammy's death, but he looked and sounded as good as ever.

Sammy Davis Jr. packed a lot of living into his too short 64 years on earth. At age 4, in 1929, he started performing with his father, Sammy Davis Sr. and his adopted uncle Will Mastin. They would travel to Vaudeville theatres and little Sam learned the ropes of how to be a performer. In 1933, at age 8, he acted in 2 short films, Rufus Jones for President and Seasoned Greetings. Due to being on the road as a kid, he never had formal education.

In 1954 he was involved in a car accident that caused him to lose one of his eyes. He wore an eye patch for awhile but then decided to have a glass eye implanted. At this time he converted to Judaism.

He developed into a multi-talented powerhouse who could sing, dance, act and play the drums. He had a lot of talent and personality packed into a 5'5" frame. He was a member of the showbiz fraternity known as The Rat Pack with fellow stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.

During his stint in the military and afterwards, Davis fought against the closed minded racists that he came across. He once heard someone complaining about discrimination, and he said, "You got it easy. I'm a short, ugly, one-eyed, black Jew. What do you think it's like for me?"

He had many hits as a singer including The Candy Man, which was a #1 hit, Mr. Bojangles, I've Gotta Be Me, What Kind of Fool Am I, and many others. He acted in many films, some with the Rat Pack guys and some without. He appeared in Ocean's Eleven (the Rat Pack version, long before the George Clooney film), Robin and His Seven Hoods, Cannonball Run, and his final film, Tap. In his final movie he starred with another renowned tap dancer, Gregory Hines.

Like his fellow Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra, there were rumors of Davis Jr.'s ties to the mob. But, in the early days of showbiz, the mob had ownership of many of the nation's largest entertainment venues. So, entertainers could not help but have affiliations with the world of organized crime. Jerry Lewis wrote about this in his book "Dean and Me: A Love Story". Martin and Lewis were regulars at New York's Copacabana, owned by mobsters.

Davis made a lot of money over the years, but also lost a lot. He was notorious for being a Las Vegas high roller. When he died in 1990, he was deep in debt to the IRS. It was said that he earned $50 million over his lifetime but died with debts totalling $10 million. After his death, his family liquidated his estate and his last wife lived in poverty (Altovise Davis). According to an NPR interview with a Davis biographer, Sammy was a fantastic performer, but a rotten parent. He was distant with his kids and after his death there was considerable turmoil in his family battling over his possessions.

He was married 3 times and he had 4 children. Michael Jackson said that he idolized Davis for his massive talent. He was a regular on the Jerry Lewis telethon. Davis was a star of Broadway, film, TV and live performances. He appeared in a memorable episode of All in the Family where he kissed bigot Archie Bunker on the cheek just as their photo was being taken. He also appeared with Sherman Hemsley in The Jeffersons. His other TV appearances included: The Cosby Show, Batman, Laugh-In, One Life to Live, General Hospital and The Patty Duke Show. He died of throat cancer in 1990. He died on the same day as Muppets creator Jim Henson.

Some material from

Friday, May 29, 2015

Michael J. Fox: A "Lucky Man"

Actor, author, producer and activist Michael J. Fox called his autobiography "Lucky Man". He has built an impressive resume as an actor, but has become known for his health struggles. Battling Parkinson's Disease, he has become a spokesman and an activist who raises awareness about this illness. He has fought to attain more funding for research through his own foundation. The disease has been a major challenge and understandably it caused upheaval in his personal life and career. But, he sees himself as a fortunate person who has been blessed in many areas of his life. He is thankful for his wife, his kids, his career, and yes, even his ailments. The years fighting Parkinson's have helped him to gain perspective on life's priorities.

The diminutive Canadian is a high school dropout who is known as a 1980s film and TV icon. In 1979 he left Canada for Los Angeles and was determined to make it as an actor. In 1982 he landed the role of young Republican Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. The Gary David Goldberg-created show would last for 7 seasons. It was a key part of NBC's Must See TV lineup. He met his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, on the set of this show. In 1985, his big film break came with the role of time traveler Marty McFly in Back to the Future. The combination of the hit NBC TV show Family Ties plus his three Back to the Future films (1985, 1989, 1990) made Fox a media darling. Few stars dominated 1980s showbiz like Michael J. Fox. The Back to the Future film originally went to actor Eric Stoltz. Some scenes were shot with him and it was determined that a change needed to be made. Other key roles included Teen Wolf (1985), The Secret of My Success (1987) and Doc Hollywood (1991).

In 1991 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease but kept it a secret for 7 years. He tried to conceal his shaking as well as he could. He was afraid that the illness would hurt his career. But, by 1998 he knew that he had to go public with his diagnosis. The tabloids had found out about his ailment. He was shooting the ABC sitcom Spin City (1996-2000), and his muscle spasms could no longer be concealed. He was able to time his medication to hide any shaking where it would be noticeable to his co-workers or the studio audience. Nevertheless, he decided that he needed to be honest with everyone. He was tired of having this secret. In 2000, he left Spin City, to be replaced by Charlie Sheen. In the ensuing years, he appeared on many TV shows including Boston Legal (6 episodes), Rescue Me (5 episodes), The Good Wife (19 episodes) and The Michael J. Fox Show (22 episodes).

Salaries for various roles

Back to the Future $250,000
Back to the Future 2 $5,000,000
Back to the Future 3 $5,000,000
Teen Wolf $750,000
Secret of My Success $2,000,000
Greedy $5,000,000

*Information from the book "Lucky Man" by Michael J. Fox and

Thursday, May 21, 2015

After 33 Years in Late Night, Letterman Says Good Bye

David Letterman has completed 6,028 shows and he surpassed his hero, Johnny Carson. Johnny worked in late night for 30 years and Dave beat that by 3 years.

Many times, the final episode of an iconic show leaves us disappointed, wanting more. We get our hopes up and we feel let down. That was not the case with this show. It was thoroughly satisfying. It was the right mix of humor, sentimentality, celebrity guests, looking back on classic moments, a lot of gratitude and music.

Last night's finale began with former president Gerald Ford and his quote about Richard Nixon "Our long national nightmare is over". Other presidents chimed in with their renditions of that phrase, in reference to Letterman's show ending.

The star studded top 10 list was a highlight of the night. The category was "The top 10 things I always wanted to say to Dave". The celebrities included:

Alec Baldwin
Barbara Walters
Steve Martin
Jerry Seinfeld
Jim Carrey
Chris Rock
Julia Louis Dreyfus
Peyton Manning (Dave seemed star struck by the athlete)
Tina Fey
Bill Murray

The show had a video that showed a day in the life of Letterman, behind-the-scenes. It showed him arriving in the morning, meeting with writers and producers, chatting with the audience and taping the show. Carson did something similar on his last show.

Dave showed old clips of him with kids and his stint at working the drive through window at Taco Bell. The Taco Bell bit along with his bits with Rupert Jee going undercover and bothering people are some of the best moments from his career. The past several years, he has limited himself to comedy bits in the studio as a rule. Many feel that his show has become stale as time went by at CBS, and it has lacked the edginess that he once had.

Letterman acknowledged his crew and their role in the success of the show. Some may have expected an emotional show but overall it was not. Dave was clearly moved by having his wife and son there and regarding them, he said "Nothing else matters".

Some of the clips and photos were from his days at NBC. After leaving the peacock network in 1993, they did not let him take some of his bits to CBS, calling them the intellectual property of NBC. It is good that NBC gave the ok to use some footage from his old show in his final CBS show. He even had clips from his short-lived NBC morning show.

Dave said a simple "Thank you and good night". The Foo Fighters played one of Dave's favorite songs and the closing credits had pictures of the staff members.

James Corden began his Late Late Show with a tribute to Dave as he featured Sting singing in front of Letterman's New York theatre. He then had Reggie Watts and the band play their version of Letterman's theme song. For his monologue, Corden mentioned how Dave had influenced him and others. He felt honored to follow Dave's final show. It was a classy tribute.

Johnny Carson was legendary and Letterman borrowed a lot from him. He also had Steve Allen (the original Tonight Show host) as a significant influence. I have watched Letterman since high school. For many years it was my dream to work behind-the-scenes in late night. It's a unique television genre with a mix of stand up comedy, funny taped bits, celebrities and music. It's the end of an era.

Paul Shaffer said it best with his final words to Dave: "You changed our lives. We loved every minute of it".

*Photos are courtesy of Late Show Facebook page.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Who is Carroll Spinney?

You may not know his name, but you know his work. Carroll Spinney is the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. If you're an American, chances are, you grew up watching Sesame Street and these legendary characters. Sesame Street has aired on PBS since 1969. Spinney has been with the show since its inception, 46 years ago. Spinney wrote a book about his life titled "The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch) Lessons Learned from a Life in Feathers". He is also a painter and some of his work features the character Big Bird. He has won four Emmys, two Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Information from

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The Netflix-distributed sitcom "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" is a breath of fresh air, clever, and consistently funny. It stars Ellie Kemper (The Office, Sofia the First) in the title role. She portrays a naive young woman from the midwest who has escaped a cult that had her living in an underground bunker. Due to this, she was separated from the outside world for 15 years. After fleeing the cult, she moves to New York City. It co-stars veteran actors Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal) and Carol Kane (Annie Hall, Taxi). The co-creator is Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Mean Girls). Kimmy works as an assistant to Krakowski's character, who is rich, vain, out-of-touch. Kimmy's landlord is played by the hysterical Carol Kane, who has been absent from the limelight for far too long. Kimmy's roommate in their dingy basement apartment is an aspiring Broadway performer played by the hilarious and flamboyant Tituss Burgess. It's the ultimate fish-out-of-water tale as we watch Kimmy try to adapt to the changes that have happened in the past 15 years. Her naive outlook is refreshing since she has spunk and a can-do attitude. The writing is sharp and the quirky nature of this show makes it a winner. We will see big things from Kemper, this fearless actress who reminds me of the outlandish Molly Shannon (SNL) in her prime.

*Some information from

Monday, May 04, 2015

Rob Lowe: Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Actor Rob Lowe looks back on his life in show biz in his autobiography "Stories I Only Tell My Friends".

He grew up in Dayton, Ohio and his parents moved to Malibu, California when he was a teenager. At his Malibu high school, many of the kids were surfers who looked down on actors. But, he managed to find a group of actors in his school and neighborhood. Some of his early friends/collaborators were Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Sean Penn, Holly Robinson, Janet Jackson, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

In the early 1980s Lowe tried out for roles in Ordinary People and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He did not get those roles and he considered going to college to study film. Then he got his big break with the Francis Ford Coppola film The Outsiders (1983). Much of the book is about Lowe's experiences on the set working with the master Coppola. He asked his neighbor Martin Sheen about working with the eccentric director on Apocalypse Now. The Outsiders was a big break for many young actors including C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez. Lowe played "Sodapop" Curtis and was disappointed that many of his best scenes were cut out of the final film. The teen stars were underage, but drank on the set of The Outsiders. Lowe developed a drinking problem and ended up in rehab later in life.

The next sections of the book looked at his other films such as Class (1983), Hotel New Hampshire (1984), About Last Night (1986), and the "brat pack" film St. Elmo's Fire (1985).

In the 1990s, Lowe showed that he could be funny in many comedy films such as Wayne's World, Tommy Boy and Austin Powers.

In 1999, he agreed to a pay cut compared to the money had been making by making his move into TV. The NBC smash hit The West Wing was a perfect role for him since he always had an interest in politics. He worked with a stellar cast including Allison Janny, Martin Sheen and John Spencer. Written by Aaron Sorkin, Lowe played Sam Seaborn. He left after 4 seasons due to a contract dispute.

Since leaving The West Wing, Lowe has appeared in TV shows Brothers and Sisters, Parks and Recreation, and Californication.

*Some information from

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Career of Comedy Legend Dick Van Dyke

Recently I read Dick Van Dyke's autobiography "My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business". He turns 90 this year and he has had quite an amazing career as an actor, singer and dancer.

He narrated the audio version of his book and I was struck by the fact that he is an introspective man who is religious and cerebral. He often has questioned the meaning of life throughout his journey here on earth. He has had times where he went through an identity crisis, wondering about what he should do with his life. He has considered other careers but ultimately returned to his love of performing.

Early in his career he took jobs as a radio announcer and also worked in local TV in Atlanta and New Orleans.

His pivotal role came in 1961, when Carl Reiner cast him as the lead role in a sitcom he created. He beat out Johnny Carson for the role of Rob Petrie on what later became The Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner saw Van Dyke in a Broadway performance of Bye Bye Birdie. Reiner had worked with Sid Caesar on the groundbreaking comedy program Your Show of Shows. The Dick Van Dyke show aired from 1961-1966 on CBS. 158 episodes aired in total over the 5 seasons. Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, a comedy TV writer. His wife was played by Mary Tyler Moore. In the book, Van Dyke talked with pride about their collaboration. The show also starred Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. The show remains timeless and still has a following to this day. No pop culture or political references ensured that the show could stand the test of time. Garry Marshall wrote for many episodes and later he created Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Van Dyke spoke fondly of his co-star Morey Amsterdam. He had a background in Vaudeville and he actually worked in a Chicago speak easy owned by mobster Al Capone. Amsterdam was a brilliant comic who had a joke for every situation. He was also a musician who wrote words for the theme song for the Dick Van Dyke show. Amsterdam was a financial wiz who was always studying the stock quotes when not working on the show. After the first season, the Dick Van Dyke show was almost cancelled. It was consistently being beat in the ratings by the Perry Como show. After 5 seasons, Van Dyke wanted to continue the show. But, Reiner wanted to go out on top, fearing that the show may get stale.

As a physical comedian, Van Dyke idolized his predecessors such as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He was honored to perform the eulogies at the funerals of Laurel and Keaton in the 1960s.

Van Dyke met with Walt Disney to discuss doing the film Mary Poppins (1964). He was enthralled by the story and the music. Working with Julie Andrews was amazing and the film was a watershed moment in his life. "I thought Walt Disney hired me because I was such a great singer and dancer. As it turns out, he had heard me in an interview talking about what was happening to family entertainment. I was decrying the fact that it seemed like no holds were barred anymore in entertainment . . . That's why he called me in, because I said something he agreed with. And I got the part".

In the 1970s he entered rehab for an addiction to alcohol. He also had to give up cigarettes due to signs of emphysema. He teamed up with the legendary Carol Burnett on her show and they did a play together.

In 1993 he appeared in an episode of the ABC sitcom Coach, which featured his brother Jerry Van Dyke.

From 1993-2002, he starred in the crime/mystery drama Diagnosis Murder as Dr. Mark Sloan. It co-starred Victoria Rowell, his son Barry Van Dyke, and Charlie Schlatter. He felt strongly that the show needed to be a wholesome program, with no overt sex or violence. people tried to re-tool the show and make it more "hip" but this angered Van Dyke. In his 70s, Van Dyke was the computer graphics specialist for the show.

In 2004 at age 79, there was a final reunion version of the Dick Van Dyke show. It was a curtain call for the cast.

At age 80, Van Dyke was a cast member in the film A Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller.

Spanning a career that has lasted over 5 decades, Van Dyke is still working. He has become a fan of barbershop style singing and regularly performs this style of music.

* Information from and the book "My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business" by Dick Van Dyke.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From You Tube to the E! Channel

The E! network, known for the Kardashians, has a new star. Grace Helbig has translated her You Tube following into a 30 minute quirky comedy show where she displays her odd outlook on life. The Grace Helbig Show airs after Joel McHale's pop culture show The Soup, Fridays at 10:30 pm eastern on E! She has aired 3 shows so far and her guests have included people like Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Aisha Tyler (The Talk, Archer), comedian Nick Kroll and fellow You Tube star Miranda Sings. Helbig is 29 years old and she has over 2 million followers on You Tube. Check out her You Tube channel here. Just 10 years ago, You Tube was launched and it has created many stars who can earn big bucks if they have a large number of followers. Helbig told Entertainment Weekly magazing that her show is "a curious introvert's nighttime talk show". Her dream guest would be wrestler turned film star The Rock. Her You Tube channel will continue even though she has a show on cable. She says it is her core, her hobby, job and center focal point. She wants to continue to engage with fans via social media. She appeared on James Corden's CBS Late Late Show to promote her new venture. Find out about her show here.

It's a new phenomenon for television executives to seek out internet stars who can make the transition to traditional media, but it will probably become more and more common. Internet stars can attract young viewers, who advertisers desire.

* Some information from Entertainment Weekly magazine, April 3, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

More Late Night TV Changes

Tonight is the premiere of British comic James Corden as the fourth host of the CBS Late Late Show. Last year we saw the debut of Jimmy Fallon as the new host of NBC's The Tonight Show after Jay Leno left. We also had announcements of David Letterman leaving CBS later this year and Stephen Colbert taking over that coveted slot. The CBS Late Late Show has followed Letterman's program since 1995. Tom Snyder was the host from 1995-1999. Craig Kilborn then hosted the show from 1999-2004. The last host was Scottish comic Craig Ferguson from 2005-2014.

Since the arrival of Letterman in 1993, CBS has had a strong comedy presence in late night. For decades, NBC ruled late night with Johnny Carson's show, and the other networks struggled to keep up. The other networks and syndicators tried to compete with Carson with shows hosted by Dick Cavett, Joey Bishop, Pat Sajak, Merv Griffin, Magic Johnson, Chevy Chase, Arsenio Hall and more. From 1972-1989, CBS aired the late movie after the late local news. This started after the cancellation of Merv Griffin's attempt at a late night show. CBS tried various shows during late night such as their Crimetime After Primetime from 1991-1993. This lineup featured various crime shows such as Sweating Bullets, Scene of the Crime, Silk Stalkings, Forever Knight, Fly By Night and more. From 1992-1995, CBS aired Lorne Michaels' sketch show The Kids in the Hall on Friday nights.

* Some information from

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Carson's Cash

In 1979, Johnny Carson was burned out. He had hosted The Tonight Show on NBC since 1962. His lawyer Henry Bushkin told the head of NBC, Fred Silverman, that he wanted out of his contract. A court case ensued and Carson was wooed by ABC. Eventually, Johnny reconciled with NBC and a new contract was signed. The deal turned out to be one of the most lucrative agreements in TV history. NBC knew that Carson's show was a cash cow for the network, so they would do whatever was necessary to keep him. The deal paid a staggering $25 million per year. Johnny had 15 weeks off per year and only had to work three shows per week. His show was trimmed from 90 minutes to 60 minutes. He also would have ownership of his show and the show following his which turned out to be Late Night with David Letterman. This turned out to be a lucrative part of the deal since Carson Productions would earn money from any airings of Johnny's show and Dave's show. Letterman secured a similar deal in 1993 when he signed with CBS. His production company, Worldwide Pants, owns the Letterman show and the show following his, The Late Late Show. That show has been hosted by Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson. Later this month, the fourth host will take over, James Corden.
Information from the book Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life Imitates Art in Less Than Zero

Generation X folks may recall the film Less Than Zero, from 1987. Released in the midst of the light hearted fare of this period like the John Hughes films, this story was dark and moody. It is based on a book written by Bret Easton Ellis. He also wrote the novel that became the film American Psycho, the twisted tale of 1980's Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman. That film was a big break for Christian Bale. Less Than Zero starred Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader. Downey Jr. played a guy who was battling drug addiction, which mirrored his own life. The movie was a profile of spoiled rich kids from L.A. who learned the hard way about the pitfalls of substance abuse. The soundtrack featured some of the hottest groups of the day such as The Bangles, Poison, Aerosmith, David Lee Roth and more. It's interesting that the music supervisor was Rick Rubin. He was the co-founder of Def Jam records along with Russell Simmons. It's no coincidence that many of the Def Jam artists are featured on the Less Than Zero soundtrack. These included Slayer, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Run-DMC.

*Some information from

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

TV History Profile: Fred Silverman

TV executive Fred Silverman worked for all of the major broadcast networks in the 1970s and made his mark on the history of television.

As the head of the programming department at CBS, in 1971 he called for the purge of all of the rural shows. These included Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw and Mayberry RFD. He was behind many spin-off shows such as Maude and The Jeffersons, which were based on characters from All in the Family.

At ABC, Silverman developed The Love Boat, Eight is Enough, Three's Company, Fantasy Island and the groundbreaking miniseries, Roots, based on the Alex Haley novel.

In 1978 he became the president of NBC. He discovered the talents of David Letterman and gave him his own morning show in 1980. The show was critically acclaimed and won an Emmy. But the ratings were poor and the morning was not a good time slot for Dave's quirky humor. In 1982, Letterman moved his show to 12:35 am, following Johnny Carson. he hosted his Late Night show until 1993, when he left for CBS. Silverman was not a fan of Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show, which followed Carson for many years. Silverman and Carson had a rocky relationship, and at one point, Johnny came close to leaving the network. Fred wanted the original host of the Tonight Show to return to the network. His desire was to have Steve Allen follow Johnny Carson's show, but that never happened. At NBC, Silverman developed memorable sitcoms such as Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Gimme a Break. He had some failures at the peacock network as well, with the development of flops like Hello Larry, The Big Show, Pink Lady and Jeff, and Supertrain. He was also in charge during the period where Lorne Michaels left as the executive producer of Saturday Night Live.

Click here for an interview with Fred Silverman as he looks back on the accomplishments during his career.

* Information from and

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

TV History Tuesday: Hail Caesar!

One of the biggest hits in the earliest days of TV was Your Show of Shows. It starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and aired on NBC from 1950-1954. This program was a 90 minute live show with no cue cards and no teleprompter. No improvising was allowed, they stuck to the script. The show had an impressive group of writers including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Reiner established an impressive career in entertainment, working as a writer/creator/director. He created the Dick Van Dyke show, and he directed many films, including The Jerk with Steve Martin and Oh God with George Burns. In his later shows, Sid Caesar hired more writing all-stars such as Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart (creator of MASH). From 1954-1957, Sid Caesar hosted a TV show called Caesar's Hour. In subsequent years he appeared with many TV legends including Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Steve Allen, Lucille Ball and many others. He died in 2014 at the age of 91. He was truly one of the pioneers of television, and he influenced legions of comics for decades to come.

*Information from

Friday, March 06, 2015

Looking Back on Must See TV

These days there seems to be an overabundance of reality and crime dramas on TV. I miss the days of the sitcoms, like in the time of NBC's Must See TV programming. The peacock network thrived with shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, Frasier and more. The period of NBC's ratings dominance has been outlined in a book by their former head of entertainment, Warren Littlefield. The book is called "Top of the Rock-Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV".

Littlefield was portrayed in the show Seinfeld by the character actor Bob Balaban, who voiced the audio version of the book.

This book has many facts about the TV shows that we all grew to love on NBC. Here are a few of the interesting tidbits from the book.

Cheers started out slow, ratings-wise, in 1982, but grew into a cash cow for the network. John Lithgow was considered for the role of Frasier. That is hard to believe now since Kelsey Grammer is known for playing this character for 20 years, spanning 2 shows. During the taping of Cheers, the cast needed to have an intervention with Grammer to address his substance abuse issues.

When the show Seinfeld was being launched in 1989, Rosie O'Donnell and Megan Mullally tried out for the role of Elaine, which of course went to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Seinfeld was unselfish on the show. He wanted his co-stars to shine. He was the co-creator of the show, along with Larry David, but he did not insist on all of the best lines for himself. At its peak, the network would charge $800,000 for a 30 second spot.

In 1992, Mad About You premiered on NBC. Paul Reiser had starred previously on the sitcom My Two Dads with Greg Evigan (BJ and the Bear). The lead female role of Jamie went to Helen Hunt, but Teri Hatcher and Valerie Bertinelli were also considered.

In 1994, Littlefield knew that NBC had to find a show to replace LA Law at 10 pm. He decided to put the show ER on the air, with the strong ensemble cast. This show would make stars out of George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Julianna Marguiles, and others. CBS went head-to-head against ER with their own medical drama, Chicago Hope. ER came out the winner, and would air on NBC for 15 years. Shooting a one hour medical drama was grueling for the cast and crew. Often they would work 14-17 hour days, covering 8-10 pages of script each day. The cast said that they had a hard time enjoying the ride since they were working all of the time.

Thursday night was like a money machine for NBC. The one night generated more revenue from advertising than all other 6 nights combined. All of this money enabled NBC to expand their reach into cable TV, with the launch of CNBC and MSNBC, as well as sports programming.

Under the leadership of Littlefield, the network launched the quirky comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun. John Lithgow starred in the show as the alien patriarch, Dick Solomon. Lithgow had worked in many films, including The World According to Garp, with Robin Williams. French Stewart, Jane Curtin, Kristin Johnston and Joseph Gordon Levitt were the co-stars of 3rd Rock.

Just Shoot Me became part of the Must See TV lineup, starring David Spade. This was created by Steven Levitan, who also developed the current ABC hit, Modern Family.

In 1998, Will and Grace became a hit for NBC. With a 30 minute sitcom, the cast only worked 3 hours per day. The writing was so strong that it was an easy project. Over a period of 8 years on the air, every episode was directed by James Burrows. He is known as the master sitcom director, with 10 primetime Emmy wins under his belt. He has directed the shows Taxi, Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NewsRadio, Mike and Molly and more. The book mentioned his impeccable comic instincts that make him a top notch director for TV. Will and Grace attracted 18-19 million viewers per week.

Friends director James Burrows knew that the show would be a hit even before it hit the air. He took the 6 members of the ensemble cast to Vegas for a weekend to gamble and have a good time. They flew on the NBC corporate jet. This was before anyone knew the cast, and he told them to enjoy their last moments of anonymity. How right he was.

Littlefield did not hold back in the book as far as his distaste for some of his fellow TV executives. He was especially harsh on Don Ohlmeyer, who fired him from his NBC position. He was also very critical of Jeff Zucker, who took over for Littlefield after his departure. He said that Zucker did not have a love for the medium of TV. He only cared about making money. Zucker cared about manipulating viewers, not nourishing them. He was ousted in 2011 when Comcast merged with NBC and cleaned house.

The book mentioned how much the broadcast TV landscape has changed over the past 15 years. Everything is fractured, with so much competition from cable and the internet. American Idol gets one third the audience of The Cosby Show and it is a smash. A challenge for TV executives is the fact that so many people are not watching shows live. Many are watching on a DVR, skipping through the commercials. Broadcast networks teamed up with their former cable adversaries, with ABC merging with Disney and ESPN.

This book is an excellent read for those who want to know about the inner workings of a successful TV network at its peak.

* Some material from

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Comically Absurd Martin Short

One of my favorite SNL cast members was Martin Short (1984-1985). I loved his over-the-top crazy characters like Jackie Rogers Jr., Nathan Thurm and Ed Grimley. Previous to SNL he was a cast member on SCTV (1981-1984) along with comedy greats like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara and more. In 1994, he starred in a short lived comedy show, The Martin Short Show. This program featured appearances by Jan Hooks (SNL), Steve Martin, Andrea Martin and Casey Kasem. He appeared in the films Father of the Bride 1 and 2, Three Amigos, Mars Attacks! and more.

From 2001-2003, he had a show on Comedy Central called Primetime Glick. In the show he played a clueless Hollywood celebrity interviewer who would ask insane questions. Jiminy Glick (shown in photo above), was an overweight oaf with an odd voice and he had comically large glasses. He often knew very little about his guests. He seemed obsessed with old Hollywood. One of his shows had him reenacting the death of Sal Mineo (Rebel without a Cause) with puppets. His musical director on Primetime Glick was Michael McKean (Laverne and Shirley, Spinal Tap). He was named Adrian Van Voorhees and he played the harp. On You Tube you can find clips of his interviews with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Cheri Oteri, Goldie Hawn, Regis Philbin, Tom Hanks, Mel Brooks, Ray Romano, and more. Here is an interview with film icon Steven Spielberg.

In recent years, Short has become a regular guest on David Letterman's show. He has known Dave's bandleader and fellow Canadian, Paul Shaffer, for decades. Short will usually begin his appearance on Dave's show by screaming to the audience "Thanks for remembering!" Currently Short is touring venues around the country with his old friend Steve Martin.

*Some information from

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life Itself: The Story of Roger Ebert

I recently watched the film "Life Itself" based on the memoirs of Roger Ebert. It tells the story of an amazing man with a stellar intellect when it came to viewing films and writing about them. How many film critics can you name? Chances are, not many. Ebert was admired for the way he could write about film in a language that everyone could understand. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, a rare honor for a film critic. He wrote 15 books and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A good review from Ebert could make or break a film.

He was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. His rival critic was Gene Siskel for the Chicago Tribune. The two teamed up to co-host a film criticism show, Siskel and Ebert. They had a rocky relationship, combative and competitive, but nonetheless admired the intellect of one another. Cancer took the life of Siskel (brain cancer) and later Ebert (thyroid and salivary gland cancer that led to the removal of his jaw).

"Life Itself" is hard to watch at times, since it shows Ebert struggling to live his life with a sense of normality after having his jaw removed and losing the ability to speak and eat. He also had trouble walking, after the cancer led to injuries that limited his mobility. But, Roger could still "speak" through Twitter and his website where he could post blogs and film reviews.

Ebert did not marry until the age of 50, and his wife Chaz provided much needed support for Roger, especially late in his life. He died in 2013 at the age of 70. This film is a must see for those who are fans of film, or the writings of Ebert. It shows a life well lived, with passion and resilience.

*Some information from