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