Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Magic Numbers At Joe's Pub -- I Was There

The Magic Numbers are the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

It was 24 hours ago that the Magic Numbers began their second show at Joe's Pub. I've finally calmed down enough to write about it. I almost began blogging at two in the morning, but I was afraid I'd write hyperbolic comments like, "I've seen the future of rock and roll and its name is The Magic Numbers" or some such thing. Now that I've stopped hyperventilating, I think I can restrain my enthusiasm to saying something more modest like, "The Magic Numbers are the greatest rock and roll band in the world."

The Magic Numbers are the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Maybe that's the biggest surprise of the show for me: how rock and roll they really are. The buzz for The Magic Numbers began two years ago -- in the British music press, modest praise for a new band that has yet to even release a single would be, "They're likely to be the most important group since the Smiths, if not the Beatles."

But the press for the Numbers was intriguing; not many new bands get compared to the Mamas & the Papas. Then I heard a gentle, acoustic song on a giveaway CD from Q Magazine. Wonderful, lovely stuff and I made a note to get their album on import. But the Mamas & The Papas tag (while not crazy) was mostly a family thing. Journalists couldn't get over the fact that the band was composed of two sets of siblings, a brother and a sister and another brother and sister. They certainly had some cool vocals on the first single and there was a definite Sixties vibe to them.

When the album arrived, that gentle acoustic track proved a red herring. This was terrific pop, but not quite what was expected. I thought of Lovin' Spoonful, the Beach Boys and so on; but none of the comparisons quite fit and the songs were nicely off-kilter. They'd start in an incredibly catchy manner, stop abruptly and veer away into some quiet ruminative section and then THAT would start to become insistently hypnotic and just as you started to groove to it that would stop and the original melody would pop back into view. Five minute tunes were the norm and once you stopped complaining that it wasn't what you had pre-ordained it to be, the music became addictive. By the end of the year, it vied for the top spot on my Best CDs of 2005 list.

So now they were in New York playing at Joe's Pub. The 9:30 p.m. show sold out immediately and I kicked myself for not buying the $20 tickets. When they added an 11:30 p.m. show, I knew it would be a fun gig and said what the hell, buying two tickets with what was at the time literally the last $40 in my bank account. (This is not an exaggeration; I had to go out the next day and sell used books to put some cash in my pocket.) I didn't know anyone who would necessarily be willing to head to a concert that started at 11:30 p.m. on a school night, but so what.

Wednesday turned out to be a crazy day. Directorboy said he'd go to the show and I gave him a copy of their debut just one day before. He listened to it maybe twice but was happily pleased; the album was already starting to sink its hooks into him. In the morning, I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. to transcribe some interviews and write a story about the re-opening of the Apollo Theater. Then at 10 a.m. I did a 50 minute interview with actor Delroy Lindo. (I was up till 3 a.m. the night before watching the pilot of his TV series "Kidnapped" -- pretty fun, actually -- and the TV movie "Lackawanna Blues," one of his most recent projects. Lindo has an extended cameo where he delivers a very good monologue about how his character lost an arm.) Then I filed my Apollo story, spoke to my editor at length about it and other stories and then rushed off to meet directorboy at the US Open.

We spent the entire day camped out at Court 11, watching some nine hours of tennis, including an almost-upset of David Nalbandian, promising young Scottish star Andy Murray (his coach Brad Gilbert was a few seats away from us for that one) and a nightcap at the Grandstand with Robby Ginepri soundly beating a Frenchman when we had to leave for the concert. I was tired, a little punch-drunk from sitting outside all day watching a sporting event and wondering why I was now standing in line to go to a concert that wouldn't even begin until almost midnight.

Still, we soldiered on and went inside and the pre-show happenings were auspicious. I went to the bathroom, which at Joe's Pub means snaking through the narrow kitchen and then going sort of backstage where you climb stairs up a flight to the men's room. On my way up, I saw the lead singer (Romeo Stodart) chatting with a few guys. I almost said something but would have felt the fool and didn't. On the way back down, the group around him had grown and my way was blocked. I tried to slip between Romeo and the wall but couldn't quite make it and finally tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Pardon me, Magic Number," (since I couldn't remember his name and he smiled and let me by.

Then my friend and I staked out excellent spots towards the front and on the side. Joe's Pub is a tiny, upscale venue and they recently added lots of assigned seating, unfortunately, but a spot right by the DJ/sound board got you within ten feet of the stage with no chance of someone blocking your view. It was ideal, since you don't really want to sit down for a rock show. Of course, Joe's Pub is really meant for mellow folk or jazz or world music where you DO in fact want to sit. But this show was not to be one of them.

The band came out to swirling lights and the bass player Michelle Stodart was so cool and so very Janis Joplin that I loved her immediately. (We locked eyes a dozen times during the show as I sang quietly along to the background parts that she was singing as well. She smiled; I smiled; it was groovy.) The band dug into their opening number...and it was great. Like I said before, the CD is a great pop album with all sorts of Sixties influences in it, though it's clearly not retro and definitely sophisticated in its arrangements and lyrics. But the CD is more pop-ish than rock. As they dug into more tunes, I was struck by how rock and roll, how muscular, how loud they really were. The vocals weren't as crystalline as on the album; they were rawer and more exciting.

As song after song piled up, I was searching for comparisons again. Lovin' Spoonful? Definitely. The Beach Boys? Yeah, but more rock-ish. The Band? No, not at all -- the Magic Numbers are clearly urban and not in the least rustic. But a certain timeless yearning they have in common comes through. Supergrass? There's a definite link. Completely unappreciated in the US, that band claims ties to everyone from Led Zeppelin to Cream and the Beatles with terrific songs that build and build and build until you can't believe how catchy and euphoric they are. The Grateful Dead? A crazy comparison, until the Magic Numbers started reeling out extended jams that went on for five or ten minutes. Big Brother and the Holding Company? The Numbers weren't that raw. But suddenly it struck me: their music IS the Sixties in spirit and accomplishment -- that freedom to explore and celebrate and take in anything and everything and offer it back to you with a smile.

It was certainly the Summer of Love at Joe's Pub. The crowd was intensely focused on the band, almost completely quiet during the soft moments and no chit-chatting. I'd take quick peeks around and virtually everyone was singing along with every word to every song. No concert experience is perfect any more, of course. Next to me was a nice young guy and we both effectively blocked any tall people from trying to move in front of us. But behind us were two girls: one of them thought every quiet passage was an excellent time to whoop and she had a very piercing scream. Her saving grace was that she knew every word to every song (much more than me) and was completely into the show. Indeed, every song tended to have several distinct parts and at the end of each section, the crowd would applaud its approval the way a jazz club audience would applaud a solo.

Don't ask me which number came first or who did what when. I can't imagine taking notes at a show like this and songs quickly began to blur. What I remember is Michelle Stodart parading her bass like a torch and striding the tinier than tiny stage like a true rock star; I remember Angela Gannon playing her tambourine like a woman possessed; I remember the three of them carried away by the music, their backs to the crowd, staring down drummer Sean Gannon as they all burrowed deeper and deeper into a groove; I remember one reason why I love the Magic Numbers so much -- they have lots of songs with clapping-along bits and I love clapping along, clapping happens to be a special gift of mine (seriously, I have great rhythm and I'm really loud; at Yankee Stadium, with 45,000 people clapping and cheering like crazy, fans will still turn around because they hear one guy clapping incredibly loudly and that would be me); I remember Romeo saying they'd recorded their new album and it was coming out in November in the UK and we could get it on import or if we left a really nice note on their message board they'd just send it to us and then he giggled; I remember the sheer joy of the music glowing in the faces of the band; I remember a woman in the crowd shouting out at one moment that Michelle was HOT! and Romeo saying he was glad it was a woman who said that because Michelle is his sister and I remember thinking why, does he think it's cool for a woman to ravage his sister but not a guy?; I remember thinking I wanted to shout out "I'm gay and I think your sister is hot, too, is that okay?" but I didn't; I remember dancing more and more and more and clapping along more and more; I remember the house deejay slipping into his booth (right in front of me, but a little to the side so my view wasn't blocked) and how he was yelping with delight and I remember wishing I could ask him for a copy of the bootleg I knew he'd be a fool NOT to be recording off the sound board; I remember everyone singing along to lines like "It won't hurt to find love in the wrong place" which seemed deep and true and like it meant everything in the world and was far more meaningful than any book or film or work of philosophy because that's what pop music can do -- it's just the right words with the right melody and everyone is singing along with you; I remember glancing around and realizing people were literally standing on their chairs and hooting and hollering and ROARING the way people do at a stadium concert for a really great band like U2 or Springsteen but not the way people do at Joe's Pub, which usually has a very sophisticated and mellow vibe; I remember Michelle and Angela intently playing their xylophones and it was so cool and fun I thought maybe I had traveled back in time to the actual Sixties and I was always so glad I HADN'T come of age in the Sixties because my hair looks terrible long and I have no patience for hippie-dippie New Age stuff and I probably would have rebelled against my peers instead of my parents and gotten a buzz cut and joined the ROTC and campaigned for Nixon but what I'd forgotten about the Sixties and the early Seventies was the MUSIC, the music that was pouring out from San Francisco and London and New York for the very first time and you could see all those bands perform live and it would have been just like this; I remember Romeo asking the manager if he could play some more songs and saying they'd be happy to play all night long and I remember thinking he just might do it; and then I remember my head exploding because just when I thought it was so tremendous it couldn't get better the band pulled out two of their catchiest songs for the finale and I remembered it had been so long since I'd really listened to the album that I'd forgotten about them, every number I heard was great and like an old friend so it wasn't like I was waiting for the big hit single (not that they have one) but then they dove into "Morning's Eleven" and that ridiculously catchy first line of "You're in denial/ You're in denial/ And I know" and the crowd literally levitated with joy and then during that song or the next one they just kept going on and on, returning to one section after the other again and again and building to a climax and then cutting to that plaintive refrain "I would die for you" but it was the entire crowd belting it out and we meant it and if I asked the nice young guy next to me to sleep with me he would have even if he weren't gay because we were all so happy and sex is half the point of rock and roll anyway but it would have been superfluous since we were united in pleasure already and then they PLUNGED back into the song and the mania started all over again; and I remember a final, final song (after an encore or two and after they played two new songs that were great and I was singing along with the lyrics even though of course I'd never heard the songs before because that's what can happen when you're under the spell of a great band -- they can take you anywhere) and before that final, final song they said it was the song they always ended with and there were lyrics about how in every hallway there's a bar and so on and I have absolutely no idea what song it was but I was singing along and it built to a climax and then morphed into covers of two or three other songs (I think) and then it built and built and built until all the band members were huddled around the drummer, standing inches apart from each other and playing their instruments for all they were worth and the drummer went into some crazy psychedelic solo that built and built and built...and then they went off on some other tangent and the song went on FOR ANOTHER TEN MINUTES and it all built up again until I was laughing and clapping along and almost delirious with delight and praying, literally praying, it would never end and then it ended.

Whew. An hour and forty minutes of music from a band with one album about 50 minutes long (that's a pretty good spot of magic right there). My friend and I left with the crowd (I hadn't heard Romeo say they were gonna hang out and have a beer or we might have hung around like crazed groupies, which we were) and I didn't say anything for a minute as we walked to the subway. We hadn't really looked at each other much during the show (he was behind me and up one stair) and so other than a few pleased glances and a quick word we were basically on our own for the concert. The music was still sinking in for me and I was thinking crazed thoughts like "Springsteen at the Bottom Line" and so on and I didn't want to kill my buzz by hearing anything out of sync with what I was feeling but finally I said in what I imagined was a rather low-key and discrete manner, "I don't know what that was like for you, since you only got to listen to their album once or twice, but I was kind of whigging out in there" and he paused and then said, "That has to be one of the greatest concerts I've ever seen in my LIFE, if not THE greatest!"

And then we talked in a rush about Springsteen (a great show we'd just seen at Madison Square Garden) and how nothing beats seeing a band up close in a tiny club and how the crowd was just ecstatic for the group and how cool the bassist sister was and how it felt like one of those seminal concerts you'd read about years later (the Ramones at CBGBs, the Talking Heads in their prime, U2 tearing it up in tiny clubs on the "Boy" tour and most pertinently of all, the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury scene with the Dead and Janis and Jefferson Airplane) and how it was a little crazy to say it and we didn't want to burden them with world-beating expectations but damnit that show was unbelievable.

And we talked on and on in gushing terms and we both went home and I couldn't watch any TV and I couldn't read anything and I couldn't listen to any music -- not even their music -- because it would pale in comparison to the show I'd seen and I just sat there and eventually went to bed trying to remember every detail and wondering if it could have really been that good and was there a difference between thinking it was that good and knowing it was that good and did I care and when would they come back to town and when could I see them again and how could it ever be that good again and then I went to sleep and I'm not sure but I think I dreamed about them, too.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

CNN Ratings Rise; Fox News Channel's Ratings Head South

Perhaps America's disillusionment with Bush is spreading to its disillusionment with cable news network Fox: the ratings for CNN during a time of Mideast turmoil are up 21% in primetime for August. The ratings for Fox are down 28%, per Mediaweek. The news is good across the board: "Anderson Cooper 360" (the unofficial mascot of Americablog) is up a whopping 53%, while "The Situation Room" and "Paula Zahn" are up 32%.Over at Fox, "The O'Reilly Factor" is down 15% and "Hannity & Colmes" is down 21%. But don't pop the champagne corks quite yet: Fox draws an average of 1.51 million viewers in primetime versus CNN's 900,000. O'Reilly's audience is three times as big as Zahn and Fox still has 9 out of the Top 10 cable news primetime shows.

The Waves Are Flat Today On Popsurfing

Just did an interview with Delroy Lindo (the star of the promising new series "Kidnapped"), writing an article on the reconstruction of the Apollo Theater, heading out to the US Open and then Yankee baseball capped off with an 11:30 p.m. concert with Magic Numbers. Forgive me; back tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

No More Popsurfing Today, I Think

How can I top the news of Dylan's radio show being available? Also, I need to do an interview with James Ellroy, the author of LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia, write up a story on the reconstruction efforts at the Apollo theater, deposit a check, secure theater tickets, pick up some CDs, my mail and hopefully my first check from the NY Daily News. Tonight I SHOULD be going to the US Open or the Yankees but the weather is not cooperating.

Bob Dylan Radio Show Streamed For Free On AOL

My prayers have been answered. The Bob Dylan XM radio show is being streamed on AOL free of charge starting tomorrow, Wednesday Aug 30 at 10 a.m. This weekend, AOL will also stream a marathon of Dylan's previous broadcasts. This will continue for the forseeable future. I believe it's simulcast, meaning you'll have to listen to it as it happens. It won't be banked and available for replay at your leisure -- though I'm sure some techie might make that happen illegally. Finally -- a good reason to get up early.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Emmys -- A Meta Critique

Two of the LA Times writers blast the Emmy awards for various and sundry reasons, most of them reasonable. Then Tom O'Neil of the LA Times awards section The Envelope takes their complaints on one at a time. And now I take on O'Neil. Very meta. Somewhere, the corpse of Derrida is smiling.

Like The Oscars, the Emmy Awards does a terrible job of showcasing the very art it means to celebrate. The Oscars rarely show movie clips and the ones they do show are often poorly chosen and too short. Last night, the Emmys haphazardly showed some clips from some shows early on and then dropped it almost completely as the night progressed and the clock ticked. Even the top sitcoms and dramas weren't showcased. In other words, TV viewers watched three hours of TV celebrating TV and I don't think anyone saw a single clip of a single show that would make them say, Wow, I want to watch that.

This is a much bigger issue than who wins and who loses. On the Grammys, the biggest long-term winner is not the person who takes home an award but often the artist who gets to perform and knocks them dead. On the Emmys, the big winner could be a show like "Rescue Me" or even "Law & Order: SVU" -- what if they showed a meaty clip that exposed those series to people who have never watched them and made those viewers say, Gee, that looks really interesting? Maybe a great clip from "Grey's Anatomy" (say the overheated episode with the unexploded bomb) could have made some men think, Hey, that doesn't look so much like a chick flick as I thought. How about a substantial clip from "The Amazing Race" that might actually explain why this series wins year after year after year. I think I saw 15 seconds from "The Office," which ain't enough to make those who haven't come on board eagerly set their Tivos for the new season. If it's the best comedy of the year, surely they can spare one minute to show some hilarious scene that works out of context, something to make people say, Let's watch that when it comes back in a few weeks.

REBUTTAL OF O'NEIL'S REBUTTAL #1 -- O'Neil says in fact that the right shows often win -- sure, "Grey's Anatomy" lost but it lost to "24." Sure, "Lost" wasn't even nominated but it submitted the wrong episode, he says. Well, the Emmys are almost always a day late and a dollar short. "24" is a very deserving winner -- this may have been its best season. But it really should have won its FIRST season or maybe its third. Taking five years to recognize something this groundbreaking is too long. It's not a question of "24" versus "Grey's Anatomy" or "The Office" versus "Two and a Half Men." It's a question of timing. The entire WORLD has known that "24" has been top-notch TV for five years. Heck, it's about to be turned into a movie. How can the Emmys always be so late to the party? Even when Emmy honors a great show like "The Sopranos," they are invariably slow-footed and that makes them stodgy and stupid and years behind TV fans. The Emmys are less savvy than the average viewer in Topeka, Kansas and that's bad. This may -- MAY -- be changing a tad as "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" were good choices last season and "The Office" and the way-overdue "24" were good ones this year. But that success in the two biggest categories doesn't overcome the sense of ennui that exists in almost every other voting result. O'Neil's biggest gripe is that people don't understand that the voting is based on the episodes submitted. I say the episodes submitted should be a helpful ADJUNCT for people unfamiliar with a series, not the entire basis for your vote. If you don't watch "The West Wing" and Alison Janney's submission impresses you, I think it's your duty to watch four or five more (or as many episodes as you can) to judge her fairly with the people whose work you do know. Watch four or five more episodes and you'll realize she's a very good actress but her Emmy submission is deceptive: she is clearly a supporting actress and in fact this final season she didn't even have a lot of supporting to do. No one who watches "The West Wing" could honestly believe she should win Best Actress, even if they felt she deserved Best Supporting Actress. If you don't want to do the work of actually watching episodes to catch up on the nominees, don't vote.

REBUTTAL TO O'NEIL'S REBUTTAL #2 -- O'Neil says we can't realistically expect jurors to watch 24 episodes each of all five nominees. Why the hell not? Well, not if they had to do it in one weekend, we couldn't. But what are they doing all season? Let's take Drama: the five nominees are "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "The Sopranos," "24," and "The West Wing." Before the Emmy nominations, I'd already seen every episode of "24," every episode of "The Sopranos," easily 90% of "Grey's Anatomy" and 90% of "House." I gave up on "The West Wing" two years ago, so I'd only seen a handful of episodes like the live debate. If I was voting and it made the shortlist, that would be the only show I needed to catch up on. I could certainly watch the first six episodes (a fourth of the entire season) pretty quickly and depending on their quality, keep going if I felt there was a case to be made that it was better than my instinctive pick from the five, which was "24." I think having seen roughly 106 episodes from the five nominees that I could vote fairly. Now let's check out Comedy. I do much more poorly here, because the nominations are so ridiculous. No "My Name Is Earl?" No "Everybody Hates Chris?" No "Gilmore Girls?" The five nominees were: "Arrested Development," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office," "Scrubs" and "Two and a Half Men." I'd seen all of "Arrested," about four of "Two and a Half Men" and at least six of the other three. Granted, that's not nearly as many as the dramas, but it's still a substantial chunk of the shows that aired (at least 25% of each, except for "Men") and I could improve that in one weekend. Remember we have a few weeks from the time the short list is announced and the final voting. I think in picking the winners of Best Comedy and Best Drama that I could devote a few days to hardcore watching. And if I don't want to devote the time, I shouldn't vote. Could we do this in every category? You bet. Guess what? Cover the top ten nominees in shows and you've already sampled a huge chunk of the episodes you need to watch for acting and so on. Writing and directing will probably be covered too for most shows. Oh, but I haven't mentioned "Rescue Me" and "The Comeback" and so on. Well, I've been watching a lot more than just those top shows. And four or five episodes of Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback" should get me up to speed pretty quick -- that's a lot more than the Emmys require right now. Throw in the miniseries and TV movies (most of which I'd seen already, just like the top shows) and you quickly find that with the tiniest bit of effort and a weekend or two of marathon watching you can give a fair shake to every nominee. So hell yes we can expect people who vote on the TV shows to actually watch more than one or two episodes.

REBUTTAL TO O'NEIL'S REBUTTAL #3 -- He says why should the Emmys penalize a canceled show? Is Tony Shalhoub undeserving? What if a show had its best season in its final year? OK, if O'Neil thinks "Will & Grace" had its best season in its final year then he is almost completely alone (and that probably includes the people who actually make the show). In your heart of hearts, if you think the final season of a show that has been canceled was the best of any show on the air, by all means vote for it. But we all know that's not what is happening. It's simply that people get lazy and once they've started voting for "Will & Grace" or John Lithgow or Dennis Franz of whomever, they just keep ticking off the same box year after year regardless of what the show is like. It's not overwhelming quality that causes these repeat nominations and wins -- it's lethargy. Tony Shalhoub is a deserving actor and it was great when he won for "Monk." Winning three times out of the last four however is not a sign that he is giving the greatest comedic performance in TV history. It is a sign of Emmy laziness. Ultimately, no one's performance is unquestionably better than another's -- but it's all about timing. A once-in-a-lifetime show like "Hill Street Blues" or "The Mary Tyler Moore" show can dominate for several years and should. But this happens again and again in too many categories and the trend is worsening -- ironically -- as more and more shows are eligible from countless more outlets. (Remember, when "Mary" and "Hill Street" dominated, there were only three networks. Now there are hundreds of outlets, meaning the likelihood a show deserves to dominate should be far less.) Shalhoub has been justly honored. Now it's clearly Steve Carell's turn for the spotlight -- he stars in the best sitcom (according to the Emmys) and he anchors the show with a performance that is increasingly good. Is it "better" than Shalhoub's? That's not the point. The point is why honor a show or an actor three or four years in a row? It's tiresome, it's embarrassing to them and it almost never reflects the quality of the show being produced. It's a question of balance, of recognizing continued excellence without ignoring the landmark breakout hits that are setting standards for quality, like "The Sopranos," which took years to get recognized. Sometimes, a great show like "Frasier" really is the best series several years in a row and the actors are at the top of their form. But did it really need to win FIVE years in a row? Was it really so vastly superior to fellow nominees like "The Larry Sanders Show," "Friends," "Mad About You," "NewsRadio," "Third Rock From The Sun" and "Seinfeld," all of which were on the air during that streak? Nope.

REBUTTAL TO O'NEIL'S REBUTTAL #4 -- The critics said it was a weak slate for sitcoms with shows like "The King of Queens" and "Two and a Half Men" being nominated. O'Neil says some people like them, those shows are under-appreciated and thank goodness the Emmys woke up to traditional sitcoms like them and procedurals like "Law & Order: SVU" which get no respect. Again, opinions will always vary, but if O'Neil argues the Emmys should honor excellence, it's an unquestionable fact that the VAST majority of critics praised "My Name Is Earl," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Gilmore Girls" more than those two. "Queens" and "Men" were hardly over-nominated, since only one got a Best Sitcom nod. But again, Jon Cryer snuck into the supporting actor category, which is absurd. He is clearly a lead along with Charlie Sheen. The argument that "King of Queens" and "Two and a Half Men" were among the best sitcoms is decidedly a minority one. Surely the Emmys should honor excellence and usually that would be reflected by the general buzz in the industry and among critics. Fan support shouldn't be dismissed -- "Roseanne" was unjustly passed over as has been "American Idol." But it's a fair criticism to point out when the Emmys don't reflect the opinion of the industry they are SUPPOSED to be reflecting.

REBUTTAL TO O'NEIL'S REBUTTAL #5 -- The critics said "The Office" won Best Sitcom but bemoaned the possibility that this wouldn't give the show a ratings boost, since it didn't for "Arrested Development." O'Neil is right that the Emmy win probably gave "Arrested" three seasons instead of one or two. And it's not the job of the Emmys to boost ratings but to celebrate excellence. But to circle back to my first comment, the Emmys should SHOWCASE the best in television. "The Office" won best sitcom and had multiple nominations. I didn't see a SINGLE clip that would make me want to watch the show if I wasn't already a fan. That is a terrible failing and if the Emmys fixed it by eliminating chit-chat and sketches and stupid filler (or even great filler) and adding in substantial clips of the major award nominees, they'd do a lot better job of boosting TV's best REGARDLESS of who won.

"Deadwood" -- Out Not With A Bang....

...but a whimper. In my book, last night was the series finale for "Deadwood." It had a terrific first season, a very good second season (that started slow but ended well) and a terrific third season with 11 great episodes that absolutely flew by -- and a final episode that sputtered to a halt. Gunmen were amassed for battle, violence hung in the air, Powers Boothe was desperate for something to do, Trixie was desperate to die and it all just sort of...ended. It wasn't a bad episode, mind you. But clearly, the story isn't over and the feeling that this was it probably overwhelmed the creators. Surely they sensed their days were numbered, even though the official word didn't leak out until after the episodes were filmed. But maybe HBO wasn't answering David Milch's phone calls as quickly. Just like the last few episodes of "American Dreams" and countless other great shows who heard the clock ticking, "Deadwood" failed to do justice in its final moments. That pair of two hour movies will probably be even worse, with forced arcs and a reaching for finality that really needed another two seasons. Don't let these hard words fool you into thinking the show failed to meet expectations. Most every week it met and exceeded them. Then it got shot in the back by the penny-pinching cowards known as network executives. That's no way for a gunslinger to meet death.

"Seven Guitars" Extended

Rave reviews for the August Wilson revival have meant an extension. But don't look for $15 tickets, like the NY Post suggests -- those seats in the general run have been sold out for weeks. The extension will include $55 tix -- which seems like a bargain compared to Broadway.

I Will NOT Make A List Of Top Guitar Solos

But if I did, it would surely include Richard Thompson on "Shoot Out The Lights," "The Calvary Cross (live)" or any of a dozen other songs.

Tom Cruise Does Not Own "Mission: Impossible"

Roger Friedman of Fox News discounts the lazy reporting that has said Cruise might take the "Mission: Impossible" franchise to another studio. It's owned solely by Paramount and Friedman rightly says they'll probably launch it again in a few years with a new cast and a new approach that actually captures the spirit of the TV series. But the real fun of his item is a reference to a new Scientology training that can give you super powers. What's it called? Super Power. Now that's clever marketing.

UK Music Charts

Beyonce finally body-checks Shakira and "Hips Don't Lie" off the top of the singles chart with her new song "Deja Vu." Outkast and this week's buzz-band Young Knives have modest debuts on the album chart by UK standards. But my favorite hit is the fashion-friendly single at #30 by Lazy-B: "Underwear Goes Inside The Pants." Thanks for the tip!

Is "Entourage" HBO's New Signature Show?

Sure, since "Sex and the City" and "Six Feet Under" are Gone, "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" are wheezing to their finish lines, "Deadwood" and "Rome" have been cancelled and "Big Love" is on the bubble. I'll admit, the series has little bite but its amiable charm has grown on me once I realized it wasn't terribly insider-y. (A fact borne out painfully by the episode surrounding the opening weekend of "Aquaman.") And it's not a signature show, but how could this article mention virtually every series on HBO and NOT mention "The Wire," which begins a new season in a few days and has received the biggest advance raves for any show in years?

Elton John Has A Dubious Idea

He plans to release a hip-hop album. Samples and beats are all fine, Sir Elton. Just don't try to rap.

Mary Magdalene's Offspring No Success As A Writer

"The Da Vinci Code" is silly; but at least it knows it's fiction. Writer Kathleen McGowan absurdly claimed SHE was "The Expected One," writing a "Da Vinci" like thriller, claiming to be the direct descendant of Mary Magdalene and the Big Guy, not bothering to offer the slightest proof and that having the gumption to insist she didn't want any publicity for it. (Then why mention it on a publicity tour?) Her publisher went along with the charade and USA Today did an unquestioning profile. Happily, her trashy book has dropped off the bestseller list after just a week or two despite a massive promotional push. Look for it at #25 and falling.

Broadway Legend John Kander Comes Out

It's about time, since everyone knew and no one "cared." Why did he wait so long? Did he think people wouldn't go to a Broadway musical if they thought someone gay had worked on it? Then they wouldn't go to ANY Broadway musical. I think the old school approach of pretending you're just being private (when in fact you're worried it might hurt your career) is just increasingly absurd and indefensible, whether you're a TV weatherman, a TV anchorman or an Oscar winning actress. At least someone like John Kander is 79 years old and can reasonably claim they come from a different generation. But anyone under 50 has no excuse.

Box Office Top Ten: Here, Steve Carell Is A Wiiner

"The Office's" Steve Carell might have lost out at the Emmys (thank to clueless Emmy voters), but at least his indie film "Little Miss Sunshine" was bright at the box office. It's the smartest expansion of a little film since "An Inconvenient Truth" played its cards right earlier this year. Outkast might have opened low, but it had a high per-screen average so it can hold its head up. Still, Outkast's fans came out on opening weekend so it probably won't last long. And the biggest disappointment is "Snakes On A Plane," which clearly didn't win any fans once people actually saw the movie. The Top Ten:

1. Invincible -- $17 mil
2. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby -- $8 mil ($127.7 mil total)
3. Little Miss Sunshine -- $7.5 mil ($23 mil total)
4. Beerfest -- $6.5 mil
5. Accepted -- $6.5 mil ($21.1 mil total)
6. Snakes On A Plane -- $6.4 mil ($26.6 mil total)
7. World Trade Center -- $6.4 mil ($55.6 mil total)
8. Step Up -- $6.2 mil ($50.4 mil total)
9. Idlewild -- $5.9 mil
10. Barnyard -- $5.4 mil ($54.7 mil total)

Popsurfing Through The Emmys

Well, the show was a fitfully entertaining mess, even if the awards are the most frustating, puzzling and downright stupid around. Conan did a fine job hosting and his Billy Crystal-like opener (where he popped into a bunch of different shows) was pretty good. His song-and-dance number about how much trouble NBC is in was even better. The biggest mistake was forcing presenters to make chit-chat or (even worse) jokes before announcing the nominees and winners. Don't they know you could cut half an hour out of the show and save us all a lot of misery by skipping all that? Sure, Stephen Colbert's bit with Jon Stewart was funny, but that's one out of about 20. Further, when the winners are announced, the producers are so afraid of dead airtime while the people walk to the mike that they try to fill in with random clips of shows that are invariably confusing and cut off in the middle. Also, who decided what categories should get brief clips and which categories would just be named? Some idiot decided Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie should feature a clip, which meant we saw about half of Ellen Burstyn's entire performance. Presenters were notably dull, with most of them mumbling out the name of the winner. I don't need high drama, but a slight pause and a note of congratulation in their voice would surely be a lot more appropriate than "andthewinneriselizaebththefirst."

The best speech was from the "My Name Is Earl" scribe who named people he DIDN'T want to thank. Otherwise, the producers seemed rudely focused on cutting off acceptance speeches. Sure, the director of "Elizabeth I' sounded so comatose he was probably glad. But most of the stars, deserved their moment. And like the Oscars, they failed completely to give you an idea of the performances and shows that were being honored. Most award presentations didn't feature any clips and the ones they did show were too short. How about cutting comedy routines and actually celebrating the shows you're supposed to be honoring?

The tribute to Dick Clark was nice, especially since they let him talk. Did we have to hear the three-minute version of "American Bandstand's" theme song, however? And the Aaron Spelling tribute was heartfelt if rambling. It actually was fun to see the reunion of the three Angels, though Kate Jackson has had so much work done she actually looked scary. I don't say that to be mean. I found it really disappointing and sad, since she was always my favorite and presumably the least obsessed with her looks. And the frisson of seeing Tori and her mom in the audience while it went on was fun. Too bad they didn't push the reunion idea further and have the cast of "90210," "Dynasty," "Hart To Hart' and so on all get together in quick bursts. It could have been sensational.

The big awards dulled the pain of this year, since "24" and "The Office" actually deserve to win (not to mention Kiefer Sutherland's long-overdue victory; maybe he threatened the academy with torture?). But mostly, idiocy reigned. Jon Stewart seemed embarrassed to win (for the fourth year in a row, because of course Letterman and Conan and Colbert weren't worthy) and said he thought they were making a mistake. Tony Shalhoub seemed embarrassed to win for the third time and clearly believed Steve Carell was going to triumph. Hey people, if you're embarrassed about winning year after year, don't nominate yourself! Problem solved. Andre Braugher was honored with Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for the cancelled TV show "Thief" they put up for the miniseries category in hopes of getting lucky. (Shouldn't an awards committee be around to eliminate nominees that CLEARLY don't belong in their category like Braugher and Burstyn.) The craziest category has to be for individual performance in a variety show or special: it pits Barry Manilow's one-time TV concert against a season of David Letterman. The only reason they're squeezed together is to reduce categories and save time. It makes literally no sense, of course. The best written and directed comedy is "My Name Is Earl," which wasn't even nominated for Best Series. The biggest groaners were Shalhoub (again), Louis-Dreyfuss (which just seemed like knee-jerk laziness in the worst batch of nominess -- as far as overlooking great work), Megan Mullally for "W&G," Blythe Danner for "Huff," Alan Alda for "The West Wing," (not a knock on his performance -- it's just once an Emmy winner, always an Emmy winner, to the boredom of fans), and above them all "The Amazing Race" for Best Reality Series when EVERYONE thought this season (with families pitted against each other) was a complete disaster. Can't wait for next year, when they'll ignore "Deadwood," "The Wire," "Battlestar: Galactica" and all the other great shows on TV right now.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Emmys: Who To Root AGAINST

Everyone making Emmy predictions tells you who they would root for and who they think will win. Not me. Half the fun of awards shows is rooting AGAINST a certain nominee. For example, at the 2004 Grammys, I really loved Green Day's "American Idiot," liked Alicia Keys' "The Diary of Alicia Keys" and didn't mind Kanye West's "College Dropout." And Usher's "Confessions" was catchy as hell -- just plain irresistible. So I was rooting for Green Day but I was rooting AGAINST Ray Charles even more strongly. Of course I love Brother Ray, but the tepid "Genius Loves Company" (jammed full of tired celebrity duets) is a terrible introduction to such a titanic talent. And the mere fact that he died meant this unworthy final CD could become many people's first (and last) album of his they buy. That would be a disaster, so I rooted against it...and watched it win Album of the Year. At this year's Oscars, I loved "Capote" and "Good Night and Good Luck." But my heart belonged to "Brokeback Mountain," which would be an overdue triumph for Ang Lee. And even Steven Spielberg's "Munich" would have been such an oddball choice, I could have enjoyed it. But "Crash" was virtually my LEAST favorite movie of the year, an empty-headed West Coast look at racism that was about as insightful as an episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" (and not nearly as funny). Lord, how I wanted that movie to lose. Naturally, it won. I could give many other examples (not all of them thwarted desires), but the point is clear: sometimes our greatest passion is poured into rooting against a nominee. So here is my Emmy rundown, highlighting the one choice I would HATE to see triumph on Emmy night and why.


BEST DRAMA -- please not..."The West Wing." A worthy show at first, though winning four years in a row also reflected Emmy's worst tendencies of repeated knee-jerk nominations and wins. Sure, it regained a little momentum for its last hurrah, but it and "The Sopranos" should not have been nominated this year. Please no sentimental parting gift.

BEST COMEDY -- please not..."Two and a Half Men." A perfectly serviceable show and I like both Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen. But please, "The Office" came into its own, "Arrested Development" left with its freak flag flying, "Scrubs" is over-the-hill but still as quirky as any comedy and even the weak season for "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is worth celebrating. A good category in which almost any winner BUT "Two and a Half Men" is defensible.

BEST ACTOR/DRAMA -- please not...Martin Sheen for "The West Wing." Blame more knee-jerk "West Wing" tears if he does. Besides, "The West Wing" needs one Emmy to tie "Hill Street Blues" -- my favorite show of all time -- in Emmy wins and two to hold the record. It's up for four awards and if it wins two, I'll be furious.

BEST ACTOR/COMEDY -- please not...Tony Shalhoub for "Monk." I like "Monk" and Shalhoub has been a worthy winner in the past. And my favorite picks -- Jason Bateman for "Arrested" and Jason Lee for "My Name Is Earl" -- bizarrely weren't even nominated. Despite their absence, Steve Carell for "The Office" and Larry David for "Curb" are both so worthy that picking Shalhoub again would just be Emmy laziness. This isn't a vote against Shalhoub as much as a vote against picking the same winner again and again and again.

BEST ACTRESS/DRAMA -- please not...Allison Janney for "The West Wing." The most ridiculous factor affecting the Emmys is the fact that they are technically voting only on a submitted performance, rather than a season as a whole. Obviously, no one could watch even one-one-hundredth of the TV programming produced in a season. But the award should really go to a body of work from that season, with the nomination tapes as a helpful assist. If you don't actually bother to watch a handful of episodes of "Lost" and "Deadwood" and "Battlestar: Galactica" and "The Closer" and "Gilmore Girls," then for God's sake don't vote. Allison Janney had little to do in the final season, she's always been a supporting character and every season she's given one or two Emmy episodes (a spotlight episode that focuses on her character in some tragic or defining moment practically geared towards winning an Emmy). Lots of people do it; but it's ridiculous. She's a terrific actress and I was glad when she won for supporting actor. Winning Best Actress is basically a sham.

BEST ACTRESS/COMEDY -- please not...Debra Messing for "Will & Grace." "W & G" was a funny, even ground-breaking show but it is looooong past its prime. Everyone on the show has won; no one is overdue. No past omissions need to be amended. Let it die quietly and peacefully. The three choices that make sense (the overdue Jane Kaczmarek for "Malcolm," Lisa Kudrow for her suddenly appreciated (on DVD) series "The Comeback" and Julia Louise-Dreyfuss for her uneven but genuine commercial comeback "Old Christine" are all much better stories than tallying one more for Messing.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/DRAMA -- please not...William Shatner for "Boston Legal." Gregory Itzin for "24" is the obvious terrific choice, and Alan Alda was good on "The West Wing" (and you KNOW I don't want "WW" to win even one). Michael Imperioli for "Sopranos" or Oliver Platt for "Huff" would be boring, but not as boring as Shatner. Again.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/COMEDY -- please not...Sean Hayes. See Debra Messing entry above.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS/DRAMA -- please not...Blythe Danner for "Huff." You can see what a poison repeat wins are to the Emmys, forever making them a day late and a dollar short when it comes to recognizing the best new shows. It seems inconceviable they wouldn't pick Jean Smart for "24." But at least Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson for "Grey's Anatomy" would be worthy. Danner or Candice Bergen for "Boston Legal" would just be snore-inducing.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS/COMEDY -- please not...Alfre Woodard for "Desperate Housewives." Her storyline was the weakest (and the least funny) of the show. It was in fact Item #1 when anyone discussed why the second season of "DH" went so completely off the rails. So naturally, this disastrous plotline at the heart of the show's collapse was virtually the one area of "DH" the Emmys acknowledged. Woodard is a terrific actress, of course. But nothing could be more clueless than to honor the glaring creative bungle of the year. Megan Mullally was a very close second. I'm really rooting against TWO in this category.

BEST REALITY SHOW -- please not..."The Amazing Race." It's an extremely well-done show, but for it to win year after year is silly and lazy and just plain rude when it comes to the phenomenon "American Idol." But this year? When they engineered the family edition and momentarily jumped the shark? (But not fatally, I think.) It would be CRAZY to give it to them again. "Survivor," "Project Runway," the 800 pound gorilla "Idol" or even (gulp) "Dancing With The Stars" would be worthier choices.

BEST VARIETY, MUSIC OR COMEDY -- please not..."The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno." Oh wait, they didn't even nominate it, which is the one consistent act of intelligence by the Emmys. Leno may be rated number one, but he is clearly in last place when it comes to late night programming. We're truly in a golden age of talk shows and the like, so ANY of the nominees could win and I'd be happy. Letterman for his Oprah show, Conan for his trip to Finland, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the underappreciated Bill Maher, who is turning into the Susan Lucci of these categories -- winners all, in my book and the one category I await with relaxed anticipation.

BEST MINISERIES -- please not..."Bleak House." Gillian Anderson gave a fine performance (as did others in this miniseries), but the direction was so laughable, so pathetically MTV-ish in a desperate desire to make Dickens accessible to the kiddies that I literally burst out laughing time and time again over the absurd jump cuts or sudden zooms for no apparent reason. Nothing this poorly directed could be the best of anything.

And there you have it: my bold, original, copyrighted approach to award shows: Who To Root AGAINST (copyright 2006). Enjoy the show and get ready to boo and shout out "Noooooooo! How COULD they?"

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Don't Mess With My Corinne Bailey Rae

The New York Times featured a rather condescending review of Corinne Bailey Rae's concert at Webster Hall -- the one I raved about so you KNOW the NYT is wrong. It managed to be polite, while describing her as performing with "an unlikely confidence" and taking her to task for having a "refined" backstory.
Ms. Rae’s lush, slightly folky soul-pop does not offer any real lyrical insights or musical innovations, but that is the point: like Norah Jones and Sade, she is all about setting a pleasant, vaguely searching mood.
While some might dismiss Jones and Sade as aural wallpaper, the fact is that they are both hugely acclaimed. It's like dismissing a rocker by comparing him to Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. Shouldn't you start by explaining why THEY'RE not any good? As a kicker, the reviewer says that for those who might still care about authenticity (personally, I just care about good music, however "authentic" or "fake" it might be) Rae writes "some of her own music." Actually, she only has one album and Rae wrote or cowrote every song on it. Thanks for implying she's a puppet and taking a dig at one of the most refreshing albums of the year. And frankly, her live performance makes clear Rae hasn't even scratched the surface of her talents. Yet.

Hollywood Hates iTunes

Hollywood (and the music industry) are petrified at the idea of iTunes becoming the de facto standard for selling digital downloads of TV shows and movies the way they are virtually the sole portal for music downloads. That's why everyone is putting a mishmash of movies and TV shows on all sorts of websites in a desperate attempt to get someone else in the game. So AOL will offer downloads from four movie studios. Unfortunately, AOL won't tell the studios "no" on stupid strictures the way iTunes will (iTunes insists on one low price for all singles, for example). So you can buy movie downloads at AOL for $10 to $20. But you can't burn them to a DVD and play them on your TV's DVD player or on your iPod. You're stuck watching them on your computer. Why would anyone pay $20 to get a digital download of a movie without any extras that they can't play on their TV or anywhere they want? As we say on Popsurfing when someone does something stupid: Wipeout! (Okay, I just made that up.)

Mystery of "The Black Dahlia" Solved

"The Black Dahlia" hasn't even hit theaters yet, but a sequel of sorts is in the works. A sequel to a decades old noir-ish tale? Actually, an LA homicide detective many years after the crime occurred became obsessed with case, explored its many angles and decided that the killer was...his father. James Ellroy (the author of the novel "The Black Dahlia") gave the author's analysis his blessing. Now the guy's tale of fingering his dad is becoming a movie too. If either of them are half as good as "LA Confidential," we'll be lucky indeed.

"The Wire" -- Now Is The Time To Start Watching

With video on demand and Netflix and DVD boxed sets and so on, there's no reason to ever feel a TV show has passed you by. Case in point: "The Wire." To my everlasting shame, I didn't start watching "The Wire" when it first began on HBO. Then I missed the second season. Then the third season came out and I began to feel silly. How much acclaim did I have to listen to before finally jumping on board?

For a serialized show like "The Wire," this might have been impossible in the past. The train had already left the station. But now I had season one and two on DVD (a bonus of my job) and at least I knew enough to keep them at hand. Finally, I tackled them. These shows are slow to build, the plots are complex and it helps to have someone to discuss the shows with (heck, that's half the fun of TV -- talking with people about what happened this "week"). Some of the dialogue is mumbled so on DVD I've even backtracked and used the English language subtitles to clear up any confusion. (Hey, I'm street, but you can't be up on all the latest slang.)

Slowly the characters started to grow on me and by the fourth or fifth episode I was having a lot of fun (it was clearly intelligent and well-done from the start). By the eighth or ninth episodes I was deeply involved. And at the end of the season I was primed to jump into season two. Remarkably, it was even better. Then I had to wait almost a year for the already aired season three to come out on DVD. To my surprise, the shown just got better and better. And now I've got the first six episodes of season four, a heart-breaker that focuses in part on the Baltimore school system -- all seen through the eyes of cops and the drug dealers and criminals they're facing off against. I've only watched the first four episodes, but they are truly outstanding. No wonder the NY Post is claiming that this season of "The Wire" may be the best single season of TV. Ever. In history. True hyperbole, until you've seen it.

Was Tom Cruise Important To Paramount?

Roger Friedman of Fox News makes a good point: except for the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, most of Tom Cruise's movies over the past decade have been for other studios.
Indeed, Paramount was lucky that "War of the Worlds," Cruise’s most recent film prior to 'M:I3,' was his biggest ever. "War" did $234 million in the end, absolutely the best ever for a Cruise project. Yet most $100 million Cruise films were made — with the exception of the mystifying "Vanilla Sky" — elsewhere. "Collateral" was Dreamworks, "Minority Report" came from 20th Century Fox, "The Last Samurai" was Warner Bros., "Eyes Wide Shut" — a huge disaster — was also from Warner’s. "Jerry Maguire," still Cruise’s best film in a decade, was at Columbia Pictures.
The movies he did produce for Paramount (other than MI and that Spielberg collaboration? The Others, Ask The Dust, Elizabethtown and Narc.

The Shins New Album Delayed Till January

Personally, I can't wait.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bob Dylan Is GOD!!!!

The Guardian has a funny review of Bob Dylan's new album that includes a rundown of the heavy breathing other critics use when discussing all things Zimmerman. Most of the British press says the CD is good, not great.

Walter Cronkite Returns To "CBS Evening News"

Cronkite has done the voice-over intro-ing Katie Couric and the evening news broadcast. They say no decision has been made yet as to whether his voice will be used in the real broadcasts. They'd be crazy not to.

Oh, The Horror Reporters Endure

Hollywood Reporter discusses the astonishing fact that many news outlets haven't simply let the Katrina story die after a week or two. But was the following spin on the issue necessary?
A year ago, television journalists were plunged into unimaginable hell, telling the story of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath that devastated one of America's great cities, killed 2,000 people on the Gulf Coast and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
I think it was the PEOPLE who suffered an "unimaginable hell," not the journalists who covered it and (unintentionally) boosted their careers.

Early Taylor Hicks Tracks Are Released

Taylor Hicks is angry some early tracks he recorded like "Son of a Carpenter" (presumably a song about Jesus) are seeing the light of day. What did he think would happen once he won "American Idol?" If there are -- God help us -- any nude photos of him, those will come out to. Soul Patrol! The record producer -- who is being sued by Taylor for simply trying to make a buck with the stuff he recorded like any good American -- was just doing it because he loves Taylor so much.
William Smith also said he released the songs mainly to help fend off critics' bad reviews of Hicks' single, "Do I Make You Proud," released after he won "Idol" in May. "It aggravated me because I knew what a gifted performer and writer he is," Smith said. "I love Taylor Hicks, and for three months I was refuting the bad press he was getting."
Gee, thanks William.

Weekend Movie Preview

I wouldn't mind checking out Marky Mark (sorry dude, you'll always be the rapping Calvin Klein underwear model to me) in "Invincible." But I'm busy tonight catching up on the fall pilots for ABC. Box Office Prophets has the rundown of hopefuls like that football film, the tepid family film "How To Eat Fried Worms," the wildcard Outkast musical and so on. Sadly, "Snakes On A Plane" did not have good staying power -- surely it wasn't bad word of mouth because the word of mouth and reviews were solid. On the bright side, as they point out, its lack of success means it will be a genuine cult hit a la "Tremors."

Oscar Peterson -- Just Under The Wire

I saw Oscar Peterson at Birdland last night and I was worried he wouldn't even be able to make it to his piano. He stepped so gingerly and carefully towards the stage, Oscar got one of the longest standing ovations in memory: no one wanted to sit down before he did. The first song had me worried: Peterson was tentative and almost confused in his faint playing. But he picked up steam as the show went on, even though he was too tired to bring on the girl singer scheduled to warble a few numbers. Peterson is clearly at the point in his life when he is looking back more than he's looking ahead. In a soft voice, he mentioned several times how we had lost so many wonderful jazz artists in the last few years, mentioning his long-time musical partner Ron Brown and Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington? He died THIRTY years ago! At least Peterson ended with the sad news that Maynard Ferguson (of "Rocky" fame) had died the day before, before launching into "Requiem." Happily, the old lion had some fire left in him, especially on Ellington's "Satin Doll." "Can you mention his name without playing this song?" asked Peterson playfully. I'm glad I saw him and that it wasn't merely a case of applauding the past instead of the present. But the past definitely dominated.

Bruce Springsteen Breaking With Patti?

The Independent claims Bruce Springsteen is estranged from his wife after forming an intense bond with a 9-11 widow. One bizarre reason they claim for this bond: their kids go to the same wealthy private school. Why that should make an attraction more likely is beyond me. Oddly, they claim the NY Post as the source for this rumor but I haven't seen anything in the Post and can't find it on their website. If they did run with it, I imagine it would have at least been teased on the cover. What's going on here?

"Idlewild" -- The Reviews Are Getting Weaker

The NYT doesn't like it. Manohla Dargis takes a swipe at the fact that the romantic female lead has the palest skin of anyone in the cast. Dargis also wrongly thinks Paula Patton is doing her own singing (she's dubbed by another). Doesn't anyone stay to look at the credits anymore?

August Wilson Lives

And always will, as long as plays are performed. The revival of "Seven Guitars" has opened to very warm notices. (Personally, I can't stop raving about the $15 tickets underwritten by Time Warner -- I hope it gets them buckets of good publicity and they and other conglomerates decide subsidizing theater is good business.) The New York Times raves, the New york Daily News has the best headline (Magnificent "Seven"), the NY Post applauds and Variety is the only one with any reservations at all. Of course, getting a reservation is nigh on impossible. The play's run is sold out. Unfortunately, the economics of Broadway are so out of whack this show might not have a future run. In an ideal world it would transfer to a nice-sized Off Broadway house with the current cast and play for a year or so. But the upside of Off Broadway is so low and the costs so high that it doesn't make sense to take hits even to the largest Off Bway house possible -- you gotta go to Bway to make money and get press and maybe win a Tony. And that would probably be a bad idea for this show. Can't anything have a successful run Off Bway anymore?

"Arrested" Talent Making New Shows

Anyone still trying to ignore reality -- yes, "Arrested Development" has been cancelled and it probably won't even win the Emmy on Sunday -- can take solace in some deals for talent from that show. Two sitcoms have deals in place -- one of them, "Broken Home," is about "a boozy ex-beauty queen mother moving to Los Angeles to reconnect with her gay son and help remodel his house." If that doesn't sound silly enough for you, try this: they insist the show is based on "a real situation."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Patty Hearst To Guest Star On "Veronica Mars"

Hearst will play a wealthy heiress who goes missing. The episode airs Nov. 21. I don't know what I can add -- the thing speaks for itself.

Corinne Bailey Rae At Webster Hall ****

Never been to Webster Hall somehow; it's a bit larger than Bowery Ballroom (where Rae performed a few months ago) and the walls are covered in a mish-mash of exotic designs: some Indian, some Chinese or Asian and then the odd seashell just to keep you guessing. I'm in the "VIP" area upstairs, which is lucky since the main floor is jammed very early on. I walked in ten minutes before her Bowery Ballroom set and got right near the stage. Tonight I arrived an hour early and I would have been way in the back if not for my access to the balcony. Luckily, two women (presumably the mom and sister or friend of the opening act) vacate their seats right at the balcony edge before Rae comes on and we have excellent sight-lines from stage right.

Rae was wonderful the first time I saw her, but perhaps her hand-motions and other bits of business were somewhat studied. Tonight she is in full control, her voice sounds glorious and she plays every song on the album plus that ferocious Led Zeppelin cover. A few people toss her flowers and one fellow also hands up a tiny Barneys New York bag, because of course she's wealthier than ever so naturally she needs some free jewelry or whatever.

I love the way Rae still seems sweetly overwhelmed by the applause and the fact that people are embracing her music. She scrunches up her face and offers a "Thank you" time and time again. The finale "Seasons Change" (a Stevie Wonder wig-out) is sensational. Rae says she is already a bit weary of being a star and all the attendant attention. (Fleet Street people have camped out on her family's doorstep.) Well, it's just getting started I'm afraid. She is the real deal.

Jersey Boys *** 1/2

Everything went wrong that could go wrong. I opened up my Playbill and there was a snowfall of notices announcing replacements. Two of the four Jersey Boys were out, and the guy who played their manager. But John Lloyd Young was there and that would be the only deal-breaker since he plays Frankie Valli and he's the one I want to see before the original cast is gone. So I stay. Then the first number begins and the mikes give out. The show is delayed for 25 minutes while they try to fix the audio. And even after they start, throughout the performance there are brief moments when people's mikes don't work at all or only haphazardly. Then the couple next to me -- who've seen the show twice already -- start chatting during several songs as if they're watching TV at home. And despite all of this I thought the show was very good. The book is very substantial, unlike most jukebox musicals. And as others have pointed out, they use the music wisely. The struggling guys of act one sing all sorts of popular numbers in clubs and so on, but the Four Seasons hits are only heard in bits and pieces until 3/4s of the way through when they finally dig into the catalog and it's a terrific release of tension. Young is exceptional as Valli, somehow capturing the spirit of that falsetto without ever seeming to resort to imitation or karaoke. It's gonna make a GREAT movie someday; I just hope they don't wait so long that Young can't take part.

Evil Scientists Declare Pluto Is Not A Planet

And Neptune nervously wonders, "Am I next?"

Bush Has Read 60 Books So Far This Year?

Shouldn't he be a little busy running the country? As if it's not bad enough they expect us to believe Bush is dipping into Camus' "The Stranger" and other weighty tomes, the White House now wants us to swallow the story that Bush and Karl Rove are having a book-reading contest and that Bush has read 60 books so far this year, compared to Rove's 50. Richboy pointed out this article to me and asked where I'm at in reading this year. I am an avid book reader and I'm certainly not near 60 books yet. (Of course, I spend two or three hours a day reading newspapers and news websites -- something Bush doesn't bother with.) But look at the recent books on Bush's nightstand: "Mao: The Unknown Story," "Lincoln: A Life Of Purpose and Power," "Polio: An American Story" and other weighty tomes. Two baseball books lighten the load a little. Almost all of them are 400+ page serious reads. Just for fun, I added up the length of the 12 books mentioned: it comes to 5,426 pages! That is a LOT of reading for anyone, much less a President with two countries to occupy and a Middle East meltdown.

Here are the books I've read since February (at least the ones I wrote down in my Palm Pilot)

1. Stowaway by Karen Hesse *** (hey, kids books are the only way I'll keep pace with Bushie)
2. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi ***
3. Children of the New Forest by Frederick Maryat ** 1/2
4. Writing Home by Alan Bennett *** 1/2
5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen *** 1/2
6. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo ***
7. I Say A Little Prayer by E. Lynn Harris *
8. What Becomes of the Broken-hearted by E. Lynn Harris ** 1/2
9. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris ** 1/2
10. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris ** 1/2
11. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik ** 1/2
12. Billy by Pamela Stephenson ** 1/2
13. Two Weeks in the Midday Sun by Roger Ebert *** 1/2
14. Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris **
15. Throne of Blood by Naomi Novik ***
16. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown **
17. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown **
18. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser ***
19. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser ***
20. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ****
21. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen ***
22. Dead to The World by Charlaine Harris ***
23. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik ***
24. Biggles Learns to Fly by Captain WE Johns ** 1/2
25. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris ***
26. Biggles -- The Camels Are Coming ***
27. Biggles Flies East ***
28. Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose ***
29. Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke *** 1/2
30. The Most Democratic Branch by Jeffrey Rosen **
31. Lord Hornblower by CS Forester *** 1/2
32. Boondocks: A Right To Be Hostile by Aaron McGruder *** 1/2
33. Boondocks: Public Enemy #2 ***
34. Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel by Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin ** 1/2
35. Storm Front: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher **
36. Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies by CS Forester ***
37. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins *** 1/2
38. Lad: A Dog by Albert Terhune ** 1/2
39. Right As Rain by George Pelecanos *** 1/2
40. Giraffe by J.M. Ledgard *** 1/2

Clearly, I am WAY behind. (But I bet if I added in movies, music, DVDs, TV and theater, I'd leave Bush in the dust.) But I'm not going to take this lying down. I'll be damned if Bush is going to read more books than me this year AND run the country at the same time. Bring it on, Mr. President! And how many books have you read?

Don't Blame Piracy For Flat Music Sales

A British study rightly -- I think -- lays the blame for slowing music sales on DVDs (lots of bells and whistles and a great improvement over VHS) and video games and the like. Music sales are flat, but don't look at piracy: they point out that online piracy (like peer-to-peer services) have dropped dramatically in the last three years. Why? Because fans got a conscience? No, because singles and music downloads in general (which record companies ignored, dumped or fought bitterly) are all now available legally and easily. Movie studios should remember this when they dump idiotic, limited movie downloads for high prices onto consumers. And record labels should look at next-generation audio as a chance to provide more value for LESS money, not a reason to raise prices. And bookstores should look at why their sales are stagnating when they keep charging more and more for paperbacks. But will any of them really learn? Nope.

Not So "Fantasticks"

The reviews are in for the too-soon revival of "The Fantasticks" at the Snapple Center. They're the worst sort of reviews for a revival, the ones that suggest the beloved Off Broadway institution wasn't that good to begin with. Personally, I still can't get over the fact that they're charging $75 for a show with a small cast and rather famously has no sets.

Solomon Burke Goes Country -- Will NYCD Love It?

Can't wait for this album due out Sept 26. But will it be loved by NYCD? My friends there have posted their favorite albums of the year (so far) and the fall releases they're looking forward to, such as Bob Dylan. But no mention of Solomon Burke. Don't make him come to your store, NYCD. By the way, I haven't quite made up my best of the year list (so far) but a lot of the titles they mention would surely be on it. (You'll find their list under Newsletter #26, the third item down as of today.)

Tom Cruise Fallout

The New York Daily News bizarrely describes Tom Cruise's $100 mil kitty for making movies as "whopping." Hardly, since that would pay for about half a film. CNN wrongly buys into Paramount's spin that the studio is reacting to Tom Cruise's off-screen behavior rather than making a pure money decision. They also quote a guy who says Cruise has never had a failure, which means he's probably not familiar with "Legend," "Far and Away," "Eyes Wide Shut" or "Vanilla Sky" -- all of which reinforces the fact that Tom Cruise is a huge star. These movies underperformed or even lost money, but no one lost their shirt on them. Still, saying he's never had a critical and commercial failure just isn't true. The Hollywood Reporter blames slowing DVD sales, ignoring the fact that DVD sales are a relatively new revenue stream that has literally tripled the amount of money studios make off movies from 25 years ago. Back then you just had movie and tv sales, now you have a growing overseas box office, and a DVD market that's about twice as big as the box office. So it's not maintaining its torrid pace -- DVDs are still a huge plus. The LA Times focuses on money, making clear that is all this is about. It says Cruise earned some $80 mil for "Mission: Impossible III," which sounds pretty reasonable since the film will gross more than $600 mil when all is said and done. If Paramount can't make a profit off of grossing $520 mil from one movie, their star is not the problem. And everyone who says the movie underperformed because it made less than the first two: duh, that's what the second sequel in a franchise almost always does -- they cost more and make less. But the LAT is right this is only about money.

Here's the bottom line: we should be discussing how Paramount failed to keep one of the biggest stars in the world happy. Tom Cruise has left Paramount. Instead of talking about how they could let this happen (it certainly wasn't over a production shingle costing $3 mil to $10 mil a year), they've got us discussing Scientology, which lets Paramount pretend they took the moral high ground instead of screwing up mightily. You can draw a line in the sand on massive gross participation; you should just do it without alienating your top star and making other actors wary of working with you.

Madonna Ain't Done

Her new album hasn't done nearly as well in the US as it should -- the album is chock full of great singles. But Madonna is far from over. Look at the endless media coverage she's received for performing one song while mounted on a disco-ball glittery cross (and calling for more AIDS funding). Plus, she just sold out Wembley Arena for eight nights in a row, grossing $22 million -- the biggest total for one stand in the entire year, outpacing Billy Joel's 12 night stand at Madison Square Garden ($19 mil) and Luis Miguel's 30 night stand (!) in Mexico City (also $19 mil).

Stephen Colbert Takes A Break...

...and puts his fans to work. Why bother coming up with comedy bits when your audience will do it for free? And hey, why is he paying all those writers on his staff so much money? Just wondering.

New York Times Smells A Hit

The New York Times is launching a scent critic to review new and classif perfumes and frangrances. Says Chandler Burr, the critic with a yacht-club name:
“The creation of fragrance is one of the highest art forms crafted for the senses, the equal of painting for sight and music for hearing, and this column is about treating perfume as the art that it is,” Burr said in a statement. “Every other true art has a serious criticism. I believe perfume should as well.”
One of the highest art forms crafted for the senses? Surely it's the HIGHEST art form crafted solely for the senses, unless he thinks the Odorama effects by John Waters are more important. It's a billion dollar+ industry so why not. But I understood one of perfume's mysteries was how it interacted differently with every person. How do you rank that? And on a par with movies and music? That's just silly. But if he rates the smell of the dumpster at the end of the block or Union Square Station on a sweltering August day, I'm in.

Oscar Peterson Slowing Down

I've never seen the legendary jazz pianist in concert. That changes tonight, just as he begins to falter a tad.

Legendary Album Cover Designer Dies

Appropriate, since the art of album cover design has died as well. Digital downloads just don't encourage nifty artwork. Ed Thrasher worked on everything from Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" and Joni Mitchell's "Clouds" to Frank Sinatra's "Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back" and Prince's "Purple Rain." Nominated for Grammys many times, he won once -- for the Mason Proffit album "Come & Gone." (It must have been the vogueish Indian on the cover that put him over the top.)

Woman Steals $2.3 mil...To Play Lottery

Was she hoping for that $1 million jackpot? As my brother Chris said, not so bright.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mmmm, Brownies

A tiny item on an upstate New York fair caught my attention. Why? Because one of the vendors is going to be serving deep-fried brownies. Said the proprietor: "We go to fairs down south and get ideas."

The Best Comic Strip Of All Time

Shockingly, one critic picks "For Better Or Worse," which has barely caught my eye over the years and never seemed more than not-awful. (Which is more than most comic strips accomplish.) I actually love comic strips: they're truly a bottom of the barrel, no respect art form. (Try going into a comic book store and see how even they treat comic strips with disdain. You'll find a few collections in a musty corner but everyone will look at you with pity or laughter for caring.) I can't speak to some of the legendary strips because I haven't been able to sample them properly. "Gasoline Alley" (which made waves by having its characters age in real time) is just starting to come out. "Pogo," "Lil Abner," "Terry and the Pirates" and "Dick Tracy" are either not available at all or only in flimsy cheapo paperback editions that don't properly present them from start to finish. Of the ones I can speak to, here are my favorites:

1. Doonesbury -- not only the best comic strip of all time, I believe it's one of the most remarkable works of art in any medium. Nothing --I mean nothing -- has captured the last forty years of our history in quite the same breadth and manner as "Doonesbury." It has a cast of characters that would make Dickens proud, political satire that would make Twain smile, a continuing storyline a la the best primetime soaps, a social history akin to Balzac, pointed pop culture commentary worthy of any critic. And it's funny. Very funny. It's a remarkably unique accomplishment. If you want to know what life was like in the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and now, what better place to start? Surprisingly, even most comic strip fans either disdain "Doonesbury" or simply don't pay it much attention. I have no idea why.

2. Krazy Kat -- a spare haiku of a strip, with a cat in love with a mouse, a dog in love with a cat and a mouse that loves to bean the cat with a brick. That's about it, but the love of wordplay and the endless permutations this setup inspires is just delightful. Throw in the marvelous sense of space in the strips and you have an oddball classic that needs to be read aloud and sunk into before you can appreciate its particular take on the world. Like Monty Python, once you're on its wavelength, you'll surrender completely.

3. Peanuts -- like the TV shows "M*A*S*H" and "All in the Family," this definitely loses points for repeating itself, sinking into sentimentality and going on and on long after Charles Schulz had run out of things to say. But in its heyday, it was a wonderfully dour, insightful and witty look at our foibles. Fell apart once Snoopy began to think and talk, of course.

4. The Far Side -- truly one of the most original voices we'll ever see. Gary Larson's endless (and bad) imitators are proof of how striking his accomplishment was and how difficult for anyone else to replicate or even take inspiration from.

5. Calvin & Hobbes -- gentle, whimsical, funny, sweet and God bless him for calling it a day after about a decade. Walking away when you're done artistically is just about the hardest thing to do in any entertainment genre -- few people try and most fail. Usually, at best a show is cut off in the midst of greatness by falling ratings, etc. Bill Watterson did it all on his own and that's what keeps this series so special. Too bad the boxed set is cheaply done, but what are you gonna do?

Evan Dando: A Proper Rock Star

I've never been gaga over Evan Dando, though he does have a way with a tune (at times). But who knew he was such a good rock star? His latest comeback (with the Lemonheads, no less) prompted an interview chock full of juicy details and quotes:
Ten years ago, Evan Dando nearly became a dead rock legend. Due on stage at Glastonbury, he was instead in bed with supermodel Rachel Williams and singer Alice Temple, along with a large bag of heroin.
Well, that's an excellent reason for being late. He also suggests wearing a Marine Corps cap when driving.
"It's great to wear if you get pulled over by the cops: you get better treatment"
And finally, on his troubled relationship with addiction.
"I certainly live a healthier lifestyle," he continues, "but I'm no angel. I don't like alcohol, but I still like to mess around with other stuff occasionally. I think it's important I take mushrooms and acid. They're certainly not addictive, so I can't rule that out. Every six months or so I'll take some mushrooms, because I can't let go of that completely. And I don't want to."
Good on ya, Evan. If nothing else, you're a proper rock star.

The Next Eddie Izzard?

Russell Brand is the standup comic du jour in the UK, where standup comics continue to get a lot more attention and respect than they've received here for many years. Perhaps because they rarely just do jokes and are expected to actually have something to say and create a coherent show in which to say it in.

Martin Short: Shameless Self-Promotion Becomes Him

Martin Short is aggressively doing the talk show rounds to promote his new Broadway show after mixed (but polite) reviews did nothing to goose the box office. This is certainly one show that will benefit from word of mouth: fans ate it up and the show ends very strongly thanks to Jiminy Glick, the "Stop The Show" number that stops the show and a dash of warm sentiment at the very end. The NY Post jokes that Short is onstage for only about 10 minutes in the 90 minute revue. That's far from true -- he dominates the proceedings; the only time Short is offstage is when he's getting into the Jiminy Glick fat suit for about 10 or so minutes and it's covered neatly with the talented cast doing some terrific imitations of Joan Rivers, Ellen Degeneres, etc. I'm sure the show's people will be angry at the jab -- cheap shots are fine, but don't mislead people about the nature of a show. Will there be a correction or an apology? I doubt it. Michael Riedel loves to be at the center of attention, rather than giving the spotlight to the artists he's supposed to be covering.

"Deadwood" Not Going Gentle....

I'm still in denial that anyone could be so stupid to cancel "Deadwood" after actually SEEING the brilliant third season's episodes. But that's exactly what HBO did, even though the show has a loyal fan base, is attracting 3.9 mil viewers an episode this season, gets reams of good press and Emmy nominations and basically does everything you could ask of from an HBO show. Hell, they kept "Arliss" on the air for YEARS because a small but vocal group of viewers loved it. The NY Post covers the unhappiness of viewews and pointed me towards the HBO website, where fans who are pissed use language that would fit right in on the series. The final kicker is that they did the right thing on "The Wire," which gets far less attention but is equally brilliant (if not better). How it ever got to a fourth season is beyond me.

Richard Nixon Won't Go Away

He's too bloody fascinating. That stage play about his interviews with David Frost has just been reviewed and it sounds like a winner, with Frank Langella especially good as Nixon. Any moment now they'll announce it's coming to NYC.

Snoop Dogg: Humanitarian

Snoop is releasing his next solo album in November. But one track "Vato" calls for unity among blacks and Latinos in LA and it prompted the Snoop to offer these encouraging words:
"It's about time we start to fight for each other rather than fighting against each other," says Snoop. "I have homies from all cultural backgrounds and love all of my brothers, black and brown. There is nothing that can stop us from creating a better future for ourselves, for our families and generations to come if we all came together."
Uh, and where does that leave the Whites and the Asians? Maybe Snoop should provide strategy tips on the new "Survivor."

Nora Roberts: She Suffers From Writer's Blockbuster

That was the way Padgett Powell described Stephen King, but it could just as easily describe romance novelist Nora Roberts, who has published some 166 books under various pseudonyms. The New York Times does a polite profile of her, which mentions the fact that she's not interested in literary acclaim, which is a lucky coincidence since she'd never get literary acclaim. (Why? Because critics are prejudiced against her chosen genre or because she's nothing more than workmanlike when it comes to writing. You might be able to guess by Roberts' comment that she would NEVER write a sad ending.) There's one doozy of a mistake: the NYT claims Roberts is the most prolific romance novelist of all time, having written more books than Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and Danielle Steele combined. Big deal that she's written more than all of them - those are fancy, best-selling authors who churn out one a year or even less. In genres like mystery, romance and sci-fi, authors have churned out five or ten a year for years at a time. But 166 books as a record? Please. As surely everyone will write in to tell the Times, Dame Barbara Carltand is the Queen of Romance. She wrote 723 books and sold more than a billion copies. The Guinness Book Of World Records says she is the most published author of all time. Check back in with Nora Roberts in 40 years and if she maintains her current pace she'll START to come close to Cartland.

Snakes In A Theater

It had to happen -- but it didn't. Phoenix police pooh-pooh media stories that someone released snakes in one of their movie theaters during the Samuel L. Jackson B-movie. Actually, they found one lone rattler in a hallway of an AMC multiplex, it probably slithtered in through a side door and it was removed without incident. I'd rather believe New Line execs sent an intern with the snakes to the theater in an attempt to scare up more business.

Billboard's Top 10 CDs

Here they are:

1. Christina Aguilera -- Back To Basics
2. Lyfe Jennings -- The Phoenix
3. Trace Adkins -- Dangerous Man
4. Cherish -- Underappreciated
5. Soundtrack -- The Cheetah Girls 2
6. Various -- Now 22
7. Rick Ross -- Port of Miami
8. Obie Trice -- Second Round's On Me
9. Soundtrack -- Step Up
10. Nickelback -- All The Right Reasons

The NYTimes Does Good

I constantly belittle the arts coverage of the New York Times. So I should certainly point out when they do something right: namely a profile of little-known playwright Daniel McIvor. This is exactly the sort of story the Times should be doing. My only complaint? McIvor is openly gay and has a partner. The Times would NEVER run a feature on a straight playwright and not mention their spouse or girlfriend. Plus, the piece makes a point of mentioning how McIvor tells stories from so many viewpoints convincingly: male and female, gay and straight and so on. His personal website is pretty cool too.If only biboy would make MY personal website as cool (or at least functional). (Thanks to anonymous for pointing out my incorrect take on his name.)

Paramount Breaks Ties, Mocks Tom Cruise

My first question is, "Will Viacom head Sumner Redstone refuse to work with Mel Gibson? Or is wild-eyed bigotry not a problem for him?" Roger Friedman at Fox News has the best analysis of what's really going on in this story that has made headlines literally around the world. As he points out, Paramount leaked their negotiations to the press, which showed bad faith, they're running low on discretionary funds and so on. None of that excuses slapping around a star you've done business with for many, many years. It's bad business and bad manners. Everyone's production deal gets bloated and needs paring down from time to time. But that doesn't explain why Redstone would publicly attack Cruise's private behavior. As for Paula Wagner's claim they've got a $100 mil line of credit to make movies that could bump up to $200 mil or more? Great -- that'll pay for about half a Tom Cruise film.

"Survivor" Gets Racial

In a pretty nervy move for a major network, CBS's reality series "Survivor" is playing the race card. In the new season beginning Sept. 14, the castaways will be broken into four tribes based on ethnic lines: African-American, Asian, Hispanic and White. (As with all the other seasons, the tribes will later be combined.) Is this provocative, offensive, daring or stupid? I have no idea, but it's not often a network will even acknowledge race in such an upfront manner, much less make it a factor in how a TV show is played out. I thought I had to watch "The Wire" on HBO for an honest look at race. "Survivor" is just a game, but this stunt will certainly get people talking.

"Police Squad!" Coming To DVD

Priv8Pete tipped me off to the best news in ages: the brilliantly funny TV series "Police Squad!" is coming to DVD on November 7. From the creators of "Airplane," this was a spoof of cop shows starring Leslie Nielsen that only lasted six episodes. A special guest star was murdered at the beginning of every show and what followed was a series of bad puns, sight gags and dead-pan humor unlike anything TV had ever produced. (My own favorite joke was when Nielsen went to a boxing match. He was in the changing rooms as classic noir-type saxophone music wailed in the backgrouond. Suddenly we saw a boxer sitting in a chair who was actually playing that music. Nielsen took the instrument out of the guy's hand and said, "No sax before a fight.") Though the show flopped miserably, the creators somehow convinced Paramount to let them make "Naked Gun," a feature film spin-off that was broader and more obvious than the show. It became a huge hit. I remember this show as literally one of the cleverest sitcoms of all time and can't wait to see how it's held up.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sam Champion Joins GMA

Local NYC weatherman Sam Champion joins Good Morning America after years of being a substitute guy and being turned down for the job when Spencer Christian stepped away. It has to be sweet for Champion, finally getting the choicest assignment possible. Champion looks like a Ken doll, frankly and my friend Ron used to joke that I should never miss Champion when he did the weather on the 11 p.m. local broadcast. But after watching him a few times, we realized he was extremely good on his delivery -- never missed a beat and always explained what was going on in easy to follow, flowing patter. We even took to listening for his quick intakes of breath -- almost invisible if you weren't listening for them but they let Champion go on and on and on when explaining weather conditions. Like Anderson Cooper, Sam Champion keeps his private life private (ahem) so I imagine getting the most visible gig in the world will only reinforce that.

Comix: Delay In Civil War; Chicks Dig Brokeback

Some comix info: a massive Marvel title -- "Civil War" -- has been delayed, causing consternation among comic book store owners. Since the storyline of this series -- the biggest event of the year for Marvel -- crosses titles and affects many of their biggest series, delaying "Civil war" means delaying numerous other titles or spoilers would leak out. It's just one more example, frankly, of the comic book industry migrating towards the market of trade paperbacks that collect titles. The days of kids trooping to stores for their weekly fix are long over and middle-aged collectors and casual consumers (like me) much prefer being able to buy an entire tale packaged in one book. Plus, a fun interview with a Japanese female artist who writes "boy-love" mangas, that is, titles about gay men in love. Anyone surprised by the success of "Brokeback Mountain" should have known that teenage girls would flock to it. Japanese girls LOVE gay romance and action titles and what girl wouldn't enjoy getting two hunky male leads without having to deal with any sexpot actress interfering with their fantasty? The interview is good, but see if you can spot the moment where an editor's comments were accidentally left in the text.

"StarGate SG1" Cancelled. Again.

I'll believe it when I see it. SciFi told me three years ago that they were airing what would almost certainly, without a doubt, 99.9% take it to the bank be the last season fo StarGate. But the darn thing kept chugging along, even adding viewers after most shows would have curled up and died. The spin-off "StarGate: Atlantis" just seemed to pump new life into the original. But 200 episodes and the departure of Richard Dean Anderson seem to have finally drawn the curtain on the longest-running continuing sci-fi series in history. ("Dr. Who" has continued as a franchise for decades, but that includes many different incarnations and years and years with any Dr. Who whatsover.) The final episodes will air next year. And I love this nugget of info: the series aired on Showtime for its first five years and the cable channel annoyed the producers by demanding full frontal nudity in some episodes. Hey, Showtime may not know sci-fi but it knows its audience.

Bob Dylan: Cranky Old Bastard

I wouldn't mind seeing Bob Dylan and Harry Crews try to out-crank each other. Heck, they'd probably get along great. Dylan has always been a poor elder statesman, feeling threatened by younger talent like Bruce Springsteen and the such. As for fans downloading copies of music for free? What's the big deal, he asks Rolling Stone?
"Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway. You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them," he added. "There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static."