Saturday, April 29, 2006

Neil Young's New Album Streaming Online For Free

Enjoy, especially of course "Let's Impeach The President."A ragged glory, in sound and sensibility. My favorite comment from Young was when he told the NYTimes the album was nonpartisan. "If you impeach Bush, you're doing a huge favor for the Republicans," he said. "They can run again with some pride."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Off To Interview Drake Bell

And then to the Yankee game. But one last fun moment. I was at Barnes & Noble when a mother and her son asked the clerk where they could find the book "A Million Pieces." Beofre I could say, "Why?" the clerk said, "A Million Little Pieces?" and then sent them to...the fiction section. I laughed and asked about it and he said it was due to "popular demand." Maybe Frey can join a support group with that Harvard student/cheater and Augusten "my stories are true stories except when they're not" Burroughs.

P.S. I assume you don't need to be told to stay far, far away from "RV." My friends say as bad as the trailer is, the movie is worse.

Enough With The Serialized TV Shows

I love "24," and I enjoy "Prison Break" (okay, I enjoy Wentworth Miller) and still feel compelled to watch "Lost." But every network has gone crazy with plot-heavy, serialized dramas that follow in "24's" footsteps. I can't even keep track of them all, but they include everything from a drama about the wife of a senator being abducted to a sitcom about a bunch of losers who want to rob Mick Jagger. Enough already! We didn't like "24" because it was a serialized drama with a storyline that played out over one season. (If we did, "Murder One" would have been a big hit.) We liked it because it was fresh and original. All these other shows are copycats and -- frankly -- the formula is pretty exhausting (I hate watching "24" and "Prison Break" back to back) and the last thing we want is a lot more of them.

Rosie O'Donnell Joins "The View"

That certainly keeps the show from tilting to the right with the mooted addition of Patricia Heaton. It also proves that O'Donnell has maintained her widespread appeal after ending her own talk show, her successful but trouoble-plagued magazine and coming out. Now daytime TV will be dominated in part by lesbians, thanks to Ellen Degeneres's delightful show and O'Donnell on the gabfest "The View."

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Commander In Chief" Impeached

OK, "Commander In Chief" is all but voted out of office. It's a truly strange journey -- the show debuted with terrific numbers and then grew in audience for the next four or five weeks. Traditionally, that is the mark of a significant, word-of-mouth hit. But then creator and first-time show runner Rod Lurie simply fell dramatically behind schedule. ABC felt forced to fire him and bring in veteran Steven Bochco -- who promptly switched the focus of the show from the personal dymanics of the President and her family to more of a "West Wing" feel. But the change in tone combined with numerous repeats and delays immediately took the wind out of the show. So Bochco was fired and another stalwart brought in to try and recapture the magic. A new night and time and weeks (if not months) off the air took care of the rest. Now, opposite "ER" and "Without A Trace," "Commander" is dead. Yes, it drew a slightly bigger audience than its dying lead-in "American Inventor" (a Simon Cowell project that has failed). Unfortunately, all those viewers were near dead: the show DROPPED in the 18-49 category advertisers want. "Survivor," "CSI" and "Trace" all won the night, but "CSI's" near 27 million is impressive [thanks anonymous for the correction!]-- almost "Idol" numbers and without near so much angst. NBC is dead in the water; bringing back "ER" next season with John Stamos seems inevitable (they have too many holes to fill) but a waste of time creatively.

Book By Harvard Plagiarist Is Recalled By Publisher

Good. Her movie deal is also in jeopardy. It's unclear whether Little, Brown will sue to get their two book advance back, or whether they still want the second book. Presumably the plans to reissue the book with all the plagiarized parts taken out is over. Now if only people would stop buying the books by James Frey.

Air America Loses New York City Flagship Station

A bad day for Al Franken and the left. They insist that Air America will "not go silent" in NYC. But obviously this isn't good news. And if Air America can't make it in New York, as the song says, it can't make it anywhere.

Guest Blogger: Sirius Vs XM

A substantial posting from one of our readers on the merits of Sirius vs. XM. Go to the comments section for my thoughts.

"Some of the XM investigations that surfaced today will probably also apply to Sirius when they announce their financials next week. Also, the FCC investigation is a joke and the worst that could happen is a recall for some receivers, which aren't even manufactured by XM, but rather Delphi.

As for counting subscribers, both seem to be a bit shady. XM's controversy comes from how they account for promotional subscribers and for how many months of the promotional period is paid for by the auto manufacturers. The baseball promotions that you speak of are completely paid for by MLB, so they are not part of the investigation. Sirius counts subscribers in cars that are unsold. So once a Chrysler, or a car from any other auto partner, rolls off the assembly line, Sirius counts it as one more subscriber. Both questionable if you ask me.

Also, Sirius may never get the chance to catch up to XM because of the magnitude of their spending. For example, the metric SAC, subscriper acquisition cost, was $64 for XM for all of 2005, while Sirius' SAC was $139 for all of 2005. So Sirius was spending over twice as much to acquire each subscriber. XM quickly reduced this metric years ago, but Sirius is having a difficult time. Also, Sirius' losses are widening, and that was before they started paying Howard his $100+ million. Sure, Howard has saved Sirius up to this point, but you have to question at what price?

Speaking of Howard, I think the migration is practically complete. Out of sight, out of mind. He no longer makes headlines and is almost forgotten. Especially now that a respectable replacement has been made with Opie & Anthony. I'm not saying that O&A are better than Howard, but they are an adequate substitute for those casual Howard listeners.

And speaking of Opie & Anthony, XM made a wise choice by syndicating the show. XM learned with O&A, that after 18 months on satellite, it is hard to attract new subscribers. So, now they have a tremendously large audience to which they can promote XM. Not to mention the financial aspect. I wouldn't be surprised if CBS is paying XM a large sum for syndication, but there is also the possibility of splitting advertising revenue from FM. Very few O&A fans, if any, will cancel their XM because of the deal.

I'm sorry if this seems long and drawn out, but it frustrates me to see inaccuracies and a bunch of fanboy BS for Sirius because "they have Howard.""

Quote Of The Day

From an ad for the TV show "Numb3rs" --
"This genius is about to discover...even numbers can't stop a bullet."
Well, he's not much of a genius if he didn't know THAT.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Top Cable Shows

Ratings for cable shows are harder to come by. Here's the top 15, with the most remarkable results coming from the indestructible "High School Musical." The "Dance" version (in which they broke down some of the numbers) scored 4.4 million viewers and the "Sing" version (with lyrics scrolling across the bottom) which followed immediately reached 3.6 million. That's another 8 million viewers for the umpteenth rerun of this TV movie. Amazing. Meanwhile, "The Sorpanos" stopped its slide in viewers and HBO emphasizes (with reason) that the 8.5 mil viewers doesn't include the video-on-demand, DVRs, Tivo etc that didn't factor nearly as much two years ago. They insist viewership is around 13 mil.

1. The Sopranos (HBO) -- 8.5 mil
2. WWE Raw (USA) -- 5.7 mil
3. WWE Raw (USA) -- 5 mil
4. High School Musical/Dance (Disney)-- 4.4
5. Big Love (HBO) -- 4.2 mil
6. "What A Girl Wants" (Nick) -- 3.6
6. (tie) High School Musical/Sing -- 3.6
7. Law & order (TNT) -- 3.4
8. SpongeBob SquarePants (Nick) -- 3.2
9. Law & order: SVU (Sat at 9 on USA) -- 3.1
10. L&O:SVU (Sat at 10 on USA) -- 3.0

Disgusting But Bizarre

From USA Todays' Across The USA roundup of AP stories:
Mount Pleasant, IOWA -- Sheriff's deputies in Henry County are trying to find the person who's dumped bags of what appears to be vomit in ditches northeast of the city. Deputy Dan Wesley said as many as 50 garbage bags containing regurgitated food have appeared over the past three years.
Well, what would you do with 50 bags of vomit?

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Idol" Mania

"American Idol" reached 27.4 million viewers and registered 47.5 million votes -- the most ever for a non-finale. God help me, I've been watching the low-rent reality show "Unan1mous" that follows it, but I'm mostly alone. Its audience dropped more than 50% to 12 million viewers. God willing, it'll end next week. "Deal Or No Deal" continues to draw some 15 million viewers. (Why?) "Alias" was dead in the water while "Lost" was another clip job recapping what we already don't know. (The show treads water enough without repeats driving home that fact.) And while "America's Next Top Model" did well on UPN, "One Tree Hill" is not making a strong case for renewal when the WB and UPN merge in the fall.

Spanking Is Unacceptable In The Workplace?

I'm getting very confused by recent trials. First we learned that cursing and sexual innuendo was perfectly acceptable in the "creative" environment of the writing room for the sitcom "Friends." But now we find out that some employees object to spanking in the workplace, claiming it's not appropriate motivation.
Employees were paddled with rival companies' yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against each other, according to court documents. The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks.
My brother wants to know if that means the team building exercise of strip poker is also off limits. What is this world coming to? No wonder it's so hard to launch a new business.

Surfing Through "America's Next Top Model"

Richboy pointed out an absurdly funny moment on "America's Next Top Model." It shows Joanie and Danielle talking about their teeth (Joanie just got a gap fixed and Danielle is considering it). Joanie is suggesting she hold off, so Danielle's peeps will know she's keeping it real. But the hilarious moment occurs when their whispered discussion is shown with subtitles and the producers of the show quote Joanie as saying: "You'll have piece of mind, though, if you don't do it." As Richboy says, maybe models are dumb and aren't supposed to know how to spell, but surely TV producers (even ones on UPN) should.

How Great Is This? "Da Vinci Code" Judge Playing Games

Apparently, the judge who issued a ruling exonerating author Dan Brown of plagiarisM included hIdden messages in his 71 page ruling. He used boldfaced italics to maKe cErtain letterS stand out. The first ten spell SMITHY CODE. (The judge's name is Peter Smith.) But a far more Complicated message remains unsOlved. He's given hints to reporters, like "think mathematics" and saiD the year "2006" was significant -- he's also sEnt people to certain pages of "Da Vinci Code" and suggested methods that the hero used to solve puzzles came into play. But perhaps his biggest help was in pointing out the puzzles in the first place. As the New York Times put it:
It has been nearly three weeks since he handed down the ruling. Probably disappointingly for Justice Smith, nobody seemed to notice anything unusual about it when it was first released. But he alluded to the possibility that there was something more soon afterward as a throwaway line in an e-mail exchange with a reporter for The New York Times, saying, "Did you find the coded message in the judgment?"
Uh, someone at the NYT needs to look up the meaning of "alluded." Annoyingly, in this day and age, I was unable to find the ruling online.

Surfing Through "Gilmore Girls"

Directorboy officially stopped watching "Gilmore Girls;" the breaking point was Lorelai's drunken pity-fest at Lane's wedding. Frankly, last night's show continued its descent into soap opera with characters who behave foolishly or idiotically. First, we finally got some motivation from Luke as to why he's been keeping Lorelai and his daughter separate -- he's worried the kid will like Lorelai better. This could (I stress COULD) have been presented in a cute, insecure manner. Instead, Luke just said it matter-of-factly and almost rudely. And I know he's socially awkward, but what person thinks a party for 11 little girls involves putting them in a room with absolutely nothing to do? He's not that stupid. But of course Luke has to be FORCED to bring in Lorelai for help, who immediately makes the party a huge success. Then we get the even more bizarre twist that the girl's mom is furious that Lorelai was around her daughter. She's a single mom and has to be protective of her kid? Huh? Did she ever tell Luke, "You can have visitation rights but I insist you hide your girlfriend of two years and fiance from my daughter's sight?" No. How can she expect Luke to hide the most important person in his life from his daughter? They're engaged for God's sake. "Engaged isn't married" says the single mom. Huh? Like married people never get divorced? And how lucky that she had this bizarre notion that Lorelai shouldn't come into contact with her kid and Luke unwittingly fulfilled that unspoken request out of his own stupid fears. Obviously, the only purpose of this is to make Lorelai feel like a loser for not being married. Never mind that the ENTIRE POINT of Lorelai (not to mention the show) is that she is a single mom -- and a great one -- who has raised a terrific daughter and opened her own successful business all on her own. Rory's plot was even stupider. Yes, Logan's friends are twits. But the idea that they would be joking and joshing while their best friend was lying unconscious in a hospital and potentially near death was absurd. Almost as absurd as Logan's parents staying away when their son was critically ill and perhaps dying. The mom got the news and went immediately to a spa? The dad stayed away because he thought the son's vacations were immature? Yeah the dad's a jerk but nothing he did could even remotely compare to coldly staying away when his son has a terrible accident and is in critical condition in the hospital. To cap it off, Rory shames the dad into visiting (with a sheepish look on his face) by barking at him on the phone. The only remotely reasonable plot element was Paris getting the info from the hospital that Rory couldn't. Very weak episode.

Dixie Chicks Make Nice On Pop Charts

The big news on the pop charts is the Dixie Chicks, who debut at #28 on the Hot 100 with their new single "Not Ready To Make Nice." That Bush controversy certainly hasn't hurt them with mainstream listeners. So who needs country radio? Bon Jovi apparently, whose new single "Who Says You Can't Go Home" stalled on the pop charts outside the Top 20 but just hit #1 on the country charts. And in the battle of the divorced popsters, Nick Lachey draws first blood with his single "What's Left Of Me," which jumps 18 slots to #33. As I mentioned earlier, Rod Stewart got a lift on the pop charts from his "Idol" appearance. And what struck me most was Madonna at #93 with "Confessions On A Dancefloor." It has only gone platinum so far and should have done much better. Can she turn it around with her touring?

Surfing Through "American Idol"

Bye bye, Kellie. How could I have failed to mention her ridiculous hairdo from Tuesday night, with that growth on the top --very tacky and ugly. Kellie's biggest mistake -- after singing -- was definitely her awful hair and modest blouse. Not to be tacky, but it wasn't the singing that kept her in this long, it was her bubbly personality and aw shucks dumb blonde routine. Andrea Bocelli's Europop song was an utter mess -- even if half of it wasn't in Italian, it was nonsensical. I listened to the lyrics againa dn again trying to suss out exactly what the tune was about -- impossible. And given the judges' appropriate apology about their slamming of Katharine, it looks more and more like she and Chris will face off in the finale.


I added word verification to the comments section to stop that automated spam -- as soon as I figure out how to block individual posters, I'll take that step and remove this feature.

Sirius Vs XM Satellite Radio

Which satellite radio company is winning the war to become dominant? In the past, I would have said that XM's early lead was insurmountable; it's awfully hard to catch up to momentum like that. XM also got the best sports package -- Sirisu got the NFL; XM got the far more valuable MLB baseball, with more games and much more demand. Both can claim big stars working for them. But Howard Stern was a game-changer for Sirius. According to Business Week, in the fourth quarter of 2005, Sirius added more subscribers than XM and Stern is the reason (I should hope so, given the money they spent). BW attributes 1 million subs directly to Stern. Sirius is now at 4 million and XM at 6.5 million. And the bad news is piling up for XM. Its stock dropped on the news that the Feds are investigating them for their marketing practices, their fourth quarter losses were higher than expected and -- depending on who you believe -- Sirius is closing the gap in subscribers. The two companies use different ways of measuring subscribers, with the big debate over how you handle people with "test" or unpaid subscription offers (like someone at a ball game who wins a three month gift subscription). It's unclear who is padding their numbers with this and how many it constitutes. Both companies are increasing their ads (XM even changed its slogan to reflect that). And in what I think is one of the stupider moves, XM is letting Opie & Anthony take its daily show to CBS Radio and the old Howard Stern slot. They insist O&A will be able to plug XM, but surely the biggest draw of satellite radio is exclusive programming, just like HBO's big draw is original shows like "The Sopranos." How would it benefit HBO to let "Sopranos" air on the CBS network? This race is far from over, but what looked like an insurmountable lead by XM has become a real nail-biter.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Harvard Cheater: Gosh, How Did That Happen?

That Harvard plagiarist went on the Today show to say yes, she'd read the best-selling books of Megan McCafferty several times but she never "referred" to them when she "wrote" her own book so she has no idea how the major plot points and dozens and dozens of similar if not identical passages popped up in her own book. Happily, McCafferty's publisher is not accepting their tepid apology and a claim to change all the coincidences in future editions and include an acknowledgement to McCafferty (what, something like "Shout out to the woman I ripped off?"). They want the book off the shelves and rightly so. Oddly, McCafferty's publisher insists all their focus on her new novel is being derailed by this incident and they can't get any publicity. Youd imagine instead she would be embraced by her fans and have more interview opportunities than ever. What continues to puzzle is Little, Brown's defense of an author that defrauded them. Quite simply, they gave $500,000 to a 17 year old girl who delivered a cheap rip-off of an established author. Why haven't they dumped her?

Surfing Through "The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu"

Here are my initial thoughts on "The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu" when I saw it at Cannes last year. It opens today at Film Forum.

*** -- A tiring but rewarding Italian film about an old man who falls ill and gets shuttled about the health care system during one long, depressing night. It’s two hours and forty minutes in length, but the film covers about seven or eight hours of action and might as well have been shot in real time, since it truly exhausts its audience. Some were bored but I was into it every step of the way. Mr. Lazarescu is an intriguing old man, with somewhat helpful neighbors. But as his illness worsens and worsens, the weight of the film moves from Mr. Lazarescu (who becomes almost catatonic) to the ambulance medic who finds herself saddled with this man that no hospital in town wants to admit. Sad, funny and ultimately humane, with sheer determination the medic does what she can for Lazarescu which makes this black comedy rathet touching -- especially since the movie avoids sentiment every step of the way. But nothing could equal the amusing drama off screen, however. The movie was shown in the Bunuel, which has steps leading up to a short stage in front of the screen. In the dark, it’s easy to find yourself walking across the stage instead of down lower in front of the first row of seats. Just as the film began, a man stumbled onto stage, realized where he was, panicked and – in his rush – fell over his own feet and collapsed with a tremendous thump onto the ground. He paused for a moment and -- in the vain hope that no one had noticed -- he began to CRAWL offstage until people started laughing and he gave up and scurried off in bent-over embarrassment.

Howard Stern's Depature Costing CBS Radio

Mediaweek reports the radio division of CBS dropped 13% in operating income -- costing them about $25 million -- and they attribute that entirely to the defection of Stern to Sirius. Given how Stern is about to vault Sirius over XM in subscribers, he's proven to be worth every penny that they paid him.

UK Box Office

Here are the Top Ten movies in the UK. In limited release, "The Squid and the Whale" is doing pretty good.

1. Ice Age II
2. Silent Hill
3. Scary Movie 4
4. American Dreamz
5. Eight Below
6. She's The Man
7. Take The lead
8. Inside Man
9. An American Haunting
10. Tristan and Isolde

That OTHER Singing Talent Show

With Rascal Flatts on top of the Billboard charts for the third week in a row with their new album (and two other country artists in the top ten), it's time to talk about Nashville Star. Next week is the season finale when they crown a new star and believe me, I'm a lot more excited about hearing the debut album of Chris Young (the 20 year old tall glass of water who is certain to win) than I will be of anyone from "Idol." Unlike "Idol," they get the biggest names in country music to appear and perform -- including Kenny Rogers (before he went on "Idol") and Hank Williams Jr and Big & Rich, etc. (David Foster was a guest judge last week before jumping to "Idol" this week -- making "Idol" look especially also-ran.) Host Wynonna Judd never met a cliche she didn't love -- pure country sap. But the artists tend to be older than the kids on "Idol" and much more experienced (most have been performing for years locally or on tour with their bands). Last night, Casey Rivers gave the front runner a scare by digging into "How Great Thou Art" with Presley-like fervor and hitting a big note at the finale a la "Idol." (No fair, playing the religion card!) But Chris Young is a star and his original number (they all have to perform an original that they've written themselves -- another thing that distinguishes this show) was a gem last week. Rivers performed like a contestant having a great night. Young performed like a pro. He'll probably sing his original again at the finale so don't miss it next Tuesday at 10 p.m. on USA.

"Battlestar Galactica" Prequel In The Works

"Galctica" creator Ron Moore is developing a prequel for fall called "Caprica."
From executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick (Battlestar Galactica), writer Remi Aubuchon (24) and NBC Universal Television Studio, this new series is set over a half a century before the events that play out in Battlestar Galactica. The people of the Twelve Colonies are at peace and living in a society not unlike our own, but where high-technology has changed the lives of virtually everyone for the better. But a startling breakthrough in robotics is about to occur, one that will bring to life the age-old dream of marrying artificial intelligence with a mechanical body to create the first living robot - a Cylon. Following the lives of two families, the Graystones and the Adamas (the family of William Adama, who will one day become the commander of the Battlestar Galactica) Caprica weaves corporate intrigue, techno-action and sexual politics into television's first science fiction family saga.
Hmm, doesn't exactly get my pulse racing, but I believe in them. I assume this means the Ron Moore project announced in January -- "Basement 13" -- is on hold or dead (or morphed into "Caprica." As I said then, this is bad news: whenever a creator of a show launches a new series, both shows tend to suffer. I wish hed devote himself fulltime to BG -- how often do you get the chance to deliver a great series?

Time To Data Dump

I'm heading out on errands and then the Yankee game, so here come a wave of postings.

Overnight TV Ratings -- "House" Rocking

"Idol" of course is doing smashing, scoring 28 million viewers. But "House" has really caught fire in the last month -- this week it hit 24.5 million viewers. People have been mentioning it to me repeatedly as something they've started to watch regularly and really enjoy. Could happen to a better Brit. If you want to make your head spin, watch Hugh Laurie as the clueless hero in the Britcom "Jeeves and Wooster," with Stephen Fry as the dependable butler Jeeves. Everything else paled in comparison to those two. "Scrubs" (5.89 mil) barely beat "Hope & Faith" (5.72 mil) and a new "Boston Legal" (9.95 mil) barely beat a rerun of "CSI: Miami" (9.93 mil) and a rerun of "Law & Order: SVU (9.1 mil). "Gilmore Girls" did fine (4.7 mil) but they must be thanking God for DVRs and Tivo. Directorboy didn't come over after work so I haven't watched it yet, so no spoilers!

"High School Musical" Still Heating Up Charts

Country band Rascal Flatts is on top of the Billboard charts for the third week in a row with their critically dissed but popular album "Me and My Gang." But the big news is a drop in sales -- the soundtrack to the delightfully cheesy TV movie "High School Musical" moves up from 4 to 3, but it dropped in sales. That's the FIRST time it has dropped in sales since debuting almost four months ago. With 1.7 mil copies sold, it's the bestselling album of the year so far. Thanks to "Idol," Rod Stewart has two albums reappearing on the charts, his Songbook Vol IV and his Songbook Vol III. Here's the Top Ten:

1. Rascal Flatts -- Me and My Gang
2. Various -- Now That's What I Call Music Vol. 21
3. Various -- High School Musical
4. Toby Keith -- White Trash With Money
5. T.I. -- King
6. Tim McGraw -- Greatest Hits Vol. II: Reflected
7. James Blunt -- Back To Bedlam
8. Shakira -- Oral Fixation
9. Daniel Powter -- Daniel Powter
10. Pink -- I'm Not Dead

"Ring Of Fire" Closes On Broadway This Sunday

You know a show using the songs of Johnny Cash is misbegotten when the main creative force behind it doesn't like country music and is utterly unfamiliar with the Man in Black and even expresses surprise at how his songs are filled with darkness and humor and passion! Woeful.

Surfing Through "American Idol"

How strange that the single best night of singing on "Idol" came with standards. Now we're back to modern pop songs and most of the singers are floundering again.

Guest Artists -- more Granny music, this time from David Foster and Andrea Bocelli. They appeared to be the most helpful and constructive since Barry Manilow, really working on the singing and giving specific pointers.

Katharine -- her breasts were lovely and her performance was typical "Idol," just trying to get through most of the lyrics so she can hit the big notes. Frankly, I was surprised the judges called her on it, but she was indeed pretty weak. But saying that her singing a Whitney Houston song was an act of hubris is silly -- was Paris saying she was better than Barbra Streisand by singing a Streisand number? Were they all saying they were better than Stevie Wonder or Freddie Mercury of Queen when they sang their work? Of course not. Katharine looked good enough to get through, but she should not be singing a soul number; gritty she ain't. Paris's "The Way We Were" would have been much wiser.

Elliott -- I'm simply not a fan of his voice and a second listen showed him a little more colorless and lost than I thought at first, especially at the end. But he was still pretty good for Elliott. About as good as he'll ever be. Paula breaking down in tears was the bizarro highlight of the show.

Kellie -- how many times can she keep apologizing adorably for sucking and get away with it? Besides, her clothing was way too modest for the fans who have been voting her through on her looks -- compared to Katharine she was dowdy. Her singing? Godawful. Maybe she could get through some modest ditty, but "Unchained Melody," one of the biggest most difficult songs in the world to sing? A train wreck. Even my brother wouldn't vote for her this week.

Paris -- again, a second listen showed her more lost than the first impression. Seemed to gain a little momentum moving into the first bridge (never sure how to refer to parts of the song when it's been chopped up and shortened) and her final note was a clever surprise (big rather than soft). Since she's very young, a young playful love song would have been better. Still seems too young, but her voice is so unique and has such great color and shading, I hope she loses and hits the jazz circuit and performs the standards for five or ten years before she records.

Taylor -- I thought "Just Once" would be a terrific choice; I could just hear him nailing it. But in fact he was dreadfully dull and lost and tepid and just bad. In many ways, almost as bad as Kellie. Now I picture Katharine in the final with Chris.

Chris -- head and shoulders above the others. The bridge -- when he launches into his hard rock voice to add some passion to the song -- was truly winning. I also happen to like the tune (I've got a Bryan Adams weakness) and thought he nailed it. A second listen showed it wasn't quite a complete triumph until that rocker moment, but very good and much much better than the others. He's been very savvy for two weeks in a row -- singing "What A Wonderful World" and now this. But is this what his fans want to hear and will they vote for him? He should be in first place of course and should win it all. But if he's in the bottom three again, it'll prove no matter how good he is that there simply may not be enough rockers voting to put him over the top.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Surfing Through The Obits

I love reading obituaries and today's NYTimes has two good ones. The first is about William Gottlieb, the jazz photographer who captured legends like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis at their peak. Whatever image springs to mind when you think of them, chances are Gottlieb snapped it. But this is the passage that caught my eye:
In 1941, he quit his advertising job to do graduate study in economics and teach low-level classes at the University of Maryland, but continued his column. He said he left the university after it refused to let him teach a course on jazz, for fear it would overly praise black people.
Then there's a piece on actress Alida Valli (who starred in "The Third Man") which has this head-spinning transition:
Rather than comply with the dictates of the fascist government, Ms. Valli retreated into hiding and in 1944 married Oscar de Mejo, a Surrealist painter and composer, whose most successful song was "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."
Life doesn't get quirkier than that.

Cheaters Continue To Prosper

Another plagiarist outed: Raytheon chief William Swanson says its "beyond dispute" that there are similarities between his "Unwritten Rules Of Management" and the obscure 1944 book "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering." Swanson says he never claimed to be the author of these truisms. And of course he's giving the booklet away for free. Swanson says he's not sure if he ever read the original book and insists he just wrote down these mantras as he came across them over the decades. The problem? His wording is virutally identical on rule after rule (USA Today reprints 11 of the 33 side by side) AND he even presents them in the same order. The possibility that Swanson heard business slogans over the decades and happened to include the same rules in the same order in the same wording as a 1944 book is patently absurd. He's lying.

Meanwhile, our Harvard student who got a $500,000 advance for two books and sold her first one to Hollywood gladly insists she read the author she ripped off and loved her and is really, really surprised about how she "internalized" some of the dialogue. That's some internalization: the number of passages that are remarkably similar is 40 and counting. Oh and the Harvard student points out how their books are very different. Yep, very different except for the fact that they're both about girls from New Jersey who want to get into an Ivy league school, visit the campus and then enjoy a rousing finale where they deliver a smashing speech at graduation.

Surfing Through Bruce Springsteen

Been listening to the new Springsteen CD over the weekend. Quite simply, it's his best album since "Born in the USA" and the first one I'd include on my best of the year list since 1987's "Tunnel Of Love." THIS is the acoustic album I've longed for ever since seeing Springsteen reimagine his hit song "Fire" with accordion and other funky instruments. I don't mind solo guitar or grimmer than grim lyrics -- heck, my favorite Springsteen album of all is "Nebraska." But "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Devils & Dust" have been dour affairs that run screaming from anything like a melody. His rambunctious new CD is a rousing, celebratory affair that makes a beautiful noise. The stage sounds crowded with musicians and the sense of community is palpable as they jam on folk tunes like "John Henry" and "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep." Dixieland, blues, and a Saturday night hoedown all wrapped up into one, with Springsteen singing looser and gruffer -- and with more joy -- than in years. Since it was a tribute to Pete Seeger, I feared a holier-than-thou, peace-in feeling. Far from it. I would have liked to see his solo tour (just try getting tickets). But I'll die if I don't get in to this tour. It's gonna be a blast.

Other CDs out today I'm looking forward to: the duets album by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris and the new album by British rapper The Streets.

EW On Walden Media

Entertainment Weekly has a good feature on the family friendly independent studio Walden, which backed "Narnia," "Holes," and the upcoming "Hoot." Cary Granat is the creative force behind it and I loved the story of his blinding revelation about what types of movies he should work on. In 1997, Granat walked into his living room where he'd carelessly left some dailies from Scream 2. His two year old daughter was watching the horrific killer stalking his victim and she was frightened out of her wits. Granat realized he didn't want her growing up in a world saturated with that kind of pop culture. Two things. First, almost NO movie -- romantic, dramatic, funny, scary or whatever -- is appropriate for a two year old, INCLUDING the family friendly "Chronicles of Narnia." If he walked in on his daughter terrified out of her wits as she watched Aslan being killed, would he vow never to make fantasy films based on children's books? I love it when people come to the horrific conclusion that pop culture should be safe for little children. No, she doesn't need a new film production company. Granat's daughter just needs a parent who DOESN'T LEAVE HORROR MOVIE FOOTAGE LYING AROUND WHERE SHE CAN GET TO IT. What kids need are good parents, not a pop culture denuded of all variety so it is "safe" for little tykes.

Rolling Stone: RIP

Not the band, which died for all intents and purposes around 1986, but the magazine. The current issue has an eye-catching cover story on whether George Bush is the worst president ever. But the only story to rival that in length? "Confessions of Nick Lachey: Surviving The Tabloid Hurricane." Hey, I actually like Lachey and think he's got a good sense of humor. But devoting more than five full pages to the end of his marriage -- along with the coverage in People, InStyle, Star and every other gossip mag in America -- is just sad for Rolling Stone. But then, their new publisher just came from Maxim, so why should I be surprised?

Opus Dei Heads To Cannes -- Stupidly

Opus Dei is going to mount some sort of protest at Cannes, where "The Da Vinci Code" opens the festival on May 17. (That happens to be the anniversary of the beatification of the founder of Opus Dei.) Fine, except the Hollywood Reporter says they'll do it "just days" before the festival begins. Um, since the world's media doesn't arrive at Cannes until the day before it begins, that means Opus Dei will be staging a protest at Cannes when no one is around to see it. Duh.

Surfing Through EW's Summer Movie Preview

Entertainment Weekly leaps into the summer movie fray with a duller-than-dull cover story on "The Da Vinci Code" in which Ron Howard and Tom Hanks try to pretend there is no controversy about their movie (the same tactic Howard used poorly for "A Beautiful Mind"). The writer seems to have spent about ten minutes with them and whatever their on-screen talents, these guys are very dull interviews. Then EW boldly declares its picks for the Top Ten movies of the summer, along with projected box office. The only problem? So as not to offend anyone, they "boldly" predict six movies will make more than $200 million, with "Over The Hedge" at #7 making some $175 million. Hey, it could happen. Last year, five movies made more than $200 million, but that was a record. In 2004, only three summer movies made more than $200 million. (In 2003 -- 5, in 2002 -- 4, in 2001 -- 3 and in 2000 -- 1.) And it's certainly a safe way to make predictions without hurting any studios' feelings. They may be listed fourth, but they're still gonna get a $235 million blockbuster so how much can they bellyache?

Surfing Through "The History Boys"

I saw this Alan Bennett play in London last year and couldn't wait to see it again on Broadway. It's a great production of a good play. The story of a group of lads (about 18 years old) studying for the entrance exam to Oxford and Cambridge, it's filled with wit, humor and -- rather unexpectedly -- song. Richard Griffiths commands the stage as Hector, a winning teacher who encourages free thinking and knowledge for knowledge's sake. He also gives the older lads a ride home on his motorcycle so the unhappily married Hector can fiddle with their privates. His arch enemy is a new teacher brought in to coach the lads for their exams and give them tips for brightening up their essays, like arguing that it was Great Britain that prompted WWI or that it was Japan that was caught sleeping during Pearl Harbor -- anything "clever" to catch the eye, and truth be damned. This simple clash of ideas is fodder enough for a great show -- and indeed one of the most gripping moments occurs when Hector gives the gay Jewish lad Posner a detailed lecture on a poem by Hardy. (Believe me, the audience is transfixed.) And with the boys encouraged to sing old British pop tunes, act out the endings to classic films like "Brief Encounters" or practice French by pretending to visit a bordello, the stage is bursting with energy. A pity that Bennett feels the need to make his wider aims so obvious by throwing in politics, TV historians, making the "clever" teacher a complete fraud and then capping it off with a sentimental gambit more appropriate for "Goodbye Mr. Chips." But 90% of the show is pure delight and I'd love to be there on closing night in September. It's already been filmed, so you'll be able to see the movie version this fall with the same cast. Don't miss it.

Waves Coming Fast And Furious

Gotta head out for lunch, an interview and the Yankees game. (I'll be taping "American Idol" of course.) So look for some serious popsurfing as I data dump all my thoughts for the day.

The Doors Maintain Their Rock N Roll Integrity

After years of feuding, drummer John Densmore and the other surviving members of the Doors have finally reconciled. (Densmore stopped the other guys from touring as The Doors since he and obviously Jim Morrison weren't involved. He also blocked their attempts to license songs for commercials.) As keyboardist Ray Manzarek put it in Rolling Stone, "Everything will be worked out. In the next year and a half [which coincides with their 40th anniversary], we're going to be honoring the excitement, the passion, the rebellious nature that took place on the beach in Venice, California, in 1965, culminating in the Doors' first album in 1967." Wow and how will they accomplish this? With a Las Vegas spectacle, of course, due to open in 2008 and described as "Laserium meets the Haunted Mansion." Because nothing says rock n roll like a Disney theme park ride. Oh, and they're ready to sell their songs for commercials. Said the purer than pure Densmore, "We might consider something technology-oriented or some hybrid car or something, but it's gotta be right."

DVDs Out Today

My column was cut for space this Sunday. So here it is in all its glory.

Match Point ***
DreamWorks; $29.99
Once you get over the shock of seeing Woody Allen’s first honest-to-goodness it-doesn’t-suck movie since 1994’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” repeated viewings show this companion piece to “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a solid, but not spectacular drama with two very sexy central performances from Jonathan Rhys Myers and Scarlett Johansson. No extras, when an Allen commentary on shooting in London and his biggest hit in years would have been very welcome.

Shopgirl ** ½
Touchstone; $29.99
Steve Martin adapted his own novella and stars in this romantic drama. But it’s the delicate performance of Claire Danes that keeps this fine film believable as more than the story of a much older, wealthier man with a young cutie. Jason Schwartzman is okay as a rival paramour, but his solo moments with a rock band sidetrack the movie. Modest extras include a director commentary and deleted scenes.

Casanova * ½
Touchstone; $29.99
Perhaps Heath Ledger should stick to men? Outside of “Brokeback Mountain,” this handsome and talented actor has mostly shown a flair for picking very bad projects. “Casanova” is no exception. He isn’t the problem – Ledger’s mumbled delivery as the famed lover is quite amusing. But everything else is, from the thuddingly obvious direction to the hammy supporting cast. Heath, get a new manager.

The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition ** ½
New Line; $19.98
This is surely the first DVD release pegged to a Broadway musical. Sadly, this edition of the sweet movie – a career peak for Adam Sandler and the adult Drew Barrymore – is totally un-awesome with a few minutes of footage slapped in to slow the movie down and a brief, unrevealing featurette about the Broadway show. Surely one of their best movies deserves a good documentary and the participation of the two leads?

Also out: Jack Nicholson’s oblique Antonioni gem “The Passenger” (Sony; $24.96); a grab bag of five pretty good if interchangeable movies with great songs in the boxed set “Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory” (Warner Bros.; $59.98); Timothy Hutton’s modestly entertaining mystery series “Nero Wolfe – The Complete Classic Whodunit Series” (A&E; $99.95) and a motley collection of great and not-so-great movies at a great price in “The Robert Altman Collection” (Fox; $39.98).

Harvard Student Plagiarizes Bestselling Author

A Harvard student received a $500,000 advance -- while still in high school -- for her debut novel. Now, when it's discovered that she plagiarized huge chunks from a best-selling author, what happens? She apologizes and her publisher says they'll "revise" future editions to take out the naughty bits. It's all an innocent mistake, says Little Brown. The student says she's a "big fan" of Megan McCaferty, the author she ripped off. Clearly. But what made the kid think she could get away with it? McCafferty has sold some 350,000 copies of her first three books. Didn't this kid realize someone was going to notice? And I don't mind Little Brown getting fooled by her. But once they found out, the fact that they haven't dumped her and demanded their advance back is shocking. Instead, they're defending her. Crazy. But why are these examples of plagiarism seemingly more common? The Internet. I think it's easier to cheat (so much more info is available so much more easily) and it's easier to catch them at it and make a noise via blogs, etc. Maybe she should tour with Augusten Burroughs and James Frey?

If you think a publisher that discovers one of their authors is a plagiarist should dump them, let Little, Brown know by calling 212-522-8700.

Overnight TV Ratings -- Trump In Decline

The continued success of the game show "Deal Or No Deal" astonishes me. All you do is point at a box! How can people keep watching that week after week? They're gonna synidcate it five nights a week in the early evening hours next year, but it's unclear if they also intend to keep it in primetime. Surely that'll be overkill, a la "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," which just regained its mojo as a syndicated (and growing) hit with Meredith Viera only to see her probably drop it for good when she moves to "Today." But losing a third of that "Deal Or No Deal" audience was "The Apprentice," which dropped from 15 million viewers to 10 million. It clearly needs a rest and a more upscale lead in to get back on track next year. "24" did well, as did "Prison Break," but that's still cliffhangar overkill in my book. They should be broken up next season, with "Prison Break" playing nonstop in the fall and "24" in its typical slot in the winter/spring. No word yet on how Helen Mirren's HBO two-parter did, but if HBO really had hopes for it they wouldn't have debuted it on a Saturday. And Julia Louise-Dreyfuss's new sitcom "Old Christine" has performed well for enough weeks to declare the "Seinfeld" curse officially dead. (That would be the "curse" where people who have been in a good sitcom crash and burn when they deliver a really bad sitcom.

"Chainsaw Buffet" Coming To Eurovision

I love Eurovision, the absurdly bad song contest in whcih every European country submits one act to perform an original song, everyone votes on it and a winner is declared. Some great artists -- like ABBA -- have been on Eurovision, but mostly it's an excuse for Europop ballads, crazy costumes and clueless Eastern Europeans running around like it's 1982. Finland -- a country portrayed as very slef-conscious and timid -- is being represented by a KISS-like heavy metal bit of craziness called Lordi. Some people are upset.
As he stuck out his tongue menacingly, his red demon eyes glaring, Lordi was surrounded by Kita, an alien-man-beast predator who plays flame-spitting drums inside a cage; Awa, a blood-splattered ghost who howls backup vocals; Ox, a zombie bull who plays bass; and Amen, a mummy in a rubber loincloth who plays guitar.
But looks can be deceiving.
While other boys in Lapland were playing hockey, Mr. Putaansuu played with his Barbie doll and began experimenting with makeup.... Awa, the ghost, is a soft-spoken blond who wears glasses and studied classical music. Even Mr. Putaansuu, who wears a black leather jacket when not sporting serpent lapels, says his music is closer to gospel than Satan. After all, one of the band's hit songs is "The Devil Is a Loser."

Augusten Burroughs: Truly

Memoirist/fabulist Augusten Burroughs in Entertainment Weekly on James Frey: "Remember Milli Vanilli? He's like that. I will never believe that the majority of memoirists are just making stuff up cavalierly and going on TV to swear that it is exactly the truth. I'm the son of a logician. Something is either true or not. And you need to tell people what you're doing. There will always be people who don't believe me, and I have no control over that. "Running With Scissors" is true and I did not embellish it."

Augusten Burroughs and his publisher: They've changed the name of his new collection of essays/pieces from "Possible Side Effects: True Stories" to simply "Possible Side Effects." (His last collection was called "Magical Thinking: True Stories.") And he's added a disclaimer that all of these stories -- which are either true or not as this son of a logician so directly put it -- have been "expanded and changed" (how can you expand or change the truth?) and some of the individuals portrayed are "composites of more than one person." Publishers Weekly says his stories "sometimes ring false" but are amusing. I say they're either true or not true. Not.

Surfing Through "24"

Crackerjack. This is turning into the best day ever, since the only missteps (that minor CTU character who sees sexual harassment everywhere) have been very brief. With the President as the bad guy (albeit a puppet for some shadowy organization with guys who all are forced to keep cell phone attachments in their ears), it's gonna be awfully hard to top this one. At the moment, the most satisfying ending would be one in which Jack Bauer prevents massive destruction but is unable to bring down the President. That just seems the most believable and leaves all sorts of problems for him to deal with in the next season. And you just know the First Lady is pretending to go along with her husband until she can act.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blame Blogger, Blame Canada, Just Don't Blame Me

Blogger was taking FOREVER to load today. I had to resubmit items again and again for half an hour before they would post. More tomorrow, now that the kinks seem to be worked out of it.

Overnight TV Ratings -- We Hate Repeats

ABC tried to trick us with "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." Instead of showing us a rerun (which my DVR would have ignored) they showed "new" episodes that were merely recaps of what had already happened, glorified clip jobs in other words. They snared 15 million each, roughly, a good six to eight million FEWER viewers than normal. This is not just about "Lost" and "24" and other highly serialized shows. In an age of DVRs and video-on-demand and iTunes and DVD sets and cable channels rerunning new episodes later in the week from the networks. etc., networks cannot get away anymore with filling up a third of the season with reruns and expect viewers to sit still. Fox is the number one network in part because it has moved to a "no rerun" standard. The first of the big three to follow suit will garner tons of attention (imagine the ad campaign: "Hate reruns? So do we!" or "ABC. No reruns. No repeats. No duh." or "NBC: MUst-See TV That Never Bores You With Repeats.") And however soon the others follow suit, one of them could brand themselves as the network that doesn't bore you with repeats. It means titanic changes in how networks make their money and how people view TV. But guess what? Those massive changes are already happening. It's merely a question of who is going to capitalize first.

The Bestseller List -- Oh Jesus!

Lots of interesting activity on the NYTimes bestseller lists. On the fiction list, there is just one slot available amidst the Da Vinci-inspired titles and the usual crime books available for a serious work of fiction. But it's a doozy: Suite Francaise contains two novellas written by a woman who died at Auschwitz, discovered after decades of obscurity. It debuts at #11, purely thanks to a front page review in the Sunday New York Times. On the nonfiction lists, black America is prominent: Tyler Perry (the creative force behind Madea) debuts at #1 with "Don't Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings" while the paperback nonfiction list is still topped by Tavis Smiley's collection of essays "The Covenant With Black America." Sportswriter Mike Lupica tops the children's list with his baseball novel "Heat." And the nonfiction list has five titles revolving around Jesus and religion and politics, ranging from the silly -- "The Jesus Papers" -- to the serious -- "American Theocracy." And just out of the Topm15 are another five religious-related titles. Someone should write a sequel to the Bible. It would sell like gangbusters.

Surfing Through "The Sopranos"

Blogger is taking forever to post, today.And "The Sopranos" is taking forever to grind its way to the finale. Last week we watched a closeted Mafioso go antiquing. This week, we wasted a lot of time on the restaurant owner. Even more boringly, we wasted time with a new, even minor character -- his Albanian hostess who flirts with a mobster, rips off Amex card numbers for a scam, seems ashamed when found out and then lashes out. Who cares? We've never spent two minutes before with her. Just like last week we watched the gaf Mafia guy presumably consider suicide (though the actor is so weak it's hard to tell), this week we watched the restaurant guy melt down. But how many shots of an empty restauarant do we need to see to get the idea? And the dialogue! I paraphrase, but "We lead the world in data collection!" and the wife's comment about his swearing, "When you swear you give them the moral high ground" or whatever. Good God. Also, Michael's trip to LA was a waste of time. Fine, he nastily confronts Ben Kingsley over the swag he gets -- but since Kingsley was never going to make his movie anyway, it wasn't a scene with any consequence, just a time killer. (Though it was admittedly fun to see Lauren Bacall get clocked by Michael so he could steal her gift basket.) Finally, in a depressing echo of last week's final moment, this week ended with the two least important characters of all -- the two Italian hitmen who are seen sitting in a plane heading home and comparing the gifts they'd bought. How is this interesting or important in any way? Why are we even spending another moment with these guys, much less watching them look at the watches and pens they bought and discussing the exchange rate? Ridiculous.

Weekend Box Office -- "Idol" Spoof Flops

"American Dreamz" -- the "American Idol" spoof starring Hugh Grant -- was the biggest flop in memory over the weekend, grossing only $3.7 million. Even awful movies are supposed to make SOME money on opening weekend if the studios spend enough money on advertising. "Basic Instinct 2" also failed to open, but that was so clearly a turkey that no one could care about that it doesn't seem as telling as this bomb. And while studios are notoriously tight-lipped about budgets, suddenly Universal is letting slip that "American Dreamz" only cost $17 million, in a desperate attempt to pretend they wagered so little on this movie that its disastrous opening is meaningless. Yeah right -- $17 million. Clearly they spent more than that on advertising, but when was the last time a major studio produced a film on its own for $17 million? Don't believe a word of it.

1. Silent Hill -- $20.2 million
2. Scary Movie 4 -- $17 million ($67.7 million total)
3. "24: The Movie," I mean "The Sentinel" -- $14.7 million
4. "Ice Age: The Meltdown" -- $12.8 million ($167.9 million)
5. "The Wild" -- $8.1 million ($22 million)
6. "The Benchwarmers" -- $7.3 million ($47.1 million)
7. "Take The Lead" -- $4.3 million ($29.6 million)
8. "American Dreamz" -- $3.7 million
9. "Inside Man" -- $3.67 million ($81.2 million)
10. "Friends With Money" -- $3.6 million ($5.3 million)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Open Thread

Off to the Yankee game.

"High School Musical"

Two chances to see the goofy, "Grease"-for-kids TV movie "High School Musical" tonight. (And if you've got kids 14 or under, you either already know about it or should.) It's on Disney at 8 p.m. and then rerun again. The first airing includes a Dance-along section where the actors demonstrate how to perform two numbers. The second one includes lyrics so you can sing along. I'm gonna tape both!

David Lee Roth Gets Boot Off Radio; Opie & Anthony Step In

One of the would-be successors to Howard Stern, David Lee Roth got fired and will be replaced in the seven markets he aired by Opie & Anthony. Those guys of course got in trouble for their on-air antics, finding a welcome refuge at XM. So Stern goes to Sirius, Opie & Anthony go from XM to regular radio (keeping their satellite radio gig by the way) and Roth might very well go to Sirius himself. I'm not sure why XM would let them do three hours a day in major markets since XM presumably wants them as part of the programming you can't get anywhere else a la HBO. But I do know Stern has been a remarkable success. Sirius has rapidly closed the gap in subscribers and traffic to its website is much higher than XM's. By December 2007, Sirius will be the dominant satellite radio company and maybe then they can merge so no one will have to choose.

Surfing Through James Hunter

Saw the smooth British soulster James Hunter in concert last night. The space was Mo Pitkin's on the very lower very east side (seats about 65 people), a great little venue I'd never been to before. The show was just terrific, with Hunter both giving his all and too cool to ever break a sweat. I assumed the band was composed of his regulars, since they were so tight. But the fellows at NYCD called it: this was an American pickup, making their swinging all the more admirable. (They've been playing with him for a while and will roam the country for a while, so they'll only get better.) Van Morrison is the one plugging the CD, which you should buy immediately. But he doesn't have that pastoral, mystic vibe of classic Morrison. This is urban, blue-eyed soul, smooth and tight. From the ska-influenced "People Gonna Talk" to the classic pop/r&b feel of "I'll Walk Away," this is not some retro act: Hunter isn't aping old styles, just producing timeless music. Saw another act at the Mercury Lounge later last night -- after seeing Hunter, that just wasn't fair.

Quote Of The Day

From the Atlantic Monthly article "Colonel Cross of the Gurkhas" (May 2006)

"[British army colonel John Philip Cross's]first memorable experience in the army was a briefing on sex [in 1944] from a medical officer, which frankly shocked him. Without a trace of a smile, the officer had said, "Don't forget: a woman for children, a boy for pleasure, but for real ecstasy, a goat."

"Star Trek" Gets New Alias

Variety is reporting that JJ Abrams -- the creator of "Alias" and "Lost" and the director of what he hopes will be the first decent "Mission: Impossible" movie -- has been tapped by Paramount to take over the helm of "Star Trek." The plan is a prequel out in 2008, with Kirk and Spock first meeting (at the Starfleet Academy?) and their first mission in space (albeit not perhaps on the Enterprise, I think). Well, since it's been all of one year since they cancelled the last spin-off ("Enterprise) this hardly constitutes a real rest for a franchise that had grown very weary. And it's only been four years since the miserable movie "Star Trek: Nemesis." And fans are already arguing over whether Kirk and Spock actually crossed paths at the Academy (remember, there are dozens of books in the franchise with plotlines outside the shows and movies), not to mention fears over anything to do with the Academy and why aren't they doing the Romulan Wars anyway? You never know, but this hardly sounds like the creative re-thinking that went into, say, "Battlestar: Galactica."

Bad "Penny"

The reviews are in for "The Threepenny Opera" and they are universally bad. Some kind words by everyone for Jim Dale and a few polite nods towards the vocies of Cyndi Lauper and Nellie McKay but virtually every element of the show is lambasted by everyone. I've yet to find a single exception, including every newspaper, the two trades, etc. The last Broadway revival -- starring Sting -- was also reviled, which means one of the great shows (and scores) of all time continues to be ill-treated. Sometimes, outsiders like movie or tv or pop stars feel Broadway regulars are waiting with the long knives when they make their debuts (see Kelsey Grammer, Denzel Washington, Paul Simon, etc.). But that's not true -- invariably Broadway would love to see new blood succeed; but they rarely do. Case in point: Julia Roberts. She got pans, but her show was treated with kid gloves compared to "Threepenny."

"Gilmore Girls' Creator Is Gone

Is this good news or bad news? Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband have left "Gilmore Girls" after failing to come to a deal with the new CW network for a seventh season. The show will go on, but they are gone. Normally, when the creator of a series takes off, it is bad news. But since "Gilmore Girls" has gone so far astray (I don't think the characters from season two would even recognize themselves today), maybe this is GOOD news. Maybe they can recharage their batteries and get back to what made the show special -- likeable characters with quick-witted dialogue -- and avoid the soap opera plotlines and the rut of thinking Lorelai must remain bitter at her parents, Rory must be a pill, Michel must remain closeted, etc.

Surfing Through "Everybody Hates Chris"

Chris Rock's sitcom equals "My Name Is Earl" for sweet, good-natured humor. Last night, Chris -- feeling overshadowed by his little brother (who is bigger than him and better at sports and girls and everything else that matters) -- decided to take up karate. (How early 80s is that for a kid?) And the mom took Tanya to the beauty parlor for the first time, where the little girl got an earful of gossip. That's it, but the show spins these premises out with hilarious one-liners, some over-the-top pop culture references but mostly humor grounded in very real, loving characters. Next week: Chris finds his dad's porn magazine stash. If you haven't been watching, start.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Waves Are Blown Out Today

In other words, minimal popsurfing today. Woke up late, more than an hour and a half on the phone with Billy Connolly, ("We'll have lunch; I'm not afraid of a little gay!" he boomed) and now running out to sell DVDs and check out two concerts: the British blue-eyed soulster James Hunter (terrific album) and then Americana act Oakley Hall. In between, I'll be reading the second book in a fantasy trilogy by Naomi Novik that crosses the Napoelonic era with dragons. Oh and reading the papers, grabbing lunch, etc. Welcome to my world.

Surfing Through "Flight 93"

Havent' seen it yet. (The movie plays at Cannes out of competition and it'll be interesting to see how the terrorist-weary Europeans will treat our focus on 9-11.) But the Hollywood Reporter gives a very strong review to the film and Variety's is even stronger. My friend Monkeyboy says it was good, better than he expected but doesn't think it'll be commercial.

What I'll Be Seeing At Cannes

The official lineup for Cannes has just been announced (a bit early by recent standards). So after The Da Vinci Code opens things up with an anti-Catholic bang, I'll be checking out Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation" (which is a drama); a musical comedy called "Southland Takes" starring Mandy Moore, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott (aka Stiffler) and...wait for it...The Rock;Sofia Coppola's costume drama; Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes The Barley" (remind me to brush up on my folk tunes), Brad Pitt and Gael Garcia Bernal in "Babel;" the New Aki Kaurismaki; the new Almodovar and a midnight showing of John Cameron Mitchell's naughty hardcore film "Shortbus;" among others. Sounds promising, actually.

Surfing Through "American Idol"

Bye-bye Ace. At least he looked prepared this time, resigned to his fate rather than shocked. But why was Chris Daughtry in the bottom two? Was it because his fan base hated hearing him perform "What A Wonderful World," no matter how well he sang it? Next week, he'll try and pretend some Metallica tune is a "love song" (the vague theme of the week). Being in the bottom two is good because it lets Chris be a bit of an underdog (he's been wrongly pegged as the front-runner). But it does point out a weakness -- next week he has to sing a love song and if he makes it to the finale, one of the two songs he has to perform will be an ill-fitting pop ballad that his competition (Taylor? Katherine?) will be able to handle with ease. And of course the people who like hard rock are not the biggest fans of "American Idol." And wasn't Rod Stewart weak? He mimed out the lyrics of the song (hugging himself, pointing skyward, etc.) as hammily as Ace pointing out his scar. And next week's guest is Andrea Bocelli? The show is REALLY getting middle-aged, making the story in the NYT how every record label is desperate to get their top acts on look even more stupid. Heck, Kelly Clarkson didn't even want her SONGS on the show. "Nashville Star" gets every top act in country music but the much bigger "Idol" can't get a guest artist under 50.

Hello, Billy!

Sorry about that. Just got off the phone with Socttish comic Billy Connolly. The publicist got the times wrong -- I was expecting him at 4 p.m. and the phone started ringing off the hook at 11 a.m. Could have been a disaster since I didn't have my notes written out, was barely awake, sitting in my jammies -- but he's a great talker and very friendly. I tend to jump around in my questions -- a bit free form -- and that's certainly how his mind works. Got on the phone at 11:15 and just got off at 12:45. I love good, long talks but god help me I dread the transcribing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Surfing Through "Gilmore Girls"

Written and directed by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, at least this episode felt like "Gilmore Girls." (The last original episode felt like a remake of the show, if that makes any sense -- the same characters, but everything was...wrong.) But how far have they drifted away from the core of these characters?

Michel -- yes, he's "rude," but Michel has never ever been indifferent to Lorelai. Are we really supposed to believe he would back out of a wedding a few minutes before it began to go to a Celine Dion concert? This makes him really hateful, not drolly amusing. And I've mentioned before how this show has a weird thing about gay characters. Michel makes a Judy Garland reference, says he's a great dancer and dumps Lorelai for Celine? Let him come out already. It's just sad and creepy they keep "hinting" that Michel is gay but refuse to let him acknowledge it. And surely Rory and Lorelai are savvy enough to have clued in by now. But mostly it was annoying have him actually behave like a jerk instead of pretending to be a jerk but actually caring, which is the heart of Michel.

Rory -- Wasn't she a sweet, caring kid who yearned for a real relationship with her biological dad? So why is Rory behaving like a spoiled brat who is annoyed by his constantly texting her the first few days after they both got a new phone toy? Last year, Rory was a pill. This year, she's just annoying -- hating the idea of her grandparents paying a visit (right, when Rory has always had a good relationship with them -- that was supposed to be the difference between her and Lorelai) and now not even wanting to hear from her dad? Ridiculous.

Lorelai -- Getting drunk and feeling self-pity because everyone is getting married but her? Wrong. When Rory's dad mentioned Rory might get married next, her reaction would not have been to feel like a loser. It would have been to react with alarm and concern -- she wouldn't be jealous of Rory; she would be worried for Rory since she doesn't think Logan is right for her daughter. Enough with the pouting.

The Dangers of Tivo

Watching TV used to be an agonizing experience, with endless commercials interrupting the flow of a show. Sometimes, an artful cliffhangar could make a commercial break tantalizing. But that was back in the day when hour long dramas would only get interrupted say, three times. Now, hour long shows have five or six or even more commercial breaks, ruining any potential build-up of excitement. So thank God for DVRs, which let you tape shows easily and breeze through the commercials. But now I've discovered a new menace. When you watch a show with friends, the DVR lets you stop the action repeatedly to laugh over a line, argue over a plot twist or complain about a performance, a line, or the direction of the series. Directorboy and I set a new record last night: we stopped the show one second into "previously on Gilmore Girls" recap and started to complain. I imagine a show's creator would weep if they could see how viewers slice and dice the viewing experience of their carefully crafted shows.

The West End's Biggest Hit? It Stars Johnny and Baby

What's the biggest hit in the West End? Is it the smash, critically acclaimed adaptation of "Billy Elliot?" Nope. Is it the coming US import "Wicked," based on "The Wizard of Oz?" Wrong. Maybe it's "Spamalot" from the beloved comedy troupe Monty Python? No. The biggest hit in the West End is "Dirty Dancing -- The Classic Story On Stage." The show was a massive hit in Australia and now it's come to the UK. The show hasn't opened yet. Heck it hasn't even been CAST yet. (Thousands showed up this week for an open audition.) But the name alone has already sold out the first two months of its run and nearly $5 million in ticket sales. Imagine what'll happen when they actually get a cast.

The UK Box Office

Most notable? An Indian film squeaking into the Top Ten. (A typical Bollywood romance, it's about two young people who have already been set for arranged marriages who keep bumping into each other and...gasp! fall in love. ("Alien Autopsy" is an attempted big screen breakthrough for lovable TV presenters Ant and Dec -- vaguely based on a true story, it's about two guys who buy footage of a "real" alient autopsy, only to find the footage has been wiped clean and they have to recreate their own version to present to the shady backers behind them.)

1. Ice Age 2
2. Scary Movie 4
3. Inside Man
4. Take The lead
5. She's The Man
6. An American Haunting
7. Alien Autopsy
8. Failure To Launch
9. The Shaggy Dog
10. Humko Deewana Kar Gaye

UK Music Charts -- Michael Jackson Still Kicking

And here I'd just written him off. Michael Jackson's song "Smooth Criminal" debuts at #19 on the UK charts. (That's actually a rather modest debut for the tiny UK market.) Apparently they're reissuing some 20 Jackson singles loaded up with extras and collectors are happily snapping them up. On the album charts, the terrific rap artist The Streets debuts at Number One with his album "The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living." This despite his first single "When You Wasn't famous" dropping like a stone. Mary J. Blige's duet with U2 on "One" (named in a British poll as the best single of all time)is in the Top Three and Shayne Ward (a star on "The X Factor" -- the UK equivalent to "Idol") debuts at Number Two with his new song right before his album hits stores. And my current personal favorite Corrine Bailey Rae has a top Ten single with "Put Your Records On" while her debut CD is back in the Top Five on the album charts.

"Mamma Mia" To Become A Movie

The smash hit musical "Mamma Mia" will be turned into a film, with Tom Hanks one of the producers. In typical hyperbole, the British press said the film -- which has no talent signed on yet, much less a distributor, a script or a start date for filming -- could be out "by the end of the year." Uh, Christmas of 2007 is far more likely. People used to think a movie would kill the box office for a stage show. But in the last decade, whether the film has been a hit ("Chicago") or a flop ("The Phantom of the Opera," "Rent") the main result has been a BOOST in ticket sales for the stage production.

New York Times Discovers "American Idol"

Guess what? A guest appearance on "American Idol" can spike sales for a recording artist and even having their songs covered can mean an increase in sales. That's the startling revelation in the New York Times about the Number One show in the country. ONe clue they point to? The fact that Daniel Powter's song "Bd Day" has been featured every week on the show for two months and went to Number One. That's the thuddingly obvious insight at the NYTimes, but of course they still get it wrong. The article implies that major acts are dying to appear on the show as guests and that "Idol" producers have the pick of the industry. Wrong. The real story is that despite their massive ratings, "Idol" has to depend on middle of the road, aging acts like Kenny Rogers, Paul Anka, Barry Manilow (the only one to really help the kids with his pointers and arrangements -- he should be on every year), Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, etc. -- Granny music, I'd call it. The musical guests are HEAVILY weighted towards aging stars. Since the theme weeks rarely focus on one act, country week for example could have included any hot act in the world, from Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson to Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks. But the hottest country act they could round up was Kenny Rogers. In other words, despite the appearance of Shakira (and Latin artists are much more used to cheesy variety shows), cool contemporary acts are still avoiding Idol as uncool.

Michael Jackson's Uttter Collapse

It's not desperately avoiding bankruptcy by selling off all his assets. It's not endless accusations of child molestation he either spends his way out of or slips past with high-priced lawyers. It's not watching Neverland get padlocked while the amusement park starts to look like Coney Island in the 80s. Nope, for me the final collapse of Michael Jackson comes when the singer who is one of the biggest selling acts of all time says he's going to record his next album for the Bahrain-based label Two Seas Records. It's as if Jerry Seinfeld became so toxic he had to launch his next sitcom in North Korea. They say the album will be out in 2007, which translated into Michael Jackson-ese means somewhere around 2012.

Surfing Through "American Idol"

What a difference a day makes! After several weeks of trulyy dreadful performances that made me feel they should just call off the finale, "American Idol" finally had a good week. (By the way, the show truly should be called "Middle-Aged American Idol" with middle-of-the-road fogeys like Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers and Rod Stewart on the show. Can't they get anyone under 60?)

Chris Daughtry -- my initial reaction was, "He's just won 'American Idol.'" Daughtry sang "What A Wonderful World" and even cheesier than his song choice was his statement that the song had "so many values" that he believes in. (These kids are ruthless politicians and don't you forget it.) Then we saw him sitting down mid-song next to the soulful black man strumming an acoustic guitar and it was so over-the-top hokey I was laughing. But the crucial element? He sang it very, very well. That's not even a song I want to hear (even sung by Louis Armstrong) since it's been played to death, but Daughtry did a very convincing, un-wimpy and sincere version. If he'd sung "Under Pressure" the week before and hit it out of the park the way he did this song, he'd be a shoe-in.

Paris Bennett -- looked great and did a solid job. She has such a great, distinctive voice, that if she toured with a big band or jazz group and worked on her singing for the next decade, she could become a really good jazz singer. Even here, Paris sang the melody before starting to riff on it, and showed control and maturity. But still, lost a little personality on the low notes and didn't quite nail it. But shows great promise. Still young.

Taylor Hicks -- when he was done with "You Send Me," I thought, 'Ok, maybe Daughtry doesn't have this title sewn up." Another terrific performance, I thought, with Taylor singing rather than vamping or trying to be soulful. And when he dug into it at the end, he really pulled it off.

Elliot Yamin -- a tad dorky and I've never been a fan, so I tried just listening to him while closing my eyes and I found him more enjoyable. But he was hampered by a weak arrangement of cheesey female backup singers and -- in a problem I noticed with Paris and that got worse and worse the rest of the night -- the band was too languid and laid back. The tempo never varied even as he reached the climax; if the band had picked up the pace a little bit, it would have urged him on. As it was, he was held back just to stay in time with them. Never would have been great, but could have gone from good to very good.

Kellie -- Guys, date her; just don't make me listen to her. Actually, for the first few bars, I was taken aback. The first four performances (after weeks of dreadful performances from almost everyone) were good to great. And for a moment I thought Kellie was going to shock me and be good as well. Then she fell apart, off-key, shrill, and weak, weak, weak. Sorry, but jokes and a bubbly personality ain't enough anymore. Loved it when she told Rod Stewart he'd taken a load off her chest and the randy old rooster just said, "Well!"

Ace -- His hair looked awful (I thought for a moment it was in a bun in the back, instead of a pony tail.) And I don't know why Randy and Paula keep telling him to sing in falsetto - except for Frankie Valli, who has that ever worked for? And Ace was bad again, with an absolutely awful final note that was embarrassing. I don't know what the judges heard. Bottom three again but Kellie was even worse so he could be alright for another week. Also hurt by a weak arrangement that overwhelmed his tiny voice.

Katharine McPhee -- From her weak Queen song (which Simon said was almost a classic moment) to this week's number, "Someone To Watch Over Me," which I didn't think was much better. Totally lost on the low notes, barely getting through them, no sense of the song itself. Then the judges spoke. Huh? I just listened to it again to make sure. Every time she gets to "over me," and those low notes, her voice wavers and fades, even warbling off tune. Virtually every time. At one point she seems to race ahead of the admittedly slow-as-molasses band. And her vamping at the end was weak and tepid, a classic example of what kids think they're supposed to do because it's what Mariah did. It sure as hell didn't swing. Better than Ace or Kellie, but she'd be in my bottom three, easy. Of course, you know the producers are pushing her -- they'd rather see Katharine and Chris face off than Chris and Taylor. Katharine got by far the biggest closeup of the night and when the camera pulled back, they kept a close-up on the big screen on stage so she still had an intimate closeup available, one of their favorite tricks for performances they like.

THE FINALE -- And it just occurred to me that Daughtry faces one major stumbling block if he gets to the finale. Presumably, he'll have to sing an original pop tune, one of those on-demand treacly ballads. He did a good job finding a Queen song and a standard that he could work with. But faced with a by-the-numbers pop tune, Daughtry would probably look much weaker compared to Taylor or Katharine. That will be the final obstacle: maintaining his rock and roll dignity in the face of some anonymous power ballad.

The Dan Brown Conspiracy

Being being truly obsessive, I decide I need to read "Angels & Demons" before reading "The Da Vinci Code" because it's the first book introducing the Robert Landgon character played by Tom Hanks. So I go to Barnes & Noble where only three brutally battered copies of the mass market (at $8) are left on the shelf. In their place? A new slightly oversized mass market that is almost an inch taller (why?), has about 120 more pages (it's thinner too) and costs $10! Yes, after four years on the market, they've RAISED the price of "Angels & Demons" in anticipation of the movie coming out shortly. So go to and you'll find this version available for $10 or a hardcover version available for just over $15. Gee, and publishers say people don't want cheap, easily portable editions of books. They really want bulkier, more expensive, more "classy" trade paperback that often cost $14-$18 and are not much less expensive than heavily discounted hardcovers. How idiotic are publishers, to raise the price of a paperback that's been out for four years and wonder why people aren't snapping up books? They look to DVDs for inspiratioon and include readers' guides and author interviews in new editions of paperbacks as "extras." If they really wanted to mimick DVDs, they'd also have to make the editions nicer than the hardcovers and LESS EXPENSIVE. Many, many people would buy more books -- especially books that have been out for years or even decades -- if they were published in well-produced, portable paperbacks with attractive covers and for around $6-$7. Charge them twice that, make them wait YEARS after a hardcover comes out for even the trade paperback (which costs as much as many DVDs, if not more), and a year after that (if ever) for the truly inexpensive mass market and all you do is drive away customers. In the UK, mass market paperbacks often come out the same day as hardcovers and their covers are invariably much nicer than the US equivalent, so you don't have to feel like a dolt for buying a $6 book. God forbid US publishers learn something from them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wendy's CEO: I'm For Profits!

My favorite burger joint growing up was always Wendy's -- whether it was the classy aura of ever-so-slightly higher prices, the Frosty shake that you ate with a spoon or the square hamburgers...well, I don't know. Now of course I realize that all fast-food joints are the devil's work and designed to make me fat(ter). But I still root for Wendy's in the burger wars. They just named a new interim CEO since the last guy "retired" as they lose market share to McDonald's and Burger King. I love the goals of the new CEO: she wants to strengthen core business, execute new initiatives and reduce costs. Her final insight: "Our primary objectives are improving sales and profits at every Wendy's!" Golly, I would have thought that was a given.

Almost American Idol Mario Vasquez Album Out This Summer

Perhaps the most intriguing "American Idol" contest (after the beleaguered Clay Aiken) is Mario Vasquez, who was an early favorite when he made the final 12 but dropped out for "family reasons," even though his family knew nothing about it. The rumor was that Vasquez had been offered a deal by Sean Combs or someone like that if he ditched the show. But that ignores Vasquez's contractual obligations to the show and its label. So now here we are with his first single released to radio, coming out digitally on May 2 (my birthday) and hitting stores this summer. All on Arista, the label he would have been on if he'd won the show anyway. The album is filled with top producers and unlike most first CDs by Idol artists, they took their time. The single was worked on by Ne-Yo and you can also hear work by Lester Mendez (Shakira), Scott Storch (Christina Aguilera) and Luny Tunes (Daddy Yankee). First class all the way. But how long does Vasquez think he can go without giving a reasonable explanation for why he jumped ship?

Is That Paris Hilton Calling?

Just got an amusing/frightening email about Paris Hilton partnering with Gameloft for a series of mobile phone games based on the brand of Paris Hilton. The first one comes out this summer and will be geared towards "tweens/teens and fans of Paris Hilton." (Well, it wouldn't make sense to gear it to people who can't stand Paris Hilton, would it?) Among the highlight of the press release is this description of Hilton by Gameloft: “She is a model, a fashionista, an actress, an entrepreneur and a pop culture force of nature whose appeal is recognized the world over.... She is a universal brand that surpasses all boundaries.” A universal brand? Like Coke? And Paris had this to say: “I’m excited to collaborate with Gameloft to bring the Paris Hilton brand and the glamour of young Hollywood to the cell phones of all my fans around the world,” said Paris Hilton. “My phone has become an all in one entertainment device and mobile games are an integral part of that. Mobile gaming is really hot right now and I’m excited to be part of this project.” Now how can I leverage the Michael Giltz brand onto new platforms and cross-market it for maximum capitalization?

Bush: "I'm The Decider"

Not to get political, but I couldn't help giggling over Bush's defense of Rumsfeld. As our Commander in Chief put it: "I'm the decider and I decide what is best." The Decider? It sounds like a new CBS drama.

HD-DVD Hits Stores Today

The first format war of the 21st Century is launched today as HD-DVDs hit stores ahead of the Blue-Ray DVDs being supported by Sony and others. Unquestionably, the movies in either format will look terrific, with all sorts of smoothly integrated extras that will make today's DVDs seem dowdy in comparison. Oddly, Universal is releasing ONE title today: the fun sci-fi movie "Serenity." Next Tuesday comes "Apollo 13" and the ridiculously awful "Doom." Two weeks later comes "Cinderella Man," "Jarhead" and "Assault On Precinct 13" and finally on May 23 we get "The Chronicles of Riddick" and "Van Helsing" (two more godawful movies), U-571 and "The Bourne Supremacy." Why dribble these out over the first few weeks? Why include such utter dogs that only someone desperate for a movie to play on their new HD-DVD player would buy it, but still hate you for the lack of options? And why would anyone commit themselves to one format over the other until this war is over? When it comes to Blue-Ray versus HD-DVD, I suggest you be Switzerland.

DVDs Out This Week

Here's my latest NY Post DVD column, which covers the new DVD releases Moonstruck (finally out in a letterboxed edition), Orson Welles's The Complete Mr. Arkadin, Mrs Henderson Presents and a grab-bag of others. Enjoy.

Derek Jeter's Commercials

I rarely see commercials anymore, thanks to the power of DVRs. But watching the Yankee games (and having to spot one or two more while fast-forwarding), I've been paying attention to a series of ads starring Derek Jeter. Not all of them are new, but they are all bad. In the new one, Derek Jeter's drive for success is compared to Ford's drive to create great trucks. There's nothing "wrong" with the ad, it's just edited poorly. But the really bad ad is a satire of MTV's "Cribs." Derek is shown giving a tour of his house and then says he's going to take us to where the action is (the invariable line when a rapper shows us his bedroom). Derek takes us to his "garage," which is an airplane hangar of massive proportions filled with literally dozens and dozens of cars. Two sleazy stripper-types are washing one of the cars and coo "Hi, Derek!" And it finishes with him saying he's got his cars, now you get yours. What were his people thinking? Derek linking himself with slutty groupies? Derek emphasizing his massive wealth and indulging in a grotesque orgy of car buying? What a terrible stain on his image. Derek should fire his advisers. (And hire me.)

Bush Auctions Off Access To Smithsonian

A clutch of major documentary filmmakers are protesting the secret deal between the Smithsonian and Showtime cable channel to create a new commercial channel that would have the right of first refusal for any documentary that made use of the Smithsonian to a substantial degree. In short, if you want to folm at the Smithsonian or make use of its resources or interview its experts, you might very well have to turn over your film to the Smithsonian. Imagine if the Library of Congress demanded the right to publish every book that was written by people who did most of their research in its archives? The Smithsonian says, "Trust us." but they refuse to detail the agreement between it and Showtime (aren't they a PUBLIC trust?) and refuse to back out of the deal. And what does this accomplish? Do they really think they're going to garner a tidal wave of cash with an on-demand cable channel filled with wonky documentaries? Ridiculous.

Vatican Pulls Out The Stops To Promote "Da Vinci Code"

Okay, in fact the Vatican and far right Catholics are trying to denounce "The Da Vinci Code" (both the book and movie) but all they're really accomplishing is keeping a white-hot spotlight on the massively popular novel and implying that its ludicrous plot twists must have some grain of truth. First, the Preacher of the Papal Household denounced the book in a sermon. (You would think the Papal household would be the LAST one to need a preacher, but whatever.) He did it very coyly, denouncing the book and saying the problems would continue "with the imminent release of a certain film." A certain film? You mean, "The Da Vinci Code" which opens Cannes on May 17 and then opens around the world on May 19? Then the nasty little cult group Opus Dei -- which doesn't think even married couples should have sex (an exaggeration, but true in spirit) -- insists that the fictional film based on a fictional novel should carry a disclaimer so people know that it's...fiction. How stupid are they? Anyone who wondered if it could possibly be true that Jesus didn't die on the Cross and hitched up with Mary Magdalene would have all their suspicions confirmed by the actions of the Vatican. They couldn't have done more to bolster Dan Brown's credibility if they tried.

Bette Davis Alert

One of the many amusing stories from Roger Ebert's Cannes diary is this story told by a distributor about the shooting of the film "The Whales of August."
"One day," he said, "[director] Lindsay Anderson told Miss Gish she had just done a wonderful closeup. 'She should,' Bette Davis snapped. 'She invented them.'"
May will be a Bette Davis festival on TCM, with some 60 films being shown on the cable channel every Wednesday and Thursday throughout the month. The capper is "Stardust: The Bette Davis Story," a documentary by Peter Jones debuting May 3 at 8 p.m. Robert Osborne talks about his decade long friendship with Davis, her secret affair with composer Johnny Mercer and other details in a brief note at the beginning of the TCM program guide. Just based on the titles, I'm looking forward to "Parachute Jumper" and "Satan Met A Lady." Someone needs to stock up on a lot of VHS tapes.

"Two Weeks In The Midday Sun" by Roger Ebert -- The Popsurfing Review

I've been going to the Cannes Film Festival since 2000 and before my first trip I bought Roger Ebert's diary about attending the festival in 1987. And yet, I wanted to experience it myself without any preconceptions and put the book aside. Now I've finally read it and -- no surprise -- the book is a delight. It opens with Ebert in an airport terminal, his flight delayed. He pulls out a "battery powered Radio Shack portable computer" that presumably seemed like the latest in high tech but probably had about 16k of memory. (Much of his woes involve trying to file stories via phone lines. The only difference between Ebert and me is that he eventually figured the French phone system out.) His diary is a casual mix of drinking with other reporters, interviewing stars, nodding off during movies due to jet lag and the constant question of what might win the Palm d'Or. Ebert spends a lot of time with low-level personalities and high profile honchos at Cannon Films, mixing in movie set visits for films playing at the festival like "Barfly." Though he attends a lot more parties and does a lot more interviews than me, Ebert's '87 experience still strikes a chord with what Cannes is like for me --quirky, strange, exhausting and exhilirating. *** 1/2 out of ****.

Surfing Through "24"

Quote of the Day -- Bad guy Peter Weller defending his actions during a shoot-out.

Weller: I was protecting the integrity of our government.
Jack Bauer: Our government HAS no integrity!

They haven't missed a beat yet. Usually, "24" sags a tad in the middle but that hasn't happened this season and since the minutes are ticking away, I don't think it will. For all the explosions and shouting, the best scene of the show was when the President was confronted by an adviser about calling off CTU when it was about to capture Jack Bauer and claiming to call in the military when no such order was given. Their tense battle of wills as the President (who ain't so dumb) grasped at plausible explanations that the adviser shot down with careful circumspection was gripping. Stephen Spinella is wonderfully nasty as a mindless drone ("The President can do whatever he wants") who is clever in his slavish devotion. I loved it when Chloe said to him, "I don't think you're as big a jerk as you pretend to be." And while the actress who plays Chloe has about two expressions (annoyed and VERY annoyed) her character is great. Watching her slip out of custody was a hoot and when she picked up a laptop computer on her way out of CTU, it was like watching Dirty Harry grab a gun: when she can get a wireless connection to the internet, this girl is locked and loaded. My only complaint is about a terrible music cue that popped up two weeks ago during action scenes that they keep reprising; it's incredibly cheesy and sounds like an outtake from a spaghetti western.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Why Do I Bother Paying Rent?

Priv8Pete aka redstateboy pointed me to this CNN article about a guy that turned an admittedly large red paper clip into free rent for a year thanks to Craigslist and some canny self-promotion. And here I am trying to get work as a freelancer. The closest I come to thinking out of the box is buying a lottery ticket.

The Future of TV: No More Repeats

ABC has ordered a TON of fall pilots, many more than their competitors. The nominal reason? They have to find three hours to replace "Monday Night Football." But if they're smart, ABC will bow to the inevitable and launch a TV season of no repeats. Obviously shows like "24" benefit greatly from being aired all in a row, without any reruns. "Lost," in comparison, is stretching out its 22 episodes over 9 months, with so many reruns that I sometimes forget what happened last. The result? "Lost" is down 30% this season. (A creative collapse didn't help either.) Fox has already shifted to a semi-permanent state of no repeats. And everyone else needs to jump on board quick. Yes, networks usually lose money when they air an original episode of a show (typically, they cost more than the ads bring in), but the networks make it up when they air reruns. But reruns -- especially for dramas -- are collapsing in the ratings. With Tivos and Video-on-demand and iTunes and DVDs and a million other ways to capture a show, people are much less likely to miss a new episode of their favorite series. And that means they're much less likely to watch a rerun. Even sitcoms like "My Name Is Earl" grow tiresome after you spot a month of reruns looming up. The British have been doing this for years -- a show airs all its new episodes in a row and then disappears until they're ready again. This is a radical revamping and means a major influx of new programming. But so what? The networks used to dump reruns in the summer as well; now it's one of their best breeding grounds for new hits. In short, ABC would air Desperate Housewives from mid September through February sweeps. Lost would air from January through May sweeps. Ditto for most other dramas and sitcoms. Reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race already do this -- with two batches of episodes each year. They'll need to spend a lot more money on programming, but that's a lot cheaper than driving away viewers with endless repeats.

Be Very Glad Muriel Spark Wasn't Your Mother

The New York Times obituary of writer Muriel Spark. Quite entertaining, even though I've never read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or even seen the movie. Then you get to her wickedly cold estrangement from her son, who Spark "left behind" in Africa during the war when she went to America.
In her later years it became clear that she and her son, Robin, a painter who lives in Edinburgh, were irreconcilably estranged over various issues, including what he referred to as her abandonment of him, as well as her opinions about his ability as an artist and his public statements about their heritage.

Ms. Spark was harsh in her public criticism of his work and open about their estrangement. She told a newspaper: "He can't sell his lousy paintings, and I have had a lot of success. He keeps sending them to me and I don't know what to do with them. I can't put them on my wall. He's never done anything for me, except for being one big bore."
Ouch! I don't know what this says about me, but her comments make me want to read her all the more.