Friday, April 10, 2015

Because Freedom

I’m not a huge Dan Savage fan, but if a network wants to use his childhood as inspiration for a sitcom, so what?

The Media Research Center and Family Research Council said their members have sent more than 21,000 postcards and made more than 4,000 telephone calls asking ABC to abandon the series, tentatively titled “The Real O’Neals.” ABC is not commenting on the effort, while Savage said it is misdirected.

The show, which features actress Martha Plimpton as the family matriarch, is one of 12 comedy pilots the network is considering. Generally, about half of those pilots — at most — will get the green light.

Savage, author of the “Savage Love” advice column, said the series evolved out of a meeting he had with ABC executives where aspects of his childhood that he has written about were discussed.


Savage’s very involvement angers the conservative groups. In a letter sent to Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, MRC president L. Brent Bozell and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins cited Savage’s “radical hate speech” and “venomous anti-Christian bigotry.”

“They’re choosing him for his signature, which is religious bigotry and personal offensiveness, not because he’s gay,” Bozell said. “There are a thousand and one gay people they could have chosen.”

Savage wrote in 2000 about volunteering for Republican Gary Bauer’s presidential campaign and, suffering from the flu, licking doorknobs in the campaign office in an attempt to infect others. He also tried to give a definition involving a gay sex act to Republican Rick Santorum’s name on Google.

“A campaign for or against the show isn’t relevant at this point as the pilot isn’t even finished yet,” Savage said. “Again, the campaign … is misdirected, as the show isn’t by me — I’m not one of the writers — and it isn’t about me.”

The conservatives’ real complaint about Mr. Savage is that whenever they debate him on TV, he beats the daylights out of them with snark and scorn; he stands up to their bullying and wins.  Hey, no fair!  So this is their attempt to get back at him for all the arguments they lost.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

He Got Their Attention

The news that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show later this year is sad; I’m sorry to see him go.  But he’s also making the choice to leave it while he’s still got the energy and wit to make it a graceful exit.

What I think makes his work different from a lot of other comedians and observers of our world is that he was able to get the attention of the people he was laughing at.  It got to the point that if someone was skewered by The Daily Show, they actually responded or, in some cases, even amended their ways.  That’s a whole other level beyond getting a mention in a David Letterman monologue.

The closest parallel I can think of in terms of theatre is the role of the Fool in Shakespeare’s plays such as King Lear: the one character who had no trouble speaking truth to power and doing it in such a way as to really drive home the point with humor and surgeon-like deftness.  We need these kinds of clowns — and I use that word in the best way — to bring down the powerful and remind them that they are just as flawed and powerless as everyone else.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Revolution Will Be On Netflix

Via Riptide:

Cubans will soon get to watch shows about corrupt, conniving politicians and the inadequacies of America’s prison system.

Yes, Netflix has officially launched in Cuba, bringing shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black to the island. The move also means that Netflix now offers its services in every single country in the Americas.

“We are delighted to finally be able to offer Netflix to the people of Cuba, connecting them with stories they will love from all over the world,” said Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings in a statement. “Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience of over 57 million members.”

Granted, at the moment very few Cubans will actually be able to access the service. As of 2012, only about 25.6 percent of the population has access to the internet, and many have to rely on access through hotels, internet cafes, embassies and at work. It’s estimated that only 5 percent of the population has unrestricted, private access to the internet, and even then speeds are slow.

We’ve gone from reruns of Kate & Allie on TV Marti to House of Cards.  Forget about opening embassies and lifting the travel ban; this more than anything else signals the big thaw between Cuba and the U.S.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Friday, December 5, 2014

Live TV

I watched the first hour of Peter Pan Live last night, then switched over to Rachel Maddow where they had a whole different live TV show going on: feeds of demonstrations from Chicago, New York, and other places on behalf of Eric Garner and justice.

As for the attempt at theatre on TV on NBC, it was inoffensive.  Allison Williams has a very nice singing voice and she was able to carry off the illusion of being a boy on the verge of puberty, carrying on the tradition of having a woman play the role that goes back to Maude Adams.  She had the tough task of rising to the bar set by Mary Martin, but then the target audience for this performance had no idea who Mary Martin was.  I’m pretty sure even their parents weren’t around when she flew in the window.  From what I saw, Ms. Williams did a good job.

Casting Christopher Walken as Captain Hook was, as they say in the business, a bold move.  It’s harking back to his early days as a hoofer on Broadway (he was in the chorus of the 1964 Noel Coward musical High Spirits), and I’m sure he approached it with his trademark intensity.  But again he had to fill the pumps of the legendary Cyril Ritchard (who also played Mr. Darling in a bit of Freudian double-casting), and while Mr. Walken’s performance in the pirate production number was interesting to say the least, he came across as more menacing than flamboyantly vicious.  Even Dustin Hoffman in Hook had more fun.  Besides, what’s the point of playing Captain Hook if you can’t camp it up?

I guess I’m just a nostalgic curmudgeon, but I liked it better seeing it in grainy black and white on our old Magnavox TV-radio-phono console in the living room when I was eight.  It was more theatrical.  You knew you were watching theatre, and seeing the cables that made the kids fly added to the fun.  Last night it was more a distraction knowing that they were staging it for TV.

Switching over to watch the marches on the streets of America had their own theatrical quality.  This was real street theatre.  There’s something karmic about changing channels from one show about fighting the forces of evil set to music to another show set to chants of “I can’t breathe.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Must-See TV?

NBC was seriously considering replacing David Gregory on Meet The Press with Jon Stewart.

Before choosing Todd, NBC News president Deborah Turness held negotiations with Jon Stewart about hosting Meet the Press, according to three senior television sources with knowledge of the talks. One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually “anything” to bring him over. “They were ready to back the Brink’s truck up,” the source said. A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment. James Dixon, Stewart’s agent, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


Though not a traditional journalist, Stewart can be a devastatingly effective interrogator, and his Meet the Press might have made a worthy successor to Tim Russert’s no-bullshit interviews. During the home stretch of the 2012 campaign, Stewart grilled Obama for his wan presidential debate performance, asking: “Do you feel you have a stronger affirmative case for a second Barack Obama presidency or a stronger negative case for a Romney presidency?” And last October, Stewart’s clinical dissection of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius laid bare the disaster of the Obamacare rollout, from which Sebelius never recovered.

I’m glad it didn’t happen.  The Sunday morning chat show genre has basically lost any resemblance to serious journalism; they’re little more than infomercials for the GOP flavor of the month, and the audience demographics are aimed at people older than I am.  Not even Jon Stewart could make MTP hip.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

From the Department of the Painfully Obvious

Wow.  You could have knocked me over with a shovel with this news via the New York Times:

The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.

Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.

This slightly lopsided distribution is primarily the result of three Republican senators’ frequent visits to the network shows: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Because of the Republican Party’s control of the House during the past three years, its leaders and committee chairmen are presented with more opportunities to discuss the latest political news.

Participants in the 2008 and 2012 presidential nominating contests also helped boost conservative representation: Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was the G.O.P.‘s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, made 46 appearances between early January 2009 and Aug. 3, 2014.


As we’ve previously reported, John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator, sets the standard for lawmaker appearances on the shows.

Which is why I spend my Sunday mornings in the silence of the Quaker meeting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Off To A Good Start

Chuck Todd took over the reins of Meet The Press on Sunday, and did such a crapfestival job that David Letterman is already making fun of him.

David Letterman has debuted a new segment in honor of Chuck Todd’s listening skills.

As he says, you’ve got to be on it, paying attention to every word. Watch him nail Chuck for missing four separate mentions of Syria before telling the President he hasn’t heard him mention Syria.

It’s got to be some kind of record.

Oh, and not for nothing, but NBC News has promoted morning show host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough to be a regular panelist on MTP, but passed over Rachel Maddow because apparently she’s too partisan.  Uh huh.  I think the real reason is that she would run circles around Joe and Chuck and show them to be the dullards and hacks that they truly are.  And you can’t have them get beat by a girl.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama will allow surveillance flights over Syria.

Egypt and U.A.E. bombing militants in Libya.

Thousands gathered for the funeral for Michael Brown in St. Louis.

Rick Perry’s lawyers seek dismissal of charges.

Congratulations to the Emmy winners.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Cristobal heads off to the east; still keeping an eye in Invest 97L.

The Tigers had the night off.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What’s Really Important

Here is the list of canceled and renewed TV series on the over-the-air networks.

The only one I am sorry to see go is The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams.

The list does not include series on cable which, frankly, sometimes offer better fare than the legacy networks.  Sometimes.

What about you, dear Readers?  Any surprises/disappointments/or “why are they canceling this show but keeping that one?”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Short Takes

Ukraine — Putin says he’s ordered troops back from the border; no evidence yet of that.

Boko Haram attacked a village in Nigeria and killed over 350 people.

President Obama visited tornado-devastated towns in Arkansas.

Gov. Christie’s lawyers aren’t cheap… and New Jersey taxpayers are paying the $1 million bill.

Fifth Amendment?  What’s that?  House votes to hold IRS official in contempt.

NBC pays $7.75 billion for the Olympics forever.

The Tigers won their eighth in a row by beating the Astros 3-2.

Friday, April 4, 2014

David Letterman

I don’t stay up late enough to watch late-night TV; I think the last time I stayed up to watch an entire episode of one of those shows was the night Johnny Carson retired.  So it didn’t come as big news to me yesterday when David Letterman announced that he was retiring from his show next year.

I have seen a lot of clips from his show over the years, though, and he’s funny all right in that deadpan Midwestern style that is up there on a level with some of the more notable comics I admire.  But a few people are comparing him favorably to Johnny Carson, calling him a “force of nature” on a par with the Beatles in terms of changing how we see late-night comedy.  Really?

As I said, I never watched an entire episode of his show, so I leave it to you to tell me if I missed out on something.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“The Good Wife” Surprise Ending

[Spoiler alert.  Skip this post if you haven’t seen Sunday night’s episode.]

I’ve been watching the CBS series The Good Wife since halfway through the first season and caught up on it all in re-runs (thank you, TiVo).  As other fans of the show know, Sunday night’s episode was a bit of a shocker: Will Gardner, played by Josh Charles, was shot and killed.

I was surprised not just because I liked the character, but I didn’t think that a TV series such this one would have the guts to kill off a major character, and I mean killing him off literally.  It’s not the first time it’s happened — NCIS wrote off Sasha Alexander’s character with a bullet to the forehead — but usually they do it with less finality: they marry them off, send them to another location, or something that offers the possibility of “Special Guest Appearance” in upcoming episodes.

The producers felt compelled to explain the killing in an open letter to their fans, but from a dramatic standpoint I think it was a valid and well-done action.

The network previewed upcoming episodes which had another shocker: It was a hell of a way to find out that NBC has cancelled “The Michael J. Fox Show.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

Nervous States — Matt Ford in The Atlantic on what Russia’s seizure of Crimea means to former Soviet satellites.

Fifteen independent countries, including Russia, emerged from the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Six of them—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are in Europe, and all of them have a complicated relationship with modern Russia. Seven other countries once belonged to the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union’s military alliance in Eastern Europe. With the Cold War’s end, none of them had faced the threat of military intervention by the communist superpower’s successor state—until now. (In discussing Europe here, I’m not including Eurasian countries like Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008, or the military support Russia offered Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region in the early 1990s.)

In response to the standoff in Crimea, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves announced that he would convene the National Defense Council on March 2 to discuss the crisis and called upon the Baltic states to increase their defense spending. “The events in Ukraine show that this struggle is taking place within Europe as well,” he said in a speech to the Baltic Defense College last week. “This sends a clear signal to Estonia and the [other] Baltic states: we must invest more in our national defense.” Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, joined NATO in 2004.

“The Baltic states have been among the most vocal EU states during this crisis, urging Russia to abandon its military intervention in Ukraine and respect Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Erik Brattberg, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told me. “They will watch the events in Ukraine closely to see if the U.S. and NATO will stand up against Russian aggression.”

Recent experiences with Russia also fuel Estonia’s concerns. The removal of a Soviet-era war statue from the capital city of Tallinn in 2007 led to riots among ethnic Russians (who make up almost a quarter of Estonia’s population) and diplomatic outrage from Moscow. Shortly thereafter, a concerted, three-week cyberattack crippled Estonian government agencies, banks, news outlets, and other organizations—a vital blow to what some have called “the most wired country in Europe.” Estonian officials blamed the Kremlin for the cyberattacks, a claim Russian officials vociferously denied.

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, responded on Saturday by invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, whereby NATO member states consult one another if their territorial integrity or political independence is threatened, for only the fourth time in the alliance’s history (Ukraine is not a NATO member).

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors “are certainly very worried that what is happening to Ukraine today could happen to them tomorrow,” Brattberg told me, noting that both Estonia and Latvia have “significant Russian ethnic minorities.” Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted on Saturday that Russia retains the right to protect Russian-speaking populations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Both the NATO ambassadors and the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet tomorrow to plan the alliance’s response to the unfolding crisis.

Fixing MSNBC — Leslie Savan in The Nation on the same old same old on the cable network.

Saying things on national TV once relegated to The Village Voice or The Nation understandably lends MSNBCers a confidence, almost a sense of triumphalism, which sometimes trips them up into merely nyah-nyah-nyahing the right. Fox does this with far more gusto at the left, but it doesn’t serve MSNBC well. A friend of mine says she can’t watch MSNBC anymore, because “they’re smug. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them, they treat like they’re stupid.”

The flip side of smug is a sense of insecurity. Hosts are coming (the estimable Joy Reid, as well as Farrow, debuted a show this week) and going (Baldwin, Olbermann, Martin Bashir, Dylan Ratigan). Clearly they’re under constant pressure to rack up ratings, something the Chris Christie scandals have indeed helped them do.

Which brings us to Bill Maher’s critique. Unlike Baldwin, Maher “loves” MSNBC. But in a Valentine’s Day post he decided to break up with the network because it’s preoccupied with another man, the New Jersey governor.

[Rachel] Maddow defended the heavy coverage on Maher’s HBO show the next week. “I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically,” she said, “and will continue to be obsessed with it while amazing things in that story continue to happen.” Maher conceded that Benghazi isn’t a real scandal while Bridgegate most definitely is—though, he added, “It’s just that it’s not Watergate.” And he softened that too-easy trope that MSNBC is the Fox News of the left, saying, “I hate false equivalency. MSNBC, one of the great things about it is that they are scrupulous fact-checkers whereas Fox News are scrupulous fact-maker-uppers.”

If the non-Fox media have been hard on Chris Christie lately, it’s in direct proportion to how hard they fell for him before. For years, the media—and this includes MSNBC stars like Scarborough, Matthews and, on occasion, Al Sharpton—loved the blunt-talking, fuggedaboutit Jersey guy who had the guts to “work across the aisle.” When Bridgegate revealed that in fact he had been intimidating and threatening Democratic office-holders all along, it unleashed a torrent of pent-up, actual reporting.

So, yes, as Bill Maher says, MSNBC has been obsessed with Christie, but no, they’re not covering him too much. And yes, as Alec Baldwin says, in stronger words, the shows have fallen into a sameness.

It’s a problem, however, that can be remedied, sometimes as simply as having a host light out for the territory. Ed Schultz, for instance, is running a weeklong series on the Keystone XL Pipeline, reporting from Nebraska and listening to the citizens TransCanada is trampling over. Ed, who began as a (surprising) supporter of the pipeline, now appears to be leaning against it. It’s a change of heart and venue that’s making his show, and at least one hour of MSNBC, suddenly suspenseful and dynamic.

Thanks, Anita Bryant — Cliff O’Neill in the Miami Herald on how the anti-gay crusader helped him come out.

I’m grateful for Anita Bryant.

I should clarify.

See, if it weren’t for Anita Bryant and her fear-mongering in the ‘70s, things would probably have turned out quite differently for me.

In 1977, when Miami (and, by extension, the entire nation) was debating whether children needed to be “saved” from homosexuals, I was one of those children.

I may have been 12, but I was quickly coming to understand that I was gay, or at least bisexual. Thanks to the popular culture of the time and shows like All In The Family and Barney Miller, I knew that “that thing” had a name. And I was probably that.

But I didn’t know what to make of it. Aside from the fact it wouldn’t make me terribly popular among my peer group, that is.

Enter Anita. Of course I knew the pretty lady from the orange juice commercials. But suddenly she was on TV telling everyone that they needed to “save our children” from homosexuality. I had no idea that there existed a (then-named) gay liberation movement, that local activists had recently effected passage of an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual preference (then the term of the day) or that the world was suddenly focused on my hometown.

And I certainly didn’t let on to my parents that I had a personal interest in all of this. Still, it didn’t take long to realize how they felt about it.

I still have a vivid memory of my mother hosting a “Stop the ERA” (Equal Rights Amendment) party for her ladies’ group, complete with a big, red stop sign-shaped cake and horrified whispers about unisex bathrooms.

So I just sat back and watched the drama on TV. The anti-Anita ads, explaining how if you start exempting one group from legal protection it’s not long before you start making it OK to discriminate against anyone, seemed logical. But the fear-based ads suggesting that “exposing” kids to gay teachers would make them gay made no sense to me at all. I was one of those kids. What I was feeling was as innate as my hair color. I wasn’t the victim of some adult molestation that “turned” me.

Nope, thanks to those ads and debates, and the ads and debates in cities from Eugene, Oregon, to St. Paul, Minnesota, in the ensuing months, I got really clear with this part of who I was. And I got to see eloquent, real-life gay and lesbian people on television answering questions, no matter how insulting.

Doonesbury — Tears of a clown.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jay Walking

Tonight is the last night for Jay Leno on the Tonight show.

I’ve never been a late-night TV watcher, and since I started writing this blog, I haven’t stayed up much past 11 on any given night.  So I don’t have a lot to say about Mr. Leno and his 22-year run on the show other than I’ve never found him to be particularly hilarious when I’ve seen his clips.  I do admire his collection of antique cars.