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.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014

Random Thought

I have never seen an episode of either, so I have no idea if Downton Abbey is Duck Dynasty for the totebag contingent.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Channel Swim

MSNBC has canned Alec Baldwin’s new show.

Alec Baldwin’s MSNBC show “Up Late” was canceled, the network said Tuesday, after the actor received criticism for using a gay slur, the New York Times confirmed.

“This is a mutual parting and we wish Alec all the best,” MSNBC said in a statement.

The New York Post first broke the news, which also reported that the cancellation was due in part to Baldwin’s behavior in general.

MSNBC initially suspended Baldwin on Nov. 15.

Mr. Baldwin blamed the media.

Alec Baldwin on Tuesday explained to the Gothamist what led to his departure from MSNBC after the actor yelled a gay slur at paparazzi outside of his home.

“Martin Bashir’s on the air, and he made his comment on the air! I dispute half the comment I made… if I called him ‘cocksucking maggot’ or a ‘cocksucking motherfucker’… ‘faggot’ is not the word that came out of my mouth. That I know,” Baldwin told the Gothamist. “But you’ve got the fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy—Rich Ferraro and Andrew Sullivan—they’re out there, they’ve got you. Rich Ferraro, this is probably one of his greatest triumphs. They killed my show. And I have to take some responsibility for that myself.”

Baldwin placed some blame on TMZ, the site that posted the video of Baldwin yelling at the photographer.

That’s show biz.

In another venue, right-wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza drew fire for a tweet that called President Obama a “grown-up Trayvon Martin.”  He deleted the message later but whined that the president called himself that once.  Which proves that Mr. D’Souza does not get the idea of self-deprecation and also that he is in the sixth grade.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Short Takes

Shutdown.

Despite the GOP hostage standoff, Obamacare goes live today.

Two Marine generals are forced to retire over security breaches in Afghanistan.

Venezuela expels top U.S. embassy official.

Senate panel approves Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to Japan.

Wall Street isn’t wild about the prospect of a long shutdown.

The Hillary Clinton documentaries gets the axe.

Tropical Update: TS Jerry is way out to sea.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Short Takes

GOP says they can avoid the shutdown if only the Democrats will cave.

Wall Street not wild about the impact of a shutdown.

China bans some exports to North Korea, stalling their nuclear program.

Mazda recalls midsize cars for door latch problem.

Like TV shows, some car models get cancelled, too.

I have a feeling Albuquerque will survive without Breaking Bad.

The Tigers let the Marlins end their season on a high note.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Short Takes

Kenya military forces end to mall siege; death toll at 68.

President Obama eulogizes victims of Navy Yard shooting.

Angela Merkel wins third term as Chancellor of Germany.

Survey: U.S. gas prices heading down.

Typhoon weakens as it nears China.

Congratulations to the Emmy winners.

Shortest Emmy Speech ever?

The Dolphins are undefeated.  Really?

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 6-3 in their final home game; magic number still 2.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Catching Up

This is my first weekend in a long time that I have nothing to do other than sit and read, write, do a crossword or two, and catch up on some long-delayed napping.  So I’m going to enjoy it.

One thing I’m looking forward to is the second season of HBO’s The Newsroom on Sunday night.  I’ve been a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin for as long as I’ve known of his work, which was long before The West Wing, and he’s a playwright — A Few Good Men was on the stage long before Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise that he couldn’t handle the truth.

Based on previews, The Newsroom story arc for the season will be based on this clip, so it should be a good one.